There are countless times in life when we reflect on our decisions and wish that we did things differently. What often holds us back is fear. Whether you are afraid of failure or scared to take risks, Elda Thanasi believes that you should go out of your comfort zone and take the chance to change your life. Elda shares her professional journey with us and gives some advice on how to become more confident to live life without regret.
“I felt as if I was going to implode, especially during the lockdown. But the power that I have inside of me, as a strong woman, did not leave me to drown.”
Growing up in Albania, how did your environment influence you and shape who you are today? Are there any cultural differences in comparison to living in London?
I am delighted to say that my experience in Albania was very productive and successful. Of course, I had difficulties in my career, as every young person starting to step into the working world does; especially working in the public government sector. Since 2003, I have held many positions and worked in various ministries. I have also been part of many policy boards, where I contributed by helping my country to become part of the European Union. Having worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs really helped me to better understand the EU institutions, NATO, OSCE and other international institutions.
I would say that luck followed me during this journey, as I had the privilege to work with excellent and professional people. They taught me and prepared me to be who I am today. There are so many differences between Albania and London, especially surrounding the freedom of speech relating to cultural diversities. People in London are free to say what they think, which is much different than in Albania, where the normal mentality in society is to be judgmental.
You graduated university, with a degree in journalism, whilst living in Albania. What led you to switch gears and undertake further studies in business and marketing?
Since I was a child, I knew that I had managerial skills. Studying journalism made me understand that information and communication are the keys to opening any and every door. During these years, I prepared myself to be a good leader and manager. I always wanted to help other people and become the best version of myself. After working for so many governmental institutions, I felt that I could give my all to the business industry. Studying business was what I always wanted to do, as my core responsibilities were focused on bridging, developing, and establishing relationships on a local and global scale. Obtaining my Master’s in business made me understand that the entrepreneurial world is wonderful; meeting with different businessmen and businesswomen to share our experiences was – and still is – fascinating.
As the General Director at Maya Underground Detection and Mapping, a primary focus of yours is to connect, build and strengthen relations between people and institutions. Why is establishing these connections important?
As a journalist, I love to talk and communicate with people. Connections are especially important when you want to establish a business. When I came to London, I started everything from the beginning without knowing anybody or having any connections. In all honesty, it was difficult for me to succeed alone. Then, I started to build my network and now I can say that I have connections everywhere. This helped me to grow my business and to manage it better. My company is based in civil engineering and the success of my business is based on connections and people. Thus, Maya has a good reputation in the market, as seen in the friendly atmosphere between the leaders and employees.
What advice would you give someone who struggles with low self-confidence?
There were some moments where I felt extremely low and lacked self-confidence. This made it difficult for me to speak to others, or even to have a normal conversation. I felt as if I was going to implode, especially during the lockdown. But the power that I have inside of me, as a strong woman, did not leave me to drown. This is a message that I would like to share to women who have ever felt like me, remove yourself from your comfort zone and change.
There are many different strategies that you can use to build your self-esteem and confidence. My advice would be to change the way you talk to yourself. If you struggle with low self-esteem, you may also find that you struggle with negative thoughts and feelings about yourself. You may find that you are constantly criticising yourself, believing that you are incapable of accomplishing the things that you want to do. You must change this and think of yourself in a positive light. Make a list of all the negative things that you continuously think or say about yourself. Then, write out new thoughts that you will think of whenever the negative ones come into your mind. Continue to do this exercise daily, even multiple times a day. Eventually, you will start to believe the positive things that you are saying, and you will feel more confident.
Finance is still seen as a male-dominated industry. As a woman in finance, what changes do you think can be made to encourage more women to enter this field of work?
When I first made the decision to work for Maya, it was not easy. I had my insecurities considering that, in this kind of industry, there are more men than women. I decided to take the risk, calling it the “biggest challenge” of my life. To this day, I do not regret it. It is the best decision that I have ever made. It has completely changed my life. It has given me the freedom that I had always wanted in Albania. The freedom to think and act by myself, without being prevented or held back by someone else. The freedom to make me feel like an independent woman, and for this, I would love to thank my boss who trusted me fully.
Despite the best efforts of many firms, gender equality – in terms of employee numbers – is still elusive. Close to 40% of women who gain engineering degrees, eventually decide to leave their profession. Although, from my experience working in the civil engineering industry, there are many women who have managed to forge successful careers, over many years, in work environments dominated by men. One of the main findings to emerge from conversations with my colleagues, was the significance of the micro-environment – their immediate surroundings. This might involve, for example, the line manager, the team that you work with daily, or the culture that affects the behaviour in that notional space.
Organisations should be more proactive, making role models more visible. Role models should be able to tell their stories, to challenge stereotypes, share their experiences and explain how they have coped in a male-dominated career field. This would inevitably make the aspiration of integrating a respected career in engineering with motherhood and family life – something that is both tangible and achievable. I believe this would be the biggest encouragement to inspire other women to follow me, and never have regrets for the risks that they take.