Featured Leader Series: Susanne Biro, Anna Zabezsinszkij

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Susanne Biro Anna Zabezsinszkij
Susanne Biro (left) and Anna Zabezsinszkij

Coaches, counselors, advisors, trainers, guides… From professional sports to presidential speech-making to nutrition, we need them to become good at something – efficiently. (And yes, there now exists a full industry of vegan lifestyle coaches.) For today’s feature, we picked two professional coaches – Susanne works with business executives and Anna advises university students, and both are ethical vegans - to tell us more about their world, and how being vegan affects it.

You’ll see that Susanne Biro (Vancouver, Canada) and Anna Zabezsinszkij (Aalborg, Denmark) have quite a different vegan experience. Both ladies lead a busy and diverse life. Susanne is also an author, and Anna is also an environmental entrepreneur.

What is it like to be vegan in your profession - does it ever get challenging?

Susanne:No, in fact being vegan has significantly expanded my profession. I recently rebranded my private practice to support other vegan leaders and leaders in vegan businesses. Vegan business is booming - these companies will need to invest in leadership development as they continue to expand. Being an experienced coach while sharing their values, I am ideally suited to assist these organizations and their leaders to become ever more successful. Besides as a leadership coach, I myself need to be a leader. Being vegan provides me the opportunity to do just that – to have a vision, to stand for something, to communicate it effectively so that others want to follow, and ultimately to create positive change for the world. Leadership is typically a path of swimming upstream and I am honored to participate in the vegan movement – the social justice movement of our time!

Susanne: Being vegan allows me to be a leader - have a vision, stand for something and communicate it effectively to create positive change.

As a vegan, I feel great, have abundant energy, and look healthier than ever. People even mistake me for being in my 20’s (I am 43). I am now living my own values of truth, justice, education, kindness, compassion and love. As a result, I feel aligned, powerful and at peace. I am now in the best position to challenge others to live their own highest values, do work they believe matters, and reach their potential.

Anna:To be perfectly honest, my work sometimes challenges my vegan values. In career workshops at my university, I mention that I am a vegan - just so they see that we exist, and that we are not some distant weirdo’s. My job is to help students (mostly engineering) find their path and think outside the box. It’s tough when I see my students apply to companies which test on animals or destroy the environment. How far can I go? I usually mention my concerns, emphasizing that this is my personal belief but also that we have a collective responsibility to support “good” companies. Of course, some students are only interested in getting their first job, no matter what it is… in that case, I realize there is a limit to what I can do.

Eating in the canteen is also a challenge. It is too much for me to see other people eat animals. I eat with my boyfriend who works at the same university and is also vegan. I know I should join others to show a positive example and open them up to questions but I am not ready yet.

I had a positive experience being recently invited to a conference in Copenhagen. I let them know I was vegan beforehand and they served a vegan option at least for the main course, and it seemed rather natural.

What led you to embrace the vegan lifestyle?

Susanne: It was a perfect storm. Five years ago, I got very sick and could not eat for a week. Incredibly, at the end of that week, I noticed I felt great. In fact, I felt better than I had ever remembered. I also noticed that I looked fantastic: my skin was glowing and my stomach was flat. The experience compelled me to question my eating habits. So began my research and experimentation with food that led me to a vegetarian and eventually a vegan diet, much to the dismay of my meat-eating and pig-farming family members.

Also around this time I saw the documentary Earthlings and, realized I could no longer in good conscience consume anything from an animal. What I chose to eat was now a moral decision. I began to question: Why had I never thought about the lives of the animals I consumed? Were all my food habits based upon nothing more than cultural programming and lies?

Still, the idea of becoming vegan just felt like too much for a wife and sleep-deprived working mother of two toddlers. Nevertheless I decided to try and stick with it. I started to feel a pride in the person I was becoming. What was happening was more than physical. It was emotional and ultimately, spiritual.

Anna:I became vegan two years ago for ethical reasons. But along the way, I learned so much about the positive environmental impact and the overwhelmingly positive health benefits. I now haven’t been sick in the last two years, which is close to a miracle. Today I try to represent all the aspects: morals, environmentalism, and health.

Anna: Veganism is not just a diet but an attitude, a lifestyle. It may be a longer journey to access and process all the information.

Before that I was a vegetarian for 3 years. My boyfriend at the time and I had both become vegetarian after seeing the documentary called “A Delicate Balance”.

I want to point out: veganism is not just a diet, but an attitude, a lifestyle – my transformation did not happen overnight. I didn’t use to know that anything was wrong with milk or eggs until I watched some videos and read articles… same with honey, leather, fur, animal testing etc. It was a longer journey to access and process all the information.

Does your lifestyle ever come up in interactions with your clients or colleague? What’s the typical reaction?

Susanne: Yes, whenever appropriate I will bring it up (the other party often does too!) I believe part of my responsibility is to create awareness and educate others. People are naturally interested in becoming more effective and successful as well as healthier, more vibrant, aligned and fulfilled. When there is interest, I readily share my thoughts, ideas and resources, or point them to my Facebook community. There are now several people who have become vegan and thanked me for the information which had helped them make the decision for themselves.

Anna:Reactions vary. Some are interested and ask genuine questions, some let me talk but seem disconnected, some argue or make jokes, or say up front: “I love the taste too much; I would never go vegan.“ I’d love to be able to say that I handle all of these conversations like a pro but it would not be true... Some days I am patient and make the best out of the opportunity to spread awareness. But some days are harder, plus my Danish is not yet good enough for arguments!

Then there are pleasant surprises all the time! For example, I recently inspired a vegetarian colleague to expedite his vegan transition. He thanked me for it!

Are you involved with any vegan groups or initiatives?

Susanne:I run a small but growing Facebook community called Trying Vegan. It is about simply trying, despite our busy lives, to become more intentional about what we consume and why. Trying Vegan promotes veganism as a moral baseline. I am also writing a book by the same name which I plan to have available in 2017. I am active in vegan groups on social media. This May I will participate in a “Change Makers. Rule Breakers” event with 30-socially minded entrepreneurs and Sir Richard Branson on his private island. The gathering is to share ideas on how we can best improve the world. Well, there is a single lever that can address so much of what concerns the human race: top diseases, world hunger, soaring medical costs, failing healthcare systems, over-fishing and oceanic dead zones, global warming, drought, deforestation, and sadly, the torture and killing of billions of animals in our farming system. This lever is veganism. I am excited to share my ideas with Sir Richard Branson and the group while learning about the incredible work each of the other 30 entrepreneurs are involved with.

Anna:I am a member of many vegan online groups (Facebook and LinkedIn) and running vegan beginner courses here in Aalborg. Also I am presently developing a cool project called PRIZM®. PRIZM® is an experience where a group of participants are "locked up" in a professionally designed set of rooms for exactly 60 minutes, and they must work as a team to solve puzzles and challenges in order to escape. The unique concept of PRIZM® is that all the games represent real world issues, such as ocean/ plastic pollution, environmental and social problems as well as health, environmental and ethical issues related to animal agriculture.

What main advice would you give to vegans traveling to your country for work or pleasure?

Susanne: I am based just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We are a friendly, active, health-conscious city. My advice is to look up the vegan eateries we have available and to enjoy our beaches, forests and parks!

Anna:There are more and more vegan opportunities here in Denmark, as expected mostly in our capital Copenhagen. Even in our small city Aalborg, there is a 100% vegan eatery called 1000Fryd. My boyfriend Lukas recently wrote an article about it. 1000Fryd a must-visit if you are a vegan visiting Aalborg.

You can also find vegan friendly accommodations through VegVisits, with a bonus opportunity to cook and socialize with local vegans. My boyfriend and I are listed on it!

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