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Living Life by Design, with Tezeta Roro

Living Life by Design, with Tezeta Roro

Episode 135: Living Life by Design, with Tezeta Roro

After going through a negative experience when buying her first house Realtor Tezeta “Tez” Roro decided to quit her job as a risk averse investor and pursue her next passion in real estate. On this episode, Tez talks about her early career paths, being an introvert at a social job, and the positive and the negative aspects of working for yourself. She also shares her experiences being an immigrant in the United States, interacting with different cultures, and the importance of living one’s values with every step of the way.

Episode Transcript

00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate Network Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host, Maricella Herrera. Hi, Maricella.

00:23 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy.

00:25 KW: How you doing? I ask that every time, I'm like, "How's it going? How you doing?"

00:28 MH: How's it going? I was gonna say...

00:29 KW: This is when we catch up is over the microphones, yeah. [chuckle]

00:32 MH: It's pretty much when we get to catch up when it's not about actually having a meeting and then running to another meeting and then running to another meeting, which is how life is lately.

00:44 KW: It's been non-stop.

00:45 MH: Yeah, it really has.

00:46 KW: Non-stop. There's a song from Hamilton called Non-Stop, and that goes through my head at 3:00 o'clock in the morning when I can't sleep, and I'm like, all right. [chuckle] Just gonna keep moving. But it's a movement, we're about creating change, and that's action, so it's my mind, the things I do every day, we're gonna keep going.

01:09 MH: Yeah, I've embraced it. It's funny because it is tiring to always be going, but when you actually like what you do, it's not bad.

01:24 KW: True. That is very true.

01:26 MH: So I also... You know me, I will be. Although I have actually now figured out that the platform I use for email that we use internally, Front, does have the ability of scheduling emails, so I'm being more mindful of not sending people emails at 2:00 AM. Feel very excited about that. [chuckle]

01:46 KW: You're a better person than me, I... Yeah, I do my best email work at 11:00 o'clock at night, unfortunately.

01:53 MH: Same.

01:53 KW: But that's cool, that's cool. That is my choice. I have made that choice for myself.

01:58 MH: Also, that is actually self-awareness. I am a huge fan of people knowing when they work better, when their brain works better, when they're more productive. I am also a nighttime person. Don't try to get me to say smart things in the morning 'cause it's just not gonna happen.

02:16 KW: But I'm gonna say, I've been impressed because you have become more of a... Your hours have started to shift earlier, you've been... I've seen you perkier in the mornings than the norm.

02:28 MH: I have. I've been getting here at 9:00. That's an improvement. [chuckle]

02:31 KW: I know. Impressive. That's impressive. I've worked with you for a number of years, and I didn't want that to go by without comment.

02:39 MH: Thank you.

02:40 KW: So our guest today, Tez Roro, is pretty great, and she has a career journey that will resonate with many of us, which is moving from a more corporate environment, to going out on your own, doing your own thing, how we make those decisions, and what it looks like for us. And I found that a meaningful part of our discussion. I also was just really interested with her back story. Tez is an immigrant, and came here when she was younger. And I call that out right now because I know on last week's podcast we asked you to think about bringing your true and authentic self to work and how you can create a place for others to do that as well.

03:26 KW: And to follow up on that ask I have another ask, and this is an ask where I really do wanna hear from you. We think a lot at Ellevate Network around how do we create a culture that is not only inclusive but is a safe place for our employees to bring their whole selves to work, to talk about what's bothering them, to find the support that they need? And that goes everything from the loss of a loved one, someone who's sick, stress with financials, or finding a place to live, or whatever those stressors may be through to the world at large. And a lot of what's happening in our world today, if it's everything from the environmental, political, gender and diversity, immigration, sexual harassment, regardless of what side you stand on those issues, that does not leave when you walk into the workplace; it follows you in some way.

04:37 KW: And so at Ellevate, we think a lot, how can we have an environment where those open discussions can be had, and employees feel very supported in that because it's a very stressful time. So I would love to hear from you, our listeners, if you as an employee or as a business leader or owner, how have you felt welcome to discuss these things and to process and address them in a professional environment? Do you think professional environment is a place for that? I do, but I wanna put that out there 'cause not everyone does, and I'm open to those viewpoints. But send us an email,, or tweet at us, EllevateNtwk on Twitter, and let us know how does the professional world and the world outside the office come together when you are an employee, you're part of a team, and you're in that workplace day in and day out, and leaving the outside world at the door is no longer an option.

05:38 MH: I can't wait to hear. I can't wait to read those comments.

05:41 KW: Yeah, I'm very excited to hear it, too. I'm making another ask of you, our listeners, but so far you've been a huge force for us to keep us motivated, keeping us going, keeping us honest. It's always fantastic to hear from you. So we look forward to hearing your thoughts, and enjoy my conversation with the fantastic Tez.


06:15 KW: Tez, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast.

06:20 Tez Roro: I'm happy to be here.

06:21 KW: This is exciting. So you and I have known each other for some time, in large part just due to the work that you have undertaken to support women in New Jersey through the Ellevate Network, so thanks for that. And I'm really excited for our conversation today, and I know that our listeners will be as well because we're gonna talk all about transitioning from corporate life to self-employed, how that worked for you, lessons learned, and the pathway forward. So if you wouldn't mind starting us off and sharing a bit about your journey and how you got to be here today with me on the Ellevate Podcast.

07:03 TR: So yeah, happy to share the story, and I actually come here with a gift for our listeners, and that is I am the last person you would expect to make this type of a choice because I am naturally an introvert, and I consider myself on the risk-averse side of things. So when you put those two things together, they just don't add up to resigning from a corporate job. But I think the lesson here is ultimately it's really important to stay true to our values, what matters, what moves us, and it really gets to the point where those things become clear, and you are able to make those choices that you didn't think you'd make before. I used to always look at people when they say, "I quit my job to do this," How do you even begin to make that transition? Because there's some real consequences, financially, otherwise, one of the main things being healthcare. That was the one thing, really for a while, that kept me. And I resigned a few months after having my second child, so you would think that wasn't the time when I would do that, that perhaps I would need the job more or things like that.

08:06 TR: But part of being risk-averse is we're very analytical, so we analyze a lot of the things ahead of time. So this... A ton of work and analysis and discussion with my husband, making sure that this was the right time to do it was helpful for me. And I guess it was a process that was happening for a while, it was just a matter of, okay, what does plan B look like for me? Would I be happy in that plan B? And if I can answer that question, then what does the road look like from where I am to where I need to be? And I think having that goal is really key, and for those people who may not be completely happy where they are, if you have a goal in mind, each day then becomes bearable because now you're working towards a goal. So for me, on a big scale, that's kind of the thinking process that I had to do, and as we transition I'd be happy to talk details.

09:00 KW: Great. And what was your corporate career before this? What did your career look like?

09:05 TR: It's really interesting; I've made a few pivots. So in college I was a Bio major, I actually have a Biology degree, with pre-med intentions; I was supposed to go to medical school. I should say that I came... I was born and raised in Ethiopia, so hi to all my Ethiopian people. You can't see me, but I'm wearing [chuckle] an Ethiopian outfit. I came here at the age of 14, high school, so that was a really crucial time. A 14-year-old anywhere is... It's a tough time, and so to come and assimilate into a new culture, a new language, all of that was a challenge. And I have a single mom; I lost my dad when I was 12. I was helping raise my younger sister who's 11 years my junior, and so I joke and say I had a child before I had a child. So all of that.

09:47 TR: And then I finished college, and then I said, you know what, I'm gonna take a year off and just make sure that this medical school is something I want to do, not just somebody's values that I'm executing against. I took a year off; that made my mom really nervous. [chuckle] She was a former teacher, and so she was just worried that this year was gonna turn into multiple years, that I would never go back. But I'm really grateful that I did that because while I was in college, I was working in a retail store. And I remember when I went in for the interview, the manager asked me, "How is your attendance?" And I said, "It's okay, unless the bus is running late, but now I drive a car." He was like, "Well, how long have you been driving a car?" He was like, "A week." [laughter] He was like, "Well, you're very honest." And he hired me as a temp, and then soon became a job. And honestly, it was just a job to pay my new car note, it was not supposed to be a career.

10:43 TR: But then when I took that year off, it became clear to me that I just was not simply in a position to focus on medical school only and not worry about home. Remember, I was working, I was helping mom, it just was not a lifestyle for me. Even if I did go, I didn't know that my passion, quite honestly, met the time, the resources, the money, the lifestyle that that would require. So I said, I'm gonna do something in business; I was already sort of in the business world. And then the company I worked for had a tuition assistance program. Earned my MBA through that program, and then it kind of became a career.

11:23 TR: So I worked in retail, I worked in B2B, helping our customers learn our interface. I worked in finance, product management, project management, vendor management, about 12 years. Through that I got married, bought a house, had my first child. After I had my first child something changed inside of me, and the essence of time was different, and this exchange of time for dollars was no longer a model that worked for me. But I didn't have a plan B at the time. I knew I felt that, but I didn't have a plan B. So I went back to work. I still had the passion, was moving up, I still had every intentions on being successful, but that seed was planted that, okay, a plan B needs to occur.

12:12 TR: And then my husband was then... He's a New Yorker, so he moved to New Jersey after we got married, so he was still working in New York. Even the daycare struggles were difficult. I was the pick up and drop off, and when he got sick I'd be the one 'cause it didn't make sense. We tried it. One time my husband left work, and by the time he took the train and got home and drove and got to daycare it was 4:45; 50 minutes later I would have been out. I said, "This doesn't make sense, it just doesn't make sense," and so I said, "Mike, can you find a job in New Jersey? I need this to be a normal parent where one person drops off and one person picks up. This is too much for one person." He says, "Okay." He looks around and comes back to me with a proposal of a consulting job that takes him out of the state Monday through Thursday, three weeks out of the month. I'm like, this is not what I asked for, [chuckle] this is not what I asked for.

13:01 TR: But I said, you know what, he wasn't happy either. And he's a very sharp, strategic, high-level thinker, but he was not one for the red tape and bureaucrats. And he said, "I'm not happy here." So I said, "You know what, at least one person needs to be happy. We're gonna work on this." I actually helped negotiate his contract with his new employer. He still travels now, but that was the other added layer for me, not only did I have the seed planted when I first had my child, but now my husband is traveling. And I went and had a conversation with my manager and saying, "Hey, this is the new change. I can no longer stay here till 8:00 or 10:00, so if you see me leave it's because I have a hard stop. If need be I can log in, but this is the new normal." But there were just moments throughout my career where I quite honestly had to have very tough, courageous conversations where I felt like I felt guilty for being a parent, and deep down I knew that that was wrong, so something was misaligned, I shouldn't feel like that.

14:02 TR: And so it was just things adding up. There was definitely great things, like I said, I bought my home, and gotten a master's degree, and all of that, but at the end of the day, money wasn't enough. If I can't have dinner with my kids, that was not... That didn't feel like success to me. So he did that, and then soon after, I think we bought our own home. And this is a lesson for when some things don't go right, sometimes you're supposed to learn from them. My home buying experience left a lot to be desired. And I then became the chief project manager. I had to project manage every process because I do something and then my back was against the wall. Now you gotta do this with this type of... And I'm like, "Can't you tell me the entire thing from beginning to end?" Again I'm a planner; I don't like things thrown at me. And so by the end of that transaction, I said, you know what, I think I can do this, and I could probably do it better than some people I see.

15:00 TR: And so while I was full-time in corporate, I took my licensing course in the evening, got license. And then another lesson here, too, for those risk-averse is if you can, whether it's a side gig or a business, try it on. I call it the trying on phase, where I practiced real estate part-time for a couple years, made sure that the highs and the lows I'd be okay with, the lifestyle I'd be okay with. I don't know, a lot of people, when you think about real estate, we're making big commissions and life is great, and it's really not. It's got its benefits, but it's definitely got its challenges, too. So after that and after having my second child, again, you get realigned to your values, and your filters are clear, and you're then able to make decision from a point of strength, not for fear, or not from anything, and something stronger than yourself drives you. And so that's how and why I was able to make the change.

15:53 KW: So you bought a house, had a rough experience with the process, and decided, all right, I'm gonna change this. I'm gonna get my license and be a real estate agent, and so that others' experiences are much more positive and better, and just... So much of the roles you played in the workforce in the past, I think, lend itself to that: How do you create a process, system, transparency, how do you learn from past experiences to continue to innovate and iterate and make things better and stronger? And so I can definitely see how aspects of what you were doing before translate into this, but it still feels like a big shift, working from some sort of structured corporate environment to really, truly being on your own. And so the highs and the lows are driven largely on your shoulders. How was that experience? And then also even talking about being an introvert in a field where it is a lot about sales, and relationship building, and putting yourself out there, this sounds like a big shift.

17:11 TR: Those are great questions. And so you pointed on something about transition and transparency and processes. Even before I became licensed, I created a one-pager of here's how to buy a home, and I used to give them out to my friends. I said, "Just in case you don't get the A-Z like I didn't, here's how." And so some of the documents that I used to give to my friends are now part of my business process. And so this idea of streamlining processes is just something I do, whether it's business or not.

17:40 TR: Now, the point you mentioned about doing things on your own, that is... It's a gift and it's a challenge. One of my big whys for me is to live a life by design, and what does that mean? At the end of the day, it just means living the life with the people I choose to live. I choose to be here in this space with you today; I want to be here. I choose to spend it with my kids, I choose to spend it in an environment that I choose to. And so when you're working for someone else, you don't have that liberty, it's just the structure doesn't allow it. So I had to be fair to that envi... And that's what I told him, too, when I resigned is I had to be fair to you, and I had to be fair to me, I had to be fair to my family.

18:22 TR: So yes, it's a great thing to own your time. If my kids get sick, it's a matter of, hey, I gotta move this meeting. On the flip side, you can wake up, and you can just be in the mood not to do anything, and that's a challenge because you have that option, and of course, you'll pay for it some other time. And so there needs to be a great deal of discipline and daily rituals. And that, I think, is the biggest hurdle when people do their own thing is, yes, you can have great financial potential, and yes, you can manage your own time, but it's also a big challenge. So a lot of professionals have coaches for that because we're often great at clarifying other people's thoughts, helping them move the needle along, but we kinda need someone else to do that for us. And we're very good about rationalizing and cancelling ideas out in our minds, and I think we often need someone else to hold us accountable.

19:15 TR: So two things: The big thing is it's great to have a big why. Why are you... Why am I even... Why did I make this change? It's not gonna be all great, but when I'm constantly thinking about that why it helps me push through the challenging days. And the other is to implement some kind of accountability process, whether that's someone that you call on a weekly basis, or whether you choose to hire a coach. But yeah, discipline and motivation is a huge, huge challenge for people who work for themselves.

19:43 KW: Earlier in the podcast when you shared moving to the United States, and in this day and age where we talk about immigration a lot, it's a forefront. But as a parent myself, I know that my children are friends with and playing sports with and in school with students that were not born in the United States. How can we, our listeners and myself, be better allies for... Particularly, in your experience, for children that are moving to the United States? And I'm sure it must seem overwhelming if you don't know the language or if it's a different cultural norms, but what are the ways that we can, as parents, support our children in being greater allies?

20:32 TR: Yeah, that's another good question. So I'll reflect back on how I felt coming in, and it'll help inform what I'm about to say. So at 14, it's a difficult age, you're sort of becoming into an adult person, you're figuring you out, and then you come into a whole different culture. And for the first year or two I was asking my... A lot, "Why am I here? Take me back, I was fine there." And then I became an adult here, so I kinda have half... If you ask me... It's funny, if you ask me anything about childhood movies or whatever, I have no clue when it comes to here. If you ask me about dating back home, I have no clue 'cause I haven't done it there. So my life is sort of half and half. But I will say that I have come to really appreciate the two cultures that I have, and actually exactly the time that I came. Had I come earlier, I think maybe I would have lost some of my culture. Had I come later in life, maybe I wouldn't have adapted as well. So while it was a challenging time, I really appreciated the time, the precise time that I'm here.

21:32 TR: So having two cultures... I send my son to public school now, and so I'm having to deal with a lot of culture, even at this time, a lot of cultural conflicts, I will say, of how we've been raising our kids with our values, and then how the general population does. And so I think the key is really to, A, try to diversify, honestly, friends. Like yesterday, I had my son's birthday, and I can tell you my husband had a Nigerian friend, we had a Bulgarian friend, Jamaican, Ethiopian, African American. It's just where we were raised, it's that type, and so we understand the culture. We're going to one of our Nigerian friend's naming ceremony. I wouldn't know such a thing exists if they weren't in my life. So one is if people that have different cultures happen to be in your life, be curious. Be curious to know what life is like there because when you understand them, you can then understand people at your workplace better, and you're really doing your children a favor because when they grow up, they're not gonna have problems getting along.

22:42 TR: As realtors, that's one of our selling points is the town I live in happens to be very diverse, and I say parents whose kids have graduated from this high school report that they do very well in college because they're already exposed to a lot of cultures, and they can understand, they can relate, they can appreciate. And so one is if there are people in your school and your neighbor, be curious, be helpful. The American way is not the only way. That's one. The other is even better, seek it out. If you see someone needing help or if you see someone, do take that extra step and say, "Hey, what's going on? How can I help?" And sometimes that goes a long way.

23:23 KW: Yeah, thank you for that, and for sharing those stories. Throughout the course of our conversation, you've referenced your values a number of times. How did you identify and solidify and formalize those values, and what are they?

23:42 TR: Yeah. Before, earlier in my childhood, when I hear value, what are those? [chuckle] How do you get those? But we all have them; we may not recognize them as such. It's really what makes you light up? What makes you sad? What draws your energy? It's these feelings, if you can put those in words, that's really what it is. Do you enjoy being around a table at a Thanksgiving? So perhaps you have some family... Family may be one of your values. And so as we grow up, I think it becomes more crystallized. But I actually recently attended a meeting where a speaker actually mentioned on Google just like DiSC profiles, it is actually a values finder. You can take a test and it tells you these are your top values. But values, all it is, is as you're going by your day-to-day life, just pay attention to your feelings. When you're interacting with someone or something or an experience, pay attention to the feeling that's created inside of you, and that usually tells you what's already inside. It's not some external thing, we already have it, it's just naming them.

24:54 KW: Thank you for that. I'm gonna check out... I'm gonna look and see what the values finder is. I know that there's a Barrett Values Centre, it's this personal values assessment. I don't know, I haven't looked at it yet, so don't hold me to that. But it's interesting because as a business leader, we are very intentional about what are the values of our company, and how do we talk about that with our workforce, and how do they make decisions in the course of business to align with those values, and it can really create a great jumping ground for having important conversations, for validating decisions, for understanding where you stand on certain issues. But when we think about ourselves, we always talk about our values; we all have values. But how can you name exactly what they are? Can you say that you're living by them? And so this conversation, I think, has really spurred in me this internal dialogue around how do I be more intentional about my value system, and calling it out, and being able to tell people, "My values are X, my values are Y," and that will help make decisions like your values have helped you.

26:12 TR: Yeah, and so to go along with that, that's also how I make decisions about what I put myself into, what I sign up myself for. So Ellevate happens to be one of them. I'm on the PTO in my son's school, and so two of my filters on my value systems are these things that I wanna be part of, 'cause there's a lot of great opportunities, and sometimes I wanna be in this and I wanna be in that, and it's just... I find myself kind of spreading thin, and that's not how I wanna feel. I wanna sign up for a few things and give then my all and really deliver. So two questions I often ask myself is, is this something I'm passionate about? And we throw that word a lot, but really I think what we're saying is, is it aligned with our values? Do we care about it? In the simplest terms, that's what it is.

26:58 TR: Now, the next question is, do I have time for it? Because it's injustice to take up something, or an opportunity, or whatever, that someone could really be great at if we cannot give it the time. So if it passes those two, further you could say, hey, this thing I'm part of, can it help me further my goals? So networking is big, you mentioned, in my business, or any business really. And so Ellevate is something that I was part of when I was in corporate, so it's something that I would be part of regardless of what I do, that kind of proves that passion piece. And then it's like, well, do I have the time for it? And by the way, can it help support what I'm trying to do? So if it can check off all of those, it's probably a good thing to be part of.

27:38 KW: Well, Tez, thanks so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast. It was great catching up and hearing about some of your lessons, and appreciate you sharing that with the audience.

27:48 TR: Thank you for having me, and if there's any further questions or if anybody wants to connect, I'm on LinkedIn, so happy to share.

27:55 KW: Perfect, thank you.

27:57 TR: Thank you.


28:01 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out, subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter @EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network. And become a member, and you can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website,, that's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks, and to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger, thanks so much, and join us next week.


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