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Lean In and Listen: The Success Story of Despina Zangas

Success stories: we all love to hear about them.

We use these stories to motivate us, to inspire us, and to help us know how to find our own success as well!

And it’s the nitty, gritty details we want to know. How much do you hate to hear about someone getting their big break on their first try?

I know I do.

I want people to have moments of doubt, times of struggle, obstacles to overcome.

That’s real life.

Despina Zangas is the epitome of a success story. Why?

1. Her Success Didn’t Come Easy

Despina worked for her success. She zigged, she zagged, made power moves and connections, and came out on top in the end.

Despina always knew that she wanted to go into something creative and she made it happen. After school she landed a career at The Toronto Sun. Her work in digital advertising was a great learning experience, but she needed room to show off her creativity.

“After that I found out about digital design and got really excited about that so I started working at a company called Passport Online and that’s where I had a lot of opportunity to work with big brands like LCBO and British Airways and a lot of radio stations in Toronto. Eventually I became a creative director there.”

After that she started a position with a company called Internet Marketing Associates, but her need to grow couldn’t be stifled and before long she was planning on spreading her wings on her own and started her own design firm.

“I did that for about 10 years and I absolutely loved running my own design firm but I found that it had it’s limitations and I knew that if I wanted to grow, if I wanted to go to the next stage, I really had to partner with somebody who kind of understood the path to growth. So I partnered with my current partners Randall Craig and Ashish Malik and together we form 108ideaspace.”

Despina shows that the leap to a new job isn’t scary, it’s an opportunity to grow and work towards your dream job!

2.  She Learned Something From Every Job

Despina took something with her from every single job that she worked at. If she didn’t like a job, she still used it as a learning experience and grew her repertoire of skills and understandings.

“At The Toronto Sun I learned that even though your goal is maybe to create something beautiful, it’s really all about the client. That taught me a lot about working with different industries, really thinking about what they want, and not necessarily what you want,” she shared.

From her job at Passport Online she learned about the power of having a love for what she does. “I really learned about being passionate and maintaining integrity in design and I think I gained a lot of respect with clients because they saw how passionate I was for what I did for them,” she shared.

Before going off at her own, she used her time at Marketing Associates to learn about how to eventually run her own companies. “There I kind of learned about management and leading people and process, and really the importance of encouraging creativity within your staff.”

3. She Knew her Limitations

The reason Despina picked her current partners was because she wanted to be with people who understood the path to growth. Despina had her own business but she knew that if she really wanted to reach all her goals that she would need to bring other people in and work together. Instead of taking on an “I can do it all” attitude, she happily brought others in to work as a team with her.

“What’s so funny about us is that we all compliment each other and I think that being a woman in this company has actually benefited me because men can be more direct and I kind of take that softer approach when it comes to our clients so it’s actually worked to my advantage,” she shared.

4. And She Lets Others Lean on Her

As a successful woman with a great network, Despina still saw that other women have issues doing the same. She heard about Sheryl Sandberg’s bookLean In and immediately felt inspired.

“When she talks about women not having self-confidence, when I read it I was like “yeah this is not something that I necessarily feel,  but it’s something that women tend to feel.” I really related to the concept of leaning in and and standing up for what you believe, and not being afraid because women are so afraid to proceed with things and just move forward. That’s what really resonated,” she shared.

That was all it took for Despina to work to create Lean In- Toronto with other inspiring women like herself. Now they have monthly meetings that feature networking events, speakers, and even more networking so women can meet possible mentors and future business partners, get inspired, and truly lean in together.

“I really wanted to connect with other women. I wanted to share our experiences. I tend to be a very social person. I love meeting people and I love meeting people from different walks of life and not just my industry necessarily. Lean In-Toronto actually started through networking- it’s absolutely something that you need to do,” Despina said.

Now she’s been able to watch Lean In-Toronto grow as it’s gotten more and more attendees to it’s meetings, and she’s met more and more inspiring women.

As a woman who has found so many successes in her life, she is definitely someone whose story we should all lean in and listen to. Especially when she shares her parting message:

“Trust yourself. That’s one of the issues that I had maybe in my 20s. Even when I knew it was right I would doubt myself. I wouldn’t proceed with things because I thought ‘Maybe that’s not the right way to go.’ Now as I’ve gotten older I feel that I’m making these right decisions. Just go with your gut and know that what you’re doing is probably right. All those stumbles you have along the way: they’re absolutely great because they’re learning lessons. They help you.”

If someone as successful as Despina is telling me to make mistakes I’m going to listen! Take that ladies as a free pass to push past your insecurities, trust your gut, and find your own success. Hopefully one day women will be leaning in to hear your story too!

To learn more about Lean In-Toronto visit http://leanintoronto.com.

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is an Associate Editor at Goddess Connections for the Women Who Run It E-Mag. She graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Studies. She is a resident of Toronto and she has a passion for exploring topics on health and fitness, and enjoys writing stories about women’s issues. She also enjoys writing about business and how to build a career. When she is not working for Women Who Run It you can find her exploring Toronto, going for jogs, or simply enjoying life as a strong, empowered woman who runs it. Her goal is to share stories that help women of all walks of life take control of their lives and create balance with ease.

Comments (3)

  • Avatar

    Alex Kvaskov


    Self-doubt is the worst. However, I find that there are too many success stories and not enough stories about failure. In order to learn, we need to hear both sides – what worked and didn’t work. Thoughts?

  • Avatar

    Annie Shim


    good article, sometimes we need to go with our gut feeling!

  • Avatar

    Farren Washington


    Making mistakes is a part of life. The key is to learn from those mistakes so that you don’t repeat them again in the future.

Comments are closed