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Let's Discuss What Inspires Us

get-inspiredOur Executive Director was recently interviewed on Internet Radio, discussing inspiration for the Get Inspired Project.

You can listen to the full interview on their website:

You can also read the full transcript on their website, or here on our own BBL website.

Zuly Fertullien/ Get Inspired!


Day 258: Zuleika Fertullien
June 15, 2010

Toni Reece: Thank you so much, Zuly, for agreeing to be part of the Project today, and before we begin, can you please introduce yourself?

Zuleika Fertullien: Yes, hello.  My name is Zuleika Fertullien, and I’m with an early childhood program.

Toni: You’re with an early childhood program – and what is the name of the program?

Zuleika: Beyond Basic Learning in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Toni: Okay.  And Zuly, when you think of the word inspiration, who do you inspire, and how does that happen?

Zuleika: I find myself inspiring the teachers and the high school students that pursue a career in early childhood education.  I find that that happens in the way that I discuss with them my personal life journey that helped bring me to this point.  I share with them that I just didn’t come into being an owner of a school or an enterprise, that I actually went forward to work full time, and I went to school full time.

And during that time when I worked full time, I went to school full time, I had the opportunity to be part of a Union organization whose strong contract enabled me to be able to get a college education and pursue my dreams.  I share this with them so that they realize that the journey and the end product that they see comes with a lifelong work and determination.

Toni: So really you have set a magnificent example for your students.

Zuleika: Yes, absolutely.  I find that a lot of times students need to hear the story.  What was the path that we’re taking, and for me, it started very early on.  When I was in tenth grade, I had to write a speech, “Optimism, a way of life.”  My mother worked nights.  My father had left the home to come to New York to pursue a career in education in New York.  And that evening in my excitement, I left the speech at home, and so when I got there it was raining, and my mother’s friend took me to be able to be part of this competition.

And I stood there in front of these strangers, and I held strong to the conviction that if you really focus on the rose, even though the flower has thorns, you could still accomplish.  And as I pursued my dream and my passion and continued to go to school at night and work during the day, I stayed focused that life will still present me that rose at the end of my journey.

Toni: When you set this message about work and hard work, you know, and lifelong learning is your path here, how does that message then translate to others in helping them to explore their own potential?

Zuleika: I say to them that they need to be true to themselves, that it is important for them to explore opportunities, but that it comes with them actually taking the steps, that it’s just not going to be a get rich situation, or it’s going to be something that just mushrooms because you got the right Lotto ticket.  But they really need to give it some thought and really look at what is it about themselves that they want to do for the rest of their lives?  What is it that they want to be?  And I see it with my teachers.  We get … I take time to have a conversation with them, sometimes one on one.

Just recently, one of my teachers did not know what to do in college, and I came across a field that I just felt she would be perfect at.  I went online with her.  We researched it together on the internet.  I showed her links that could help her go ahead and find more information about it, printed it out, and said “Okay, now it’s your turn – you need to take the next step and pursue this so I can continue to guide  you.”  She came back to me so excited, because she did not know where to go and felt this sense of energy and direction through this process.

Toni: Do you ever find that people struggle with what that is?  The next step is go forward, which is perfect, but what about the step prior to that, which is “I’m not so sure what I’m supposed to go forward towards” – how do you help with that?

Zuleika: That is very true.  On another instance, I took my leadership team to a training where we went into … we had a consultant come, and I have them all take a personality test, a Myers and Briggs test.  Many of them did not know why they did some of the things that they did, or that there were similarities between them and another colleague at the school, or another member of their family.  I found that by separating myself and bringing an expert consultant and having them take this Myers and Briggs test, or a personality test — after three years I have taken that numerous times –but this really enabled them to find themselves and find their pursuit.

And when they’ve had the opportunity … when they have the opportunity to do this, when they had the opportunity to really pursue their own dream, they found that they were liberated, because now they had a direction, and now they had at least a starting point from where they could go.

Toni: What inspires you?

Zuleika: What inspires me really is spirituality.  I also, my fiancé and I, when we get up in the morning we pray together.  I’m very strong-founded that a strong sense of spirituality and having a foundation at home that unites your direction really helps you move forward.  What also inspires me are my parents.  My mother was my fifth grade teacher.  My father is now approaching 70 and just published a book during his retirement.  These are two lifelong learners, that despite of where the road has taken them, they continue to reinvent themselves.  They continue to find new ways of seeing life, and I find that those two factors are very much part of the fabric of my life.

Toni: That sounds like you have amazing parents.

Zuleika: Thank you.

Toni: When you go about your day to day and you’re working and building the schools and so forth, and maybe you have a day when you’re not feeling as inspired as you want to be, what do you tend to reach for?  Are there tools or resources that you go to on a consistent basis to help you to stay inspired or to reignite the inspiration?

Zuleika: It’s true; sometimes everyone has moments where we don’t always feel so inspired, where we sometimes feel that we ourselves need to be picked up a little bit.  There are things that I draw on.  I draw on positive music. I quiet everything around me, and I just look for things that have a positive message or a positive sound.  Spiritual music does that for me.  I also look for places that are quiet in order to reconnect with nature.  I go into the park.  I take long walks.  I enjoy gardening.

But then I also look at myself in every light, and I say “What is it within me that I need to improve?  What is it that has me feeling a little bit off today?  Is there something that I can do to improve?”  I try to turn my weaknesses into a strength.  For example, when I built my second school, I did not know anything about architecture.  It is my weakness, and therefore, I decided to sign up for a workshop in architecture all the way in Harvard University.

So you’re talking about never having architectural background or degree in a world of men, I was the only woman with a lot of engineers, and taking a workshop that was truly outside of my reality, out of my realm. That was quite an undertaking.  I personally felt that I myself needed to put myself in those situations.  I needed to leap into situations that were uncomfortable and try them out.

In a simpler way, I’m not a very good swimmer – I float on my back.  But I felt that one way to conquer my fear would be to become a scuba diver.  I know how to sink very well without the equipment, might as well how to sink with it.

Toni: That’s great.

Zuleika: So I became a scuba diver, and I uncovered another world underneath me.  I did not totally conquer my fear of the ocean, but at least it gave me the step that through determination and through perseverance and good health that I, too, can incrementally conquer my fears and continue to be inspired.

Toni: Well, where did this courage come from?

Zuleika: Where did this courage come from?  It comes from my spirituality.  I keep going back to that, because I find that if you’re a person who is grounded in faith, you’re a person that is grounded in integrity.  If you can look at yourself every morning in the mirror and say “I did the best I could today,” it doesn’t have to measure against any standard except your own.  It doesn’t have to adhere to any person’s idealism.  It has to conform with a certain peace that you have within yourself.  If you can do that, if you can simply take time to focus on the fact that today you’re the best person that you can be today, all of that will be attracted to you, and you will be able to reflect that in your smile, in your voice, and in your outlook.

Toni: How do you continue to explore your own potential so that others can benefit by that?

Zuleika: I continue to explore my own potential by being a lifelong learner.  I continuously go back to school to challenge my mind and to challenge myself personally and professionally.  I’m on my third Masters.  If that’s not a lifelong learner, I’m not sure what it is.  I’m hoping not to start pursuing my doctorate degree, because then it will bring an end to all of my studies.  I hope to be able to be as I read in the New York Times a while back, the 75-year-old lady still pursuing her degree in education.  I hope to always be writing my prologue, and never writing that last chapter of the book, and that it will continue to stay open.  So that’s how I continue to pursue my own potential and to be inspired.  I test what are the boundaries of education, and I seek to reinvent myself through that process.

Toni: Well, Zuly, I have to tell you, I just absolutely love this interview, and everything that you have to say so eloquently, and just this last bit of you saying that you always want to be writing your prologue and not the last chapter is incredibly profound, and that is where we will leave the interview.  I cannot thank you enough for being part of the Get Inspired! Project.

Zuleika: Thank you.  Thank you so very much for considering me and to having me on board with you.  I really enjoyed it.  It really speaks to my sprit.  If you read my philosophy on the website, one of the things that I have in my philosophy is to develop the positive child, the optimistic child, is truly embedded in the way that I go ahead and move the direction of the organization forward.  This truly speaks to the core of who we are, so I really enjoyed being part of this as well.

Toni: Oh, thank you so much.  It’s been a pleasure.

Zuleika: It’s been a pleasure for me as well, Toni.  Have a wonderful, wonderful week.

Toni: Thank you.  Take care.

You can listen to the full interview on the website for the Get Inspired Project:


Zuleika Fertullien

Executive Director,
Founder of Beyond Basic Learning,
Child Development and Growth

TV Guestpert Profile: