by Rafaela Prifti
Q. You are the CEO of a digital marketing company, a speaker, and a certified life coach with a background in nursing, computer programming, journalism, grassroots organizing and political activism who lived in Mitrovica through the Kosovo war before immigrating to the United States a decade ago. There is a lot to unpack here. Let me start by asking how do you introduce yourself? Who is Teuta Shabani-Towler?
A. I’m a mom, a daughter, a sister, an auntie, and a friend to many. I consider myself to be a strong, peaceful person who really loves helping people. I feel so fortunate to be able to help friends, family, clients, and impact women through my coaching, workshops, and inspirational speeches.
Q. Do you feel that education impacted your later choices?
A. My education and my work experience is a “mutt”. I believe everything happens for a reason because one thing led me to another. My nursing education was out of scarcity because just when I went to high school, Kosovo was stripped of its autonomy. That meant, my opportunities to get a college education was limited to nonexistent. I attended nursing school while still in high school to be able to have the skill to get a job. Plus, my parents really wanted me to be a doctor. While attending nursing school, I was really drawn to brain function and human behaviors, so I wanted to become a neurophysiologist. By the time I graduated from high school and nursing school, the political situation in Kosovo worsened and I no longer had the opportunity to pursue my medical studies at the university level. I worked as a nurse for two years at a pediatrician’s office and I absolutely hated sticking children, especially newborns with needles. In my second year working as a nurse, I started taking private computer programming classes after work. I didn’t even own a computer and we could probably count how many families had computers in the city of over 100,000 people. Most of my friends and relatives criticized me for wasting money on computer courses because there were no computer job opportunities in Kosovo. I really fell in love with computers and programming. I built my first patient records software at no cost for the doctor that I was working for. He considered it as a favor to me because he had to buy a computer for his office. I trained the doctor and two other staff members how to use it. As soon as he appreciated the convenience and efficiency of pulling up patient info, he told other doctors. So, I started getting requests to build software for other doctors. I just made minor changes and was selling the same program. I made more money in two months selling my software than the entire year working as a nurse. Six months later, I quit my nursing job and became a full-time programmer. I went back to college for computer programming, but at that stage, I was more advanced than what they were teaching. When the war broke out in Kosovo, I was just finishing college. During the war, we had limited journalists left in the country. I became one of those “I reporters” who frequently called BBC radio and Deutsche Welle Radio to inform the outsiders what was happening in Kosovo. I loved finding information and sharing it with people. That led me to take journalism classes after the war. Fast forward to 20 years later, I started Mitro Digital Marketing business in Kosovo and the United States, where I use my coding and writing skills in one job, Website Design and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I think my personal tagline summed it up nicely: I write for humans and code for machines. It was hard to be both the CEO of a company and a programmer. To grow the business, I had to let go of programming and hired people to do that for me. I love marketing because it deals with human buying behaviors. I thought by helping my clients make money, it will impact their lives and they will be happy. However, that wasn’t always the case. It didn’t matter how much money they made, many of them were still not happy. I started feeling not fulfilled and realized I’m not making much of a difference in people’s lives. I was searching within myself to do something more meaningful and fulfilling.
Q. Was there a defining moment in your life that led you to want to become a life coach?
A. In March 2020, I attended the Mindvalley Personal and Professional conference in Los Angeles just before Covid shut down. I met many amazing speakers and attendees. I attended Lisa Nichols’ workshop Speak and Inspire. She really did inspire me to use my voice and my story to inspire others. Some of the attendees that I was having dinner with thought I was a life coach because of the way I was talking about issues related to immigrant identities. That got me thinking about life coaching. Then Covid hit my marketing business pretty badly for three months. All of my paid ads and other marketing efforts were either canceled or put on hold. I found myself at home with two kids and not a whole lot of things to do. I researched many coaching schools and chose the John Maxwell Team. I took the classes for life coaching, speaking, and professional development training. Now I’m a John Maxwell Independent Coach, Speaker, and Trainer. My coaching, speaking, and training brand is called, The Peaceful Doer because it’s important for my clients to feel at peace with the decisions they make, and the actions they take. Plus, this world really needs more peaceful doers.
Q. There are countless numbers of life coaches, what’s your distinctive or defining quality?
A. I work primarily with women who want to make changes in their lives, reach personal and/or professional goals. Most of the time, women call me when they find themselves at crossroads and are not sure which way to go. Whether it’s a career, a personal relationship, poor health habits, money problems, moving to another country, etc. The majority of my clients are women who are immigrants and struggle with finding out who they really are and what they want. As part of assimilating into this country, immigrants go through a personal identity crisis. I know how they feel because I went through that and it was a brutal journey. But I found my way back up and now I can help others do the same. My coaching training with John Maxwell also enables me to help women become leaders in their families, businesses, nonprofit, or their communities. I do this through one-on-one coaching, the leadership workshops I teach as well as masterminds I facilitate which are based on the John Maxwell books.
Q. What is the difference between a mentor, a life coach, and a therapist?
A. First of all, I want to say that life coaches are not like sports coaches. Life coaches don’t tell you what to do. We’re not experts of your life, we’re experts of the process to guide you to find answers within through questions we ask. We may offer another way of thinking but we never tell clients what they should do. That’s because when clients find answers on their own, they become more confident and empowered. Imagine how you feel when you figure out things on your own vs someone else telling you. We’re there to motivate clients and hold them accountable for the goals and actions they set up to do. To make sure they understand what holds them back and know they can overcome those challenges. Only if a client feels absolutely stuck, we may offer some options but never tell clients what they should do. Sometimes, your intuition is the best and I’m there to make sure you tap into that. A life coach makes sure you have a balanced life: personal relationship, health, career, money, hobby, and contribution to society. That’s because many people focus so much on their careers that they sacrifice their personal relationships and their health. Or they sacrifice their career for the family but then don’t feel happy about it later. Mentors give advice and share their own experiences in a specific industry or field. For example, I was a volunteer SCORE certified mentor and I would help clients with marketing tips and strategies. I have six mentors available to me through the John Maxwell Team. In case I need advice in one area or another, they provide feedback and support. Another important aspect I want to mention is therapist vs life coaches. Therapists are health professionals who deal with traumas and different emotions. They focus on healing from the past. Life coaches deal with clients, where they’re at now, and make plans for the future by changing habits and creating actionable goals. In therapy, there’s a lot of talking. In life coaching, there’s a lot of planning and action-taking. Therapy focuses a lot on problems, life coaches focus on solutions.
Q. Your profile says that you bring a fresh perspective to your coaching. Can you elaborate on it?
A. I challenge my clients to think differently to achieve different results than they’ve been getting. Understanding why they do what they do helps to build a great sense of awareness. Once they’re aware of their own blocks and clear them up, they become unstoppable.
Q. What should I expect from attending one of your presentations or classes?
Workshops are designed based on the organizations or businesses’ needs and goals. For example, a Real Estate company was struggling with a toxic work environment. I did a workshop on team building and communication. Another workshop I did was Money Mindset-Money Strategy. This was in cooperation with a financial advisor. I was focused on the money mindset, and she did money strategy. The attendees got a deeper understanding of where their money beliefs came from, how it impacted their lives and how to overcome the fear of lack of money. Through masterminds, there is a lot of focus on building stronger and deeper connections through communications, which in turn helps improve personal relationships, forge a better connection with family members, or coworkers and customers. In other words, everyone’s goals are different, but we all learn from each other. It’s important to understand that goes for me too. I’ve been facilitating the same masterminds for over a year now every four and five weeks and I still learn something new. That’s because each participant brings a different perspective and challenge which makes me think differently.
Q. Could you talk about your role model(s)?
I think my first role model was my first-grade teacher in Mitrovica, Kosovo. She was a brilliant, strong woman, a widow who raised three wonderful kids on her own, and was the only woman in my circle at the time that drove a car. One time she gave me a ride home because I was sick. I was very impressed with her driving. She said you can drive too when you grow up. I was seven years old, and I knew when I’m older, I’m going to own and drive my own car. I did that even during the most challenging times to get a driver’s license under the Serbian regime. One of the Kosovo women who inspires me is Valdete Idrizi who was awarded the Women of Courage Award by the United States in 2007. In the United States, the women who inspire me are Lisa Nichols, Sara Blankey, VP Kamala Harris, and many more.
Q. You talk about one of your experiences specifically being the first one to welcome the French UN troops that rolled into the town of Mitrovica after the Kosovo War. What was it like?
As horrible as war was, I got to see the worst and the best in human beings. There were many people killed, kicked out of the country, or hidden in the forests or in homes. My family and I were kicked out of our home. My dad was taken away to prison for three weeks and then later was sent to Albania. It was part of the Serbian strategy for ethnic cleansing. We didn’t know if my dad was alive and he didn’t know what happened to us for six months. My mom, brother and I came back home three weeks later to find a burned home but luckily the first floor’s concrete walls were still standing. As part of my “I reporting” self-promoted assignment, I would sneak around in people’s yards and burned houses around the city. At one point I saw two military trucks by the market in Mitrovica. From a distance, they looked like the Serbian military types. As I got closer, I noticed the French flag and I heard a helicopter overhead. I was so happy to see them that I couldn’t believe that the Serbian forces were out and NATO troops were in Kosovo. They didn’t know about any survivors because they couldn’t find any people any where in a city destroyed to the ground. I believe they were as happy to see me as I was happy seeing them. They asked me where the people are. I told them they were hiding in different places. One of them pulled out a map and spread it on top of the hood. I showed him the forest where displaced people were set up in tents. They communicated with the helicopter pilot that flew to the mountain and dropped off packages of food. I was so happy at that moment, I was crying. Then more people came out after they saw the helicopter. The French troops were asking where they could find a bakery to buy bread. I didn’t understand the word bread, so one of the soldiers drew it on a piece of paper. I told them “At my mom’s kitchen!” I got to ride with them to my parents’ house. My mom got so scared when she saw the trucks because she thought they were Serbian military. In less than an hour, more French troops assembled at our house and we’re serving them tea and bread. They had been driving on a road for a long time and scared of falling on landmines.
Q. You have made it your life’s mission to empower women in Kosovo and here. On that topic, Dielli has covered rallies, meetings, Congressional hearings on survivors of sexual violence in the Kosovo war. Can you draw from your perspective some cultural differences between our countries?
A. Women are influenced not just by the culture but by their life experiences. Kosovo women still have many challenges, not as many opportunities and support. In Kosovo, you have women in rural areas who are treated as second-class citizens, and then you have powerful women who serve in high leadership positions such as two female presidents. In America, women have more options but have not been able to climb up to the presidential position. For a country as developed as the United States, women are still treated poorly and are not supported in the political field.
Kosovo women are very brave, and I think going through the war has made them stronger. When you’ve been at the lowest level in your life, where you lost everything, there’s nothing else to do but climb up. The majority of them have overcome the fear of failure because they’ve been there, they survived, and they know what they are capable of.
Q: You told me that leaving Kosovo to come to the US was the hardest decision you ever made. I have heard a similar pain in the stories shared by immigrants forced to leave Albania gripped by civil unrest and corruption. Have you found points of convergence and what does that mean to you?
A. I’m fortunate that I came to the United States by choice. I wasn’t forced to leave the country that many people from Albania and Kosovo did. It was a hard choice to leave my family, friends, the women’s nonprofit that I founded, my United Nations job, and many organizations that I served on the boards. I was very involved in Kosovo. I worked 12-16 hours a day. I had a post survivor guilt and trauma and all I wanted to do was help others. I never stopped working except every three weeks I would get sick and had to stay home for three days. It was after four months, my UN doctor noticed a pattern and told me that I needed rest. I had so much passion to help people that I never wanted to stop. When I moved to the United States, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. My body was here but my soul was in Kosovo. I lost my identity and my self-confidence. My life really didn’t have any meaning. That was a new feeling for me.
I live on a beautiful island and spent a lot of time on the beach but I got bored. I needed to help people but I felt like none needed my help here. Everyone seems to be doing fine. For the first time, I had time to think about my past, and all the war trauma that I’ve buried while in Kosovo started to resurface. Add losing my identity and self-confidence to that and that was a receipt for deep depression. I suffered in silence for many years. Kept it all to myself, trying to carry the same strength I had before I moved to the United States, but it was acting. At the end of the day, I would feel so exhausted that I slept for 12-14 hours. I was sick very frequently and barely managed to take care of the kids and my business. The interesting thing is I didn’t even think or realize that I was depressed until one day I had a suicidal thought that scared me so bad, I immediately asked for help. I went through therapy and other alternative healing and got back to my old self in two years. I want to take a moment and encourage anyone who’s dealing with depression to seek help. Don’t suffer alone and in silence. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Life is beautiful but when you have emotional pain, you can’t see it. There are ways to release the pain but you have to be willing to ask for help. I hope anyone who deals with depression seeks help. If not for yourself, do it for the people who love you and need you.
Q. What are you working on currently? Have you thought about publishing your life advice?
I’m working on expanding my professional speaking business. I’ve been speaking to groups but it’s been mainly on Zoom because of Covid related restrictions. I want to be on stage and speak to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves. If I can do it, anyone else can. I’m working on bringing to the public four other masterminds. I’ve been thinking about writing a book but have not had the time to devote to it quite yet. I’m focusing on spending time with my kids and traveling with them because they are growing up so fast.
Thank you for the interview!
I want to thank Dielli newspaper for your interest in my story and I hope it helps inspire your readers.