An ultra-marathon runner and analytical genius, Leslie Zednai isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Leslie is fascinated by people. Specifically, what motivates people to act (or not to act), authenticity, and the biases we form as we grow. Leslie’s career began in Oceanography, where she traveled the oceans of the world on a constant adventure, but she still felt that something was missing.
Now, Leslie works as an analyst, synthesizing data sets to help marketing teams make decisions. Her trick? An ambidextrous brain that allows her to merge her creative and analytical sides.
Read on to learn more about Leslie’s brain, how and why she started ultra-marathon running, and why she thinks it’s important to form groups and socialize with friends regularly.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My first career was in Oceanography. I specialized in Environmental Marine Sedimentology. In layman’s terms, my focus was on water and sediment interactions. I’ve witnessed polar bears swimming alongside the Icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. I’ve been 7 degrees off the geographic North Pole. In tropical waters, I’ve seen the beauty of the whale shark; being pummeled by flying fish as we were simply in their path; and witnessing the proximity, beauty, and danger of water sprouts. I’ve seen strange looking sea creatures from the benthos, and collected sediment that is millions of years old.
As much as I loved the adventure and working in such an interdisciplinary field, I felt like something was missing. I was working in the San Francisco Bay area at the time so moved back to British Columbia, Canada, to explore a new direction. It was a surprise that this exploration lead to sales and marketing. Eventually I gravitated into sporting goods as my personal life is quite active athletically.
It was here that the realization began that my brain is ambidextrous. Apparently this is rare. This means that when I take in information it travels between both hemispheres, the creative and the analytical. My interest is to explore my career further by embracing more of the creative. I will always use my analytical brain to create foundations for decisions though I am drawn strongly to visual images, messaging and creating impactful experiences.
Describe your interest in human behavior.
People are endlessly fascinating. They show you who they are all the time if you know what to look for. It’s the subtleties of behavior that are telling. And when I say subtle I mean really subtle. So much is revealed in the quiet thoughts shared and by action or lack of action. The trick is to be able to observe and exercise patience without attaching to judgments. Once you begin collecting these observations you can begin to see the depths of their character, the authenticity, the insecurities, the lens of perception the world is seen through, and their motivators and drivers for decision making.
How does your fascination with human behavior play into your role as an analyst?
Where analysis comes into play is when you are looking at larger sets of information, from multiple directions with multiple variables and multiple influences. This creates a complex and dynamic set of information that is simply too much for an individual observer to discern with accuracy and precision. Our brains are designed to discriminate what is important incoming information and what is not. We are also clouded by bias and our perceptions. We can’t help it. From brain chemistry to brain development, everything we’re exposed to and experience shapes our brain and our perceptions. There are pros and cons to this. Where analytics comes into play is it strips away all these human variables and gives you the hard numbers.
You can ask any analyst and they will tell you that numbers don’t lie. The numbers can either confirm or reveal trends or possibilities you never would have witnessed. Data-informed companies are typically more comfortable with innovation. AS the risks are now calculated and transparent.
How did ultra-distance become your passion?
I really stumbled upon the Ultra-distance community in a way that can be only described as serendipitous. Ultra-distance is any distance longer than the traditional marathon. There was a general sense of finding “home” and of finding my people. I wasn’t even an active athlete at the time. I never thought I would return to athletics. Was I wrong! Did I ever consider ultra-distance? Nope! I didn’t even know it existed. The impact of volunteering at my first ultra rang a deep chord. I decided to listen.
As I continued to volunteer in support of other ultra-distance athletes, something started to happen. I had the opportunity to pace athletes and began running distances that shouldn’t have been possible based on my lack of fitness and training. From there I began signing up for my own events.
Since then, I have come to realize that becoming an athlete, with high weekly mileage, is really about self-discovery. You learn to navigate around limiting belief systems as you witness and have the experience of reaching goals that surpass what is supposed to be possible. It’s very much a surreal experience. Moving forward, Ultra has really become a metaphor and practicing philosophy for life. We are separate yet interconnected. It is really about the power of the human spirit and how to harness it.
How do you find balance and take time for yourself?
I am fortunate to have a large diversity of interests and some really amazing friends. This allows me to break and recharge. I find work is where I really use a lot of my analytical brain though in my personal life I like to tone it down.
Athletic activities and art are more where I engage the creative and intuitive. Recently I’ve been taking a break from ultra-distance and working with a coach to train for speed focusing on half marathon distances. I also have a fabulous running group of some really outstanding characters. They are super kind and great for a laugh. Another amazing group of people I am also privileged to call friends, I volunteer with through the Kidney Foundation and BC Transplant Registry. Most of them are awaiting a donor, are recipients of transplants, or have donated.
By nature I’m an introvert with a healthy social life. Commonly mistaken for an extrovert, time on my own is how I recharge. Though my curiosity and drive to learn and be challenged have me engaged in a lot of diverse activities, I really do carve out a lot of time on my own.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve heard?
Every day and in every situation I keep coming back to this advice. I ask myself “Am I serving my highest self?”
In my experiences, the truer you are to yourself, accepting all responsibility and accountability for decisions and actions, the easier life gets. You step into your flow and thus more people and opportunities arrive that are more closely aligned with your values and belief system. Oh… and don’t let anyone else tell you who you are. You’ll figure it out quickly enough on your own.
Tell us about your experience using about.me.
As a visual person, I always appreciated how simple and impactful this medium is. As I began preparing for career search and my next opportunity, I thought this was the perfect platform to create an additional professional online marketing piece. I wanted to add depth to my online presence. Boy, did I underestimate its power and influence.
I uploaded my image and bio on June 10th, 2015. Within six weeks my page has received over 40,000 views. I was getting more exposure and compliments from some pretty impressive professionals around the world. It has been nine weeks and my page has surpassed 62,000 views. My experience with the about.me staff is they have been amazingly supportive. I am impressed.
Anna Lizaur is a Marketing Manager with about.me. She graduated from the University of Virginia. Anna is fluent in Spanish and can count to 100 in Chinese.