325: Maria Lizza Bowen—Do You Feel Stuck? Time To “See, Feel And Think In New Ways”

Hear how to understand yourself better and embrace the new

Today we have Maria Lizza Bowen, a scientist and Oncology Clinical Development Director with almost 30 years in the pharmaceutical industry. She has a new book that came out in March that I found very interesting: Reflect: A Perspective on Understanding Your Reality and Becoming Unstuck. If this sounds like something I would like, you are right. You will love it as well. Maria’s message is so important: In just about any situation, be it a performance review or co-worker interaction, when you start to get nervous and feel “off,” don’t run away from it. Face it. Embrace it. Be vulnerable. And then maybe, like Maria, your whole life will change. Listen in, then try it!

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Maria video

Some of the key themes Maria and I focus on

  • Maria bookThere is no truth or reality. Our minds create stories, and those become our illusion of reality. We live those illusions as if they are the only options until something happens and we must change. Remember, people hate change.
    It makes our brains work too hard, so we flee the unfamiliar. We share ideas about how to see things through a fresh lens—and then embrace the new.
  • What are you missing that is all around you? We talk about our filters that block out great ideas or experiences that just don’t fit our realities. So what we are missing that could help us build that new sandbox?
  • Gratitude. Maria and I both believe that gratitude is essential to your personal well-being. So, spend some time at the end of every day expressing your gratitude.

Come along, and let’s share a journey of discovery. To contact Maria, find her on LinkedIn or send her an email at maria.lizza@hotmail.com.

Ready to embrace change, not flee from it so you can soar? Start here

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon. I’m your host and your guide. And my job is to help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can get off the brink and soar again. It’s not a time when things are easy or simple. Fastest has become the new new. You’ve got to be really quick, agile, adaptive, and begin to see things that are all around you. Remember your mind fights you, it does exactly what it thinks you want it to do. And you don’t ever see all the stuff that’s happening here. It feels dangerous and unsafe. And that’s really where you want to be going.

So today, I want to help you do that. I have with me today Maria Lizza Bowen. She is just a fantastic woman with a great background and a new book. And I’m going to talk to you today about her book. Let me tell you about her and then she will tell you about her own journey. Her name is Maria Lizza Bowen. She’s a scientist and Oncology Clinical Development Director. And you’re going to say to me, “Really? So you’re bringing her to us so we can help get off the brink as well?”

Just listen carefully. She has almost 30 years of pharmaceutical experience. Her vast experience and expertise in a variety of disciplines is a real benefit for us on a topic that you probably aren’t familiar with. She holds the knowledge in quality assurance in pharmaceutical manufacturing, clinical cancer research, program management, talent management. We have a very talented woman here with us today. She is very curious. It’s so interesting. So many of my podcasters recently talked about curiosity, Patrick Van Gorder spoke about curiosity. The curiosity quotient has become invoked and it’s truly very important, because we’re all going through change.

And so today, we’re going to really look at her new book, as well. It’s called Reflect: A Perspective on Understanding Your Reality and Becoming Unstuck. I’ll say that again. Think about how timely this is. Reflect: A Perspective on Understanding Your Reality and Becoming Unstuck. And it’s available on Amazon. It just came out and it’s ready for you to go buy and enjoy. Maria, thank you so much for being with me today.

Maria Lizza Bowen: Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m very excited to be here.

Andi Simon: Tell the listener, who is Maria? And what’s your journey? And how did you get to write a book. It’s all sort of loaded on your own pharmaceutical and you’re in cancer research, and I love the title. What’s it all about?

Maria Lizza Bowen: Well, this book is really about, it’s very foundational. It’s just about trying to understand what reality means to each of us. And how we can use that to our advantage to get out of a rut or just get unstuck, really. I’ve been in the pharmaceutical industry for almost 30 years. And I always thought I had two jobs. One is the work that I do every day. And the other one, I’m kind of a people scientist, I always have been since I was a little girl. And just constantly, I’m just fascinated with and always thinking about those things. Why are we here?

I remember being four years old, just thinking about the strangest things probably most kids don’t think about, like death. So I’m a clinical scientist, and also a people scientist. And that’s why I wrote the book. I think going through the pharmaceutical industry is very intense, especially oncology. It really gave me a fabulous platform to understand people and how we all work together. And this whole business these days about what’s right and what’s wrong, and so many companies and work environments, no matter where you’re at, everything’s siloed. It’s your perspective versus everyone else’s. And I think that sometimes gets us stuck because we identify with what’s going on outside of us, versus really connecting with what is meaningful to us.

And so sometimes we’ll do things because people expect us to do them versus doing them because we love doing it. I have to be honest writing this, I don’t know why I did it. I think it was kind of in the car and so on, but it almost enriched what I did, what I do every day. I’m always a people pleaser and I finally admitted it, and an angry, resentful one. But nonetheless, someone who will go out of my way to help other people at the expense of my own needs. So I think a lot of my turmoil, it kind of caught up to me.

Andi Simon: Knowing a little bit about you, and what you’re telling us here, how did you get into the pharmaceutical business? What was your journey?

Maria Lizza Bowen: Here comes my brothers, my brothers. I have four older brothers. The oldest one was in pharmaceuticals. And he introduced me. He was a chemist for probably a decade. And my first job was in molecular biology labs. So it was such a wonderful journey, all the way through. I worked in the lab for about a decade, or not quite, about eight years, and then got into clinical research. And within the first year of clinical, I think it was 2000 to 2001 or 2002, I ended up focusing on oncology. So I’ve been in that area of clinical research for a long time. And actually took a little bit of time and worked with my brother at one point because just a change, then I came back into clinical research. And that’s what I’m continuing to do. I love it.

Andi Simon: Well, I think that’s really beautiful. And in the process, you decided you had a story to tell, because books are stories. So let’s go into the story that you wanted to tell. Is this autobiographical? Is this data reflective? Give us some perspective of what you’ve captured in the stream tool there.

Maria Lizza Bowen: So it wasn’t exactly just one story. But it was more or less, everything going wrong in my life at once. My mom, she had Alzheimer’s. Watching her progress, and just changing jobs, whatever was going on at the time, all these problems are popping up. And I’m like, Why me? Why is this always happening to me? I was so worried about what was going on in the outside. So I got through it, I survived, like most of us, right? And just as the years went by, every time I found myself in a tough spot, I got super curious and said, Why is this happening?

And I think that’s what led to it. The last time I was in a tough situation, a really tough situation, I saw things from a different perspective. I didn’t make excuses, I didn’t walk away from any opportunities or situations that were bad, I just kind of stuck there. And I just walked through it. And it was life changing. And by doing that, I was also able to help other people around me because you actually allow yourself to become vulnerable and that’s really the key, that allowing yourself to become vulnerable.

So an opportunity came up by accident, I took a chance. And someone contacted me to write a book, and I did it. And I realized that it was perfect timing, because your question, What is it  about? There are definitely examples here, but it’s really to help other people. It’s kind of a self help book. And it’s not a bunch of steps, although you probably can break it out into two steps.

The biggest step is to just try and understand yourself better. And so I walked through what reality is and why it’s not so reliable, our own reality that we create, as well as other people’s, because their views and perspectives and fears and hurts and experiences and everything else that you know they go through, they project onto you and you do the same: you project your story onto them and you only see what you want to see, really.

So whatever you’re focusing on, that’s what you’re going to see. If you’re giving advice to someone after you just went through a horrible marriage, you’re going to tell someone that’s looking to get married, Don’t do it. It’s horrible. Right? It’s protective. And we have to realize that that’s just not reality. You’ve got to go inside and see what it is. So there’s no problem with taking information from other people. But take what you need and leave the rest behind.

Andi Simon: Well, I’m really quite fascinated because we’ve learned from the neurosciences and the cognitive sciences that your mind does exactly what it thinks you want it to do. And that story in there is like a movie set that you live every day, that reality in your mind. But it’s only an illusion of what reality is. And now the question you’re saying is, rather than let others define you, you begin to understand who’s inside. Can you share with us a little about the process of self discovery? Because I think this is really the essence of where you’re at.

Maria Lizza Bowen: Yes. So in my spare time, I love to read physics books. I don’t know why, it’s just maybe because it goes down to the basics, like, What are we here for? And for years, I had no clue what I was reading, I just kept reading, just fascinated, and also my mom read a lot, but she had tons of psychology books, Carl Jung, and all these different psychologists and self-help. And I think between that, and just being super curious, I really kind of pull from a bunch of different areas. It’s not only what I do every day, and those experiences, but what I read about reality and physics. I think of Rumi, the 11th century philosopher. I never heard of him before. And just over the last year, he’s been popping up a lot. And that influenced me so much. All these different pieces coming together made the whole picture for me a little bit more digestible. I was able to see things a little more clearly for myself.

Andi Simon: In the process of seeing more clearly for yourself, and then sharing it with others, what have you discovered about yourself? Can you share it?

Maria Lizza Bowen: So the thing that I think I really discovered about myself is, just focusing on what’s going on inside and paying attention to your feelings is super important. Growing up after four boys, I was pushing it aside. Everybody probably thought I was crazy and emotional and all that stuff. But I thought I was pushing things away. And I used anger as a way of covering up hurt and pain. So I kind of pushed that outside of me.

I love to be creative, too. But I have to go the science route. So I always kind of pushed the things that really came natural to me, pushed them away. So being able to be vulnerable, accept the things that make you happy, and look inside yourself and understand the triggers. Why are you being triggered by certain things? Just take a little bit of time to think about it, instead of running away from it, will get you so far. It doesn’t even take long. It’s just that focus, and we’re all so all over the place these days. You know, we have the phones and the computers and everything at our fingertips. So we never take time out. You gotta take time out and think about your life.

Andi Simon: I think that’s very profound and very important. Now, as you’re thinking about this, it’s reflective, as your title is, going backwards. How was it intentional for going forward? How do you now build a life that is more reflective, more open? Where are your vulnerabilities? Can you share with us some of your perspective there?

Maria Lizza Bowen: It’s just really allowing myself to be vulnerable. I think one of the biggest things that really made a difference, I can relate the one example from the book. I was not in a good space, everything was going around, this was going back to the first conversation we had. Everything was going wrong. I wasn’t myself at work. I was doing things to please other people, doing what I thought was expected of me even though my heart wasn’t in it. And it’s not that I didn’t love what I was doing, I just was distracted. And it was time for my review. And my boss, who was really a tough boss, was not afraid to tell you what was wrong or who was around to hear and it didn’t matter. And it was time for my review.

I got in there and he just ripped me apart. He ripped me apart. And I thought to myself, What am I going to do? He’s right, you know, I could have cried, I could have walked away, I could have made excuses, I could have blamed other people. That’s a big one, blaming. So instead of blaming, I just stood there, and I listened to him. I actually listened to the words that were coming out of his mouth. And I surrendered in that moment and had no clue what I was gonna say, or how I was gonna respond. And he said to me, “What do you think?” And I looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. Can you help me?”

He went from complete rigidity to like, a big snow puff, a big puff of kindness. His whole disposition changed. And he said, “I would be delighted. I would absolutely love to help you.” And from that day forward, everything still going wrong, I was able to be myself in person, because there was nothing left, there was nowhere to hide. Allowing yourself to be that vulnerable, it’s not hard. It’s a choice.

Andi Simon: Did you find that as he helped you, your attitude toward the job was different, that you were a sponge learning? Or how did your persona change as well?

Maria Lizza Bowen: My focus changed. Instead of wondering, “What are people thinking? Am I doing this right?” I was just curious. I allowed that little child to come out and be happy about what I was doing right in front of me. I learned a ton with this and even several years later. I ran into him at a big conference, and it could have been a very different situation. He literally greeted me with a big warm hug and “How are you?” and started to tell everyone all the nice things that I did when I worked there. So it could have been very different. But when you allow yourself to be real, really who you are, not what other people expect you to be or what you think you are, think rather than feel, that it opens you up to really get in touch with what makes you tick.

Andi Simon: It also sounds like you don’t have to do it alone. This illustrative story was very profound, because alone you were living it, but together with this gentleman, you could grow into bigger. And so belonging, and being bigger, is important here because others can help you see yourself through a fresh lens, begin to reflect on who you are, and begin to really grow. Is that what you’re saying?

Maria Lizza Bowen: Absolutely. And whether you’re on the giving side, or the receiving side…I also had several direct reports. I’m just thinking about the review period, being able to seriously talk to somebody and let your guard down. They’re automatically going to let their guard down. So, the big thing, especially today, you don’t have to agree with everything that everyone says, but if you give yourself a little bit of a chance to literally listen to them and not formulate or judge or blame yourself, the other, you put yourself in a space to really hear. And that’s the difference, you can really get to the heart of the matter.

And also having a good intention, having good intentions. I think I cover every topic in the book. It’s just about 175 pages, but there’s everything from understanding your triggers to changing things around and realizing that everything is dynamic. Everything in our lives is not static, life keeps moving, things keep changing you, you can take that opportunity to change in a direction that you intend rather than having things happen to you.

I think the way you do that is really going inside and understanding what is important to you. And allowing yourself to be complete. I mentioned before about creativity. I incorporated that into my job and it just enriched what I do every day. And it’s so powerful and then people get excited around you because you’re excited.

Andi Simon: Your life has been a journey of hurdles and jumping over them and being transformed and blossoming into a beautiful woman. This is so cool. We’re just about ready to wrap up our conversation. Are there a couple of things you want the listener to not forget, any things you want to share?

Maria Lizza Bowen: Yes, silly but true. When you start to get nervous and feel anything that feels off, don’t run away from it. Take a second to really ask yourself, Why am I feeling this way? Sometimes you don’t even know. But if you give yourself a few moments, instead of turning your head and distracting yourself and saying, Oh, it’s nothing, it’s in you, no, no, it is something and it’s going to get you. Any little clue that you can unearth about yourself is going to put you off in the right direction. So that’s one big piece of advice: just allow yourself to understand and process what you’re going through.

Andi Simon: That’s not a small idea. That’s a big idea. Because you’re suggesting that people trust their feelings. Remember, we decide with the heart and with the eyes, but not as well as we think we do. And so this is a great time for you to reflect on those feelings that don’t feel quite right. As opposed to fighting them, or fleeing them or appeasing them, deleting them…listen to your heart. It’s okay, there’s something coming to you. And your vulnerability, that word like curious has become quite cliched. Don’t think of it that way. It’s okay to feel and it’s okay to think about yourself through a fresh lens. It’s okay. You know, you’re changing.

As Maria shared her story, I think all of us have had that situation where we thought we were doing okay, but it really wasn’t okay enough. Or, we really don’t understand expectations and haven’t managed them particularly well. There’s something that disconnected. And all of a sudden, you needed a little bit of a, Let’s see if we can help you get better. And then also you bloomed because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. This has been such fun. If they want to buy the book, where should they get it?

Maria Lizza Bowen: So right now it’s being sold only on Amazon. And you can also check out my website, it’s www.Marializzabowen.com.

Andi Simon: The book: Reflect: A Perspective on Understanding Your Reality and Becoming Unstuck. That’s pretty cool. That’s a great cover. I think this has been such a pleasure. I hope the book does very well. And I hope our audience, our listeners and our viewers can really understand what Maria’s passion is. And her purpose is to help you, like I am, to see, feel and think in new ways so you can find the best that you can be.

I want to thank you for joining us. I want to thank my audience for coming and for pushing us into the top 5% of podcasts globally. And that’s really an honor. And I’m delighted with both of my books. Now I have one Axiom Business Book Award. My Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business won the 2022 Axiom Best Business Book for Women in Business category, and On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights won the 2017 Axiom Women’s Best Business Book. I can only tell you that my books are designed to help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can become the best that you can be.

And I think that this is a time for embracing change, making change your friend, instead of fleeing it or fearing it. The times are changing, embrace them because they’re not going away. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle. It’s going to keep coming at you. And it’s a great time to be fast and agile and adaptive and have fun. You can reach me, bring me your ideas, at info@andisimon.com. I’d love to hear from my listeners. You bring me all kinds of good people to interview like Maria, and I’m delighted to share her with you today. Maria, thanks again for joining me.

Maria Lizza Bowen: Thank you so much and congratulations.

Andi Simon: Thank you, and congratulations on your book. Alright, everybody, I will say goodbye. Have a wonderful day and thanks for joining us.