Inspiring Jewish Women
"Thanks to My Disadvantage, I Can Now Help People"
Deborah Wakstock had one huge disadvantage — she suffered for years from the label “fatso.” Today she teaches people how to make changes in their lives, and inspires them by her own personal journey, where she learned how to turn a liability into an asset
"Recently we visited my parents on Shabbat," says Deborah Wakstock, a lecturer and life coach who runs Switch — Coaching for Change. "My mother welcomed us and wanted to give food to the children. She glanced at me and said as if frustrated, ‘Wow, you gained so much weight!’"
It used to upset me. But not this time, No way. Especially since my husband’s reaction in the background was: "So what? Today she is making a lot of money out of it!"
Dvori was one of those girls that society marks at an early age — negatively. The nickname that stuck to her the most was 'fatso', to be more precise; big fatso. "The downside to this was that I did not have a normal childhood. I suffered from social isolation, and I got to the point where I almost left my religious lifestyle out of rage and frustration due to not being accepted ... But thanks to the learning and work process that I underwent, instead of continuing to be in a black hole that sucked the life out of me, this disadvantage brought me to the personal and professional place where I am today. I work in the field of giving assistance, guidance and support to others and spearheading change, and my huge disadvantage is what caused me to influence the world in a clear and immediate way. Because of it, women listen to me, and receive the power to help themselves, to dare to move forward. And thanks to it, I am making a living ... "
Dvori is the youngest child in a family with eight brothers and sisters. "I never had a common language with girls my age," she says. "I lived in a home with older siblings, and soon most of my brothers and sisters were married. At an early age, I was interested in the challenges of adults. I always asked questions I was not supposed to ask, and I would never accept anything as self-understood. There was no 'this is how you do it and that's it’. I knew I would be a psychologist when I grew up because I wanted to help people."
When she grew up, Dvori found herself listening regularly to different people. "I decided it was time to fulfill my dream and study psychology. But because I had graduated Bait Yaakov, I had not done my matriculation exams and had to spend time studying for the matriculation and psychometric exams. During the same period, I got divorced from my first husband and I worked in a very religious place. I needed desperately to work, but I was afraid that if I tell them that I was learning for my matriculation exams — I would get fired ... with a pounding heart, I approached the manager and told him that I decided to study for the matriculation exams, even if at the cost of dismissal. Fortunately, his response was positive and he even encouraged me to enrich the staff with the knowledge I acquired."
Dvori studied a year and a half in the preparatory course, and eventually passed the matriculation and psychometric exams. Then, to her bitter disappointment, she discovered that she had to study five days a week, which did not allow her to work at the same time. "I was so sad, but I knew that there was no way I could work while doing my studies. So, after all the efforts I made, I gave up on psychology and decided to look for another job to help people."
One day she opened a newspaper and saw a small ad: "Few places left for a coaching course." The course in question was conducted by a school known to be a leader in the field of coaching. She immediately called the advertised number. The secretary politely replied and said that the course has already begun, but she will check with the principal if they could give Dvori a telephone interview.
"It was funny. The supervisor called and talked to me. I did not have a degree, I did not do any of the threshold requirements of the institute. But she heard me and was persuaded to give me a chance. She even agreed to let me study in one year courses that were designed to be spread over two years."
Training and coaching
Dvori defines her coaching studies as something that changed the direction of her life. "At that time I was at a major crossroads. I was just after a bariatic sleeve operation that I had decided to do after I reached the weight of 320 pounds. I had doubts about what kind of religious life I wanted for myself, I had to make decisions in various personal matters. The course gave me a vision: I learned what is most important in my life, and what my priorities are. I remember I went to a class about values and the moderator asked each person to write down 10 values that are important to him. There were doctoral students who did not know what to write ... I, however, finished drawing up the list in a few seconds and immediately when I reread it, I knew how I really wanted to live, and what kind of family I wanted to have."
Dvori grew up in a hassidic family and left the hassidic fold when she became an adult, but returned to it following the coaching course she took. "My introspection led me to understand that, despite all, despite the price I was paying for membership in my hassidic group, the pros outweighed the cons for me, because every community affiliation has its cost and benefits. For me personally, it was the best place. Thanks to the coaching, I found my way back to the community, this time it being a conscious choice."
A short time later, Dvori married a typical hassid. "A lot of the people who came to my wedding were not even invited," she laughs. "After all the ups and downs that I had put my family through, after everyone knew there was a time when I had left the hassidic fold, people were very curious to see me getting married, to see that it was really happening, and even more, to see who is this person that despite my history — had chosen me ..."
Today she has three children and runs her coaching business, Switch — Coaching for Change and works as a lecturer in coaching. "I work with people who do not see their strong points. We all walk around with a sense that we have something “screwed up”, something wrong or something missing. We all think that if we had grown up in another home, or if our nose was different, we would be much better off. And that's not true. When I lead women in the process, they suddenly see how much they have achieved in life, and how much they didn’t realize it! Rabbi Yerucham Leibowitz said: "One must recognize one’s shortcomings — their correction is a duty — but even more one must recognize one’s virtues — because they are the tools he has to work with." With coaching, we focus on the virtues and use them to achieve the goals that are important to us."
Dvori is full of stories and examples of her students who demonstrated an amazing lack of awareness of their tremendous achievements. "I have two main areas that I coach in: marital relationships and business training. Not long ago, I received a trainee who came for a business purpose. In the first meeting, I always do with my trainee a special exercise, which examines what she has already achieved her life, and how she can set out on the journey to change with the gifts that she already achieved her life. When we reached the part about her marital relationship, she said, 'my husband is an angel, he is just amazing.’ I looked at her and said, ‘look, if I was married to your husband, he would still be such an angel?' She immediately protested: ‘No, of course not, my husband is not a standard man, he is very complex ... Our first years were really hard, everyone was talking about him in the street that he doesn’t “follow the rules”... only when I started to accept him as he was, I discovered that he was someone special’... and suddenly she burst into tears and said, 'You know, I never thought that a big part of our good relationship was due to me!’ This is a typical example of how women do not take credit for many of the good things they have done and are doing. Their marriage is good; the kids are doing fine — as if it goes without saying. They only focus on what is missing in their lives."
"The Comfort Zone is an area of disability"
Dvori, who happily shared her story (she also published a book documenting it, Masa Kaved [Heavy Journey], under the pen name Friedy Dvir) finds that it makes people trust her. "Obviously, it is important to have professional tools, but my personal story certainly helps. I'm the perfect example of how to turn a minus into a plus. Precisely because I was very fat, I did not find a place in the family and in the community, and at the age of 20, I was divorced and I had a name of 'there’s nothing to see here'. I started working at a young age and invested a lot in my work. When there is no social life, one can foster a career without interruptions ... The extra weight made me look older than I was and before I was 18, I was an insurance agent — which is a role that requires professionalism, maturity and an appearance of a mature woman. At 20, I ran a large insurance agency and I successfully developed it. And above all: my downside itself —that I was very fat — made customers come specifically to me and believe that they can change. I'm a big believer in driving change. My motto is: 'the comfort zone is the area of disability.’ The people who come to me are the ones who will not just sit back and say, 'That’s life. That’s all I can hope for. There is no choice.’ Because I know there is a choice! There is free will!"
What do you say to girls and women who think that they are stuck in life because of their weight, especially regarding marital relationships?
"I argue that every attitude that you have will influence you according to how you relate to it. I have thin friends who can’t bear to look into mirrors, they do not like to see their imperfections ... I love mirrors. My house is full of mirrors. I like to look at myself without shame. When I look in the mirror, I do not see 'fat', I see my face that I love, my beautiful outfit, my abilities, everything I have achieved to date. If you define yourself as 'fat' or 'daughter to divorced parents’ or ‘aging spinster’ — that’s what you’ll be. The trick is to let it be another item on the list of positive things. I do not think of myself as 'fat Dvori’ but talented Dvori, who excels in making changes, the one who is always trying and always advancing.
"I'm also a big believer in self-promotion. If a woman believes in herself properly despite her excess weight, when she goes out with a guy and markets herself with aplomb — the guy will not be bothered with her weight. It is tested and proven. For proof, remember all the couples you meet on the street where there is a significant gap in their appearance, but it doesn’t prevent them from being happy."