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  • Writer's pictureKarla Ray

No Room For Solitude In Solidarity Partner's Schedule

There’s a version of you who has already done it.

Show up as ‘that girl’ until you become her.

Approach each day through the lens of your highest and best self.

These are some of the mantras I’ve repeated to myself almost daily since the start of the year. I came in hot with a successful 75 Hard from January 2 to my birthday, March 17, and since then I’ve been working to remain consistent and disciplined to my health and fitness goals… and it’s working. Physically, and mentally, I feel better than I have in a very long time.

It turns out mindset- and manifestation- are the true difference makers when it comes to changing your life. For the first time, I created a real vision board for the year- not just on Pinterest- and I’m watching my dream life come to reality. All because I quite literally woke up one day and decided to make a major change. I was tired of feeling anxious and restless and stuck. Maybe you’ve been there, too.

Still, sometimes after all the planning and preparation for a big shift, the panic can set in.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? Who do I think I am to even try this?

Those are the types of questions Adrianna Sekula asked herself the day she launched her business, Solidarity Partners.

“I was so confident, I knew I could do it,” Sekula said. “And the minute I hit ‘click’ on launching anything, it was panic. There were people reposting, people saying nice things to me, people being kind, and I just could not read them… I remember thinking, why did I do this?”

Anyone who has met Adrianna is likely surprised to read what I just wrote. While the rest of us are just showing up as that girl until we become her, Adrianna has been that girl. By the time I met her last year, I felt like the last person in Orlando to do so; she has the cell phone numbers of everyone who’s anyone from local government to legislators in Tallahassee, and a circle of friends that could have been ripped from the pages of a magazine if Vogue met 40 Under 40 met Forbes. When you enter her world, she’s an instant cheerleader, backed up by a deep squad that has hands on every circle within Central Florida. So where did the self-doubt come from?

“It’s something I’ve worked very hard on the past year, that is much easier now… but you do care about what other people say. You do care about what other people are thinking,” Sekula said. “But in reality, people are probably not even saying it. We think people are talking about us all the time… and it’s such a horrible way to talk to yourself. There’s no grace in it. It’s shocking that you can talk to yourself fthat way, in a way you would never talk to a friend.”

Solidarity Partners is the culmination of years of relationship-building and advocacy work, which has become synonymous with Sekula. Named for the Solidarity movement in communist Poland, which Sekula was born into and fled with her sister and parents, the boutique government relations firm aims to be a partner in public policy, business strategy, and market integration.

“Making connections between businesses, and advocating for businesses to governments or to elected officials,” Sekula explained. “I was born in Warsaw, and my family immigrated here when I was four years old. And so my Polish heritage is very important to me. And the word of solidarity in general is bringing people together and being in union with them and being connected to them and being their partner.”

Learning she is a first-generation American was an aha moment for me, as the work ethic and positivity all started to really click. Before I even befriended Adrianna, I knew about her epic 4th of July parties and her patriotic spirit, as well as her adoration for shaping public policy and chasing the American Dream.

“I think a lot of immigrants will say it really defines who you are as a person, and defines how you view things, and defines your view of America in many ways,” Sekula said. “Especially in this hyper-partisan atmosphere that we’re in now, I think it really says who you are and how you work and what you are grateful for.”

Adrianna was old enough to remember moving to America, after first leaving Poland to Greece and applying for entrance. A Lutheran church in Titusville sponsored her family, paying for the move, housing, and English classes for her parents.

“We moved here with nothing, no language even,” Sekula said. “It was a community, a church, that brought us to Florida… and my parents bootstrapped it from there.”

Many children of immigrants I’ve spoken to share a similar sentiment of feeling pressure to

perform in school, life, and business, but Sekula says she never felt that; rather, an innate knowing that she was witnessing opportunity firsthand.

“They moved here for a dream. They moved here for the American dream. And things are cliché or stereotypical for a reason, but it’s true: they couldn’t achieve what they achieved here- in Poland- at that time. Maybe now it’s different, but at the time, in the 80s, during communism, they couldn’t do that. So they were seeking a better life. They left their families, their parents, their siblings, and all their cousins, with nobody… just so my sister and I could have a better life here,” Sekula said. “I take it as less pressure and more gratitude. My parents are both so grateful, and I’m grateful for the smaller things.”

Sekula remembers approaching her 18th birthday and encouraging her dad to apply for citizenship, so that she could vote.

“I really cared about the system,” Sekula said. “I didn’t even realize I wanted to do politics at the time, but I rally remember caring about wanting to vote, and knowing I wasn’t able to.”

Witnessing her dad ace the test to become an American, and later in life, her mom doing the same, are core memories for Adrianna that has driven her decision-making in the years since. Shortly after her 18th birthday, Adrianna entered the workforce, opting only to take a few college courses and instead focus on making money.

“We grew up in a household that was struggling financially a little bit,” Sekula said, noting that her parents separated shortly after moving to the States. “Me and my sister lived with our mom, and it was tough. It wasn’t easy. It was really tough financially. She did not have a college education, a degree, she was working two or three jobs… She is the most incredible mom in terms of the way that she raised us and cared about us. It wasn't a lack of that. It was a lack of being available, and a difficulty growing up, so I knew that I wanted to make money. That's what it was for me.”

Anyone who claims that money can’t buy you happiness is missing the point. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but life is certainly easier when you know you have enough in your bank account to cover your basic needs and lifestyle. It frees you up to pursue the things that really do make you happy.

“I wanted to be out of my situation, and to me, that meant money,” Sekula said. “I think money allows freedom and allows your life to be easier in many ways.”

With the goal of a paycheck in mind, Adrianna started working for a logistics company in Seminole County, working sales and making what she thought was big money at age 18. While many of her peers were full time students with part time jobs, she was the opposite.

“When I reflect back now, no one can make these decisions for you, right? People may be pushed into something because their parents tell them to, or into something completely separate because a friend wants them to, but really, if you want to change any trajectory of your life- your career, what you’re doing with your day- it’s completely, 100% up to you. It sounds like such a common sense thing to say, but it’s true,” Sekula said. “And it wasn’t until I was put in a situation at that place of employment that I realized I needed something more than this.”

Unlike many of the people I’ve interviewed for this blog, Adrianna’s decision about making a major life change came to her in a radical flash.

“There was a woman who worked there, that was probably around my age now, and she was about to take maternity leave with her third baby… and she taught me how to do her job in one day,” Sekula said. “And I just vividly remember thinking, oh my gosh, I don’t want to be here when I’m 39, teaching a 19-year-old how to do my job in one day. I probably put in my two weeks’ notice a week later.”

Sometimes when you change your mind, you have to change your scenery in all sense of the word. Adrianna set out to change her identity, and in doing so, she removed herself from the job, who she was spending time with, what she was doing on the weekends, and start fresh.

“I knew that where my life trajectory was going, wasn’t positive… it wasn’t negative, but it wasn’t anything. It was just going to be a life that I was living day in and day out, clock in and clock out, nothing to it. And I knew there was more,” Sekula said. “I had to remove myself from the entire situation.”

“I’m telling you, I did a 180. It was all mental. It was all just me saying, I’m changing my life completely today. I said, I’m a different person now. And guess what? You can do that. You can say, I’m a different person now. There will be people who say something about you when you do that… but you can. I can be something completely different if I choose to do so, and so can everybody else. I just decided that I was a completely different person.”

(Show up as that girl until you become her.)

Adrianna eventually transferred her credits from Tallahassee Community College to Florida State, and got her first taste of politics on the Model United Nations Club and student government. In what little free time she had as a full time student, she worked as a bartender, and one of her regulars was a top lobbyist in the state capitol nearby.

“We had built a relationship, and she said, you'd be so good at this job. You'd be so good at going and representing and getting to know people and building relationships and advocating for whoever you choose to advocate to the legislature,” Sekula said.

The connection opened a door to an internship at a lobbying firm for the last ten days of the legislative session, and Adrianna was hooked.

“I remember thinking, this is it. This is exactly what I want to do,” Sekula said.

The term lobbyist can carry a negative connotation- Adrianna prefers the word advocate.

Her first job was with the PACE Center for Girls, lobbying for budget allocations on behalf of teenage girls who were either on the way to being or had already been in the juvenile justice system.

“You’re advocating,” Sekula said of the semantics behind lobbying. “I was an advocate, especially when it comes to children, and working for a nonprofit, you're advocating. And yes, you do need to build relationships with elected officials and politicians and get them to trust you and understand what the organization does... But it is for good. It is for good.”

Navigating the capitol can be daunting. It’s taken me almost 14 years as a reporter in Florida to really grasp the process and all the stops along the way for a piece of legislation- I certainly wouldn’t have been able to figure it out right out of college. But Adrianna did… and she wanted lawmakers to know her, too.

“Being that young, advocating to these legislators, at first you are terrified. These people- all of them- are my grandfather or my parents’ age. So it’s tough to become known, and especially with a nonprofit because nonprofits don’t give money to politicians- they don’t have cash to throw at elected officials,” Sekula said. “You really just have to build a relationship on them liking your product, which is your nonprofit. And being very young, it’s hard to be taken seriously sometimes.”

“So, I sat in the front row of every committee. I know it sounds so odd, but every committee meeting in Tallahassee, I sat up front. Everyone else was sitting in the back rows. Everyone else is texting on their phone the whole time… because they've been there, they've been there for decades. They know the system. But I didn’t know. So I thought, you had to see me. You couldn’t mis sme. So when they saw me, they knew I was the PACE girl. They didn’t know my name, but I was known as the PACE girl in Tallahassee, because I was up front and always in their faces.”

Taking a front row seat is a habit that’s stuck with Sekula. If you see her around town at any event (which you will- she’s at all of them!) she’s likely up front, cheering on the speakers or appearing as one herself. She used the same tactics she learned in Tallahassee to create meaningful connections with local leaders in her second role out of school, with what was then known as the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando. Instead of getting the attention of state lawmakers, she had to learn the ins and outs of local government.

“I made it a point to really build a relationship with [the commissioners]… let me find out who you are,” Sekula said. “I made it a point to get myself out there. I didn't stay in the office… this job is all about relationships. I ate out for breakfast and lunch almost every day.”

Though for a long time she thought she made up the rule, Sekula eventually read the book Never Eat Alone, and learned the schedule she kept then and still maintains to this day is common among business leaders.

“Those are your free times of day, that people usually do alone. They either take a lunch break or maybe eat at their desk, but it’s a really big chunk of free time where you could be breaking bread and sharing a meal with someone and really getting to know them,” Sekula said. “So I'm always out. I’m eating anyway. So what’s better than breaking bread with someone and sharing about life, not just work?”

Those ‘free’ times in Sekula’s schedule are in high demand, with her booking breakfast and lunch weeks in advance. Even to schedule our interview for this blog took an act of Congress- but being busy is part of launching a business.

The position with the home builders earned Adrianna relationships with every elected official in the tri-county are- and plenty of other important people, too. So when a position opened at the biggest game in town, it was easy for Adrianna to get a meeting with one of the few people she hadn’t already met.

“The opportunity came up at Walt Disney World for a government relations position, which was a local piece of their team in Orange and Osceola Counties,” Sekula said, noting that two different mentors notified her of the position coming open. “I remember thinking, to be able to work at one of the best companies in the world, right here in our backyard, would be phenomenal. Immediately, just based on the relationships that I had with local elected officials, this was a local government relations job, I felt very strongly that I was the fit for the position. So I went for that, full force.”

Those initial mentors became sponsors for Adrianna, serving as a conduit to connect her to the hiring manager within WDW and, you guessed it, scheduling a lunch.

“I remember thinking, how can I tell this guy I know everybody, when I don’t know him?” Sekula recalled. “He’s very important in the state legislature, he’s very high up at Disney. I went to my mentors and told them, I really need to meet him. And at first, they said, apply for the job. I said no- I need to meet him.”

The lunch played out like most of Sekula’s- true relationship building, bookended by business. She told the Disney exec to look out for her resume.

“I did go through the formal process, which was many steps,” Sekula said. “But I think it did help to forge that personal relationship with he person who was in charge of the government relations team, to show my personality outside of what sometimes is a fear-based setting of an interview, where it’s not as straight-laced or as comfortable as sharing a meal together.”

It’s no surprise, Sekula snagged the job, putting her in charge of local government relations for the largest company within our local government.

“Whenever anyone says that Disney is their dream place to work, I highly recommend it. It’s magical. I grew up in Central Florida, but I did not grow up going to the Disney theme parks,” Sekula said. “When I tell you that I feel the magic of why they’re such a successful company, it’s really true. And this is coming from a department that’s just business- straight-laced government relations. You still feel it.”

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Disney movie’s scores (which is on heavy rotation in my house right now)- and Moana’s dad working to convince his daughter that Motunui is all she needs… and no one leaves.

No one leaves a job at Disney… right?

Turns out, that was part of the problem.

“I always want to grow my career. I always want to do more. I want to be able to accomplish a lot. I’m very career-driven… and of course you can grow at Disney, but our team was very, very small,” Sekula said. “My leader there at the time, is still there. There was no upward mobility for me in government relations… I wanted to stay in public policy, and there was no upward trajectory for me at the time, and I didn't see it any time soon.”

Her next move may surprise you. Sekula stepped away from one of the largest companies in the world to work at a startup, working in the plastic recycling space.

“I wanted to go somewhere I could build a team, hire people, build entire programs. So I was able to do that… and it really taught me a lot,” Sekula said. “After that I said, okay. I’m ready.”

What had been in the back of her mind for years- ever since her first real job in Tallahassee- was launching her own brand and business. Now, she had the resume to back all the relationships she had built- with experience in nonprofit, for-profit, corporate, and a startup setting.

“I knew my relationships were not only based on those particular jobs, but they were me as well,” Sekula said. “I was building them as a person, as Adrianna, and I think in the back of my head I always knew I could do this, for not just myself, but for a lot of companies and use my connections and my influence and my advocacy and who I know to help other people.”

So now we circle back to the preparation- planning- and panic- that went into the launch of Solidarity Partners. Sekula says some of the self-doubt stemmed from her identity being wrapped up in her employer, something a lot of us can relate to.

“I knew I could do it. That’s why I did it on my own, and I’m accomplishing something amazing, I’m working for myself. There are so many people who would never even consider this leap, so how dare they think anything when they’re in their comfortable position?” Sekula said. “Are people even saying these things? Probably not. Or maybe. But either way, what does it matter?”

The risk was worth the reward. A year in, and Sekula has launched a vertical of her business alongside friend Jo Newell; Drop The Mic Coaching, which debuted in March of 2024, helps everyone from executives to interviewees nail the art of public speaking.

“After death, it’s the second biggest fear amongst human beings in the world,” Sekula said. “Just because you are at the top of your game as a business owner or CEO, doesn’t mean you know how to effectively communicate your message.”

Drop The Mic includes coaching on the very thing that’s been key to Sekula’s success; the lost art of relationship-building. Social networking- away from social media.

“When you're at a table for an event, when you are at a meet and greet, when you're at a networking event that so many people dread, how do you get the most out of it? How do you get that elevator pitch down? And how do you really captivate and build relationships in a small amount of time with strangers?”

Clearly, that's something Sekula is an expert in.

Running two businesses is no doubt a demanding schedule (especially when you consider she’s out at breakfast or lunch almost daily), but Sekula is committed to continuing to give back. The advocacy work that helped launch her career is still a pillar of her values, and she fills in what free time she has with serving on boards, committees, and sponsoring fundraisers.

Her ultimate goal, though, is to gift her mom a new home.

“She’s worked so tirelessly, and so hard, for my sister and me to have the life and the lifestyle that we have now… she was working constantly, and working really hard, and trying to set an example for us about, one, work ethic, and two, digging yourself up and also at the same time being grateful for everything. This woman is grateful for everything that her life has either given her, good or bad,” Sekula said about her mom. “She’s constantly positive. She's the most outgoing, positive, energetic person.”

Sekula’s mom graduated from UCF at age 55, proving it’s never too late to pivot or pursue better for your life.

The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“We want to give her what she gave us,” Sekula said.

The greatest gift, perhaps, is the perspective of what it means to start over- navigate something new- whether that be a new country or new business- and handle it all with grace.

“Knowing that I am helping other people… my clients are happy. I’m helping nonprofits with the work they’re trying to do, both in our community like I always have, and with bigger brands, and it feels good,” Sekula said. “You really learn a lot about yourself when you’re by yourself, and you don’t have a staff, you don’t have a boss, you don’t have anyone telling you what to do. You learn a lot about yourself that way.”

Maybe more than anything, making a big leap teaches us we really are capable of changing our lives- just by changing our minds.

“I’m honestly in the most confident, best spot I’ve ever been in my life in terms of what I’m doing for a career.”

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