Empire Building Masterclass: an Interview with Despoina Limniotaki

Kalimera (which means Good Morning in Greek)! My name is Despoina Limniotaki (IG @dlimniotaki) and I’m the Founder and CEO of the Healing Tree community, a social cooperative business in Crete, Greece. The Healing Tree community (@healingtreeproject) acts as an intermediate “home” for people coping with mental health issues and their families. It is a safe space where open communication is encouraged, information and support on dealing with everyday struggles are provided and programs see to the needs of different individuals and groups within the city of Heraklion.

I started The Healing Tree community five years ago when I minded the gap that exists between the formal, overwhelmed health services where people turn for help and the patient’s follow-up experience: there was no orientation on the best ways that patients could go on with their therapy, no monitoring of their progress, plus there were limited options given to those who suffer from symptoms as to how they could embrace a more holistic, a less one-size-fits-all approach to their well-being. But first and foremost, mental health had not been a priority to my country for years and I singlehandedly vowed that I would turn the tables on that matter. So here is the Healing Tree community, making noise in my hometown by really helping people learn how to both ask for and give help. It has created a bold community of sharers and strivers within a larger community. After all, I don’t even believe there is progress without cooperation. And I firmly stand for networked mental health visibility.

Tell us and our lovely readers what is it that you do?

I am a Social Psychologist who has been working in therapeutic environments for about twenty years. The Healing Tree community is a recent project that stems from a desire to create bonds and share stories around “the fire” that burns in each and every one of us, the way our ancestors used to do in order to restore and connect the parts that are broken inside. In the community, we offer a personalized approach to mental health, really listen and co-design the best path to recuperation, according to one’s needs and capabilities. We also soothe anxious relatives and allow burnt-out carers to take a break.

Moreover, I have started a series of interviews, videos and podcasts with a #ConversationsWithFriends hashtag that asks different professionals to talk about their work in relation to mental health because I truly believe that, at the end of the day, everything revolves around this topic.

And my latest pet mission is called #SheWorks and asks everyday women entrepreneurs (by “everyday” I mean that you do not have to reach your personal peak or be awarded a prize to be seen and heard) to tell their story in the way they want to – everybody has a story to tell, especially in these difficult times and we should listen, form bonds and create opportunities for each other.

What is your story? How did you end up here?

I was born in Crete, the biggest island in Greece which gave me this islander perspective: on the one hand, you feel disconnected from the rest of the world and this can be lonely and risky because you miss out on people and opportunities. But on the other hand, you can make the most of it by becoming self-sufficient. By that I mean that, although we are social animals, we have to start from the “I”, not in an egotistical sense but in order to find ourselves, understand our potential and limitations and focus on how we can make the best of the situation life has put us in. You know what they say in airplanes, in case of loss of cabin pressure you should put your own oxygen mask on first before trying to help anyone else. That’s what I mean.

Other than that, I became a psychologist from a very personal, family story of close relatives who suffered from mental health symptoms. As a child back in the 1970s I watched as there was absolutely nothing for them to do, nobody to really help. They would literally suffer behind closed doors, living a groundhog-day kind of life. They deserved better, everyone deserves to be given options and care. I dreamt of stepping in one day and, today, I feel that my job and my whole stance is that of the person who steps in. You cannot wait around forever for things to change in your environment; you have to take the responsibility for change. And you have to do it over and over until somebody listens or takes a look.

I am also a mum of a young daughter and I wish she grows up to be courageous and strong and never take a “this cannot be done” for an answer.

Do you have a “WHY” for why you do what you do?

First of all, because there was no one else doing it and I got tired of waiting for somebody else to do it. As simple as that. Secondly, because more people deserve to be heard and I want to create a platform of freedom of expression, away from fear and stereotypes. We, in Greece, have only recently started to realize that mental health is part of the umbrella term called health but also a separate section that requires the combined efforts of different professionals for positive results to come out. What is more, both families and health care professionals should be supported through continuous development education programs that will tackle mental health issues. We have to re-educate ourselves and really put ourselves in the shoes of people who suffer in silence. The lockdown became an eye opener for politicians, professionals of various fields, health advocates, patients and citizens, equally.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to invite more people to join me in collaboration. We need to take this on a national, not just a local, level because it is much more than a company of people who discuss around tea and biscuits (we do that too, if need be): it is another way of looking at mental health. People usually see the symptoms and never the person. Other times, people hear sad stories but they never ask “what kind of person you wanted to be as a child?” “What prevented you from being that person?” And let me tell you that there are strong forces that prevent us from being a better version of ourselves. Those forces are called “stagnation”, “myopic environments”, “inaccessible services”, “inequalities in mental health care” and so forth.

Because everybody is going through difficult times financially, I also plan to reinvent PR in my city, Heraklion. My #SheWorks project will introduce women entrepreneurs to each other in many more levels than used to happen in the past. I mean we used to attend parties or give out business cards but this is so old-fashioned and it takes time. These days, people can join forces and involve themselves in win-win situations. We just have to think how we can benefit from each other and set out to create magic!

What is the best about being who you are?

I don’t get easily scared or discouraged but only because I grew up scared and discouraged and had to build resilience and strength for myself. As a result, I strongly support people and ideas and want to see entrepreneurs thrive. I never feel competitive because I don’t mind who invents or thinks of the next best thing to be of assistance to humanity, as long as it is out there for people to really benefit from. There is room for everyone and there are so many things we haven’t taken care of yet!

My friends say that I rise from the ashes eeeeevery time and that’s the best compliment I can get.

What does your day look like?

I wake up early to have the first cup of coffee in silence.

I read and respond to emails, revise my to-do list, read any social media posts that may be of interest, listen to an inspiring podcast. I prepare breakfast for the family and take my daughter to school. Then my day really begins.

I work for many hours but because I do things that I love, it does not feel as an obligation. It gives me great pleasure to meet people, talk with them, answer questions, make plans. I always try to schedule me-time and also time with friends. Communication is my middle name.

I multitask and carry around books that are really my shining armor. I can cook food while chatting online with business partners and take notes for articles (I contribute articles to several e- magazines). I am an avid reader, yoga disciple and personal development enthusiast and I take time to carefully curate my timetable because I don’t want to miss on anything.

I stick to routines and I write down everything. This is really an important tip I actually learned from other people because for a long time I thought I could just manage on improvisation. No, if you want to succeed in anything whatsoever, you have to plan it in concrete steps.

What business-related tips and advice do you have for our readers?

If you really want to do something, if an idea really kills for implementation and fuels your brain with passion and energy, then make the first step forward, even if it is just you, even if nobody believes in you at the time.

Ask ask ask for help and do not be afraid of rejection. Adopt an it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world philosophy when things don’t come out the way you want them to (I was actually once a speaker in a FuckUp Nights event where I made a great speech on my transition from a family business employee to an independent entrepreneur in a completely different field of work) .

Keep working every single day for it. An idea may need improvement here and there and sometimes you start from a place only to land in a completely different territory but you mostly need to stick by your decision to see something through. To not give up. Your hard work and perseverance will attract other people.

And then form collaborations with like-minded people who can understand that success is a byproduct of hard work.

What mindset advice do you have for our readers?

I think that people don’t understand how self-esteem is something you can train yourself to have. We are not born confident, we become so through trial and error.

Nobody knows everything so learn from other people or find a mentor – never stop being a student.

Sometimes I do a crazy thing, I read about somebody’s work, I love it and then I call them to ask “do you think there would ever be a way we could work together on a project”? That has become the beginning of some great partnerships and sometimes friendships.

It is important that we surround ourselves with people who care about something, who are conscious users of the love supplies that exist in this world. We often read in magazines that we should love ourselves and I agree but we have to love other human beings as well. Love them the same and unconditionally and create paths for everyone to walk on.

You also joined one of our courses - which one? Why did you join it, and did it end up being helpful in any way?

I joined the Instagram Masterclass to boost my social media skills and learn new tips and tricks for both my personal (@dlimniotaki) and my professional (@healingtreeproject) profiles.

The course has been extremely helpful, easy to follow and results are starting to show as we speak. From time to time, I attend online courses for my professional development and may I tell you how the Empire Building series is in my top five list of value-for-money decisions! It is great that we get to meet so many other wonderful, creative individuals as well.

Anything else you want to share with our readers?

Yes I would like to ask them to please take care of their mental health the way they take care of their overall condition.

We are sure our readers would love to check out your website and your social media. Maybe you even have some special offers that our readers can grab!

You can find our mental health awareness work at the www.healingtreecommunity.com website (it is Greek-English). Sign up for our email newsletters in which we reserve a little bit of sunshine for our subscribers!

I would be happy to see you on Instagram @dlimniotaki / @healingtreeproject

If you think that there is a way we could work together (remember what I said earlier!) feel free to pm me with suggestions.

I would like to believe that we will be COVID free soon, so I invite you to a Healing Tree Summit meeting next summer in Crete, where you can present a seminar and talk about your achievements. If you are interested, drop me a line.

I do appreciate the fact that the Girls Building Empires team gives voice to their fabulous future movers and shakers and I thank you dearly for the chance to speak about my work.

Stay united my beautiful Empresses!

Despoina Limniotaki

See also the interview here