Zemar Dajani: An Eternal Learner, Mother, and Cancer Survivor on Embracing Change
By Cynthia Vera
Once hailed the “M&A Queen” of advising on “pensions implications in transatlantic mergers and acquisitions”, international woman and cancer survivor Zemar Dajani is an eternal learner who believes that with every challenge we face, comes a new opportunity to grow, and learn. With a career that began over two decades ago in commercial and contract law, Zemar decided to pivot her talents and become a certified divorce coach for professional mums. This is a side business for her.
After the valuable impacts of her own two divorces, Zemar took this opportunity to expand her knowledge and support newly divorced single mothers adjust to their new lives. Whilst her professional career reads like a success story, the businesswoman and mother-of-two has had many setbacks in her personal life which she has used to find a calling and keep on growing.
From her divorces to an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis in January 2021, the empowered survivor recognized this challenging hurdle as “a gift to be grateful for everything” she had. For Zemar, everything is “a new beginning” because “we are given a chance to redesign a new life”; something she teaches other women looking for mindset growth, stability and to embrace change.
Zemar, you’re a woman with an impressive professional background that spans over 20 years of experience. From advertising to a commercial and contract solicitor, property investing, and now a divorce coach. Can you start from the beginning of your professional career?
I have certainly had a varied career which wasn’t intentional. I started off with a business undergraduate degree, as well as an MBA. My first career was in advertising. I worked at top advertising companies in London and Amman. Whilst I enjoyed parts of that career, I didn’t enjoy the long hours expected to entertain our clients after working hours, especially when I became pregnant with my first child. In the back of my mind, I wanted to change my career at some point, but I wasn’t exactly sure what. It was only during my 1st divorce that I became interested in studying law. Actually, there’s a funny back story to this. I enjoyed dissecting all the pleadings which my solicitor drafted for my divorce case. One day she joked and said: “As you have such a great legal eye, you should become a lawyer!”. That comment was the start of my new legal career. I applied to law school as a single mum and a mature student. I made a conscious decision not to qualify in family law as I thought it would be too emotional for me. Instead, I opted to specialize in commercial, IT/E-Commerce, shipping, and contract law. It made perfect sense, especially with my strong business background. When I qualified as a solicitor, I got headhunted to work as a Pensions Solicitor by a well-known American law firm in London. I distinctly remember my surprise to be headhunted for an area of law in which I had no experience in. Prior to the interview, I researched as much as I could on Pensions Law so that I have some idea on what it involved. At the interview, the Head of the Pensions Department told me that he’s looking to train someone from scratch in this very niche area of law. All that he is expected is someone smart, willing to learn fast and work hard. I was offered the job and worked in Pensions Law for 5 years. I became known as the “M&A Queen”, as I specialized in advising on pensions implications in transatlantic mergers and acquisitions.
When you began your journey in your legal career, how did you navigate the industry and stand out as a woman in business?
When I started my journey as a solicitor, it was definitely a male-dominated market, especially in pensions law. I was the only female pensions solicitor in my law firm. However, I saw that as an opportunity, instead of a threat. Pensions law is a very technical subject which is constantly evolving. I loved that about pensions law, as I love to study. I’m an eternal learner. I love to keep learning and growing.
With a career that explores and dives into different categories of professions, how did you manage to adjust to the changes in roles? Was it ever difficult to separate your time between your personal and professional life?
Whilst growing up, my family and I have moved to so many countries like America, Turkey, Kuwait, to France. From that wonderful experience, I learned different cultures, cuisines, and languages. My sisters and I attended American schools throughout our lives, and that gave us the opportunity to make lots of international friends, many of whom remain my friends until today. Therefore, all my travels as a child and teenager helped shape me into an “international” woman, meaning that I can adapt very quickly to new environments and situations. In terms of separating my time between my personal and professional life, that was a huge challenge for me when I was married and when I became a single mum. One of the main reasons why I decided to change my advertising career, was exactly because the professional expectations didn’t sit well with women with a family. Also, when I went to law school, I had to rely on my parents to take care of Dania, my first-born daughter, who was 2 years old at the time. I couldn’t have achieved what I’ve achieved without my parents’ support, especially after my 2 divorces.
You started training in divorce coaching after your second divorce. Can you tell us what divorce coaching is and why do people need one?
After my second divorce, I hired a divorce coach to help me heal and process my emotions. At the time, Yasmina, my youngest daughter, was 9 years old. Once our divorce was finalized, Yasmina and I moved from California back to London. Yasmina had a very hard time adjusting to her new life in London. She grew up in America most of her life, even though we lived in 3 different States and 2 years in Qatar. We both needed professional help to adjust to our new stage of life and deal with our emotions. Yasmina’s biggest challenge was that her father remained in America, so they missed each other a lot.
When you go through a divorce, you can get support and love from your family and close friends. However, most of them don’t know how to help you professionally during and after your divorce. That’s where the divorce coach comes in.
Going through a divorce is very traumatic and you go through various stages of grieving. The main stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Every person is different and sometimes you can repeat a stage, skip a stage, or stay at a stage a long time. A therapist helps you deal with your emotions at each of those 5 stages. They give you tools to overcome the obstacles you face, especially limiting beliefs, such as feelings of unworthiness, being unloved, confused, low self-esteem, etc. They also help you dial down any triggers which cause you those negative feelings. For example, one trick is to stop talking about your ex once you’re divorced. The reason for that is the more you talk about him, the more you’re living in the past, instead of focusing on the present and the future. You need to let go of your past, and a divorce coach can help you with that.
You work with professional mums going through turbulent times in their relationships and support them in to design a new life as single mums. Have your own divorces impacted the way you look at divorces and how they should be handled?
Yes definitely! My two divorces impacted me in many ways; it taught me many valuable lessons and helped me grow, which was the reason why I wrote my book on the subject. One of the biggest lessons is that you must always put yourself first. Don’t stay in a relationship if you feel miserable, unhappy, and unfulfilled with your partner. Many mums believe that it’s their duty to remain in a loveless marriage for the sake of their children. I certainly was one of those mums. I thought I was doing the right thing by being patient and hoping that our marriage will improve and everything will magically work out in the end.
Another important lesson is that just because you and your partner are getting divorced, this doesn’t mean that you need to become enemies. You will always be the parents for your children and it’s much healthier for everyone if you stay civil and never bad mouth each other to your children.
A third lesson is if your divorce is amicable and you can negotiate the terms of your divorce with your partner, try to avoid going to court and using solicitors. I managed to convince my second husband to use mediation to get our divorce. We got our divorce done within 3 months in Los Angeles and at a fixed price. My first divorce was done through court, and it took 2 years. Legal fees can cost a fortune, especially when one party is being unreasonable or is contesting it, as was in the case of my first divorce. Also, when you leave the matter for a judge to decide on all aspects of your life, you never know which way the ruling will go. It’s much better to cooperate with your soon to be ex-spouse and try to agree a settlement agreement with a mediator or a specialized divorce agency, instead of relying on lawyers. Of course, you need to know what your legal rights and obligations are. You can always seek an initial legal consultation before you start negotiating with your partner.
Whilst divorces are challenging, one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to come face to face with is breast cancer. Are you comfortable telling us about your experience with breast cancer and the journey you’re on now?
Yes, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2021. It was totally unexpected, and it turned my life upside down. I feel so blessed that I caught it early on and that the type of cancer which I had was the curable one. Every challenge is a chance for us to either learn or grow. Cancer made me appreciate my health much more as I took it for granted. The first 7 months of this year have been very challenging for me, health wise. However, I used this time to train as a divorce coach as I felt I had a calling to help other women have a strong mindset.
Have there been any lessons you’ve learnt during your battle with cancer?
Getting cancer was a gift as it made me slow down, listen to my body, be grateful for everything that I have and bond more with my family. Being a cancer survivor is very empowering, and this is exactly why I wanted to become a divorce coach, to empower women who are going through it. When I went through cancer, I felt I was given a second chance in life. I didn’t want to take my health for granted anymore. Also, I felt that I wanted to help others with my knowledge and experience. Neither getting a divorce, nor having cancer, is not the end of the world. It’s a new beginning. We are given a chance to redesign a new life.
You’ve mentioned how important it is to have a strong mindset but what does that mean exactly? How can we improve our mindset in practical ways?
Mindset is the way you train your brain and your thoughts. Having a strong mindset is all about focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. There’s a saying which says, “What you focus on grows”. So, if you focus on your problems, you will attract more problems in your life. However, if you focus on the opportunities, you will see lots of opportunities and will take advantage of them.
Working on your mindset is a life-long skill. Your brain is a muscle, which needs to be constantly exercised. One tip is whenever you face a problem, turn it on its head to see how it can be transformed into an opportunity. For example, when I got diagnosed with cancer, my initial reaction was that I was in shock. Then, I started asking “Why me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?” However, I later turned these negative thoughts into more positive ones and started seeing the blessings that I have. I got diagnosed early. I have a curable type of cancer. I have great medical care. Within 7 months, I will be totally cured. It’s a temporary phase. I can use this time to take care of my body and look after myself. I started reading a lot of books and painting. My energy was very low during my chemotherapy treatments; so, I had to be selective with how I spend my time. A final tool is having a gratitude journal and writing in it on a daily basis. When you focus your mind on what you’re grateful for, you will attract more blessings into your life.