Meet Anna Szabo: A Lesson in Perseverance

A guest post by Sarah Agnew

Perseverance: noun – continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”.  Perseverance is the unrelenting pursuit of a goal, regardless of extenuating circumstances that threaten to impede one’s progress towards that goal.  It is a common trait among leaders and pioneers, as the ability to adapt and respond to adversity can drive the path to success.

Photo credit: Evil Paul, CC BY 2.0

For me, there is one woman that embodies “perseverance”.  Anna Szabo has a story that articulates the very essence of this profoundly impactful trait.  Her story began with desperation and aimlessness, but slowly transformed into one full of prosperity and vibrancy.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Anna to hear a firsthand account of her incredible life journey.  Throughout this post, I hope to capture the essence of her tenacious character and the magnitude of her relentlessness.

In a dreadful nightmare, Anna tosses and turns in her sleep, flashing back to her first year in the United States.  She looks at street signs, but cannot read.  She asks for help, but cannot understand what people tell her.  She tries to communicate how she feels, but nobody can comprehend her native tongue.  Her heartbeat quickens as she realizes how alone she is here in the United States: homeless and lost in a foreign country, surrounded by a sea of people she does not know.  She tries frantically to find someone that can understand her, someone that can help her, but to no avail.

She jerks up in bed, breathing heavily.  “Another nightmare” she says out loud, in English, to remind herself that those struggles are in the past.  She looks around her spacious bedroom in Atlanta, Georgia, and takes a deep breath, leaving her nightmare in the past—where it belongs.

The deck was stacked against Anna (born Anna Ermakova, now Anna Szabo, JD, MBA) from her first day on earth.  Born in Russia amidst treacherous childhood conditions, she was subjected to physical and psychological child abuse in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.  Countless more hardships, including rape, could not keep Anna from becoming a success story.  Perseverance is a founding principle that has been Anna’s constant companion throughout her life.  It exemplifies the sense of resiliency that allowed Anna to fall down and then get back up—over and over again.  It’s what drove her through every obstacle that she encountered day after day.

Photo credit: Jim O’Neil, CC BY 2.0

Anna wandered aimlessly through her early childhood in Russia on a fast-track to nowhere, subjugated by abuse and alcohol addiction.  Daily, Anna’s mother told her “you are nothing.”  The phrase became etched into Anna’s mind, driving her towards two childhood suicide attempts.  Desperate for an outlet, Anna began spending time in the school library as a way to pass time.  One night, a teacher found her studying there.  She encouraged Anna to become involved in science and research.  Anna’s newly found interest in science became a catalyst for growth during her teen years, giving her an avenue to channel energy and enhance her intellectual capacity.  Anna went on to become a full-time teacher at 19 years old.  She then pursued business school and earned her JD distinction.

Anna had finally found a way to grow her intellectual capabilities in Russia, yet she was stunted by her perilous home life.  Because she was still immersed in her Russian neighborhood antics, she put her studious nature on pause every day when the school closed, immediately turning back to alcohol at night to shield herself from her home life.  Anna knew this life was a dead-end path, as it would prohibit her from capitalizing on her educational background to her fullest potential.  In 2008, without knowing English, she migrated to the United States in hopes of a fresh start and an opportunity to flourish both personally and professionally.

However, misfortune followed Anna into her new life, landing her in a relationship plagued with domestic violence as soon as she set foot on American soil, with no opportunity to learn English.  She spent eight months in confinement, unable to become acquainted with the brand new world in which she was living.  She eventually freed herself of the abusive relationship, and found solace and shelter in a center for domestic violence victims.  It was there that Anna, in less than two years, taught herself English through PBS cartoons and Frank Sinatra songs.  Having discovered American culture while learning the English language, Anna decided to further her studies in the United States.  She had no clear career path in mind, but viewed business education as an opportunity to develop a universal skillset that could be applied across all vocations.  Therefore, Anna chose to apply to the Masters of Business Administration program at Georgia State University.  She encountered many roadblocks during the application process—she did not have transcripts from previous universities or records of standardized testing scores required to apply for the program.  She decided to go off script, writing a story of her life journey in lieu of the application.  Georgia State University decided to take a chance on the promising immigrant, accepting her into their program despite her unconventional path.  Anna did not disappoint—she proved to be a success story and graduated from the program with honors just a few years later.

Photo credit: BK, CC BY-SA 2.0

Anna’s perseverance throughout her journey earned her countless skills and invaluable qualities.  She developed an unparalleled work ethic that could not be diminished when obstacles arose.  Through her drive for success, she developed a sustainable self-trajectory inclined towards growth.  These qualities enabled Anna to propel herself forward in both her career and her personal life.  Anna’s work was flourishing when an unexpected opportunity arose—she was presented a chance to work in marketing.  Although she had minimal experience in the field, she took advantage of the opportunity and soon realized she had found her passion, becoming a leader in the marketing world through a position that allowed her to manage an entire company’s digital marketing sector.  Her courage to venture into the unknown allowed Anna to discover her true passion and expand her area of influence into an entirely new field.

Her vast career success has given Anna a platform to extend her talents into the community, where she dedicates much of her heart and energy to helping and inspiring others.  She has written an award-winning book on effective goal-setting, she speaks at conferences, and she works with domestic violence shelters to improve the lives of women suffering from trauma similar to what she had endured.  Anna remembers those that helped her along the way, and seeks to give back to her community and make a positive impact on the world.

Anna’s determination to be a person of significance transformed her from a troubled teen and homeless domestic violence victim to a successful digital marketing guru and award-winning author.  She didn’t let the ebbs and flows of life pull her down; she kept her chin up and learned from challenges, allowing them to serve as an opportunity to become better.

Anna helped me remember that there will be hard times in life, but we are always capable of moving forward despite the setbacks.  Sometimes we can only take one day at a time, or one hour at a time, but even then our passions still matter.  Anna is the epitome of perseverance, and she is a glowing example of how to extract every ounce of good that life has to offer, regardless of the past.  Any time you are knocked down, know that it’s not the end.  Know that you can get back up and build the life that you have always aspired to live.  Know that you, too, can persevere through life’s many roadblocks to become someone extraordinary, just like Anna.

The underlying theme of perseverance throughout Anna’s life can be a valuable lesson to us all.  As a reader, how much of this were you able to connect to your own life?  How many road blocks have you encountered, but have found ways to navigate around them?  And how has Anna’s story inspired you to persevere despite unfavorable circumstances?  It’s essential in life to learn from your past and allow it to propel you into the future.  Share your thoughts in the comments section below!



About the author:  Sarah Agnew is a senior at Georgia State University, studying Exercise Science and planning to pursue a Doctorate of Physical Therapy.  She played beach volleyball at GSU for 4 years, and is now focusing on her passion for science via her studies in human anatomy & physiology.  She hopes to one day specialize in amputee rehabilitation as a Physical Therapist.  You can catch her longboarding, practicing yoga, rock climbing, listening to music, or doing anything adventurous in the great outdoors.



Copyright © 2016-2018 Forever Leaders.



  1. The story was incredible and extremely touching. Anna is someone who I envision myself to be in the future. Someone who is self-driven, independent, and successfully in overcoming setbacks. Lately, I struggled with my roadblocks which had almost stopped me from reaching medical school. It is my worst enemy, and I had nothing else but myself to blame for trying to sabotage my success. After reading her story, I realized I am burnt out, and I give up things way too easily sometimes. However, Anna’s story had served to me as a reminder that everyone is capable of overcoming obstacles with just perseverance and handwork. I should not give up biochemistry instead endure and persist until the very end. This resonated with a quote I recently found where it said, “Don’t give up in times of difficulty. Preserve on as there will be an end of these.”

  2. Anna Szabo’s story is impressive and is a testament to why you should never quite on yourself. Imagine if Ms. Szabos I just gave up in Russia, when her life seemed to always lead to a dead end. She reminds me that anything is possible with a combination of self-belief and perseverance. After reading this article I looked her up on youtube, this women is vibrant and full of life, it is hard to imagine that she went through such difficulties to be in the position that she is today. Her stories make me realize that I have no excuse when it comes to reaching my goals. The fact that she did not speak English very well and managed to graduate with honors at Georgia state is genuinely astounding. She is an example of what is possible when you push past difficulties that may arise when you are trying to reach your goals. I have had some hardships in life, and I will probably have many more. I will keep Ms. Szabo’s story in mind next time I feel as if something is impossible because as many commenters have stated with perseverance, anything is achievable. Life is difficult and there will be many defeats before you win.

  3. I love hearing about peoples’ personal stories because each of us have such different experiences, and unless we talk about these struggles no one will ever know what it was to be you. I agree with Alea that Anna’s story is truly one of the human condition and our resolve to always survive. I think all humans have the capacity to persevere and be successful. Stories of success make us proud and we all share in the joy that this person was able to rise up not despite of their struggle but because of it. None of us can change our pasts but we can all rise up and get past our traumas. I have had my own experiences of struggle as I’m sure everyone has to some degree or another and looking at Anna it helps me realize that we can’t let these passing moments hold us back from what it is that we truly want out of life. I have hope that no matter what you can always pull through a situation and learn from it.

  4. Anna story is very captivating; it takes great bravery to be able to overcome the obstacles she has faced in her life. She came to a new country, not knowing the language, and through perseverance navigated her way to success. Many people can learn from her story including myself. In today’s society, people are so used to instant gratification.Anna story teaches us that success takes patience and repetition; from learning a new language, and the challenge of getting accepted at Georgia State University. Also, her story embodies what it takes to be successful, which is resilience. To be successful, a person must be resilient, accepting life’s challenges head-on and never giving up. Also, it’s incredible to read how she is evolved in helping people who have experienced domestic violence. Some people once they have reached a certain amount of success and have faced such hardships; they tend to be bitter and closed off. Anna’s story is quite the contrary because she finds the time to inspire other people who have experienced the same abuse.

  5. Anna Szabo’s story is captivating! Anna Szabo’s life story resonates for anyone who has experienced the hazards that can accompany our journey through life. It is inspiring that a person immigrated to a country without the knowledge of the place, the people, or the language, and was still able to persevere and strategically navigate her way to success. This story is a testament to the capacity of the human spirit and our instinctive ability to survive.
    While I have not experienced the same perils as Anna, I can relate to her resilience and determination to overcome obstacles that can affect you both mentally and physically. On a personal note, my ongoing story of how I came to be in Atlanta at Georgia State is a journey of self-development and considerable transformation. (I, and many of my peers describe the process as “adulting.”) I came to Georgia State because I wanted to experience self-discovery and growth away from the comfort of the familiarity of home. Unlike Anna, my home was a nurturing experience, however, as one is “adulting,” the pitfalls provide valuable lessons that help lay the foundation for our evolving self-concept. Whenever I had a mishap or something bad happened, my grandfather would say, “what doesn’t kill you, will fatten you.” This saying loosely translates to: if something happens and you survive it, the process of going through it will make you stronger. This saying has become one of my mantras, and I believe it succinctly describes Ms. Szabo’s poignant story.

  6. Reading about Anna Szabo makes me want to push myself harder knowing the hardships she’s been through and the success she achieved. While going through the comments, I can’t imagine my peers being bullied. My middle school life was enjoyable but fine. Unlike Anna, I had the support of my parents as I grew up. Regardless of the financial hardship my family went through when the market crashed, they always supported my education. I was never without a book I wanted to read. Something I want to bring up that no one has, is my current roadblock~ struggling in orgo 2. It is nothing compared to Anna’s but nonetheless it’s jarring for me. I haven’t yet found a way to navigate, but I believe in myself, and I will persevere. I want to end with a quote that really resonances with me to keep going is:

    The sky above me
    The earth below me
    The fire within me

    For me, it makes me take a breath and look at my surroundings, and it reminds me to keep going.

  7. This story was very inspiring I hope that one day I might be as amazing and as strong as Anna. I moved to the United States, like Anna, except at a younger age and thankfully I was with my parents. Even though I was with my parents I still went through some hardships. I have not spoken much english and I was just starting middle school, I was terrified to say the least. So slowly I decided to try to see how many different people I can smile at in the hallways and that lead to saying hello to people which in the end resulted in me gaining the confidence to speak to people. Growing up in Kuwait I was very unaware of all the hate that people had towards the Middle East. I was a very oblivious child but ignorance is bliss right? Yes, well thankfully I did not encounter anyone too hateful but in the eighth grade I did have a conversation with this boy in my class and he ended up asking me if I was a terrorist and that actually made me cry. Those small things though helped me learn to teach people that are ignorant or ignore people if they want to stay ignorant.

  8. This story immediately reminds me of the importance of “story telling” as we learned in class. I’m sure if I met this incredible woman in person I would have never been able to guess her struggles. In fact, I always assume successful women never had a difficult time getting where they are. When I fail or encounter roadblocks I often feel like giving up since there are so many people doing better than me. However, I need to remember that many people have stories like Anna Szabo. Roadblocks can be difficult to get around but they are not impossible. I hope more and more successful women and men start sharing their roadblocks. I know it would inspire me and probably others to persevere more in life. Her story reminds me that success is a jungle gym and not a ladder (Sheryl Sandberg). If something knocks me down, there are still many ways to get to the top. I will keep this story in mind as I move forward this semester with my senior thesis and applying to grad school. I keep thinking about all that can go wrong. I could not complete my research and completely mess up on the GRE. However, I need to remember that even if something does go completely wrong, that does not mean the end. I can always persevere and find a way to get what I want even if it takes a little more time.

  9. For me, this story struck a personal note. At the age of nine, I moved to the United States to live with my family. Unlike Anna, I did not move here not knowing where I would stay or not knowing the language that the people speak. But, like Anna, I was anxious about what this new venture would bring. I wish that during that time I could have read this story and realized that this move was the right choice and that this is where I was meant to be. Her story is truly one of perseverance, and thus, could have been used as a tool for self-motivation. Instead of focusing on the negative, Anna chose to see nothing but the positive that would ultimately come in her future. Moving to a new country (specifically, one that is not even on the same continent as your home) is not easy, learning a new language is not easy, and certainly progressing with the events she had faced is not easy. However, she refused to let her past impede on her future. This story is one of a true leader. Someone who was faced with an unjust amount of perplexity; yet, overcame those obstacles through their persistent nature. Anyone who has read this story can agree that she had to have faith, courage, and persistence, to reach the level of achievement that she has today. She held faith in the future and what it would bring. She had the courage to write to a school and apply to a program knowing that she was lacking the necessary records. And, throughout all this, she was persistent in her drive toward success.

  10. Perseverance has been a major theme in my life over the past year, and I love hearing stories about it because it reminds me of the light I found at the end of the tunnel. My first year of college was filled with depression. I felt as if I was floating through the world, like I was just a wisp of smoke in the breeze. I can relate to Anna’s desire to escape- home was my alcohol. Instead of coming to GSU like Anna, all I wanted to do was get away. Thankfully, I was able to get some much needed home time with the arrival of winter break, and also had the ability to think about my life. After making some difficult decisions coming back to GSU, my mind began to clear. I sometimes think, “what if I hadn’t removed myself from the toxic environment I was in?” I’m sure Anna has reflected on this question before in her life. It is similar to Amrina’s question about where Anna would be had she not been able to immigrate to America. As I reflect on my own question, I believe that I know where Anna would be. She would have found a way to get to America, or another country, before she would stay any longer in the environment she suffered in, just like I found a way to get away from mine. Had she not been accepted to GSU, I think she would have applied to other colleges in attempt to further her education. Anna has perseverance ingrained into her personality, and that would continue to move her throughout life, as it does for me today. My question is: what does it take for a person to have perseverance? Do people have to learn it through suffering, or are they born with it? This is a question I haven’t been able to answer myself, because like Anna, I have dealt with sufferings since my childhood (despite these sufferings, I still had a great childhood and I have a great life now). Maybe everyone is born with perseverance, but it takes a moment of adversity to really bring it out. Either way, I think perseverance is one of the greatest qualities to have because it can propel you through life, and it enables you to find light when there is only darkness.

  11. To Sarah Agnew: thank you so much for sharing this very impactful story. I do believe that you did a terrific job of showcasing the relentless perseverance that lies within Anna Szabo. This story was by far a true testament to the action of persevering. Anna Szabo had many obstacles stacked against her from her in born status, including domestic violence. She took every incident and found a way to overcome it crafting tailor-made solutions that worked for her. The ability to do this is a treat I find very admirable in a leader.

    After reading this post and its subsequent comments, I was overwhelmed with conflicting feelings about which one of the many accounts of my personal perseverance to share. One of which is my own experience with being bullied. I would like to applaud you Camila for your ability to seek help. As well as having a newfound willingness to help others with your story because it really does help as we have seen from Anna’s. My focus will not be on my bullying experience but rather my relationship with my roommate.

    My roommate Tatiana is also from Russia but is here as a tentative research student. She and I started off doing things for convenience sake such as working out and grocery shopping together. These grocery runs were slowly turning into a hassle due to the language barrier plus my limited vision. For instance, she would want to know information about a particular item and she would point. Unfortunately, the pointing was useless to me. We then had to do like Anna did and create our own solution to our problem. She taught herself English through PBS and we did things such as send text messages back and forth despite the fact we were standing within feet of one another. We continued to create more strategies, continued making grocery trips together and even hang out more frequently.

    Now I can happily say that Tatiana is one of my very good friends! In a way, we were each other’s help. We could have decided to just be mutual and leave it at that. Simply because we are roommates there is no requirement to be friends. I am so glad we chose to persevere through the natural challenges that continuously arised between us because now I have a great person to call my friend.

  12. Anna’s story was truly one that embodies resilience. Throughout her story, I was able to learn that road blocks are a part of life and it is up to us to either persevere through them or fall into endless feelings of hopelessness. Anna’s story has mainly motivated me to not be ruined by my difficulties, rather they can be a source of strength—and there is a way to get through them. I related closely to Anna’s story of immigrating to the United States. My family and I immigrated to the United States with no idea what this country would hold in store for us. All our family still lived in Ethiopia and it was difficult to navigate a new and different country, learn the language, and assimilate into a culture and tradition that is distinct from one we were used to. Luckily for me, my parents had a few friends that assisted with the transition. Imagining how Anna was able to come to this country alone and get into a situation that seemed to dampen her future but still pull through is incredible and inspirational. Throughout the reading I was asking myself, if I were put in these situations would I be able to overcome them? I do not know. However, I do know that we are able to endure and persist by working hard and having faith in ourselves, which Anna has taught us through her life experiences and her willingness to share her story.

  13. This story was inspiring! What I liked about this story was that I could relate to it because my dad came to America without knowing English just like Anna. He also struggled to get his life started, even the people who spoke his language did not help him at all. He felt alone in a foreign country not knowing what would come his way. Not only could I connect this with my dad, but also myself. Anna went thru a lot of obstacles in her life but did not give up. When I was in Middle school, I had one of the worst experience in my life. I was bullied for the first two years. It would start with little thing’s like when I would go to the restroom during class, and then I would come back to my pencil broken in half or my paper rip to pieces. Months pass it and would start to get worse. I had a roller bookbag because of my spine problem, kids in that school would hit the back of it with their foot. One time I was going up the stairs of the school bus when the back part of my book bag ripped, and everything fell out. My parents were not in a stable situation at that time, so I had to go to school with an old ripped bag until I got another book bag. Just like Anna I also had suicidal thoughts because it was a daily thing, and I could not take it anymore. Until one day I was watching a movie and one of the quotes it said was ” Nobody has the right to tell you who you are. Be true to yourself because your opinion is the only one that matters.” Ever since I heard that, it made me change and stand up to get help. Reading this has also made me think that I should help people who are going through what I been through just like Anna did. That I should not forget about what I went through in the past but learn from it. Thank you for sharing this story with us, because it taught me no matter your past you can come out strong and powerful.

  14. Anna Szabo’s story is a story that does not leave the minds of those who have heard it. I agree with Sarah Agnew in that Anna’s story is the definition of resilience and is a strong reminder that I can always get back up, that I always have the power to overcome. It is truly stunning how Anna, despite her home life, was still able to focus on the bigger picture of her life. For me personally, I think the biggest theme this story helps me remind me of is self-sufficiency. No one is truly self-sufficient. I tend to feel that it is up to me alone to be successful, and that I am the only one worthy of deserving praise if I am successful because I earned it, I worked hard for it. However, Anna is giving back. She is sharing her story, taking the time to come speak to students, and is willing to use her success to help propel others’ success stories. This teaches me to be more thankful for those that have helped me to get to where I am today and where I will be. Anna was able to complete her masters because GSU took a chance on her, America allowed her to immigrate, the domestic violence shelter opened their arms to her, someone saw her potential and offered her a marketing job. It is only because of the willingness of those already successful to pass on their success, that those of us who have not reached the top of our jungle gym yet are able to be successful too. Anna worked hard for her accomplishments and they are her own, but what if GSU had not accepted her? If immigration did not allow her to come to America? I need to show more gratitude towards those who share their success and knowledge with me, and that help bridge the gap between me and my success. When I am successful, I can take a note from Anna, and I can share my story and success with others so that younger generations can also be successful.

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