The power and joy of living a resilient, adventurous life  

Esther Flammer is the Chief Marketing Officer at Wrike, one of the world’s most powerful work management tools. Having held key roles in demand generation, customer and lifecycle marketing, and marketing operations—at the likes of Conga, Convercent, and Return Path—you could say she knows a thing or two about how to rally customers around a brand. But aside from working her way up the marketing ranks at a young age, her personal story of sheer resilience left all of us at The CMO Club in complete awe. So, if that piqued your interest, keep on reading to learn more about this incredible marketing leader. 

Let me tell you a little about myself 

Family is my number one priority; they always come first. In fact, the job title I’m most proud of is “Mom.” I’ve got two incredible boys—ages seven and nine—who are the joy and light of my life. I just want them to learn how to be good people and embrace life to the fullest. 

My husband and I do this by taking them on adventures with us all around the world. It’s the perfect opportunity to expose them to new cultures and life experiences that, I hope, will give them an even greater appreciation and awareness of their place in this world. 

Additionally, I absolutely love what I do as a marketer. I’m a big believer that marketing can be a strategic driver of every business. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of the market and can put a stake in the ground to position the companies we work for exponential growth. This, I feel, is the only way that marketing can retain its well-deserved seat at the table. 

But there’s also a part of my job I love that’s not necessarily inked into my job description: mentoring. I’m passionate about helping and advising people at all levels. This is especially true for women. I’ve done a lot of work around elevating the role of women in the workplace to help them find their own voice as they grow in their careers. It’s how I pay it forward. 

“I’ve done a lot of work around elevating the role of women in the workplace…it’s how I pay it forward.”

A life of non-stop adventure

My husband and I love to travel. That’s probably an understatement. But it is a huge part of our relationship—and something that we didn’t stop doing after having kids. 

Our honeymoon was pretty epic. We spent a good chunk of time traveling around South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hawaii. (For the record, Hawaii is my favorite place on Earth.)

We did another month-long trip to Asia when my eldest son was just one year old. Now, that was an adventure. We honestly thought we’d just stay in Asia forever to avoid having to get back on the plane again with a kid. But all jokes aside, we ended up doing another trip to Australia and New Zealand with both of the kids later down the road. We got a camping van and traveled all over New Zealand’s North Island. It was such a great way to see so many beautiful places. 

Then when the pandemic hit, as avid travelers and after all of our planned trips got canceled, we got a tad restless. So, we decided to buy a camper and plan our own adventure trips. We explored national parks to hike, go kayaking, and leave the pandemic behind. And just this past year, we did another family trip to the Galapagos Islands, where we got to swim with tortoises and penguins before popping over to Peru to hike up to Macchu Picchu. 

Long story short, I don’t think any of us could imagine a life without travel. It’s in our DNA.

Once an adventurous spirit, always an adventurous spirit 

I grew up in Colorado, which means I was pretty much outdoors all the time. So, it’s easy to see why nature has always been a part of my life. Even to this day, I’m constantly on the hunt for new road trips in Colorado that I’ve never been on. I just love being in nature and being around so many beautiful sights. After all, who doesn’t love stumbling upon a crazy waterfall, right?

Although my love of nature runs deep, I didn’t camp that much as a kid; I’m not a fan of being cold. Even my adventurer husband couldn’t convince me to sleep on the cold ground. That’s why we decided to buy the camper in the first place. If we were going to take to the road and escape pandemic life, we needed to be comfortable—especially with the kids. 

When you grow up around nature, it’s hard not to have an adventurous spirit. With the Rocky Mountains as our backyard, it’s there for the taking! 

“I don’t think we could imagine a life without travel. It’s in our DNA.”

We must support each other through mentorship

Getting to where I am at today hasn’t been easy. There have been a number of moments in my life where I struggled with career progression, imposter syndrome, and earning my seat at the table. I relied on mentors to help me work through all of that. 

Now it’s my responsibility to do the same for other women—at all career levels—who are trying to make their mark. That’s why I carve out time to speak at women-focused events to share my story and explain how I got to where I am today. We need to listen to each other and learn from each other. If my story can help someone else break through their own barriers, then it’s my duty to keep on sharing it. That’s how we grow as people and professionals.

In every company I’ve worked for, I’ve tried to establish some sort of mentorship dynamic. In some cases, it wasn’t a formal program. At Wrike, we formalized a mentorship program within marketing that matches everyone—even senior leaders—with mentors from other teams. Mentorship is about sharing ideas, working through problems, and learning from one another. Everyone has something to learn regardless of their level. 

But program or no program, I always make an effort to establish solid relationships with the people around me. I keep an open-door policy. My team can reach out and ask for advice whenever they need it—and many have taken me up on this offer. In fact, following one of our conversations, a mentee recently sent me a text to say, “That hour just gave me the most peace I’ve felt in a really long time.” Honestly, that kind of feedback means the world to me and is a perfect example of why I believe so deeply in the power of mentorship.

A single person can leave a lasting impact

I’ve had a lot of different informal mentors and teachers throughout my career—and they’ve all left a lasting impression on me in some way. However, there was one woman I met early on in my career named Jen who I still hold close to my heart. She was my HR Business Partner at the time and, unfortunately, passed away from cancer at the age of 40. 

In spite of her own health concerns, she took the time to mentor me and listen to me vent my frustrations and ambitions. Her advice was always spot-on. She had this incredible way of providing perspective on situations that really opened my eyes. And she always did it with empathy; she was one of the most real and genuine people I’ve ever met.

She taught me how to make the best out of every situation and accept that there are many things in life that are completely out of our control. She also stressed the importance of not complaining when things don’t go according to my plan—because no one, especially those senior to you, wants to hear about your problems. They expect you to think holistically, come to the table with solutions, and be part of the solution. That’s how you reinforce your value.

This advice still sticks in my head today—and it’s what motivates me to speak up and make my contributions known. That was the key to standing out and growing in my career.

“At every phase of life, we change; as a result, how we work and how we choose to spend our time and energy are bound to change, too.”

A resilience-driven personal and professional journey

People often ask me how I got to where I am today. Answering that question requires looking at my journey through two lenses: 

My Personal Journey 

For starters, I was raised by a single mom from the age of 10. She’s my absolute role model, my biggest fan, and my biggest hero. She taught me about resilience, resourcefulness, strength, and independence. She truly set an amazing example to follow—and I’m forever grateful. 

I never realized just how important her influence would be on my life until I was faced with my own cancer journey. About 10 years after meeting my mentor (Jen) and experiencing her struggles firsthand, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. This came as a shock, and my doctor told me that I defied statistics. It was an anomaly. And to throw salt onto the wound, it ended up being an aggressive form of cancer with a high likelihood of recurrence. 

But I decided I wasn’t going to let cancer define me. I vowed to keep on working, even though I had just started a new job (only four months in), was running the biggest marketing team I’d ever managed, and had a pretty hectic business travel schedule ahead. Speaking of which, just after my first chemo treatment, I hopped on a plane to London to attend a customer event, followed by a second round of chemo before heading to Las Vegas. I even went to San Francisco to host a multi-million dollar event at Dreamforce a few weeks after my final treatment. 

Needless to say, during the first year of my cancer journey—which included multiple surgeries, four rounds of chemo, and radiation every day for three straight weeks—I took about 20 domestic and international business trips. There was even one day when I started at the hospital, drove to the airport for a quick day trip to San Francisco, and then had my final round of radiation the following day. I simply wasn’t going to let cancer stop me from living my life. 

Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re capable of doing until you do it. Continuing to work through my treatment fueled me and gave me a distraction. It also pushed me to be better both in my career and at home as a mom. Unfortunately, just when I thought I was on the road to full recovery, I got an infection from a previous surgery and had to have an emergency operation. My body was officially telling me, “It’s time to slow down.” 

So, I decided to take a six-month sabbatical to fully recover, reevaluate my approach to work-life balance, and revisit my personal and professional priorities. This is really something we should all do regularly, if possible. At every phase of life, we change; as a result, how we work and how we choose to spend our time and energy are bound to change, too. 

This experience taught me that a little time off to take care of my health and my family is a good thing. It’s how I was able to create more balance between my goals—and everything else going on in my life—and have more empathy for my own well-being. True, I consciously took this “it works for me” approach to my own cancer journey. But just because I continued to move at a fast pace during my treatment doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for others in my position to do. We have to listen to ourselves and our bodies to decide the best path forward. 

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve finally passed the 5-year “cancer-free” mark. That’s one of the reasons why we took that trip to the Galapagos Islands this past year. It was a reason to celebrate: Nothing is stopping me from tackling the adventures of life ahead. 

My Professional Journey

I look at my career in terms of milestones. When I first started out, I was the person getting the job done. I had to be super dependable and execute flawlessly. Then, I went from being the “worker bee” to the person who created plans, led cross-functional initiatives, and managed people. And once I joined the “senior leader” ranks, it became my responsibility to align those programs and initiatives to broader strategic goals at the organizational and business levels. 

As you grow through your career, there are all sorts of obstacles to overcome and lessons to learn. There’s a progression to follow. But you really need to know how to execute on the details before you can transform strategic thinking into real business success.

I say this because, early on in my career, I constantly questioned why I wasn’t moving up faster. Why wasn’t I already at director level? Why wasn’t I managing people? If you’re like me, you’ve probably wrestled with the same thoughts at some point in your career. Career growth is a combination of experience and being able to clearly showcase your value at every turn. 

My biggest challenge was—and sometimes continues to be—overcoming imposter syndrome. Throughout my career, I had become accustomed to being underestimated. I don’t necessarily look or sound the part, even on paper. I’m oftentimes assumed to be the youngest. And I’m still typically (one of) the only women in the room at a senior level. So, unfortunately, I know all too well what it feels like to be immediately written off at first impression. 

Then I had a moment of realization. I knew I had things to say that others in the room needed and wanted to hear. I had the expertise, vital information, and a unique perspective to add. Not speaking up would, therefore, be bad for my team, the marketing org, and the company. 

When all of that clicked, I realized I had to get out of the habit of second-guessing and devaluing myself and, instead, harness the power of my own voice. Truthfully, I wish I had done that earlier in my career. But at least I’ve learned this lesson now. There’s just never a time when we should willingly let other people’s perceptions of us get in the way of our full potential. Though I’m well aware that sometimes it’s easier said than done.

I love my current gig

I know it’s the politically correct thing to say that you love your job. But I really love what I do for Wrike. Part of this is because I was a Wrike customer—and I understood the importance of the product—before ever joining the team. I came into this role with hands-on experience.

What I saw then and what I know now is that innovation is at the heart of everything we do. The Wrike platform is industry-leading for a reason. And let me tell you, this makes marketing our product a breeze. We’ve got amazing customers who not only love using the product but are incredibly vocal about how much they love using it. They are our biggest advocates. 

The combination of a great product and great customers is a marketer’s dream. The challenge now is how to differentiate ourselves even further and drive more demand. Easy, right?

“There’s just never a time when we should willingly let other people’s perceptions of us get in the way of our full potential.”

This is what I tell myself every single day

I would say, there are three things I live by, day in and day out: 

First, you must know your value. This includes understanding who you are, what makes you tick, and how you can make your strengths work really hard for you. At the end of the day, you are uniquely you—and no one else. Knowing your value means you can be your own best advocate and champion all of the things most important to you. 

Second, you can’t go at it alone. Overused as this phrase might be, no (wo)man is an island. I couldn’t have gotten where I am today if it weren’t for the people around me, my support system. They make sacrifices for you and, in turn, you make sacrifices for them. And if you want to come out of the hardest parts of your life stronger and more resilient than ever, you need to lean into the people who truly care about you and want you to succeed. 

That’s why I want my team to be excited about what they do and how they’re growing in their careers. I want to be their support system just as much as they are mine. As a working mom, I couldn’t do it all without the love and support of my husband—who is pretty darn incredible at sharing parenting (and life) duties with me. When I take a step back and look holistically at every part of my life, I wholeheartedly value everyone around me. 

Third, your mindset is everything. Life is hard. There will be obstacles. Some things we can control—or at least, influence—and other things are just going to happen whether we like it or not. But we do have a choice about how to approach these challenges. Do you press forward? Do you slow down or stop? That’s up to you. You just need to learn to respect your limits.

And when I’m not working…

When I’m not working, I’m probably spending time with my family. We love our movie nights with freshly-popped popcorn, playing board games, and taking walks around the neighborhood. 

I’m also a huge foodie and, dare I say, quite the adventurous eater. My husband and I love trying out new cuisines and finding the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants wherever we go. My absolute favorite food is Ethiopian. I love it so much that we’ve even taken a stab at making it ourselves. 

On top of that, I’d like to think I’m pretty crafty. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a DIYer, but instead, when I see something on Pinterest, I often tell myself, “I can do that” and then just figure it out. It’s how I learned to crochet toys for my kids during the pandemic. I also started making the kids homemade t-shirts and have gone all-in on making some pretty cool birthday cakes. I recently made my son a Nintendo Switch cake, and it came out great! 

“There are three things I live by day in and day out: 1) Know your value, 2) don’t go at it alone, and 3) take charge of your mindset.”