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Mindful : December 2017
Before joining TNC, you were a Wall Street investment banker for 25 years. That’s a dramatic career change. How did that come about? Many have criticized Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis, and to some degree that’s fair. But in my career, I worked with good people trying to do good things. I started in financings and mergers. Over time I began managing, which I really enjoyed. I believed—and still believe—that business can be a force for good on various challenges our society faces. On the personal side, meanwhile, my wife, Amy, and I wanted our kids to experience nature. While we both have urban backgrounds, we decided to take our kids on trips to experience and appreciate nature fully. Of course, we were all hearing and reading more and more about threats to nature, including climate change. I guess I’d always thought that I would leave Wall Street someday for something else. In 2005, after 21 years with Goldman Sachs, I went to my boss, Hank Paulsen, and said I had this idea to leave Goldman Sachs and become an environmental leader. Hank, who is a very direct person and a commit- ted environmentalist—and who went on to serve as US Secretary of the Treasury—said he had a better idea. He asked me to stay at Goldman Sachs and build an environmental effort for the firm. So I developed the Goldman Sachs Environmental Mar- kets Group and spent several years running it. I’m proud of what we did, identifying opportunities that were good for the environment but also good for our clients’ business. And I learned a lot in this role. When the TNC job became available, I applied, and in 2008 I became the new CEO. What was that transition like? Of course, as I said, there was a lot that I didn’t know about environmen- talism and about TNC. But there were plenty of people here who knew all of that and could guide me. For my part, I brought a strong knowledge of busi- ness that proved to be very helpful. In fact, I hope more people will consider the kind of career shift I made. There are so many opportunities to go into different fields, bringing what you’ve learned, and helping different parts of society understand one another. That’s important, especially these days, when the country is so polar- ized. We need to find common ground and ways to move forward together. Sometimes when I talk about that, people think I’m being naïve. But I don’t think so. That’s where TNC’s history is so inspiring to me. Over the organization’s 65-year history, we’ve been so successful because we’re always looking for common ground with unlikely allies. It’s in our DNA. We start with areas we have in com- mon and take it from there. We set out to listen, to understand other people’s points of view, to have more empathy. That’s a lot of what the approach of mindfulness practice is all about. It all comes together for me in a way I find super positive and rewarding. What do your business colleagues think about you meditating? Business people still have some discomfort talking about it. But that’s changing very fast. A lot of people are hearing more about the practical benefits of meditation. Actually, I sometimes wonder if those practical benefits aren’t being emphasized a little too much, at the expense of what I think of as the larger benefits to soci- ety. But then again, I recognize that my own interest in meditation was self-centered at first. I wanted to be a better manager. But now I’m learning that the primary benefit of meditation is helping me be a kinder and more compassionate person. I care a little less about me and more about others. That’s really what excites me now. After I had been at TNC a little while, some colleag ues confided in me that it was hard for people at the organiza- tion to feel comfortable with me. They suggested that I share some of the things that were most important for me. So I opened up and shared the role that meditation plays for me. I’m more open about who I am—which I think is good—and I think I’m becoming a kinder person (even though I still have lots of room for improvement). What was the reaction? Of course, as you’d expect, some colleagues have a lot of interest in learning more about mindfulness practices. And I think the fact that I shared this important part of my life helped people get to know me and understand who I am. We recently offered our first mindfulness course at our headquarters in Virginia, and it was oversubscribed. People really liked it. Afterward, on their own, some colleag ues created a meditation room at the office. Now we’re rolling out more course offerings. Are you comfortable with being a role model for mindfulness? I’m a humble beginner. I’m really just getting started. The good news is that even a beginner like me can get a tremendous amount out of mind- fulness meditation. It has added a dimension to my life that brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy. If you were to say to my colleagues at work, or my wife and kids, “Mark says medi- tation practice has made him a better listener. He says it has made him more positive. He says he doesn’t sweat the little things as much. Is that true?” I suspect they would say something like, “Well, it’s true he has made some progress.” But they would likely also add, “But he has a long way to go.” ● I believed—I still believe—that business can be a force for good on various challenges our society faces. Peter Jaret is a frequent contributor to National Geographic, The New York Times, Health, and dozens of other periodicals. He is coauthor of Impact: From The Frontlines of Global Health, and is a recipient of the AMA Award for journalism. 70 mindful December 2017 nature