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Mindful : August 2018
Can you give me an example? Because I’m Black and tall, people would assume that I was at Notre Dame on an athletic scholarship to play basketball. If they saw me in the engineering building, they asked, “Are you looking for the gym? Are you lost?” That must have worn you down. I knew that I needed a change. I thought maybe it was time to go out into the world, work, see what that’s like, and then figure out the next move. That next move brought you to the Bay Area. I took a job working for Lockheed Martin. But again, though in a differ- ent way, I found myself isolated. For most of the day, I was in a windowless building, in a cubicle, in front of the computer. I am a people person, but I’d have to wait until lunch to pop over to someone’s cubicle and talk. I became a team leader, and that got me out and about. For most of the day, though, I was still in front of a com- puter screen. It was draining. Eventually you and your first husband decided to travel. Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Eg ypt... There was something about that time, having an extreme way of present-moment living and complete freedom. I loved it. I made a point to meet local people. They’d invite me into their homes, and we’d have a real, true experience of connecting, heart to heart. It was transformative. And yet, when your travels ended, you initially returned to the tech world. Why? That inner critic that we talk about in mindfulness was saying, “ You spent all this time getting these degrees and you have this work experience and now you need to live and make money.” In my family, there wasn’t a huge emphasis on education. So, to have spent all of this time and energy educating myself, well, they assume—as many people do—that you really only do that if you’re going to end up making a lot of money. Other- wise, what’s the point? And I thought, “Maybe I can make it work—go back into the corporate world, take care of myself, and be of service.” I took a job with a startup, and before long I had no time for volun- teer work or community service. My life was out of balance. A long com- mute, a 12-hour day, coming home exhausted, and doing the same thing over and over. We were working six days a week, sometimes seven. I remember feeling pretty ill. I thought, “I need to step back.” And right when I was realizing this, an engineer on my team was hospitalized with extremely high blood pressure. The next day, he was back at work. The CEO, he reported, had called him at the hospital: “ You’ve got to get back to work. Let’s get this done.” That was a defining moment for me. I decided that I needed to be somewhere dif- ferent or to do something different. Nothing was aligning with who I was and how I wanted to be. Shortly after I left, another colleague phoned me: The engineer had had a heart attack and died. Wow, that must have been devastating. Yes! My colleague still very much identified with being an engineer. It was so much a part of who he was that he didn’t see another way. Needing to be recognized and told, “Hey, that was a great job,” or needing to be a part of a community where everyone is working toward a common goal— those are basic human needs, but they can drive us to the point of overexer- tion and even death. I was very lost and confused. I needed to figure things out, to get away and heal. That’s when I moved to Hawaii. Now, many choices later, you are still connected to the corporate world of tech and science, but from the vantage point of mindfulness, right? I am helping people to stay in their corporate careers in a way that is balanced and healthy. I work with companies and groups in the tech- nology and science sector, consult- ing on retreats, helping people who are driven and accomplished—and creating solutions that are changing the world—to integrate balance and wellness into their ambitious lives. Of course, most people can’t upend their lives with a year of travel or a dramatic career shift. Sometimes it’s not about taking ourselves out of a place. What I teach is how to use the practice of mindful- ness as a support for being in peace in the place where we are. Mindfulness can create a space where we can see options and possibilities. There are ways to change. Little tweaks can make a big difference. Part of the mindfulness work I do is to help peo- ple to set a clear happiness plan. What do you mean by “happiness plan”? The process is unique for each per- son. It includes setting intentions, aligning yourself with peace, creat- ing conscious choices, and learning that authenticity equals happiness. When we connect truthfully with ourselves, get clear on what our purpose is, and take action accord- ing to these truths, we become free and sustainably happy. That said, I also believe we need radical changes in corporate culture that put the “human” into human beings: three- or four-day work weeks, shorter work days, a month of vacation each year, comprehensive holistic well- ness plans. And now, you are—? Joyful! Off the chart! You laugh a lot, don’t you? I love laughter! It’s part of my happiness plan! ● 42 mindful August 2018 the mindful interview