Lately I have felt a non-stop influx of inspiration, and I attribute it mainly to the people with whom I surround myself. Not only do I have a cast of amazing friends, I am also blessed to have a consistent group of people whom I call my Life Board of Directors. Traditionally, you might called them “mentors”, but I find that a bit too formal. The catch is, I don’t expect anything of them, and they don’t expect anything of me. We just get together, eat/talk/laugh, and challenge each other to stand in our own power and greatness to better this world. How can this not be a good thing?
So what is a Life Board of Directors?
My friend Tung came up with the name, and I took it on wholeheartedly. If you’ve ever been in a company meeting with a board of directors, it’s an interesting dynamic. The board is usually too high level to ask about the nitty gritty details or provide specific suggestions. Their purpose is to provoke you to think in different ways, to challenge you, and to hold you accountable to results. The reason I prefer this to the term mentor is that “mentor” usually denotes hierarchy or that one person is seeking something from another. The key difference I’ve seen in my board over time is that it’s mutual learning ground, a symbiotic relationship.
Why is having a Life BOD important?
When you can have a safe space to express your ideas, aspirations, and fears, you gain clarity quickly. Combine that with someone who is willing to gently challenge and empower you, and you can move to action even faster. This has been my experience with each person on my board. We share what we’ve learned with each other, tips and tricks we come across, and books that have inspired us. But mainly, we just listen to each other openly, try not to “fix” things, and encourage each other to fulfill our potential. If I’m ever feeling down or insecure, I come to these people and am instantly lifted by a bright smile, encouraging words, and intentional actions.
Meet my sources of inspiration!
Arati and I met at a Room to Read event, and we immediately connected over our passion for education and helping children in the developing world. It’s easy to take one look at Arati’s bright smile and be infected with her energy and zest for life. She is a partner at her law firm, takes crazy trips to Africa and Asia yearly, and still finds time to champion several causes that impact the developing world. She told me that when she came across a tribal village in Chiang Rai, Thailand and saw the bright spirits of the children, she instantly knew that she wanted to empower children through education. We have lunch every few weeks to inspire each other to think big and pursue our passions.
My biggest lesson from Arati: You can connect world travel with important causes. Arati donates in-kind gifts and her time to schools in Asia and Africa when she travels.
Andrew and I have known each other since college days, but he became a big brother figure to me when he encouraged me to apply for a job at Bazaarvoice. In the early days of our monthly lunches, Andrew would advise me on my role and how to navigate a high growth company. Our discussions quickly turned from work to how we can leverage our talents and passions to do good in this world. Andrew also became a huge champion of Room to Read’s work with Girls’ Education and has been one of our biggest supporters. Through this common thread, we began playing around with the idea of promoting acts of kindness to create world change. Random talks at Thai Restaurants and coffee shops incubated the idea for his new website SnapKind.
My biggest lessons from Andrew: Big things can happen when you marry your passions with your talents. And when you put good intentions into the Universe, it conspires to help you.
Melissa Douglas Cunningham
Melissa and I first connected through mutual friends when she started at Bazaarvoice. We became fast friends when we began to practice yoga together and find out that we have many ideas and values in common. I eventually became her private yoga teacher to help her get grounded in the weeks before her wedding. Melissa has one of the biggest GSD (Get Shit Done) attitudes that I know. I used to always show up in her office to talk about things on my mind, and I never left without a new resource or book in my hand. She has a wealth of knowledge and a generous heart. When we get together for lunch, I always leave buzzing with motivation!
My biggest lesson from Melissa: Positive affirmations play a huge role in getting you closer to your dreams.
Brant and I first met at my interview for Bazaarvoice. He is the company’s co-founder and highly influential in the amazing culture that earned BV Best Place to work in Austin for so many years in a row. I’ve had the privilege to get to know Brant over the years, and what most people don’t always get to see is that he has a big heart and a strong yogic outlook on life. This was important to me in my career and one of the reasons we quickly connected. Because he was an Executive, most people found him intimidating, but he always treated me as an equal, asking me for feedback on the company, the culture and how we could improve. I believe I stood out as a hard worker with a lot of ambition and energy, and he took an active interest in helping me rise to the potential that he saw in me. When he left the company, many people were moved to tears because we all realized that our livelihood at BV was made better by Brant’s influence. Brant may not be a formal “mentor” of mine, but we consistently reconnect for lunch once a quarter, and I’m grateful for his investment in me. The funny thing is, I began to realize that I could impact him with my outlook and views as well. Regardless of status, title, or experience, when you share your truth, the impact is a two-way street.
My biggest lesson from Brant: Put your heart and soul into your work, and you will not only create great products, you will change lives.
Tung and I met for the first time at my Bazaarvoice interview as well. I remember him providing instant feedback on my presentation in a constructive and uplifting way that really spoke to me. The day before I started work, I went to the first Room to Read meeting of the Austin chapter and sat down directly across from Tung. Then I found out we were in the same student org at UT, although a few years apart, and had many mutual friends. The serendipitous occurrences only continued from there. People started calling me She-Tung, and I was humbled because he is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Tung became one of my few formal mentors right from the start because he was my manager for a short time and because he loves doing these things. He will tell you that he has a knack for reading people and invests his time graciously in others, which is a testament to his career as an advisor at ACC. Tung actually coined the term Life Board of Advisors and insisted from the start that I build mine out. I’m lucky to have someone in my life with the experience and foresight to see the importance of this early on and challenge me to find my own. We get together for lunch, email each other motivational quotes and articles, and share life tips from financial matters to best local coffee shops frequently. I have looked up to Tung since the day I met him and have leveraged his generous wisdom for years. One of my most memorable experiences with Tung was sitting in a pho restaurant and talking about our daily mantras: Love and Just Be. This pretty much sums up the presence, clarity, and joy that we both share, in addition to our obligatory cafe sua da
My biggest lessons from Tung: There are too many to recount here, so I’ll leave it as this – Just be. Love. “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” – Rumi
How to find your Life Board of Directors:
- Be in tune to everyone you meet for sources of inspiration or those on a similar life path.
- Be patient and look for serendipitous occurrences.
- Don’t try so hard to make it official or formal – let the relationship develop through sharing your ideas and being curious.
- Realize that you may not always have 1:1 time although this is an absolute perk and a great intention to set. Email and phone calls work too!
- When you see people doing amazing things and wonder how do they do it, ask them. Provoke inquiry, and seek to learn, not to get something from them.
- Talk about ideas and concepts, but also inspire action. Challenge each other. Hold each other accountable.
- Consider that you will not only learn from them, but that they will also draw inspiration from you. Be the type of person you wish to meet!
Who’s on your Life Board of Directors? Give them a shout out here and let them know how much they lift you up!