Dr. Andrea J. Simon Of Simon Associates Management Consultants: “Acts of Kindness”

Acts of Kindness: Sometimes acts of kindness are so simple that we are stunned when we do them and joyful at the response we receive. I have experienced wonderful joy in sharing my books with people who could have otherwise bought them. I just found that gifting them was so fulfilling to me, and a […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Acts of Kindness: Sometimes acts of kindness are so simple that we are stunned when we do them and joyful at the response we receive. I have experienced wonderful joy in sharing my books with people who could have otherwise bought them. I just found that gifting them was so fulfilling to me, and a surprise to them, that I kept doing it.


It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea “Andi” Simon, Ph.D.

ANDREA “Andi” SIMON, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), a corporate anthropologist, and the author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens To Take Your Business To New Heights, an Axiom bronze Best Business Book of 2017. Andi’s latest book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, released in 2021, reflects her deep interest in helping women break through the cultural barrier society has created to hold them back. A culture change expert, a Blue Ocean Strategist® and an explorer at heart, Andi is the architect of a global thought leadership platform that blends academic perspectives, depth and breadth of business experience, new media expertise and proven success in changing organizations and the people who are integral to their success.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up outside of New York City with a family deeply involved in a multi-generational family retail business located in Manhattan, NY. As a child, I vividly remember learning the business from my grandmother. I would come into the store as a five-year-old, head to the basement and work with the team there putting shirts on hangers and helping organize merchandise on shelves. Little did I know I was being groomed for the business. Often, I went into the market with my mother and my grandmother and watched them buy everything from women’s dresses to men’s ties. My father would typically handle the electronics and the shoes. Gender stereotypes were being lived, not preached, but I would watch my grandmother manage the cash at the end of the day. Our dinner conversations were as much about business issues as about the news, the weather or my challenges in school.

As I was growing up, I learned a great deal about what men and women did, and could do, and even what children and adults did. Saturdays were often spent in the store, and lunch was a hot dog and a milkshake at the Woolworth’s next door. Fond memories. Yet, when it came time to return from college to expand my responsibilities in the business, I announced that I had discovered anthropology and was going to pursue a doctorate and an academic career. While my family supported my choice, they were dumbfounded. They also realized that the next generation, me, was not going to take over the business as they had planned.

Never did I realize the impact my decision had on their plans, on what they had been expecting, and on how they would move forward to change their business now that I wasn’t going to be involved. In retrospect, my announcement was a catalytic moment for them, forcing change. On the other hand, I was beginning to know who I was, and I was an anthropologist, not a retailer. I have never looked back. My retail training as a child, however, well-prepared me for a career as I moved from academia to becoming a banking consultant and then an executive in finance and healthcare organizations, all of which needed to change.

It certainly inspired me to form my own consulting business twenty years ago while providing a model for how to serve clients and sustain our growth in fast-changing times.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I discovered my fascination with anthropology, with how people create and change their cultures, I was thinking about my career in a completely different way. I had had leadership roles in high school and college, and I was considering a career in law. When I met my husband-to-be (Andrew Simon) at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, I was soon entering my junior year at Penn State. I was a camp counselor, and he was tending bar for his friend. As we sat on the beach and talked about our futures, he asked me that all-important question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was probably more like, “What career are you going to pursue?” He had a professional mother and aunts and was very supportive of a woman seeking advancement. I responded: “Well, I am either going to be an anthropologist or a lawyer.” And he said: “Be an anthropologist and I will be here for you.” We both remember it vividly. It might sound a bit sexist today, but it is the perfect embodiment of our enduring commitment to both of our careers, our mutual support of each other, and the realization that both our careers and our skills continue to grow and develop. I remember his support as I conducted my anthropological research and wrote my dissertation. Andy was never going to let me be “ABD — All But Degree”! He has been my inspiration and my best friend for over 50 years and counting.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person whom you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My career has had four parts, each with a different catalyst or mentor along the way. First, as an emerging professional in the field of anthropology, I had a wonderful woman, Ernestine Friedl, an exceptional anthropologist, to lead me along as I learned what it meant to be an anthropologist, encouraging me to study Greek immigrants, and specifically, to research Greek women in Greece, expanding on her own research there. She was very reserved but approachable and never let me falter, at least not too often.

When I entered the academic world, I was an emerging professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey (now Ramapo University). I was teaching Anthropology and American Studies, getting my post-doctorate fellowships, and vying for tenure. At Ramapo was a wonderful woman, Yole Sills, who believed in me. Through her efforts, I did several Sunrise Semesters on the topic of change, all on Channel 2 TV, developed Master Lecture Series, and produced articles to receive my tenure. She taught me a great deal about professional skill development while enabling me to reach further than I thought I could go.

After 10 years at Ramapo, I left to become a consultant at Citibank, supporting their need to change in an evolving deregulating business environment. While I knew little about banking, I knew a lot about how strongly people resist change. It did not take me long to realize that the context does matter a great deal. As I developed my consulting skills, I met Roger Goldman who became an unspoken mentor and friend, encouraging me to pursue my MBA on the job, and finding ways to help me do just that.

Finally, as I launched my business in 2002, my PR guru, John Rosica, listened to me develop a positioning and a brand and said to me, “Andi, you are a corporate anthropologist who helps companies, and their employees change.” Perfect positioning. In a sentence, he captured the essence of who I was and what I wanted my business to achieve.

As my business evolved, I kept meeting wonderful clients. For example, Mark Schmitt introduced me to a new book which had just been published, Blue Ocean Strategy. Mark became my first client to use this methodology to embrace change and grow his business. Then he introduced me to VISTAGE International, an organization of CEOs who invite experts like myself to speak to its members. My relationship with VISTAGE began in 2007 and by the end of 2021, I will have conducted almost 500 workshops, mostly on Blue Ocean Strategy® and culture change to well over 6000 CEOs and their key leaders.

Others have helped me along my journey. Each new venture seemed to have a catalytic conversation with someone who saw something in me and helped me see it as well.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

Hindsight often makes awkward situations turn into funny mistakes. Around 2018, I wanted to be a different type of keynote speaker so I hired a speech trainer to develop my style. He was thought to be an excellent trainer for keynotes. I was, at the time, already a successful speaker, conducting many workshops and in-person or virtual speaking engagements. In the past, I had used other speech trainers. I was optimistic that his style could become my own.

He and I worked hard trying to develop a style for me much like his. But his style made no sense to me, and I was having a difficult time mimicking him. I was an edu-tainer and he was more of an entertainer. I went to his offices in South Carolina to do some videos. After doing a lot of shoots, we ended the day, neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

The next morning as I sat in the airport waiting to return to NY, I called him. “This isn’t working for me,” I said. And he said, “Oh I am so glad you feel like I do. What you do is great but not what I think fits the type of audiences I speak to.” We laughed, a little, and I smiled at lot. It was ok to “fail.” Since then, I have done numerous keynotes but my way, not his, and I have learned a lot about me and my audiences along the way. It was ok for something not to work out. Mistakes are truly learning moments, if you are open to hear what they are telling you and laugh as well.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

When I finished my latest book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, I wrote the final chapter on how women could pause, rethink their lives, and develop into the women they had always thought they could become. I love the George Eliot quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” As an executive coach, I have been working with women, and men, on how to rethink their careers and life-journeys. I developed a new online course, Rethink Your Journey with Andi Simon, an accompanying training program and a 1:1 coaching package to help women pause, reflect on their lives, and determine what they would like to do next. It is my passion and purpose now to help women become the best they can be.

A second area of focus is on Leadership and Followership. As we at SAMC have worked with organizations to help them change, they have often asked us to help develop their next generation of leaders. We remind them that successful leaders need great followers, and so we have developed programs to help them understand how they are connected. Currently, we have several clients for whom we are directing their Leadership Academies. Unless people learn how to grow and respond to the fast-changing times we are living in, they become stuck or stalled, and so do the organizations counting on them to lead the way forward. Primarily, our work revolves around helping people understand how to change. “Same as last year” is no longer acceptable. The resistance to change comes from the human desire to hold onto what they know, even if it is no longer serving the right purpose for the current times. Yet, lasting change is possible.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Successful leaders, as I have learned, have three traits that set them apart from less than effective leaders. These are the three that have been extremely important to my own success, whether it has been as an executive or as an entrepreneurial consultant:

  1. An ability to listen to others. This must come with an open mind so that you can hear what is important to those whom you want to follow you. I learned this early in my career. When you are leading an organization of individuals, you must listen to each of them to know what is important to them. While you want them to do what you believe is important for the team or the department or the overall organization, your staff frame their ideas through their minds-eye. My job is to better understand them, to listen to how they see the problem or job to be done, and then to frame my own directives or actions so the teams can best understand it from their perspective. I love the Platinum Rule (as opposed to the Golden Rule): Do unto others as they wish to be done to and they will follow you lots of places, if not everywhere.
  2. A curiosity. Great leaders see things through a fresh lens that helps them solve problems creatively and effectively. Since I often go into situations or businesses that are tackling challenging situations, vacuums or new business environments, I learned early in my career that my job is to help others see what could be, not what was before. Whether it is an interdisciplinary college establishing itself as a leader in its field, a banking system facing deregulation, a hospital tackling managed care, or a client whose business has stalled, I am there to do something that can’t easily be done by themselves. I am a “gap” filler. That means I need to think along with them about what is possible, and to help them see, feel and think about those possibilities in new ways so they can actually happen. Most importantly, I take them into the field to see what I am seeing. People decide with their eyes and their hearts. How I feel is less important than how they feel. And seeing something for themselves proves to be a powerful way to move reluctant followers forward.
  3. Good story makers and excellent story tellers. Humans, as we have learned from the neurosciences, live the stories in their minds. The story becomes their reality. For someone to lead someone else requires them to understand the power of that story. Then the leader must know how to craft a purposeful story that individuals or groups of individuals will find inspiring and want to be part of. It is as if we are all living in a movie and leaders want their followers to have an appropriate role in the movie so that they know how to perform and want to do it well.

I remember how challenging it was when I took a Senior Vice President position in Poughkeepsie Savings Bank many years ago. It stays fresh because that was when I learned the power of the story. This was a very respected institution, but it had to embrace the changes taking place among its customers and the deregulation that was going to enable it to become more market driven. As the bank bought computers to replace its typewriters, I watched very competent adults become frazzled under the pressure of change. As we introduced ATMs, customers were challenging us about the future of their favorite tellers. They did not want to know facts about why we were doing this. We had to appeal to their hearts and their minds. Our job was to craft a compelling story that people could understand and embrace, that they could tell others, and that they could be a part of. It worked, as we created a very successful marketing campaign around “P.S. We Love You!” While it was indeed a marketing message, it captured the pain of change in a way that turned the changes into a lovefest so that both customers and staff could feel heard, loved and supported.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?

Over my past 20 years in business, approximately one-third of our clients have been in the healthcare arena. One of our favorite clients ran the Mental Health Centers of Denver (MHCD). For me to work with them, I had to take the Yale University course (on Coursera) called the Science of Well-Being developed by Professor Laurie Santos. During the MHCD project, I was introduced to the extraordinary research taking place on the nature of happiness, well-being and joy. From the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, particularly her books on the “How of Happiness” and the “Myths of Happiness,” we learned a great deal about how much of our happiness is in our own hands. While we may be born with certain attributes, and grow up in a particular home or community, about half of our well-being is in our control. The joy that comes from the feelings of positivity are powerful, and we can manage our minds to create a life filled with joy, if we want to and if we try to. As someone I met recently told me, “We are in control of our attitudes,” and that is indeed the truth.

In addition, I am a John Mattone-trained Executive Coach. One of the most important things I do with my clients is to help them care for themselves, and find pleasure, joy and purpose in self-care. It is hard to care for others in a business or at home if you are not a happy individual doing things that matter to you.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?

In 2004, the psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote The Paradox of Choice — Why More Is Less. The book is very relevant for the question about joy in American life. I heard Schwartz at a conference and walked away fascinated by what his research had uncovered, namely that the abundance of choices facing consumers in the US has created anxiety and frustration and actually makes us feel worse. Whether it was his students at Swarthmore who had so many options when they graduated college, or a woman buying a blouse at Walmart, the dramatic explosion of choice has paradoxically become a problem, not a solution, and a serious pain generator, not a pleasure factor. Whether the choices are simple and mundane or complex and profound, like balancing a career, working in this job rather than that one, having a family or not, our obsession with having choice and options encourages us to make choices that make us feel worse. The happiest people, Schwartz found, were the Amish, who had few choices if they wanted to stay within the community.

Schwartz posits that joy comes from the feeling of being in control of your environment and having an environment in which you are trusted, important, special and appreciated. For people to feel joy, they must feel empowered over their environment. The culture where choice is such an important and valued option is not necessarily one that is going to make us joyful. Yet it is the one we have created.

This has made the impact of the pandemic on our lives even more profound. While we have lost many of the choices we had “cherished” in the past, we have fewer options before us. Once people realized that they didn’t have to dress to go to work, the choices became simple, and the daily dress code turned into a pleasure. How many articles were written about not wanting to leave your sweatpants and put back on the business casual again? And now that we are back to considering a hybrid work model, the simple has become complex again, re-generating all the pain of the past.

To go back to your question: our lack of joy may in fact be a result of all the privileges and opportunities we have in the US and how they create pain in our brains about what to choose and how to find joy, not regrets, in the choices we have made.

What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

The science of well-being is very interesting. It has shown us that there are some very simple things we can do that can bring us joy and happiness. In the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky and Laurie Santos, several important myths are simply unraveled. For example, some people think having a good job with a good income is the key to joy. Others think going to the best university will bring them happiness. Some believe that having a family and living in a fine home is the answer, or driving an expensive car or wearing fine clothes. Things that can be bought and used are solutions to the search for joy and happiness for many of us.

While this can be true, the research suggested that finding joy and happiness comes from much simpler, rather human needs. For example, the researchers offered a test group of people 20 dollars that could be used for themselves, shared or given to others. They measured the individuals’ sense of well-being before and after receiving the money. Those who gave the money away or bought things for others had much higher happiness rankings than those who kept the money.

A similar research project was conducted in Africa where individuals in a rural community were given money to keep or share. Those who shared it to build a charging station for cell phones were much happier than those who kept it for themselves.

The lesson learned? Acts of kindness create a sense of well-being, happiness and joy in the people who give kindness to others and also in those who receive that act of kindness.

Gratitude diaries and simple thank-you notes affect our sense of well-being in much the same way. Students of ours who wrote down three things they were grateful for each evening woke in the morning feeling happier than before they kept those diaries.

We have in our control the ability to do things that can bring us joy, a sense of well-being and happiness. These might sound small and simple but the impact is enormous.

In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

I think that the people who believe “the grass is always greener” have a difficult time finding happiness. Those who think they can always do better are never happy with what they have. That doesn’t mean what they have is right or wrong. It is a mindset that each of us must manage carefully.

I had a client during the early stages of the pandemic who was losing her entire business. She was also divorcing her third husband. Our exploratory session focused on what were the highlights of her life during the prior year before the pandemic hit and what were the low points. She was so focused on the low points she could not visualize what she had done well. Yet she has done a dozen things with amazing success and should be celebrating them.

As I do these exercises with my clients, it is not unusual to find that they have a much easier time focusing on the low points, pain and challenges and a much more difficult time recognizing accomplishments or areas where they can celebrate achievements and happy moments. As I encourage them to see small wins and moments to appreciate life, things begin to emerge that have little to do with the event and a great deal to do with a sense of self-worth and self-care.

I have seen this happen far too often. It is a recurring theme among people who cannot see the positives in their lives. With some help, they can turn those positives into a re-imagined life full of joy and happiness. It is less about the events than about how they remember the feelings they had when those events took place. We can re-imagine our lives and imagine far better ones coming, if only we can see our stories through a positive lens.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie de Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

In keeping with my discussion above, here are the five things that can help transform your life into one filled with joy and happiness:

1. Streamline Complex Choices

If the paradox of choice immobilizes you, then the antidote is to make the complex simple. For my coaching clients, this often means evaluating all those things that seem to be over-complicating their daily lives, the meetings they are attending, and the work they think they are being asked to do. One client of mine was a fantastic IT professional as long as she was able to stay focused on her IT responsibilities. Then a new CEO arrived, and she was asked to also become involved in other aspects of the business, from the new data analytics to improving the efficiency of certain areas. Feeling overwhelmed, she called me for a 1:1 coaching session to see how to reduce her anxiety and improve her job performance — and return to the joy she once had when she was doing her IT job. As we began to restructure her roles, she realized that doing it all was simply unnecessary. She had to learn how to allocate, delegate and reprioritize her responsibilities…literally to streamline the complex in her work life. The simple became the preferred, and her scope of work remained robust and fulfilling. Watching her bring back the joy was joyful even for me.

2. Gratitude

You will find this as simple and joyful as anything you might imagine. Try it. Send a note of gratitude to a friend or two. I have done this often and am irritated when I must remind myself to do it. One friend was stunned and wrote back how marvelous it had made him feel. Another client started to send thank you notes to her clients telling them how she appreciated their business. A third client started to walk around and thank her staff for jobs well done without much more than a kind thank you. What they each found was that the act was as gratifying for them as it was for the recipient. This is a team sport and if you pass the kindness baton to someone, they will pick up the pace and continue to share it, bringing a joy that keeps spreading.

3. Acts of Kindness

Sometimes acts of kindness are so simple that we are stunned when we do them and joyful at the response we receive. I have experienced wonderful joy in sharing my books with people who could have otherwise bought them. I just found that gifting them was so fulfilling to me, and a surprise to them, that I kept doing it.

One example I love to share is what happens when we offer a client something that is neither required nor included in the scope of work we were contracted to do for them. I often look for small, or at times, big things that they have not thought about. I offer it to them before they have had time to realize that it was missing. Their smiles were well worth the small acts on our part — whether it was doing a workshop for free or coaching a staff member who was having difficulties.

4. Visit a Friend

Joy sometimes comes when least expected, but most needed. A dear friend lost his wife several years ago. He has Parkinson’s disease and he and his wife had expected her to care for him in his older years. She died suddenly, causing his friends to form a rapid response team to help him cope with the loss and with his need for support. My husband Andy and I have known this friend for over thirty years. In the past, he and his wife always did things together. Something has now changed. Visiting him has become a monthly ritual of greater importance than ever before. There is such pleasure seeing him, sharing our lives, and sustaining our memories. Visiting a day a month has come to be just perfect for him and for us so we can laugh together, even as his disease continues to incapacitate him. The joy is mutual. And our place in each other’s lives remains rather special. You will find that those friends have a special place in our hearts and together create joyful moments to remember.

5. Find Your Purpose

There is wonderful research showing how you can find greater joy and happiness if you find your life’s purpose. Joey Reiman in his book The Story of Purpose and Lisa McLeod in her book Selling with Noble Purpose tell some of the most powerful stories about how purpose-driven living changes the lives of the individual, their organizations, and those they are here to serve. It is never too late to find your life’s purpose. When you feel it, begin to craft a story about it, tell others to affirm it in your own mind, and begin to live it, a day at a time, as you find your happiness. Purpose leads to joy for you and others.

What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?

The idea of reaching out to touch someone is as effective as any other action you can take to bring joy to someone who is feeling down, sad, depressed, concerned or alone. During this pandemic, several women colleagues were without work and without a spouse to console them. I realized that single women have a mixed blessing — a great deal of freedom but not the social anchor that I have with my spouse.

Several of us formed a monthly gathering: a Women’s Thought Leaders Luncheon Group where we come together and for an hour, share our stories. One woman is in Dubai, another in CA, another in Las Vegas, and several of us are on the East Coast, yet we all manage to find the time to join the monthly gathering. What is so fascinating to me is that we have never met each other, yet you’d think we were the best of friends, and indeed we have become dear friends.

What is apparent is the power of simply seeing each other’s faces, even remotely, for an hour a month. Knowing they were smiling, doing ok, finding jobs, living with some pleasure is all we really need to smile ourselves.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe that this is a time for people to take care of themselves without feeling guilty about self-care. Far too many of my clients invariably end up telling me that they wish they could take a little time for themselves, take a quiet walk, spend more time with their family, or simply sit still and have a cup of coffee on the porch. To help them do this, Andy and I launched a mobile application in July 2021 that we are testing, called the 30-Day Challenge to Take Care of You. It’s designed to help people relax and enjoy self-care moments, and we will be relaunching it later this year. As our test participants went through the 30-day program, they all learned how important self-care is, how great it made them feel, and how hard it was to know what to do for themselves that made them feel appreciated. One of the hardest lessons to learn was that it was ok to take care of you. If you were going to care for others, you had to allow yourself to take care of you. It was ok. You can get past the guilt and enjoy the journey. Our hope is that it inspires a movement and spreads across the world.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Vice President Kamala Harris. I am in awe of what she has accomplished, literally smashing the myths of what women can become and opening a door for other women to follow her. She also must play the role that women seem to be relegated to, namely being the #2 behind the man. We watch and hope she can become the leader this country needs at a tumultuous time in our history.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We have two websites full of resources for people who need or want to change. The business website is www.simonassociates.net and the website for the books and our program, Rethink Your Journey with Andi Simon, is www.andisimon.com.The Rethink program is available at https://www.rethinkwithandisimon.com/

We also have a Facebook group, Rethink with Andi Simon, which I think all women will enjoy. Our LinkedIn presence is full of our content and ideas. Twitter is @simonandi, and Instagram is andreajsimon.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times: Dr. Andrea J. Simon Of Simon Associates Management Consultants On How To Live With Joie De Vivre, Even When It Feels Like The Whole World Is Pulling You Down

Acts of Kindness: Sometimes acts of kindness are so simple that we are stunned when we do them and joyful at the response we receive. I have experienced wonderful joy in sharing my books with people who could have otherwise bought them. I just found that gifting them was so fulfilling to me, and a surprise to them, that I kept doing it.


It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea “Andi” Simon, Ph.D.

ANDREA “Andi” SIMON, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), a corporate anthropologist, and the author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens To Take Your Business To New Heights, an Axiom bronze Best Business Book of 2017. Andi’s latest book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, released in 2021, reflects her deep interest in helping women break through the cultural barrier society has created to hold them back. A culture change expert, a Blue Ocean Strategist® and an explorer at heart, Andi is the architect of a global thought leadership platform that blends academic perspectives, depth and breadth of business experience, new media expertise and proven success in changing organizations and the people who are integral to their success.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/1d68e8b9bd4f9f21e2e880c47e80e233


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up outside of New York City with a family deeply involved in a multi-generational family retail business located in Manhattan, NY. As a child, I vividly remember learning the business from my grandmother. I would come into the store as a five-year-old, head to the basement and work with the team there putting shirts on hangers and helping organize merchandise on shelves. Little did I know I was being groomed for the business. Often, I went into the market with my mother and my grandmother and watched them buy everything from women’s dresses to men’s ties. My father would typically handle the electronics and the shoes. Gender stereotypes were being lived, not preached, but I would watch my grandmother manage the cash at the end of the day. Our dinner conversations were as much about business issues as about the news, the weather or my challenges in school.

As I was growing up, I learned a great deal about what men and women did, and could do, and even what children and adults did. Saturdays were often spent in the store, and lunch was a hot dog and a milkshake at the Woolworth’s next door. Fond memories. Yet, when it came time to return from college to expand my responsibilities in the business, I announced that I had discovered anthropology and was going to pursue a doctorate and an academic career. While my family supported my choice, they were dumbfounded. They also realized that the next generation, me, was not going to take over the business as they had planned.

Never did I realize the impact my decision had on their plans, on what they had been expecting, and on how they would move forward to change their business now that I wasn’t going to be involved. In retrospect, my announcement was a catalytic moment for them, forcing change. On the other hand, I was beginning to know who I was, and I was an anthropologist, not a retailer. I have never looked back. My retail training as a child, however, well-prepared me for a career as I moved from academia to becoming a banking consultant and then an executive in finance and healthcare organizations, all of which needed to change.

It certainly inspired me to form my own consulting business twenty years ago while providing a model for how to serve clients and sustain our growth in fast-changing times.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

When I discovered my fascination with anthropology, with how people create and change their cultures, I was thinking about my career in a completely different way. I had had leadership roles in high school and college, and I was considering a career in law. When I met my husband-to-be (Andrew Simon) at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, I was soon entering my junior year at Penn State. I was a camp counselor, and he was tending bar for his friend. As we sat on the beach and talked about our futures, he asked me that all-important question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was probably more like, “What career are you going to pursue?” He had a professional mother and aunts and was very supportive of a woman seeking advancement. I responded: “Well, I am either going to be an anthropologist or a lawyer.” And he said: “Be an anthropologist and I will be here for you.” We both remember it vividly. It might sound a bit sexist today, but it is the perfect embodiment of our enduring commitment to both of our careers, our mutual support of each other, and the realization that both our careers and our skills continue to grow and develop. I remember his support as I conducted my anthropological research and wrote my dissertation. Andy was never going to let me be “ABD — All But Degree”! He has been my inspiration and my best friend for over 50 years and counting.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person whom you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My career has had four parts, each with a different catalyst or mentor along the way. First, as an emerging professional in the field of anthropology, I had a wonderful woman, Ernestine Friedl, an exceptional anthropologist, to lead me along as I learned what it meant to be an anthropologist, encouraging me to study Greek immigrants, and specifically, to research Greek women in Greece, expanding on her own research there. She was very reserved but approachable and never let me falter, at least not too often.

When I entered the academic world, I was an emerging professor at Ramapo College in New Jersey (now Ramapo University). I was teaching Anthropology and American Studies, getting my post-doctorate fellowships, and vying for tenure. At Ramapo was a wonderful woman, Yole Sills, who believed in me. Through her efforts, I did several Sunrise Semesters on the topic of change, all on Channel 2 TV, developed Master Lecture Series, and produced articles to receive my tenure. She taught me a great deal about professional skill development while enabling me to reach further than I thought I could go.

After 10 years at Ramapo, I left to become a consultant at Citibank, supporting their need to change in an evolving deregulating business environment. While I knew little about banking, I knew a lot about how strongly people resist change. It did not take me long to realize that the context does matter a great deal. As I developed my consulting skills, I met Roger Goldman who became an unspoken mentor and friend, encouraging me to pursue my MBA on the job, and finding ways to help me do just that.

Finally, as I launched my business in 2002, my PR guru, John Rosica, listened to me develop a positioning and a brand and said to me, “Andi, you are a corporate anthropologist who helps companies, and their employees change.” Perfect positioning. In a sentence, he captured the essence of who I was and what I wanted my business to achieve.

As my business evolved, I kept meeting wonderful clients. For example, Mark Schmitt introduced me to a new book which had just been published, Blue Ocean Strategy. Mark became my first client to use this methodology to embrace change and grow his business. Then he introduced me to VISTAGE International, an organization of CEOs who invite experts like myself to speak to its members. My relationship with VISTAGE began in 2007 and by the end of 2021, I will have conducted almost 500 workshops, mostly on Blue Ocean Strategy® and culture change to well over 6000 CEOs and their key leaders.

Others have helped me along my journey. Each new venture seemed to have a catalytic conversation with someone who saw something in me and helped me see it as well.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

Hindsight often makes awkward situations turn into funny mistakes. Around 2018, I wanted to be a different type of keynote speaker so I hired a speech trainer to develop my style. He was thought to be an excellent trainer for keynotes. I was, at the time, already a successful speaker, conducting many workshops and in-person or virtual speaking engagements. In the past, I had used other speech trainers. I was optimistic that his style could become my own.

He and I worked hard trying to develop a style for me much like his. But his style made no sense to me, and I was having a difficult time mimicking him. I was an edu-tainer and he was more of an entertainer. I went to his offices in South Carolina to do some videos. After doing a lot of shoots, we ended the day, neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

The next morning as I sat in the airport waiting to return to NY, I called him. “This isn’t working for me,” I said. And he said, “Oh I am so glad you feel like I do. What you do is great but not what I think fits the type of audiences I speak to.” We laughed, a little, and I smiled at lot. It was ok to “fail.” Since then, I have done numerous keynotes but my way, not his, and I have learned a lot about me and my audiences along the way. It was ok for something not to work out. Mistakes are truly learning moments, if you are open to hear what they are telling you and laugh as well.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

When I finished my latest book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, I wrote the final chapter on how women could pause, rethink their lives, and develop into the women they had always thought they could become. I love the George Eliot quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” As an executive coach, I have been working with women, and men, on how to rethink their careers and life-journeys. I developed a new online course, Rethink Your Journey with Andi Simon, an accompanying training program and a 1:1 coaching package to help women pause, reflect on their lives, and determine what they would like to do next. It is my passion and purpose now to help women become the best they can be.

A second area of focus is on Leadership and Followership. As we at SAMC have worked with organizations to help them change, they have often asked us to help develop their next generation of leaders. We remind them that successful leaders need great followers, and so we have developed programs to help them understand how they are connected. Currently, we have several clients for whom we are directing their Leadership Academies. Unless people learn how to grow and respond to the fast-changing times we are living in, they become stuck or stalled, and so do the organizations counting on them to lead the way forward. Primarily, our work revolves around helping people understand how to change. “Same as last year” is no longer acceptable. The resistance to change comes from the human desire to hold onto what they know, even if it is no longer serving the right purpose for the current times. Yet, lasting change is possible.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Successful leaders, as I have learned, have three traits that set them apart from less than effective leaders. These are the three that have been extremely important to my own success, whether it has been as an executive or as an entrepreneurial consultant:

  1. An ability to listen to others. This must come with an open mind so that you can hear what is important to those whom you want to follow you. I learned this early in my career. When you are leading an organization of individuals, you must listen to each of them to know what is important to them. While you want them to do what you believe is important for the team or the department or the overall organization, your staff frame their ideas through their minds-eye. My job is to better understand them, to listen to how they see the problem or job to be done, and then to frame my own directives or actions so the teams can best understand it from their perspective. I love the Platinum Rule (as opposed to the Golden Rule): Do unto others as they wish to be done to and they will follow you lots of places, if not everywhere.
  2. A curiosity. Great leaders see things through a fresh lens that helps them solve problems creatively and effectively. Since I often go into situations or businesses that are tackling challenging situations, vacuums or new business environments, I learned early in my career that my job is to help others see what could be, not what was before. Whether it is an interdisciplinary college establishing itself as a leader in its field, a banking system facing deregulation, a hospital tackling managed care, or a client whose business has stalled, I am there to do something that can’t easily be done by themselves. I am a “gap” filler. That means I need to think along with them about what is possible, and to help them see, feel and think about those possibilities in new ways so they can actually happen. Most importantly, I take them into the field to see what I am seeing. People decide with their eyes and their hearts. How I feel is less important than how they feel. And seeing something for themselves proves to be a powerful way to move reluctant followers forward.
  3. Good story makers and excellent story tellers. Humans, as we have learned from the neurosciences, live the stories in their minds. The story becomes their reality. For someone to lead someone else requires them to understand the power of that story. Then the leader must know how to craft a purposeful story that individuals or groups of individuals will find inspiring and want to be part of. It is as if we are all living in a movie and leaders want their followers to have an appropriate role in the movie so that they know how to perform and want to do it well.

I remember how challenging it was when I took a Senior Vice President position in Poughkeepsie Savings Bank many years ago. It stays fresh because that was when I learned the power of the story. This was a very respected institution, but it had to embrace the changes taking place among its customers and the deregulation that was going to enable it to become more market driven. As the bank bought computers to replace its typewriters, I watched very competent adults become frazzled under the pressure of change. As we introduced ATMs, customers were challenging us about the future of their favorite tellers. They did not want to know facts about why we were doing this. We had to appeal to their hearts and their minds. Our job was to craft a compelling story that people could understand and embrace, that they could tell others, and that they could be a part of. It worked, as we created a very successful marketing campaign around “P.S. We Love You!” While it was indeed a marketing message, it captured the pain of change in a way that turned the changes into a lovefest so that both customers and staff could feel heard, loved and supported.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?

Over my past 20 years in business, approximately one-third of our clients have been in the healthcare arena. One of our favorite clients ran the Mental Health Centers of Denver (MHCD). For me to work with them, I had to take the Yale University course (on Coursera) called the Science of Well-Being developed by Professor Laurie Santos. During the MHCD project, I was introduced to the extraordinary research taking place on the nature of happiness, well-being and joy. From the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, particularly her books on the “How of Happiness” and the “Myths of Happiness,” we learned a great deal about how much of our happiness is in our own hands. While we may be born with certain attributes, and grow up in a particular home or community, about half of our well-being is in our control. The joy that comes from the feelings of positivity are powerful, and we can manage our minds to create a life filled with joy, if we want to and if we try to. As someone I met recently told me, “We are in control of our attitudes,” and that is indeed the truth.

In addition, I am a John Mattone-trained Executive Coach. One of the most important things I do with my clients is to help them care for themselves, and find pleasure, joy and purpose in self-care. It is hard to care for others in a business or at home if you are not a happy individual doing things that matter to you.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?

In 2004, the psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote The Paradox of Choice — Why More Is Less. The book is very relevant for the question about joy in American life. I heard Schwartz at a conference and walked away fascinated by what his research had uncovered, namely that the abundance of choices facing consumers in the US has created anxiety and frustration and actually makes us feel worse. Whether it was his students at Swarthmore who had so many options when they graduated college, or a woman buying a blouse at Walmart, the dramatic explosion of choice has paradoxically become a problem, not a solution, and a serious pain generator, not a pleasure factor. Whether the choices are simple and mundane or complex and profound, like balancing a career, working in this job rather than that one, having a family or not, our obsession with having choice and options encourages us to make choices that make us feel worse. The happiest people, Schwartz found, were the Amish, who had few choices if they wanted to stay within the community.

Schwartz posits that joy comes from the feeling of being in control of your environment and having an environment in which you are trusted, important, special and appreciated. For people to feel joy, they must feel empowered over their environment. The culture where choice is such an important and valued option is not necessarily one that is going to make us joyful. Yet it is the one we have created.

This has made the impact of the pandemic on our lives even more profound. While we have lost many of the choices we had “cherished” in the past, we have fewer options before us. Once people realized that they didn’t have to dress to go to work, the choices became simple, and the daily dress code turned into a pleasure. How many articles were written about not wanting to leave your sweatpants and put back on the business casual again? And now that we are back to considering a hybrid work model, the simple has become complex again, re-generating all the pain of the past.

To go back to your question: our lack of joy may in fact be a result of all the privileges and opportunities we have in the US and how they create pain in our brains about what to choose and how to find joy, not regrets, in the choices we have made.

What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

The science of well-being is very interesting. It has shown us that there are some very simple things we can do that can bring us joy and happiness. In the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky and Laurie Santos, several important myths are simply unraveled. For example, some people think having a good job with a good income is the key to joy. Others think going to the best university will bring them happiness. Some believe that having a family and living in a fine home is the answer, or driving an expensive car or wearing fine clothes. Things that can be bought and used are solutions to the search for joy and happiness for many of us.

While this can be true, the research suggested that finding joy and happiness comes from much simpler, rather human needs. For example, the researchers offered a test group of people 20 dollars that could be used for themselves, shared or given to others. They measured the individuals’ sense of well-being before and after receiving the money. Those who gave the money away or bought things for others had much higher happiness rankings than those who kept the money.

A similar research project was conducted in Africa where individuals in a rural community were given money to keep or share. Those who shared it to build a charging station for cell phones were much happier than those who kept it for themselves.

The lesson learned? Acts of kindness create a sense of well-being, happiness and joy in the people who give kindness to others and also in those who receive that act of kindness.

Gratitude diaries and simple thank-you notes affect our sense of well-being in much the same way. Students of ours who wrote down three things they were grateful for each evening woke in the morning feeling happier than before they kept those diaries.

We have in our control the ability to do things that can bring us joy, a sense of well-being and happiness. These might sound small and simple but the impact is enormous.

In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

I think that the people who believe “the grass is always greener” have a difficult time finding happiness. Those who think they can always do better are never happy with what they have. That doesn’t mean what they have is right or wrong. It is a mindset that each of us must manage carefully.

I had a client during the early stages of the pandemic who was losing her entire business. She was also divorcing her third husband. Our exploratory session focused on what were the highlights of her life during the prior year before the pandemic hit and what were the low points. She was so focused on the low points she could not visualize what she had done well. Yet she has done a dozen things with amazing success and should be celebrating them.

As I do these exercises with my clients, it is not unusual to find that they have a much easier time focusing on the low points, pain and challenges and a much more difficult time recognizing accomplishments or areas where they can celebrate achievements and happy moments. As I encourage them to see small wins and moments to appreciate life, things begin to emerge that have little to do with the event and a great deal to do with a sense of self-worth and self-care.

I have seen this happen far too often. It is a recurring theme among people who cannot see the positives in their lives. With some help, they can turn those positives into a re-imagined life full of joy and happiness. It is less about the events than about how they remember the feelings they had when those events took place. We can re-imagine our lives and imagine far better ones coming, if only we can see our stories through a positive lens.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie de Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

In keeping with my discussion above, here are the five things that can help transform your life into one filled with joy and happiness:

1. Streamline Complex Choices

If the paradox of choice immobilizes you, then the antidote is to make the complex simple. For my coaching clients, this often means evaluating all those things that seem to be over-complicating their daily lives, the meetings they are attending, and the work they think they are being asked to do. One client of mine was a fantastic IT professional as long as she was able to stay focused on her IT responsibilities. Then a new CEO arrived, and she was asked to also become involved in other aspects of the business, from the new data analytics to improving the efficiency of certain areas. Feeling overwhelmed, she called me for a 1:1 coaching session to see how to reduce her anxiety and improve her job performance — and return to the joy she once had when she was doing her IT job. As we began to restructure her roles, she realized that doing it all was simply unnecessary. She had to learn how to allocate, delegate and reprioritize her responsibilities…literally to streamline the complex in her work life. The simple became the preferred, and her scope of work remained robust and fulfilling. Watching her bring back the joy was joyful even for me.

2. Gratitude

You will find this as simple and joyful as anything you might imagine. Try it. Send a note of gratitude to a friend or two. I have done this often and am irritated when I must remind myself to do it. One friend was stunned and wrote back how marvelous it had made him feel. Another client started to send thank you notes to her clients telling them how she appreciated their business. A third client started to walk around and thank her staff for jobs well done without much more than a kind thank you. What they each found was that the act was as gratifying for them as it was for the recipient. This is a team sport and if you pass the kindness baton to someone, they will pick up the pace and continue to share it, bringing a joy that keeps spreading.

3. Acts of Kindness

Sometimes acts of kindness are so simple that we are stunned when we do them and joyful at the response we receive. I have experienced wonderful joy in sharing my books with people who could have otherwise bought them. I just found that gifting them was so fulfilling to me, and a surprise to them, that I kept doing it.

One example I love to share is what happens when we offer a client something that is neither required nor included in the scope of work we were contracted to do for them. I often look for small, or at times, big things that they have not thought about. I offer it to them before they have had time to realize that it was missing. Their smiles were well worth the small acts on our part — whether it was doing a workshop for free or coaching a staff member who was having difficulties.

4. Visit a Friend

Joy sometimes comes when least expected, but most needed. A dear friend lost his wife several years ago. He has Parkinson’s disease and he and his wife had expected her to care for him in his older years. She died suddenly, causing his friends to form a rapid response team to help him cope with the loss and with his need for support. My husband Andy and I have known this friend for over thirty years. In the past, he and his wife always did things together. Something has now changed. Visiting him has become a monthly ritual of greater importance than ever before. There is such pleasure seeing him, sharing our lives, and sustaining our memories. Visiting a day a month has come to be just perfect for him and for us so we can laugh together, even as his disease continues to incapacitate him. The joy is mutual. And our place in each other’s lives remains rather special. You will find that those friends have a special place in our hearts and together create joyful moments to remember.

5. Find Your Purpose

There is wonderful research showing how you can find greater joy and happiness if you find your life’s purpose. Joey Reiman in his book The Story of Purpose and Lisa McLeod in her book Selling with Noble Purpose tell some of the most powerful stories about how purpose-driven living changes the lives of the individual, their organizations, and those they are here to serve. It is never too late to find your life’s purpose. When you feel it, begin to craft a story about it, tell others to affirm it in your own mind, and begin to live it, a day at a time, as you find your happiness. Purpose leads to joy for you and others.

What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?

The idea of reaching out to touch someone is as effective as any other action you can take to bring joy to someone who is feeling down, sad, depressed, concerned or alone. During this pandemic, several women colleagues were without work and without a spouse to console them. I realized that single women have a mixed blessing — a great deal of freedom but not the social anchor that I have with my spouse.

Several of us formed a monthly gathering: a Women’s Thought Leaders Luncheon Group where we come together and for an hour, share our stories. One woman is in Dubai, another in CA, another in Las Vegas, and several of us are on the East Coast, yet we all manage to find the time to join the monthly gathering. What is so fascinating to me is that we have never met each other, yet you’d think we were the best of friends, and indeed we have become dear friends.

What is apparent is the power of simply seeing each other’s faces, even remotely, for an hour a month. Knowing they were smiling, doing ok, finding jobs, living with some pleasure is all we really need to smile ourselves.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe that this is a time for people to take care of themselves without feeling guilty about self-care. Far too many of my clients invariably end up telling me that they wish they could take a little time for themselves, take a quiet walk, spend more time with their family, or simply sit still and have a cup of coffee on the porch. To help them do this, Andy and I launched a mobile application in July 2021 that we are testing, called the 30-Day Challenge to Take Care of You. It’s designed to help people relax and enjoy self-care moments, and we will be relaunching it later this year. As our test participants went through the 30-day program, they all learned how important self-care is, how great it made them feel, and how hard it was to know what to do for themselves that made them feel appreciated. One of the hardest lessons to learn was that it was ok to take care of you. If you were going to care for others, you had to allow yourself to take care of you. It was ok. You can get past the guilt and enjoy the journey. Our hope is that it inspires a movement and spreads across the world.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Vice President Kamala Harris. I am in awe of what she has accomplished, literally smashing the myths of what women can become and opening a door for other women to follow her. She also must play the role that women seem to be relegated to, namely being the #2 behind the man. We watch and hope she can become the leader this country needs at a tumultuous time in our history.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We have two websites full of resources for people who need or want to change. The business website is www.simonassociates.net and the website for the books and our program, Rethink Your Journey with Andi Simon, is www.andisimon.com.The Rethink program is available at https://www.rethinkwithandisimon.com/

We also have a Facebook group, Rethink with Andi Simon, which I think all women will enjoy. Our LinkedIn presence is full of our content and ideas. Twitter is @simonandi, and Instagram is andreajsimon.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Susan Damico Of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health: “Be kind”

by Ben Ari
Community//

Michelle Davis: “Practice mindfulness daily”

by Ben Ari
Community//

Shelly Wilson: “Do what you love”

by Ben Ari
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.