Laugh. Surround yourself with people and hobbies that bring positive energy into your life. Sometimes, our own energy isn’t enough to get us through difficult times, and the power of a good laugh or just hanging out with a good friend or loyal animal can’t be understated.
Inthis interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nikki Mark. For nearly twenty-five years, Nikki has developed and overseen strategic operations and special projects for Los Angeles-based start-ups, including sbe Hospitality Group and The Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC). For more than fourteen of those years, she has also raised a family and been an active member of her Los Angeles, CA community.
As a hobby, she started writing her first children’s book when Tommy, the eldest of her two sons, repeatedly asked why she had to go to work. He was four at the time and Nikki, intimately familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a working mom and unable to find a children’s book on the topic, felt driven to pen her own story. Mommy Brings Home the Bacon was self-published in 2011, and the charming picture book not only offered a way to begin the conversation between all working mothers and their children, it launched what is now the MIGHTYMOM Series™.
Mommy’s Got a Bun in the Oven followed to help mothers address young childrens’ curiosity about pregnancy, and MightyMom, published just before the covid-19 pandemic hit, celebrates the hidden superpowers of moms everywhere at a time when those powers are at peak demand. The latest in the series, MightyMom, was co-written by Tommy before he unexpectedly passed away in April 2018 at the age of twelve. Since that tragic day, Nikki and her family have established the TM23 Foundation to honor her son and inspire children to play, pursue their dreams, be themselves and have a positive impact on their community.
100% of net proceeds from the MightyMom Series will be donated to the TM23 Foundation. The organization is currently partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks to develop “Tommy’s Field,” a full-size multipurpose field with lights in a Los Angeles public park that will benefit generations of children and adults for years to come.
Nikki graduated with honors from the University of California Santa Barbara with a degree in Communications, and subsequently earned her MBA from Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management with an emphasis in global marketing and international management.
She was born and raised in Los Angeles and currently resides in her hometown with her husband, younger son Donovan and their rescue Pit bull dog, Ginger.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I’m a native Angeleno who continues to call Los Angeles home.After earning my MBA, I spent the next twenty plus years developing and overseeing operations and / or special projects for L.A.-based startups, including sbe Hospitality Group and Los Angeles Football Club. I had my first son in 2005 and second in 2008 and have learned first-hand about the challenges of being a working mother while trying to retain some sense of self and find time to actually play. In April 2018, my oldest son, Tommy, unexpectedly passed away. He was twelve years old. It is this tragedy that has changed not only my career, but also how I view and live my life.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have worked for three incredible entrepreneurs and seen how powerful it is when someone believes in themselves and has the courage to pursue their dreams. I listened to “experts” tell them that they couldn’t do this or that, and then watched them surround themselves with the kind of people who believed in their vision and helped manifest those dreams. My biggest takeaway is that change is hard, but those who have a vision or passion to create something new find a way to make it happen. And, they do so before they look back on their life and regret having not even tried.
What do you think has made your quest stand out? Can you share a story?
Today, I am focused on building my own family start-up, the TM23 Foundation, which honors my son Tommy. TM23’s mission is to develop and support initiatives that teach children and young adults the “heart of life,” and inspire them to play, pursue their dreams, be themselves and have a positive impact on their community. Our first initiative raised $1.2 million to build a full-size multipurpose field with lights in a West Los Angeles public park, which will be called Tommy’s Field and honor my son’s passion for sports and spirit of play. Tommy’s Field will never be locked, and it will inspire children and adults to get outside and engage with their community. We are currently in discussions to build a second Tommy’s Field in another part of the city. In addition, I’m an author and just released the third children’s picture book I’ve written, called MightyMom. This is the latest addition to my MIGHTYMOM Series™, which addresses sensitive topics to children in a lighthearted way and celebrates the hidden superpowers of moms everywhere. Tommy actually wrote MightyMom with me, and on this second anniversary of his passing, I felt compelled to not only release the book, but also to donate 100% of net proceeds from the entire series to the TM23 Foundation. The Foundation strives to inspire more laughter and joy in our world, and to remind children and young adults that success is also measured by how much we enjoy our lives. During a time when fear increasingly divides us and human connections are too often being made through a screen, TM23 really stands out by promoting the simple concept of joining together in play.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am beyond grateful to all three entrepreneurs who trusted me to help manifest their visions and who gave me the space I needed to grow as a person and businesswoman under their guidance. They gave me the flexibility to be a mother, a wife and a businesswoman and trusted that I could be and do all three well. Having said that, my husband is my biggest champion. After Tommy passed away, the start-up girl in me was no longer capable of simply being who she was before. It was impossible to put the pieces of myself back together in the same configuration. I needed time to heal and the freedom to find new purpose in my life and my work. My husband has stood next to me during this period of exploration and continues to give me the freedom to evolve.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilient people have strong imaginations and are not afraid to use them. Resilient people know there is always a way out or through. To be resilient is to create solutions, be curious and open, believe in yourself and trust the universe to help along the way.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of Joe Biden and all the parents who have ever lost a child yet continue to persevere and grow while honoring the child they miss and love. It is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, for others to understand how such profound loss can change a life. When I hear or read about parents who have survived such unfathomable loss and manifested new purpose in their lives, they give me hope that I can too. Joe Biden’s political views and the fact that he is running for President are not what matters to me. What matters is that he has channeled his grief in a way that is true to himself, serves others and helps him live a meaningful and joyful life. To me this is resilience at the highest level.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
After my son passed away, I was told by a number of people, including “expert” grief therapists that, “the pain is forever. It will never go away.” Their projection of how I would feel for the rest of my life did not land well with me, especially since none of them had actually experienced the loss of a child first hand. I could have listened to them and just curled up and died for the rest of my life, believing that the amount of pain I endured was an expression of how much I loved my son. Instead, I made a conscious choice to get up, put one foot in front of the other and express my love in a way that publicly honors my son and serves others. And, rising up out of love instead of allowing myself to sink in it has slowly transformed my pain so that I can keep moving through it. The TM23 Foundation is teaching me not only how to survive but how to more fully live.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My greatest setback that makes all other setbacks look like blessings, was the day my son didn’t wake up one morning. I would not say I’m stronger because of it. My efforts to survive and to create a meaningful life is not about strength. It’s about love. Love for the son I lost and love for the son and husband that I still have here.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
When I was a senior in college I went to New York for my first job interview. The morning of the interview I woke up and couldn’t shut my left eye. By the time I had to leave for the interview, the entire left side of my face was paralyzed. Never before had I experienced such fear. Still, I threw my long dark brown hair over half my face and forced myself to go through with the interview. By the time I got on a plane and flew home the next day, my entire face was paralyzed. I made a deal with the universe on that plane ride home and promised that if my faced healed, I would go after my dreams and not just keep thinking about them. I was very specific about what I meant. When I returned to L. A., I went back to college with my frozen face and graduated with all of my friends. I got the job. My face healed. And, every major decision thereafter was made in the context of the commitment I made to myself on that flight. I now look back on this experience as a blessing. It taught me the meaning of resiliency at an early age and helped me prepare for even bigger obstacles that would later come my way.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Write. Grab a pad of paper and get those emotions out on a page until you can clearly identify your problem and work through them. It may take 20 minutes, a couple of hours or multiple notebooks, but just write and write without a filter until you can identify what you are trying to achieve and why it matters. You don’t even need to read or save what you have written. By the time you reach the end of it you’ll know what to do. Also, give yourself 24 hours before acting on any of it and you’ll be able to simplify the dilemma even further. I have used this technique ever since I was a child. It helps me put my problems into perspective and forces new layers of my own self to start working for me.
- Create. Use your imagination to create action steps and figure out different ways to proceed. Don’t limit yourself. Let your curiousity fuel you and the imagination go as far as it wants, and then the right course of action will become apparent. Make sure the vision is clear and find the courage to go for it. There is always a way. You just have to believe in yourself and trust that the universe will help you at some point along the way.
- Walk. Put one foot in front of the other. Step by step. Day by day. If you don’t run from the problem you will get through it faster and stronger.
- Read. Read about others who have faced adversity and allow their stories to teach and inspire you. They will put your problem into context. I lost one child. It’s an unimaginable tragedy. Then I read about others who lost their entire family. Just like there is always someone smarter, better looking and more successful, there is always someone with bigger problems than yours. Allow their stories to inspire and guide you. They are hoping that they will.
- Laugh. Surround yourself with people and hobbies that bring positive energy into your life. Sometimes, our own energy isn’t enough to get us through difficult times, and the power of a good laugh or just hanging out with a good friend or loyal animal can’t be understated. A month or so after Tommy passed away, a friend of my husband’s who I didn’t know at the time invited us to his comedy show at the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. I had been grieving all day and could not stop the flow of tears. I told my husband that going to a comedy show was the worst idea of all time. I didn’t want to laugh. I thought comedy was too dark, and my life was dark enough. He convinced me to go for an hour. We stayed for almost two. Within minutes of the show starting, I surprised myself by laughing and an inner voice told me that I would be able to laugh again in life. The laughter infused me with positive energy on a day when I needed it the most.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-). I believe the TM23 Foundation is part of a movement that will encourage younger generations to be themselves, to play and to serve their communities. The world spends a lot of time focused on fear. Fear that our children won’t be the best at something. Fear that we will fail. Fear that we will die. The TM23 Foundation strives to remind people to live. We should spend more time enjoying our lives. We should play more. We should care about our community more. We should do what is deeply meaningful to us. We should learn about what interests us. And, we should strive to become what we love. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for me to learn these lessons and now the TM23 Foundations hopes to help kids and young adults learn it sooner. By teaching children the value of doing what they love, they will spread more joy than fear and help our world reprioritize fun.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-). Again, I have to go with Joe Biden. Not, as I said earlier, for political reasons, and not to discuss politics, but because I so admire how he has risen up to serve his country. I would love the chance to have a conversation with him about how those loved ones he has lost along the way continue to inspire him every single day.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!