When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Stephanie Chuang: Qi Gong. Similar to Tai Chi, it’s a practice of slow and disciplined body movement that helps with energy flow through your organs. It’s tough to sum up and I’m not the expert, but I learned the art of Qi Gong at a local health retreat. To me, it’s a really nice way of practicing mindfulness and meditation. Soothes my soul.
TG: What gives you energy?
SC: Making real connections with people. Not the kind of connection that leads to acquaintance-ship. I’m talking about true understanding between at least two humans. For me, this is a major part of life. Each person is like a mini-representation of what’s possible in this world. That’s why I decided to leave my job in TV news – I’m trying to focus my energy on storytelling the human experience.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
SC: Right now, it’s as simple as taking a deep breath. It’s the best “reset” button I’ve ever experienced. It’s amazing what those few seconds can do for your mood and temperament.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
SC: There were two I read at the same time that first challenged me to “take it easier” and be kinder to myself. Those were 10% Happier by Dan Harris and Thrive by Arianna Huffington. It was especially impactful reading Harris’ words as a fellow broadcast journalist. I could relate to both authors on this “Type-A,” work-till-you-drop mentality and behavior, especially growing up and working in the Bay Area where it seems almost everyone else is also this way.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
SC: This is the tough one. I used to fall asleep to “The Office” episodes playing on my phone. With my husband’s encouragement, I’ve tried to curb that so I”m down to only doing that half the week. My goal is to have it off and far away enough from me that I can’t just reach over and pick up my phone.
TG: How do you deal with email?
SC: Now that I’m taking a break from full-time employment and looking to start my own business, email isn’t a big deal. However, I’ve learned from my husband, who gets bombarded with countless emails and messages every hour. He says your inbox can easily turn into a “to-do” list created by other people. If and when my email starts getting crazy again, I now realize it’s important to avoid falling into that. Prioritizing is key here.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
SC: Try to sit in silence. It’s one of the toughest things to tackle!
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
SC: There are two answers that came to mind instantly. First was when I was in my second year of reporting for the morning show. I was waking up around 2 am every weekday and that was brutal; however, the schedule was not what burnt me out the most. I had been taken off of special assignments which entailed human interest pieces that allowed me to tell stories. That’s what I aspired to do at every opportunity. The morning news is more about live shots and covering crime or crashes – not my thing. I am fueled by learning about other people and what makes them tick. The other very obvious answer is when I was undergoing chemotherapy. It was incredibly difficult, not just because I was losing my hair and gaining weight (from the chemo drugs and being nearly bedridden). I was so used to being active and productive as a journalist. Shifting from literally running around every day to sitting on the couch in pain was tough on me mentally and emotionally. I avoided looking out the window because any sign of life reminded me that the world was still spinning and it felt like I was sitting out. The feeling of isolation was eating me up until a friend whom I’d met on a cancer forum reminded me that though it might not be so conspicuous, my body was fighting the toughest battle and I was in fact working hard – just not in the way I had defined “hard work.”
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
SC: The last answer is a great foundation for this one. When I felt like my job had turned into real work instead of the pleasant challenge it had been when I was working on special projects, I decided to go from full-time reporter to working as a freelancer. This allowed me to begin creating my own storytelling platform which I dubbed “The Refract.” I wanted to talk to people from all walks of life and have a real conversation about why they believe the ideas they do. Right now, we’re suffering from major echo chamber disease, facilitated by social media and targeted links. Unfortunately, the week the website was supposed to launch was the same week I got diagnosed in December 2016. Instead, I began to blog about my cancer “experience” on the website. Now a year later, I’m finally getting to do my first true The Refract interview and I couldn’t be more excited. The second recent feeling of failure began with the chemotherapy. It was a very aggressive regimen because my cancer was so aggressive. It’s hard to describe exactly how torn up you feel when you lose parts of your identity: hair, body shape, and your job. Feeling less attractive and less active at the same time totally ripped me apart. Thanks to the support of my amazing husband, family, and friends (some of whom flew across the country multiple times just to support me), I was able to power through. That is the ultimate purpose in life for me: cultivating relationships with the people who mean so much to me and building new ones with strangers, however short, simply by listening to their stories.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
SC: I love Rumi’s poem “The Guest House.” That is a bit long… so instead I will leave with one that helps me daily, shared with me by someone I have deep respect for. “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire. Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” – T.S. Eliot
Stephanie Chuang spent ten years as a TV news journalist, last working as a reporter for NBC Bay Area. In December 2016, she learned she had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. After half a year of chemotherapy, Stephanie finally invested in taking care of herself and her health. She’s now starting two ventures. The first is a storytelling site called “The Refract” that aims to bridge understanding among people who live very differently. The other company is focused on helping cancer patients (stay tuned!). She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Tim.