Embrace your uniqueness. The current job market is glutted with thousands of people who are vying for the same jobs in your career of choice. Focus on what makes you stand out amongst your competitors. How you market yourself or your product, determines success in your chosen endeavor.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDonna F. Brown.
Donna F. Brown is an author, musician, retired RN, and certified yoga instructor and yoga therapist living in Pearce, a small rural community in SE Arizona. Her first book, Finding Medusa — The Making of an Unlikely Rock Star, was published in April 2019, and has received rave 5 star reviews on Amazon. She is currently working on a second novel, a crime/suspense/thriller, One Moonlit Night, that will be published sometime in 2021. She has also had several previous articles published in Authority magazine, Thrive Global, Woman’s World, and Huffington Post. Donna is an avid reader, and when not writing or reading, she enjoys running, biking, hiking, and teaching two yoga classes a week in her community.
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 have always enjoyed writing and reading since my early childhood. I recall when in second grade in elementary school in Chicago, my birthplace, I was asked to write a composition about a favorite story I read and to explain what about this story made it special. My all-time favorite story at that time was The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. When I wrote the composition, my teacher couldn’t believe that a second grader could write so eloquently at that early age, and she called my mother to school and asked her who really wrote the composition. When my mother informed her that I wrote it totally on my own, my teacher was baffled and a bit embarrassed by the situation. When I received accolades from the teacher, this experience led to my becoming editor of my high school newspaper. I eventually progressed to writing and publishing my life story.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
When I was a senior in high school, I had a substitute teacher in English class named Miss Gembala. She was young, inexperienced, and looked very prim and proper wearing her hair in a tight bun. At first, I was not too impressed with Gembala, until she opened her mouth! She started her lecture by showing us a book, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. She plunged right into a dissertation about the main subject of the book: existentialism. As I listened to her explain this complex topic of being alone amidst crowds of people, I was fascinated by her words, and how she made analogies between existentialism and Kafka’s book. She truly made an impact and lasting impression on an impressionable teenager by expanding my literary knowledge to my reading other “heady” books such as Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, and works by Aldous Huxley, and J. R. R. Tolkien. She also had a profound influence on my career as a future author!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
As a child who survived physical and emotional abuse from my mother, I struggled with inability to trust. I also had difficulty maintaining friendships and romantic relationships, and finding and sustaining a satisfying career. Ironically, my mother was also my first musical influence, and inspired me to become a musician. I eventually reconnected with my musical roots, joined a rock band in the early ’70s called Medusa, and forty years later received worldwide acclaim for the music we created! This amazing story inspired me to write my first book. Another person, Gloria, who I also mentioned in my book, gave me more nurturing than I received from my own mother. She was sitting next to me on an airplane heading to Hawaii. In my early thirties, I was flying to Hawaii to run the Honolulu Marathon in 1982. During that flight, I met Gloria, a complete stranger, who became a lifelong friend and surrogate mother.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
One of the many careers I’ve pursued in my lifetime is nursing. Throughout the course of my nursing career, I’ve received signs from the universe that nursing was NOT the career I needed to be pursuing! One of the funniest mistakes and the one that hit me the hardest was when as a student nurse, I was transferring an obese woman from her hospital bed to a wheelchair. Proper transferring protocol involves locking the wheelchair so it won’t move during the transfer, and using proper body mechanics during the transfer (aka: bending your knees to protect your back). During the transfer, I forgot to lock the wheelchair and you can imagine the rest. The woman never made the wheelchair and we both fell to the floor with her landing right on top of me. Luckily, the woman didn’t get hurt, yet my pride WAS when my nursing instructor entered the room at that precise time! After my instructor assisted the woman into her wheelchair and made sure she was safe and uninjured, she escorted me outside the room into the hall and gave me quite the lecture about patient safety. She also asked me if I really wanted to be a nurse. The lesson I learned that day was twofold: always remember to lock the wheelchair during patient transfers, and it reaffirmed that nursing wasn’t the wisest career choice I made!
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
1.Do your research on whatever career you want to pursue before your pursue it! Weigh out the pros vs. cons of what’s involved in this career and what you need to be able to succeed.
2. Investigate other careers of interest as well. (and like Murphy’s Law, when in doubt, refer back to #1).
3. Be persistent. The road to success is a long and arduous one, and it’s your persistence and perseverance that enables you to achieve your goals.
4. Embrace your uniqueness. The current job market is glutted with thousands of people who are vying for the same jobs in your career of choice. Focus on what makes you stand out amongst your competitors. How you market yourself or your product, determines success in your chosen endeavor.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are several books that made a significant impact on me, yet a book that I read years ago still resonates with me today. The powerful messages in this book were life changing the first time I read it. It led to me buying and reading this book again from cover to cover. This book is, “Feel The Fear…and Do It Anyway,” by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. We are all fearful of making the wrong decision, finding the wrong job, etc. and this fear often keeps us paralyzed and victimized. One important message that this book offers is that when you move past whatever makes you fearful, you discover that you will emerge feeling more self-confident and better able to handle whatever challenges you face in your life. This book has truly helped me be less fearful and more trusting in my capacity to succeed, rather than letting fear stand in my way of accomplishing things in my life that matter most!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
This resonates with me because no matter where we’ve been or whatever the future holds in store, we are ultimately the masters of our own fate. We have the choice to either overcome the challenges we are faced with, or succumb to them. When we overcome adversities, we discover we’re stronger than we think.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
As an author, I’m excited about the newest book I’m currently working on. After six long years of writing, I published my first book, a memoir called Finding Medusa — The Making of an Unlikely Rock Star. The second book I wrote is a fictional work, a totally new genre for me. It’s an exciting crime/suspense/thriller story called One Moonlit Night. Due to the current pandemic, when many people are isolated and out of work, I’m certain that more people will be reading books. I’m optimistic that this book will stimulate and engage the minds of readers. Through writing, I can reconnect with my readers by offering them a compelling and riveting page turner to contemplate.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Good habits are traits we develop throughout our lives. We learn good habits by the successes and failures we experience, and through trial and error. In other words, we learn good habits from the bad habits we choose not to repeat. Good habits help us help others to develop their own good habits. For example, as a yoga teacher, I owe it to my students to be a role model for whatever I want to teach them. If I want my students to incorporate the various principles of how I live my life, such as showing kindness and gratitude, I’d better practice what I teach!
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
First and foremost, I never take no for an answer! Whenever someone told me I couldn’t do something, I did it anyway! This is a great example of being persistent.
Participating in sports has also taught me physical and mental toughness. To run marathons, you need to be physically and mentally fit. You need to train by running long distances of ten plus miles a day, yet you don’t run that distance right out of the gate. You need to gradually increase your mileage to prevent injuries. Nonetheless, steady training and a positive mental outlook are crucial habits that helped me “go the distance.”
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop good habits is by learning from our bad habits, and being willing and determined to not repeat our bad habits. We learn good and bad habits from daily interactions with family, friends, and co-workers, and we base our decisions about what habits we want to continue or discontinue from those experiences.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
Three habits that lead to optimum wellness for me are: regular daily exercise, healthy eating, and meditation for a healthy mindset. I love being outdoors and enjoying mother nature. I spend quality time outside on a daily basis either running, biking or hiking. I enjoy being physically fit, and I’m grateful that in my late ’60s, I’m still able to engage in these same sports that I performed in my youth. I try to eat healthy foods in abundance and the not-so-healthy foods in moderation. I practice yoga and meditation for optimal wellness for my body, mind, and spirit.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
First and foremost, you need to be willing to change old habits. For some people, old habits serve them in some fashion, and for most people a change of lifestyle is difficult. Change occurs in baby steps. For example, if you’re a sedentary person, instead of sitting at a desk all day, take frequent walk breaks during the day and get outside for a walk during lunch. Walking is one of the best exercises for optimal wellness and it’s the least likely to cause injuries.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
Three good habits that lead to optimal performance are: confidence, persistence, and consistency. In regards to sports, I’ve been consistent in my performance of sports over time. This stems back to my childhood when I had asthma and was not allowed to participate in sports. The general consensus of opinion in those days was that exercise could induce an asthma attack with potentially fatal outcome. Currently, this myth has long been debunked, and exercise is now viewed as beneficial for people with asthma and actually improves overall lung health. When I first began running, I had to overcome my fear that running would induce an asthma attack. Although this was difficult to overcome, I persisted and was consistent with my daily runs. These daily runs led to running farther distances. The farther I ran, the more confident and proficient I became as a runner. I started out barely able to run a mile, and increased to running weekly races from 3–6 miles, and eventually over a number of years of consistent practice, I progressed to running half and full length marathons.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
I have practiced yoga consistently since the mid-nineties and yoga has helped me become more flexible, and this is especially important as an athlete. Many sports, such as running and biking use specific muscles, and over time these muscles become tight and stiff. Yoga stretches are great for improving flexibility, muscular strength, range of motion, and balance. Yoga has also helped me become more relaxed. I started out thinking of yoga as just a class I attended once or twice a week, and progressed to viewing yoga as a philosophy of how I live my life. The basic belief in practicing yoga is that the body, mind and spirit are all connected, and that all good habits in life are achieved through observances of love and respect for yourself as well as others. Practicing poses, breathing exercises, and meditation help attain the highest level of consciousness.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Focus, like optimal wellness and performance, is something that takes time to develop. Focus can relate to concentration, or can also equate to a goal we are working toward achieving. Focus can also mean what has emphasis or meaning in our lives. Whatever meaning we attach to focus, we need to have a clear idea of what we would like to achieve as individuals, and that differs from person to person.
Three habits I believe can lead to optimal focus are, determination, being decisive, and finding purpose in our daily living. The best example I can give of focus relates to when I developed a challenging health problem known as tinnitus (aka: ringing and other noises you hear in your ears). When I first developed tinnitus, I felt like my world was shattered. Gone was my silence, my peace of mind, and concentration, amongst other losses. I was totally incapacitated, and I was not alone. Tinnitus affects millions of people worldwide. There is no cure, nor effective treatments currently available. After seeing numerous doctors who told me to “learn to live with it,” I almost gave up hope. I had to make a choice to either allow myself to slip further into the black hole of depression and despair, or try to find a way to deal with the tinnitus on my own. Luckily, I chose the latter. I decided that rather than focusing on the tinnitus, I focused on trying to find a solution for this problem. As an avid outdoors sports enthusiast and athlete, I also climbed 22 of 54 14,000 ft. peaks while living in Colorado, and decided to put my climbing skills to work toward a purpose. I contacted an organization in Portland, Oregon, American Tinnitus Association, that helps people with tinnitus find available resources and treatments, and organized three climbs to generate funds for an eventual cure for this problem. Between the three climbs, two on Mount Rainier in Washington, and the last on Mount Hood in Oregon, I raised a total of almost half a million dollars that was donated to ATA for continued research for an eventual cure! At that time, this was the largest fundraising amount ever generated for the ATA! I succeeded in reaching my summits, and exceeded ATA’s and my own expectations for fundraising efforts. This proves that with optimal focus and determination, a person can indeed make a difference in the world in their own way!
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Once again, I use my yoga practice to help develop better concentration and focus skills, not only in doing the poses, but especially in utilizing yogic breathing techniques, such as slowing and deepening the breath, and in meditation. When you slow down and deepen the breath, this has a calming effect on the body and mind. Meditation also enables the mind to become more focused and relaxed, and less scattered. These breathing and meditative practices can be done anywhere, even in the work environment. We all need to take a few moments out of our busy schedules, close our eyes, and remind ourselves to breathe.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
When you are in a state of flow you will know! When you are doing something you love, you feel that you are in harmony with the world around you. Some people just seem to instinctively know what they were born to do, and they pursue their passion with a vengeance. Others have to try on several different pairs of shoes before they find the ones that fit. Once you find that perfect pair of shoes, you feel as though you can walk around the world in those shoes. Wear them and go with the flow!
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 would encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zones, and try the things that scare them the most. Too often we lead sheltered lives because we’re fearful of breaking out of our self-imposed limits or boxes we hide in. Too often we become observers rather than participants in our lives. We watch others from the sidelines doing what they love and breaking out of their boxes. I offer the challenge to the observers to move through their fears and break through to the other side! Be fearless and go with your “flow!”
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 🙂
I would love to have breakfast or lunch with Kamala Harris! She is the epitome of charisma, strength, and one of the world’s most influential and powerful women. I would love to talk to her about her life and what led her to enter politics and eventually become the first female black Vice President. She is truly a role model for women of every nationality, race, creed, and religion.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can visit my Facebook Author page, Amazon and Goodreads Author pages, and LinkedIn page:
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you! It was my pleasure!