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How I Thrive: “One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that work/life balance is a fallacy. It’s more about work/life integration” with Ming Zhao & Summer Crenshaw

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that work/life balance is a fallacy. It’s more about work/life integration. We cannot compartmentalize who we are 10+ hours a day from the time we have with our family. For me, being present for my family on a consistent basis is the best thing I can […]

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that work/life balance is a fallacy. It’s more about work/life integration. We cannot compartmentalize who we are 10+ hours a day from the time we have with our family. For me, being present for my family on a consistent basis is the best thing I can do for them. Daily I ensure I leave my phone in my purse or away from me so I am not tempted to check it and focus my time from when arrive home until I put my son to bed. I try to keep a consistent time with my family as “sacred”, with dinner nightly being our main time to connect. I ensure if I am straying from our schedule that I explain as far in advance as possible why I will miss the time or be distracted. I find being open and direct regarding important things coming up is the best way to handle.


I had the pleasure to interview Summer Crenshaw. Summer is a serial entrepreneur and speaker with over 15 years of experience in marketing, branding, strategy and business development. Today Summer serves the COO and co-founder at tilr, an algorithmic hiring solution for companies and job-seekers that automates recruitment. A recipient of Cincinnati Business Courier’s 40 under 40 Award and Women Who Mean Business Award, she is an advocate for women in tech and a leader in the Startup ecosystem in the Midwest. Her passion is rooted in creating value for underserved and/or underrepresented populations.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path and to where you are today?

Growing up, I had a dream to be the first in my family to go to college and have a meaningful career. I was blessed to get into Miami University to pursue my undergraduate degree in Public Relations, with aspirations of working in the entertainment industry. I was able to secure an internship in New York City working with major record labels and movie houses to bring to market new artists. I spent over four years working in the industry but had to return back to my hometown due to family obligations. Once I moved back, I realized staying in entertainment was not an option. The next best thing was working for a startup. In 2004 I took a job with a growing startup called Careerbuilder.com. That is where I started my career in the HR Tech space and what planted the seeds for the businesses I have built and scaled since then.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Over the years, I have learned your career path and trajectory may not be linear. I have had many diverging moments in my career from working at an experiential marketing firm to launching an insurance agency to selling burial plots to make ends meet when my husband first returned home from Iraq. When I look back on each of those moments in time, I realize I am the sum of my skills. The amalgamation of those paths led me directly to where I am today. For instance, owning an insurance agency taught me about benefits and insurance law. That knowledge has been directly used in my work at tilr in helping support portable benefits for the new workforce.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I think we have all made the fun mistake of hitting reply all instead of forward on an email. What comes to mind most recently are the challenges in scaling our business city-by-city. We have to “turn on” cities within our mobile apps in order for customers to utilize the technology in certain geographic areas. We made the mistake of opening a market including telling the market we were there, only to realize on the backend we had turned OFF that market and opened up everywhere else. It happened with the very first city we launched (Cincinnati). We advertised we were live in Cincinnati then received a stream of messages from people in Cincinnati that said they were getting messages that the mobile app wasn’t live in their city. Turns out we turned the whole U.S. on, and Cincinnati off. We now check for that every time.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture and work life?

The best way I have found to build a great culture is by setting up the basic parameters and leading your team to create the culture they want. Create an atmosphere of psychological safety, a shared goal or outcome and work with the team so they outline the culture they would like to see in the organization. Allowing your team to own the culture goes much farther than dictating it.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

Self-care has looked different in different seasons of my life. In the season I am in today, I have really focused on following my energy. If an activity gives me energy, I lean into it. One of the best self-care practices I follow is giving myself time with others that are facing similar challenges as high-achieving women. I meet with a group of women every two weeks that are also female founders. We dedicate time with each other to build into one another both personally and professionally. Doing this has been transformative in my life.

In addition, focusing on time for spiritual development has been a recent self-care practice. Currently I am learning to meditate, journal and take time to explore the world of spirituality. I listen to audio-books as one means to continue learning. This was a big transition for me.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

The best thing I can do for my mind is to focus on being a life-long learner. With the future rapidly changing, we will always need to acquire new skills. For me learning is in live events, listening to podcasts and using my commuting time to listen to books.

Finally, can you share with us two routines that use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

Something I was taught early in my career was the need to give back to others in simple ways, and the joy it brings. I work to do daily five-minute favors- where I either work to offer advice/guidance to those that request it (I get dozens of emails a week with requests) or I think about ways I can help just by making introductions or sending words of encouragement to those around me. I feel more spiritually awakened when I practice this daily.

In addition, I talk to my son nightly about gratitude and what we are grateful for. He is 6 years old now, so early on we talked about the best thing that happened that day- and I would explain why that is something we should be grateful for. Over time this conversation has evolved, but it is a part of my nightly ritual with my son.

When life is very busy, and you cannot stick with your ideal routine, are there any wellness practices, rituals, products or services for your mind, body, or soul that you absolutely cannot live without?

Since I am a founder of a tech company, I often look for hacks to help my daily life. For me, one of the best changes I have made has been using the Calm app. I struggled to fall asleep for years because of my mind racing with thoughts of the day’s activities and the next day’s to-do list. Calm has helped me focus my mind in on a story and fall asleep. It has also led me into meditation- something I never thought I would pursue. Using that app has caused a ripple effect in my spiritual growth.

All of us have great days and days that are not as great. On days when you feel like a rockstar what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?

Rockstar days are all about accomplishing goals for myself and others. When I end the day with high energy, I know it was a good day. For me, rockstar days are not about a to-do list. It is a state of flow where I didn’t even realize the end of day has come. It’s working with someone on my team to help them hit a breakthrough. It’s coming to work with passion and the intention to have a wonderful day, and ending the day feeling like something wonderful was accomplished.

In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?

On down days I lean into my family and the group of women that have become my support system. On those hard days, I take a step back from all, remove myself physically from the situation (or location where I am feeling the most overwhelmed) and reach out to those I know support me. On some days, I just need alone time to get my mind cleared and for me that means taking a walk.

Do you have a story about the weirdest, most bizarre or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.

I think a lot of the challenges we face as high achieving women are due to the energy we spend on one side of our lives that we just cannot sustain on all areas. This causes an emotional imbalance. Recognizing this I have personally tried Reiki, Energy healers and even hypnotherapists that do past-life regression in order to understand some of the energy blocks I have in my life and how to overcome the challenges. I have had great success in overcoming obstacles through working with those that would be considered “alternative healers” in U.S. culture.

You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving caretaker at home?

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that work/life balance is a fallacy. It’s more about work/life integration. We cannot compartmentalize who we are 10+ hours a day from the time we have with our family. For me, being present for my family on a consistent basis is the best thing I can do for them. Daily I ensure I leave my phone in my purse or away from me so I am not tempted to check it and focus my time from when arrive home until I put my son to bed. I try to keep a consistent time with my family as “sacred”, with dinner nightly being our main time to connect. I ensure if I am straying from our schedule that I explain as far in advance as possible why I will miss the time or be distracted. I find being open and direct regarding important things coming up is the best way to handle.

Is there a particular practitioner, expert, book, podcast or resource that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?

Brene Brown’s writing has been particularly impactful to me personally. I have worked to utilize her research and teachings into my personal and professional life. I have even had training sessions with my team on vulnerability, values and how to meet each other’s needs.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 would love to see employers doing “hiring trials” for candidates instead the current process of resume/job posting dance with the bulk of focus in recruitment being centered on elimination or disqualification from a job. I think if more employers had a policy where the worker and the employer could try each other out, we would eliminate a lot of the staffing challenges we see today (as well as discrimination).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite quote is from a speech from Theodore Roosevelt. This quote has come up in so many seasons of my life. It has been sent to me dozens of times by others, in many books I have read, and leadership programs I have taken. It is a great reminder to me to recognize that I am trying to make an impact and create a lasting legacy.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

What are the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter: @summercrenshaw

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/summercrenshaw

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