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How I Thrive: “When I am in a position where I can truly connect with those around me, I get greater energy” with Ming Zhao & Cindy Eggleton

The features of and path to my rockstar days all have to do with connection. When I am in a position where I can truly connect with those around me, I get greater energy. My mind sometimes wanders to the people around me and, when I call or message to check in and tell them […]

The features of and path to my rockstar days all have to do with connection. When I am in a position where I can truly connect with those around me, I get greater energy. My mind sometimes wanders to the people around me and, when I call or message to check in and tell them they’re on my mind, we both are boosted by the energy of connection.

At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s wellbeing, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance in one’s career. The stress, mental energy, long hours, lack of restful sleep, preoccupation that result from a high-achievement life seem to directly inhibit wellness. And yet, in order to sustain the creativity, flexibility, mental acuity and resilience that are necessary for high performance, wellness and wellbeing of the mind, body and soul are also mandatory. So how do we achieve both? This is the question I’m hoping to answer through conversations with high-achieving women who have gleaned and are practicing their own philosophies on maintaining their wellbeing. As a part of this series about what successful women leaders do to thrive, both personally and professionally, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Eggleton. Eggleton is the Co-Founder and CEO of Brilliant Detroit, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building kid success families and neighborhoods where families with children 0–8 have what they need to be school ready, healthy, and stable.


Thank you so much for joining us, Cindy! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path and to where you are today?

Ihave always been driven by a desire to leave the world I touch better than I entered it. This journey has taken me on a lot of twists and turns over the years, from when I started my career in psychology through my time as a small business owner and overseeing education at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to my current work with Brilliant Detroit. Brilliant Detroit’s work is my true purpose and combines everything I’ve done over the years to truly make a change at the neighborhood level.

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

There have been so many people and stories that have shaped me over the years. One occurrence that was truly unexpected and shaped how I look at the world and see myself was when we hired someone as an editor who struggled with anorexia and bipolar disorder. There were challenges along the way, but she truly was the best editor I ever worked with. One day she gifted me a very small box and told me the real gift was inside. When I opened it I saw a note that read, “Thank you for seeing me.” This struck me because we all want to be seen and often suffer from labels that block views to what we truly have to offer. When we take the time to not be stuck looking at those labels, but ask people who they really are, there’s a much fuller expression of their gifts and strengths moving forward. Once she brought my attention to this fact, I have seen it happen over and over throughout my career.

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

Earlier in my career, I ran over my car while backing away from my garage in a different car. I was so busy that I wasn’t taking the time to really look. Backing into my own car was a profound wake up call to pay better attention and slow down. That actually might not be funny to some and maybe not to me at the time, but it is true and it is humorous for me to note how driven I was for no good reason.

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

My advice is to listen, be present, care, be direct and enjoy. In the past, I felt I needed to be really knowledgeable, but I have learned that the greatest thing you can do is listen and you will get all the knowledge you need because people know what’s best for them. Being present is key to this as well. Even if I’m in five million different directions, I know that when I am with another person, I need to honor them, honor the moment and honor what we need to do together. Underlying all of this is care. A lot is being written about the power of love and I think you should always lead with love. Being direct comes from a place of listening, presence and care. It builds trust because people don’t need to guess what’s on your mind. You should be able to be direct without judgment because then you create opportunities for yourself and others to truly grow. Finally, we all forget to celebrate and enjoy ourselves. Love what you do and who you do it with. That should be your reflection point and North Star.

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, mind, and heart (emotional or spiritual life) to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

Truly by traditional standards I am not that good at what is called self-care. For me, though, it is about knowing yourself and connecting my self-care practices with who I am as a person. I am a person always on the move and I relax and live by doing. I have a deep appreciation of quiet and of movement. I like walking, gardening and enjoying art. I also read, a lot. I truly love new ideas and find that reading works on community-building, leadership, social issues, and inspires my thinking and my work. Engaging with these ideas alongside friends and colleagues is even more wonderful. We’ve even created an informal book club at Brilliant Detroit as a result.

Something I’ve learned is that you need to have your soul in what you do, and your life is not complete if your soul is not in it. My work truly is based on following my heart, seeing the hero that exists in people and helping others tap into what they need to transform their lives.

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?

When life is particularly busy and I am called to attend more late and early meetings, the practices that I still must maintain are morning time for myself, which includes walking. Even if I have to wake up earlier than I would have otherwise, this is the time of day where I can prepare myself, think and gather energy for what’s to come.

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?

The features of and path to my rockstar days all have to do with connection. When I am in a position where I can truly connect with those around me, I get greater energy. My mind sometimes wanders to the people around me and, when I call or message to check in and tell them they’re on my mind, we both are boosted by the energy of connection.

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

On the days when I’m not feeling like a rockstar, I walk, take a break and shake it off. I know the feelings are fleeting and I let them subside.

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 never really liked massages, but a few years ago I had a couple of friends say that I had to try again. Three of us went and, afterward, they walked out saying “isn’t this the best thing?” and I walked out totally stressed. I had a headache and didn’t feel good. I guess massages aren’t for everyone.

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?

My work-family balance has changed over the years. When my son was young, I was adamant about not taking calls when I was with him and I had a practice of being off my phone. During the teenage years, the balance looked a little different. Instead of the strict separation of work and family every day, we would take trips three times a year, just him and me, and everything else was off the table and we could enjoy each other’s company and each choose activities to do as a pair. Now that he’s an adult, we’ve incorporated his partner into this and it’s truly a beautiful thing.

Additionally, I have a routine with my mother, who is 89-years-old. Every Saturday, I go to my mom’s house and help her tidy up, go grocery shopping for her and more. If I don’t see her on Saturday, I see her on Sunday, and we talk almost every morning on the phone. She’s so special to me and I always want to ensure I have time for her.

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?

I love books and series on mind, body and spirit, in particular, I have enjoyed a series about the Tao. I’ve learned from this reading that things are only at a point in time and paths weave forward like rivers. Everything is not achievement-oriented and, instead, I work to have clarity of what I am looking for, which is often right in front of me. This has helped me recognize what I feel would be fulfilling for a life mission as opposed to a post or job. Now that I am living a way in which I’m combining all of the aspects about myself into one makes me feel like I’m in my life’s work.

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 truly believe that what I’m doing today with Brilliant Detroit is about starting a movement for kid success where neighbors and neighborhoods come together to ensure that children and families have everything they need to be school ready, healthy and stable. Focusing on the path of children to opportunity and success is truly a poverty buster and my lens for achieving the most good that I can. A kid success city means addressing poverty, racism, food and housing insecurity and so much more. This is the greatest work I’ve ever been a part of and I am so honored to stand alongside so many others on this journey.

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

There are a number of quotes that speak to me. One in particular is the following:

“If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?” — Rabbi Hillel

When I first heard this quote, it affirmed something that I had already been feeling about how to be in community with others and the need to take action for what is right. I try to live my life like that, going deep into what is the right thing to do and then being there.

Similarly, the Four Agreements (Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.) struck me as important wisdom. They helped me understand giving value and making sure I receive value. I now consciously check-in whether I’m able to give value and what value will happen because of that.

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

Following Brilliant Detroit is probably the best way to keep up with me. You can find our website at http://brilliantdetroit.org. We’re also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BrilliantDetroit, Twitter at @BrilliantD313 and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/brilliantdetroit. I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cindy.eggleton.1.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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