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“I don’t think people really ever retire.” With Beau Henderson & Cheryl Saban

I don’t think people really ever retire. I think they retire from one thing and move on to another. My dad ended up retiring from his job in his late 50’s and started doing all of the things he never had time to do before like drawing, making sculptures, camping and backpacking. He was never […]

I don’t think people really ever retire. I think they retire from one thing and move on to another. My dad ended up retiring from his job in his late 50’s and started doing all of the things he never had time to do before like drawing, making sculptures, camping and backpacking. He was never bored! My mom also never stopped doing things that made her happy, despite her body breaking down on her due to osteoporosis. She loved to read and spend time with people.

Don’t look at retirement as an ending, but the chance to start something new. Be ready for surprises and spend time giving back if you can!


Asa part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Saban.

Cheryl Saban wears many hats: author, philanthropist (founder of the Cheryl Saban Foundation for Women & Girls), psychologist, musician, designer, social activist for gender equality and of course, glassblower and #hotshopmama. Today, you’ll find her with a blowpipe in her hand, a bowl of colorful frit by her side and a 2100 degree furnace supporting her efforts. To learn more about Cheryl and her one-of-a-kind hand blown glass, visit www.sabanglassware.com.


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?

Thank you for having me! Curiosity is what brought me to glassblowing. Honestly, I have always been crafty. I started out in college as an art major, so I was constantly working with my hands and creating things. But I didn’t have the chance to finish an art degree at that time.

My life took me on a different journey, which led me into a variety of careers — including writing numerous books and studying to achieve my Masters and PhD in Psychology. I took an interest in Psychology to better understand human behavior. I became hyper-interested in women and the disparities in salary, advancement, healthcare and reproductive rights. I have been a philanthropist for many years now, and even wrote a book about women, “What Is Your Self-Worth? A Woman’s Guide to Validation.” I spend much of my time championing women and girls, and helping fund programs that help women take the next step to be stronger, more powerful and healthier.

As you can see, I wear many hats, but back to my story and entry into glassblowing! I have always admired beautiful glass created by maestros such as Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra and the head glassblower of Chihuly’s team, James Mongrain. I am also in awe of Nancy Callan. One day, after wanting to give glassblowing a try on my own, I decided to take a private class with a local Los Angeles glass blower, Josh Gelfand. It was a three hour class, but that was all it took — I was officially smitten! I was totally engulfed in the experience of working in this hot, sometimes dangerous environment with molten glass. I loved the concept of being able to “freeze a design in heat,” which was my way of describing the process. I started with the occasional class, then began reducing my Board of Trustee commitments in order to make more time in the hot shop. I love everything about glassblowing — the difficulty, the challenge and the ultimate reward of learning more techniques!

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

One that particularly sticks out is the time I went to Seattle to The Chihuly Boathouse to have a private lesson with James Mongrain, the head Gaffer of Dale Chihuly’s glass blowing team. It was a big deal for me, and would be for any glass blower. I was given this unique chance to be in the Chihuly Boathouse, because I had bid for this opportunity at a Charity Gala, and won. Obviously, I was thrilled.

Jimmy asked me to design something for him to make. I was a bit overwhelmed just being there, around Jimmy and his entire team. So, I was a little shy at first. How do you ask Jimmy Mongrain to make you something, let alone instruct his process? He handed me a pencil and a piece of paper, and I sketched out a wide bowl. My thought was that he’d make a small one, but he told me to go for a larger size. Well, okay then! I chose a sheer copper blue with a light blue wrap, and a bright orange lip wrap. It was such an experience to be next to him, watching every move he made. He explained the process — pointing out certain important techniques, what the other team members were doing along the way. He is meticulous. Watching him blow the piece was an afternoon I’ll never forget. On top of it all, James Mongrain is a really nice guy.

What was rather amazing, though, several weeks later when the huge box from Seattle arrived, we opened it to discover that the beautiful bowl had broken in shipping! I was so disappointed. Jimmy Mongrain made not one, but two of these lovely bowls as a replacement. They arrived unbroken, after having been carefully wrapped in layers of protective packaging. I have kept in touch with Jimmy Mongrain — he is one of the most talented people I know. And now I have become a collector of his work!

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 can’t quite think of an example of anything that was particularly humorous. But one experience that taught me a huge lesson was when I attended Pillchuck’s summer program in Seattle, learning from some of the top glassblowers. I was in my 60’s, and it was humbling and exhilarating to be amongst a bunch of young art majors who have been blowing glass since they were teenagers. I was really out of my element — hiking up and down the mountains, staying in the cabins and fighting off spiders.

I recognized how much of a newbie I was in this whole glassblowing world. Even though I had been doing it for awhile, I lost all my confidence around these young people with so much talent and eagerness. I realized that my learning curve has been a lengthy one, and it showed me that I absolutely have never given up. I have faced obstacles — I am not from the art world or familiar with all of the lingo. But it’s important to realize that in order to have something you really love, even though it is new and unfamiliar, you have to ride the waves and go through the ups and downs. I started my journey in glassblowing with the expectation that I’d be able to learn it more quickly, and realized it takes endless hours of hard work and dedication to the craft.

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 about that?

I have a few people! The first is a glassblower by the name of Josh Gelfand, my first instructor. He is a great guy, very patient and an amazing teacher. I admire the fact that he always remains humble and doesn’t make you feel bad if you are struggling or not understanding. I will never forget the time a piece I was making completely shattered on the pipe which made me become flustered, and he was so quick to reassure me and calm me down. I worked with Josh for several years before I ever worked with anyone else.

When Josh got really hurt while blowing glass, we took a lot of time off and I didn’t get to blow glass at all. He gave me recommendations of other glassblowers to work with, which led me to Nate Cotterman’s studio where I began working with Tyler Barry. Tyler now works for me on my team, which is an amazing full circle moment!

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

I don’t see a burnout factor in this particular craft. Lino Tagliapietra is one of the most famous maestros in the world, and he’s still blowing glass in his 80’s!

When you get hit by the glassblowing bug, you want to keep learning and creating. A lot of the people in glassware are now creating museum and gallery pieces, which proves that there are endless possibilities of what you can create. The desire to create art is not often fueled by monetary reward. It’s all passion, and very few things will stop passion! Once again, my main message is to never give up! Find new ways to reinvent the joy and wake up to be the best you can be today.

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

Do not compromise on the quality of the team you surround yourself with. I truly have a great team around me — from the people I blow glass with, to my PR and marketing teams, to my assistants and everyone in between. I have a little bit more than glassblowing going on in my life, but the people who are around me typically stay a long time which means everything. We have a happy, open and respectful working relationship.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

I got my degree in Psychology because I was really interested in human behavior, particularly with how it affects women and children. Just because someone is feeling depressed doesn’t necessarily mean they are going through a deep depression. From a professional perspective, it is very possible that you will work with someone who is on medication for depression. It is not everybody’s business to know, but we should all be supportive and mindful of ways to help ourselves and those around us be well. Here are some of my go-to’s for optimizing my mental wellness.

  1. Meditate everyday. I use several apps. Meditating really helped me overcome my parents’ deaths. Eventually it got me to a place where my happy memories overrode the more serious days of sadness.
  2. Find friends that you can fully share your world with, even if it is just one or two key people. Don’t be alone in whatever journey you’re on. Life will always have bumps in the road and having trustworthy and empathetic friends to open up to makes it less of a burden somehow.
  3. Maintain connections with your family. At the end of the day, these are the people who will come to your rescue.
  4. Spend time in nature. This can be as simple as taking a walk outside. Make sure you see trees and sky, ocean, water. Whatever you can get to!
  5. Get exercise — walking, biking, going to the gym. Do yoga, stretch. Movement makes all the difference!
  6. Keep your mind sharp! I love to travel, read and play solitaire.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

I don’t think people really ever retire. I think they retire from one thing and move on to another. My dad ended up retiring from his job in his late 50’s and started doing all of the things he never had time to do before like drawing, making sculptures, camping and backpacking. He was never bored! My mom also never stopped doing things that made her happy, despite her body breaking down on her due to osteoporosis. She loved to read and spend time with people.

One of my best friends recently retired from a very high powered and high paying job. Before she left, she was constantly asking her friends what her next move should be in fear of becoming bored. Sure enough, her agenda is quite full now!

The best advice — don’t look at retirement as an ending, but the chance to start something new. Be ready for surprises and spend time giving back if you can!

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

Young people today are growing up in a social media world. There wasn’t constant communication when I was a teenager like there is now. I get addicted to the phone and social media now too, but I can easily put it away. Kids nowadays can’t. It can be dangerous because there is so much comparison and a feeling of lacking that comes with that. We’re all so unique and special like snowflakes. Why compare?

You can give that advice all day long but it’s difficult when it’s constantly in teens’ faces. I’d advise taking a break from social media and focusing on real face time with friends and family. I think if more kids had a meal with their families, those are the times you remember as you get older. I believe that it is also critical to have other outlets like sports, music and other hobbies that require someone to devote time and be held accountable.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love reading, and there are several books that have impacted my life. But anything written by Oprah has always really touched me.

I was given a book called, “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A Singer around the time my folks were ill. I just loved it! It really forces you to look at who you are on the inside and how you handle the world as a result, and I found that it gave really great advice. The book is kind of other-worldly and metaphysical, so it may not be for everyone. I think it is important to reach outside of your own comfort zone when it comes to thinking about religion or a higher power.

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 think it would be to find a way to truly end the violence against women and children that is really an epidemic around the world. This was something that I have always been concerned with, especially when I was mainly focusing on philanthropy. Women need a chance to thrive and be an equal part of society. It makes things better everywhere. It has been proven that having more than 20% of women on a board makes things run much more smoothly in that company. If there was some magic way of implementing it worldwide, that would be a start. If women were in charge or had more of a voice, I don’t think there would be as many deaths or as much conflict.

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

I have a phrase that I have learned and told my children throughout their lives — “Don’t land on it!” We get frustrated and anxious, and if you land on that issue or argument and let it fester it will be a hell of a lot worse than if you kept buzzing along. My husband says a version of this, “be teflon,” and let things roll off your shoulders. We all have gripes and beef with others. That’s not to say there’s not a valid point to being upset. But it doesn’t help to react right away. Give it a few minutes, and your perspective will be a lot different.

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

@sabanglassware

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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