Give people a chance to redeem themselves. I have learned that the old adage of “everyone deserves a second chance” to usually, but not always, be true. Sometimes we risk losing a great employee, a good friend or even a family member if we don’t allow the person who has made a mistake or offended us to “make things right.” Oftentimes, they will not only redeem themselves but even go on to doing better and greater things.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Stephenson-Laws.
Joy Stephenson-Laws is founder and executive director of Proactive Health Labs, a national nonprofit health education organization dedicated to ensuring people have the information and tools they need to get and stay healthy. She also is founder and managing partner of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman, the health care industry’s premier litigation law firm. Ms. Stephenson-Laws is the author of Minerals: The Forgotten Nutrient, Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy. She is the Honorary Consul of Jamaica in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was born in Jamaica and emigrated to the US at the age of 17. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in health and staying healthy. I probably got this from my brother, a cardiologist. My mother, who was extremely proud of my brother, encouraged me to become a doctor as well. I had originally planned on following my brother’s path, but towards the end of my college studies, I realized that I was more interested in practicing law than medicine. So, I continued on to law school and found a way to combine my interest in the law with my passion for healthcare.
Over the more than three decades that I have been a healthcare attorney, I must have reviewed more than 50,000 medical records. One thing that struck me was that had most patients known how to stay well, or had their diseases been diagnosed and treated before symptoms occurred, they could have enjoyed much better treatment outcomes. This belief was reinforced by my personal experience from losing loved ones, colleagues and friends to diseases which, had they been diagnosed early enough and treated more effectively, could either have been controlled or cured.
I clearly saw that the better educated people were about how to proactively protect their health, the more benefits of a healthy life they enjoyed. These benefits include a greater sense of well-being, enhanced performance of daily activities, more energy, disease prevention, and a speedier recovery and better outcome from medical treatment they may need. And being more educated also allows people to better partner with their healthcare providers in making choices about lifestyle and healthcare management.
I also saw that taking care of our health meant more than simply going for an annual physical, taking vitamins or prescribed medications, eating a healthy diet or exercising more. It also meant knowing how to manage our health, checking to make sure that all the steps someone takes are actually working and checking that our body is getting all the critical nutrients it needs.
Recognizing that not enough was being done to give people the information and the tools they need to proactively protect their health, I founded the nonprofit Proactive Health Labs (pH Labs for short), in 2012 to address this need. I also decided that our whole approach would be based on working to prevent disease before a person has symptoms or, in the case of chronic diseases, more effectively manage them. In short, I believe that we should not wait to get sick before taking steps to protect our health.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I don’t have a single “most interesting story” per se, but rather an interesting and important realization that still influences me to this day. When I started my career as a healthcare attorney and began litigating cases on behalf of clients, I was immediately struck by the lack of understanding, and the misinformation that is out there about health and the healthcare industry as well as about how it literally touches and impacts our everyday lives. I was also pretty surprised to learn that this issue wasn’t limited to just the general public but to judges, arbitrators, mediators, other attorneys, and even some healthcare providers. This was a wake-up call for me.
I also saw how cultural beliefs and “old wives’ tales” could make it harder for people to take care of and protect their health. For example, there are still many people who believe that drinking a chilled beverage can give you a cold, that garlic prevents a cold or that going outside with wet hair gets you sick. Perhaps the hardest of these beliefs to overcome is the almost ubiquitous one that I hear often when we do community health seminars. This is “I feel fine, so why worry about anything? If I get sick, I will go to the doctor and he/she will fix it” (as if we were cars in need of repair).
From these experiences, I learned what would become the foundation of pH Labs. Namely, that the better educated we are about our bodies — from nutrition to exercise to healthy lifestyle choices — the happier and longer lives we likely will have.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At the time I made this mistake, I didn’t find it terribly funny. In fact, I found it to be quite anxiety producing and I lost a fair amount of sleep over it! But looking back, I know chuckle about how this mistake turned out to be one of the best “mistakes” I ever made.
Anyway, I, like most people I know, believed that the best way to achieve success and to make the greatest positive impact on people would be to follow the traditional, “tried and true” career path. So, after finishing my law degree at Loyola University, I dutifully became a staff attorney at a public legal services organization. This was followed by another position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and then work in private practice with a law firm.
So, looking from the outside, I was doing all the “right” things professionally. In fact, had the law firm I was with not disbanded, I probably could have “made partner.” I can tell you that had I continued on that path my life would have turned out quite differently. When that firm closed its doors, I was at a crossroads. I could continue on the “expected path” or take the risk of venturing out on my own. As I said, I lost a lot of sleep over this decision and I was literally terrified of making the “wrong choice.” I eventually chose the latter and despite some misgivings from friends and family — who nevertheless supported my decision — I started my own firm. Vince Acquisto and George Colman joined me shortly thereafter and we were off-and-running.
It now makes me smile to think about how hard it was for me to see that there are many, many ways to get to a point in our careers where we can really make a difference. Because I took the risk, I have been able to dedicate both my professional and personal lives to supporting causes that have helped me realize my passion for education and awareness of healthcare issues.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I know it may sound trite, but these would undoubtedly be my mother and my brother. They made such an impact on me, and influenced me so greatly, that I even dedicated my first book, Minerals: The Forgotten Nutrient, Your Guide to Getting and Staying Healthy to them. The dedication reads: “I dedicate this book to my mother, Gladys Young, and brother, Herman Ricketts, MD, who both taught me the importance of empowering myself through education.”
My brother was always concerned about doing all he could to help his patients, without every worrying if they could pay him. For him, the true reward of being a doctor was how he could make his patients’ lives better. His example played a role in my ongoing involvement in health-related charitable causes as well as my decision to create Proactive Health Labs. Seeing how the organization’s activities, such as free nutritional testing and ongoing health education, have helped people get and stay healthier is incredibly gratifying.
From my mother, I acquired my curiosity and passion for learning — a passion that I still very much have. She also taught me that the key to getting ahead and accomplishing our goals is a combination of education and good, old fashioned grit and determination. She reminded me many times that my education was my “trust fund.” Her belief in the importance of education can be seen in the mission and philosophy of pH Labs.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
For me, the key to relieving work stress is to make sure I have a good work-life balance. I have several hobbies which I take, as I do with my work,
very seriously. I bring the same passion to them that I bring to helping our clients be their healthiest. For instance, I am a golf fanatic. I totally love the sport because the principles that make you a good golfer are those same principles that make you an effective businessperson or better yet, a better person. The game of golf teaches you so many lessons, the most important of which is learning what you can control, which is how you play, and accepting the outcome. My other hobbies are hiking, bowling, word games, video games and travel. More recently, I have resumed my interest in playing the piano. All these interests or hobbies either help me relax or make me more competitive — and often a combination of both. The old adage of “all work and no play” is very true!
I also indulge, from time-to-time, in some guilty pleasures such as watching television shows that don’t require much brainwork and that really help me unwind and disconnect for a bit. I also love to watch all types of sports including bowling, golf, basketball, football, soccer, cricket and baseball but I try not to get too tied up in the teams themselves (or I would never have time for work).
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
My philosophy has always been to actively seek out the best talent possible to help me achieve the goals of the organization I am leading and to be blind to ethnic background, religious beliefs, native language, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or social status. I deliberately use the word “blind” here because it is the most appropriate. I remember reading a study once about an orchestra that was auditioning musicians. The conductor had the belief that only certain sexes or ages or backgrounds could play certain instruments and this bias — implicit or explicit — resulted in an orchestra that reflected his beliefs about the individuals rather than on how well they performed. In the experiment, the musicians coming in for auditions were seated behind a scrim and could not be seen. You can pretty much guess what happened next — the conductor could only select musicians based on talent rather than other factors and he ended up tapping people he otherwise would have not even had auditioned.
That said, it also is important to not sacrifice talent for the sake of diversity. Hiring someone who is not qualified just because of a personal attribute would be doing a disservice to the individual as well as to the organization. Diversity and inclusion add different perspectives, world views and experiences that enrich an organization, add to its success and make it a much better place to work. But the people hired need to be qualified or at least have the potential to succeed. I also believe that often we need to do the legwork to find this talent and convince them that they should apply for a position if we see them as qualified. What I have unfortunately seen is that many people who are part of a minority group may not see themselves as qualified or may tell themselves “a company like that would never hire someone like me “and so they never even apply for a position. It is our responsibility to convince them to do otherwise.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
The first step — and perhaps the most difficult to do over the shorter term — is to recognize our own implicit biases and how they affect our decision-making process as well as our thoughts, speech and actions. Unlike explicit bias, which basically announces itself and is obvious for all the world to see, implicit bias is mostly hidden, unconscious, unintentional, extremely subtle and unrecognized. Oftentimes we can engage in implicit bias without even being aware we are doing it. This is what makes this type of bias so insidious and, depending on the setting in which it takes place, even dangerous. It also is what keeps us trapped in stereotypes and prejudices, which make diversity and inclusion difficult to achieve.
This type of bias can manifest in many different ways. Here are some examples:
- A medical professional discounting what the patient reports about their pain or symptoms because of skin color.
- A manager in a traditionally “male” profession requiring physical strength not assigning certain tasks to women before even knowing if she can do the work
- A supervisor attributing the negative work habits of a previous employee to a new one because they share the same background
- A colleague not mentioning the company softball league to a gay male team member because of a stereotypical idea about gay men and sports
The second step is conducting sensitivity training within the team or, preferably, the company or organization on a whole. My experience is that most people really have no idea of how much implicit bias they exhibit until it is pointed out to them. Again, the vast majority of these people would never exhibit any explicit bias, and many are simply appalled to find out how much unconscious bias they have.
The third, which I often do, is not to confront but rather to disprove the bias. Someone (even another woman) thinks that women can’t do X? I show them we can, and I do so without reinforcing negative ideas about successful women. Someone thinks that someone — especially a woman — of a certain age doesn’t have the energy or physical prowess to do something? Well, I show them differently.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The biggest difference between what a CEO — or, in my case a managing partner or executive director does — versus other positions is getting things done and achieving goals through others versus doing so ourselves. This may seem like a subtle difference, but in reality, it requires a complete shift in perception and attitude.
Let me explain a little about what I mean. When we are in school, our grades depend on one thing — how well we individually have studied and how well we individually answer the exam or fill the famous “blue book.” When we take a driving test for our license, the outcome depends on one thing — how we individually do behind the wheel. And when we start our careers, our progression up the ladder depends on one thing — how well we individually do in achieving the tasks in our performance evaluations. This is why we can say “I got an A” or “I passed my driving test” or “I did better on that brief that my colleague did and I got a promotion because of it.”
What shifts when you move the C-Suite is that you are no longer the one doing the day-to-day work which generates the results for your company or organization. My job in this capacity is to empower my team with the knowledge and other tools so they can perform their tasks well. So in my case, for example, I no longer was the one arguing cases or taking the depositions that could mean the difference between a client winning or losing a multi-million-dollar judgement. I was, and continue to be, of course, involved on a very senior level, but I am not the one directly responsible for the outcome — my team is. And I vividly remember the day I realized that my success in any of the organizations I was leading was now dependent on others. If you are someone who likes to be in control of the outcome, this can be a pretty scary realization!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The best way to answer that is through an anecdote. A few years, ago I was talking with a friend of mine who is the CEO of a professional services company. He told me that a junior staff member had told him “I hope one day to have your position since it is really what I want to do.” My friend then asked the staff member, “Thanks for saying that. What is it that you think I do all day that makes you want to be a CEO?”
My friend then said that when he heard the staff member’s response, you could have knocked him over with the proverbial feather. The staffer said: “You fly around to cool cities and countries, go to really interesting conferences, and take clients out to lunch and dinner.” So that is probably one of the first myths to dispel — that a CEO’s job is basically to entertain, travel and play golf. The reality is that this is what people may see but it is not what we do. The reality, as my friend explained to his young staffer, is that his job was making sure the staffer and his 100 colleagues had jobs. That was the part the staffer didn’t see.
Related to this myth is that once you reach the level of CEO you can relax a bit, let the company “run itself” and start to enjoy the fruits of your years of hard work. I remember I once had a team member who couldn’t wait to get promoted to a more senior supervisory level. She made a case for the promotion — she even asked for a trial period to prove her mettle — and a little while later achieved her goal. Along with the promotion came an outside office with glass walls (this was before the open office craze). On her first morning in her new position, she had two difficult client issues– within her first three hours in her new position. She immediately sought me out and after listening to the issues, I gave her some advice (I resisted asking how she liked the view from her glass office). Later that day, she came to me and said “you make it look so easy, how do you do it?” She too had bought into the myth that things got easier as you progressed up the ladder.
The third myth is that you can become a good CEO by reading a book, attending a few seminars or taking some classes. I won’t deny that you won’t learn a lot from them that will prove helpful and give you a good roadmap, but they are not enough. My experience has shown me that there is a big difference between what are called “book smarts” and real-life experience.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
There are several and they all have to do, in one way or another, with erroneous and/or outdated views and beliefs about women. Some of these are held, of course, by our male colleagues. Others, as much as we may not want to believe it, are those that we as women have internalized and believe about ourselves. In my opinion, the latter are the hardest to overcome since this is, as the saying goes, “an inside job.” There are also things that women do, probably without even realizing it, that hold us back in the workplace despite all the progress made in smashing the glass ceiling.
Let me start with bias, prejudice or beliefs about women — usually our “inferiority” to men — when it comes to work. I learned a long time ago that others’ biases about women — or any other group of people — have far more to do with them than they do with me and to not take it personally. Of course, all women have experienced this bias in one form of another. Some overt and some not so much.
Since most of what we encounter is very, very subtle — well, for the most part — my response usually is not to confront but rather to disprove the bias. I also make sure that I treat everyone — no matter who they are — with total respect. Sometimes this is more disarming and effective against bias than anything else I could do or say.
The second challenge is one that we, as women, have to recognize and then take ongoing steps to confront and remedy. And that is realizing that other women as women are neither the enemy nor the competition within our organizations. I know that there have been books written about this topic — about how as women we are not “socialized” to be as good at being team players as our male colleagues and how this makes us more “individualistic” — and I will leave that to the sociologists and psychologists to debate. What I have learned, despite popular belief, is that women can be, and often are, just as good at being supportive of other women in organizations as men are if not even more so.
The trick is that we need to let go of what we think people “expect” based on popular culture and do what we know is best for our collective interest. While the scheming, back-stabbing and “win at all costs” character of Alexis Carrington in Dynasty or the calculating, cold and almost sadistic Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada make for good entertainment, neither should be a role model.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There are three differences, all of which have proven to be incredibly rewarding. The first is that my work today is far more diverse and varied than I had thought it would be. In any given day, I may be reading patient records, meeting with a hospital administrator, working with the Proactive Health Labs medical team on developing a new product or service, mentoring a new member of one of our teams, giving an interview to a reporter on health topics, or leading a health seminar with a local community group.
The second is that there are always new challenges, both personal and professional. These ensure that I am always learning and growing — and that I am never bored. I have seen and know so many people whose professional lives became very rote and predictable to the point where they could do their work with their eyes blindfolded. I am grateful that this has never happened with me and I work in an area that whenever I ask myself “what’s next?” there always is something new to tackle. For example, if someone had told me that during my career, I would have founded two nonprofits, helped kids in Jamaica learn life skills through golf and become the Honorary Consul of Jamaica in Los Angeles, I never would have believed them. I really can’t wait to see what I do next!
The third is that I never get tired of seeing the positive difference my work and that of my teams makes in peoples’ lives. It is incredibly gratifying to know that people are healthier, hospitals are more financially stable, and kids are learning new skills because of our efforts. This never gets old and only gets richer over time. It truly is a legacy to be proud of and grateful for.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
There are several traits that I believe are critical to being an effective executive. If someone does not have them, they may be better off in another position. In no particular order, they are:
- Empathy: Being able to put ourselves in another shoes and work to understand where they are coming from enhances both our collective work as well as the organization itself. Without it, people become nothing more than cogs in a wheel.
- Seeing the Big Picture: I am a believer that unless you know where you are headed, you will never get there. This is especially important when leading an organization. You have to be able to step back and not only see the destiny but also the road to get there.
- Focus and Discipline: I put these two together since, to me, they really can’t exist independent of each other. It is very hard to keep your eye on the proverbial ball if you are constantly jumping from one thing to the next with no real forward motion and it’s hard to stay the course if you aren’t avoiding mental distractions.
- Detachment: As an executive and leader, you often are tasked with making difficult decisions. If we invest too much emotion or psychological energy into the work — or in the people we manage — it can cloud judgement. As a result, we may wait too long to make a decision that needs to be made. For example, if we invest too much emotion into a new venture and it is not working out, we will waste valuable time and resources on it that could be better dedicated elsewhere. Or, if a person is not right for the company and we wait too long to end the professional relationship, we may end alienating and losing others who are doing their jobs well.
- Emotional Intelligence: The easiest way to think of this trait is the ability to remain levelheaded and intuitively have the right response and approach. For me, it also means knowing what is going on with me personally and why I may be feeling a certain way in any given situation. This then allows — and helps — me to effectively respond rather than react.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Let’s start with the premise that you have to assemble and educate a stellar team so they can have all the tools — experience, education, know-how, raw talent — needed to achieve the goals you’ve set out for the organization you are leading. At this point, you are like a conductor of a symphony before rehearsals begin. The players are in place, each has their music in front of them and all are experts at playing their respective instruments. But should they start to play on their own, instead of hearing a rich symphony you would hear a cacophony. Your job as the conductor — or CEO — is to align them to a goal, ensure they know their part and then bring out the best in them.
The first two parts are straightforward and more tactical than anything — make sure they know the business plan and have a clear job description.
The part that requires talent, experience, emotional intelligence and instinct is the second part. I don’t claim to be a management guru, but I can share what has worked for me over the years. I hope that it works for you as well:
- Knowing what motivates people. This knowledge is critical. People will always perform better if they are motivated to do well in something rather than being told to do something. This is what I call the “want to factor.” But no two people are motivated by the same thing. I once hired a senior team member who told me “I never want to hear you tell me that I disappointed you.” With that simple declaration, I immediately knew how to keep her motivated. She ended up being a true star who accomplished much during her tenure with us.
- Understanding that not every person — not even ourselves — can do every job. When we start out in our careers, advice we often get is “never say ‘no,’ and ‘accept every new challenge’.” Unfortunately, this approach to managing our careers and managing others is usually counterproductive since you end up with a team composed of jacks of all trades and experts in none. In today’s workplace, as a CEO you need people to be their best in the mission critical tasks that will bring success. An analogy is that if you are building a house, you don’t hire a plumber to install the electrical system nor would you ask the painter to construct the frame.
- Listen more than you talk. Giving people the chance to talk and to know that you really are listening to them versus hearing them is critical to bringing out the best in them. People want to know their opinions and ideas are valued. And the best way to do that is through active listening and then actually putting their good ideas into action.
- Give them the tools they need to succeed for you. One of the most important questions you can ask your team member is “What do you need from me, how can I help you?” This usually takes them by surprise since they are used to managers telling them what to do. This not only gives them skin in the game, but also shows that you have their back and are rooting for them. It also says, “your success is my success.” I have found this to be one of the most powerful questions to ask.
- Do not, under any circumstances, micromanage. This should go without saying, but in my experience, nothing can undercut the motivation and self-confidence of your team more than trying to micromanage them. Your responsibility as CEO is not to do their job for them, but to tell them the collective goal and give them the tools they need to achieve it. Just because they may not be doing a specific task the way you would does not mean they won’t achieve the goal. Micromanaging is also one of the reasons that good people leave.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have dedicated my professional and personal lives to improving health care in the United States, from consumer education to being an advocate for health care providers, and from founding a health care-related philanthropy to encouraging others to get involved in improving their communities. My passion for motivating people to proactively protect their health comes from my personal experience of losing loved ones, colleagues and friends to diseases which, had they been diagnosed early enough and treated more effectively, could either have been controlled or cured.
I believe that my work is helping, in its own way, make the world a better place in three ways:
- Improving Peoples’ Health: Proactive Health Labs (www.phlabs.org), the national nonprofit health information organization I founded six years ago, today gives people the information and tools they need to get and stay their healthiest. Our website offers a wide range of health-related content that has been curated and vetted by the pH Labs medical team. We also conduct community health seminars and webinars, provide low or no cost nutritional and other tests, and provide one-on-one counseling. We have also published a book, Minerals: The Forgotten Nutrient, Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy. I also co-founded The Bili Project Foundation (www.thebiliproject.org), a nonprofit organization that is driving funding and research for identifying markers for biliary cancer so that this leading cause of cancer deaths can be more effectively diagnosed and treated.
- Protecting Hospitals’ Financial Viability: The law firm I founded some 30 years ago, Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman (www.sacfirm.com) is committed to helping hospitals and other health care providers receive reimbursement for the critical and medically necessary services they provide to protect our communities’ health. To date, we have recovered more than 1 billion dollars for our clients. For many of them, having these funds has literally made the difference between staying open and closing their doors.
All of these have in common the goal of helping individuals and communities be their healthiest physically, emotionally and socially.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I am the kind of person who always sees the glass as being “half full,” so I tend to always look for the positive side of something, even if that positive side may be a hard-earned lesson. But if I had to pick what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out, they would have to be:
- Know when to let go of something and move on to the next thing. We all have great ideas that don’t always turn into something great. I remember once congratulating a friend on the successful IPO of a company he had founded. I will never forget what he told me, which was, “thanks, but you don’t know about the other 300 companies I started that never made it off the kitchen table.” There is no use beating our head against a wall if something is not going to work. Just let go of it and try something else.
- What we do with our education is worth more than having it. Having a great education is a wonderful gift and privilege. It helps prepare us for life and may even help open professional doors. But if we don’t use this knowledge, share it with others and apply it to achieve a higher purpose or goal, then it quickly becomes a nice piece of paper we hang on our office wall. Education and knowledge, in my experience, tend to increase exponentially in value and benefit the more we use and share it. I see this every day with pH Labs and the difference the health education we provide makes in people’s lives.
- Everyone and everything provides opportunities to learn and grow — use these opportunities to their fullest. I make it a point to try and listen more than I talk so I can really listen, versus just hear, what others are saying. Often, I end up learning something I didn’t know before from someone who I may have least expected would teach me something new. Parallel with this is to keep any open mind to different opinions or points-of-view. And usually the most difficult, challenging or unpleasant situations offer new lessons on how to do or see things. We are almost invariably better for having had those experiences.
- Everyone has a talent for something. I remember often hearing in an office that “this person just isn’t right for this job.” I would bet that it isn’t so much about the person being wrong for the job but rather the job being wrong for the person. The trick is matching a person’s true talents to the best job for them. Do that, and you have created a win-win for everyone. And the same holds true for each of us as well.
- Give people a chance to redeem themselves. I have learned that the old adage of “everyone deserves a second chance” to usually, but not always, be true. Sometimes we risk losing a great employee, a good friend or even a family member if we don’t allow the person who has made a mistake or offended us to “make things right.” Oftentimes, they will not only redeem themselves but even go on to doing better and greater things.
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.
Given how important health education is to keep our society as healthy as possible, I would start a movement for universal health education instead of universal health care. Even if the latter were to come in to being (which is problematic to say the least), universal health care without universal “cradle to grave” health education would neverachieve the goal of significantly reducing costs or improving healthcare in this country.
To better understand why universal health education is so important, think about a car. When we buy a new car — whether fresh off the production line or used — various regulations mandate that we are given an owner´s manual. As responsible consumers, we usually read the manual that comes with our new car. This is because we know that driving our cars without appropriate instructions about how to take care of them results in us having to pay more money to repair or replace the car.
Unfortunately, we do not get an “owner’s manual” when we’re born. So, most of us rely on our parents (who themselves may not be health educated), personal doctors (whose primary role is usually treating disease — not education), celebrity doctors on television, or Dr. Google to learn as much as we can.
Credible, well-researched, practical and easy-to-understand health education that starts in grammar school and continues through adult life would ensure that we have at least as much information about taking care of our health as we do about taking care of our cars.
In addition to the benefits of reducing the incidence of disease, consumer health education also offers significant economic benefits. It also could provide an almost immediate and very tangible benefit in improving nutrition in this country.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That is an easy one — “The glass is always half full.” This has helped me to always see the positive in a situation, see how I can learn and grow from it, and have a happier and fuller life. I know that this may sound somewhat pollyannaish, but my experience has proven to me without a doubt that our perspective of any given situation determines, to a large extent, how it impacts us and how we will move through it. To give you some examples from my life:
- When my first professional position as an attorney evaporated, I could have seen that as a major setback but instead saw it as an opportunity and founded my own firm
- When I lost one of my partners, and dear friend, to a rare cancer, I worked with his family to create a nonprofit to do research for early detection and possible treatments and cures for it
- When I lost friends and family to a variety of chronic diseases, I realized that if they had known how to avoid them in the first place, they probably would still be alive, and I founded pH Labs
Many of the lessons I have learned along the way have been quite painful and difficult, but I always worked hard to see and find something positive in them. And to this day, I have always been able to. They have also taught me, especially in difficult times, that we always can find something to be grateful for.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
There are actually three. They are Melinda and Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey because of their collective commitment to improving healthcare and education. In the case of the Gates’, their foundation believes that the “path out of poverty begins when the next generation can access quality healthcare and a great education.” And for Ms. Winfrey, her foundation’s mission is to “educate .. and empower” women and children with a specific focus on youth education. These three individuals and their respective foundations reflect my personal philosophy of how education is the path to getting and staying healthy as individuals, to having healthier communities — especially disadvantaged communities which suffer a disproportionate burden of illness and tend to higher morbidity and mortality rates than more affluent groups — and to realizing our full potential as human beings. This is the same philosophy that underpins all of the organizations I have founded, from the national nonprofit health education organization Proactive Health Labs (www.phlabs.org) to the law firm of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman (www.sacfirm.com) which is committed to protecting the financial viability of health care providers. I am confident that should we have the chance to meet for breakfast or lunch, that we would be sure to come up with some powerful new ideas to achieve our collective goals.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.