Manisha Thakor: “Why it’s essential to have a #SisterHive”

Have a #SisterHive — I find that a small tribe of women whether it’s at work or in your personal life can be THE secret weapon for helping support and encourage the daily micro-adjustment needed to balance out work/life. Often your tribe will see when you are veering too far off course before you do. And you […]

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Have a #SisterHive — I find that a small tribe of women whether it’s at work or in your personal life can be THE secret weapon for helping support and encourage the daily micro-adjustment needed to balance out work/life. Often your tribe will see when you are veering too far off course before you do. And you also learn best-practices and model after each other.

As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Manisha Thakor, CFA, CFP®, is VP of Financial Wellbeing at Brighton Jones and host of the true WELLth podcast. She is also nationally renowned financial literacy advocate for women. Her work has been featured in media outlets including: The Wall Street Journal, PBS, NPR, CNN, Women’s Health and Real Simple. Manisha sits on the board of The National Endowment for Financial Education, and is on faculty at The Omega Institute’s Women’s Leadership Center. She is also the co-author of two personal finance primers for young women in their 20s and 30s called On My Own Two Feet and Get Financially Naked. Manisha earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA from Wellesley College. Her personal website is:

Thank you so much for joining us Manisha! What is your “backstory”?

Today I am the host of the true WELLth podcast — hands down the most personally and professionally fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I am also the VP, Financial Wellbeing at Brighton Jones.

Over my 25-year career in finance, I’ve worked in a wide range of roles on both the institutional side of the business (my first 15 years) and the retail side of the business (the past 10 years). From a young age, my interest in money has had strong feminist roots. My mother taught me early on that “money gives women voices and choices” and my father taught me how to invest that money. Given my (rare!) strong upbringing with regards to my
own personal finance education, I have been a very strong financial literacy advocate for women.

I’ve co-authored two critically-acclaimed personal finance books for women. I serve on the board of the National Endowment for Financial Education and the advisory board of Savvy Ladies (non-profit devoted to women’s financial empowerment). I also teach both an online and a live course at The Omega Institute as a member of the faculty of the Women’s Leadership Center.

But how did it all start?

When I was 11 years-old, my dad sat me down in a moment of father/daughter bonding and taught me how to calculate, using his HP12C financial calculator, how much I’d have at age 65 if I saved and invested my babysitting and lawn mowing money. When I saw the size of the numbers the power of compounding produced, I was hooked on finances. And my mom, who is a staunch feminist, further fanned those flames by emphasizing that money gives women voices and choices.

One last piece of backstory, as for my academic / professional qualifications…

I earned my BA from Wellesley College (where I spent my junior year abroad studying at Oxford University), my MBA from Harvard Business School, and am a CFA (chartered financial analyst) and CFP (certified financial planner).

What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?

By far and away my biggest challenge — which spans both my personal and my professional life is that I’ve had a 30+ year struggle with mental health. For the longest time (i.e. 27 of those 30 years), I thought it was “just” garden variety anxiety and depression brought on by an intense career and likely a genetic predisposition (my grandmother has mental health issues, but it was back in a time when no one talked about them openly). Fast forward to
my mid-forties after getting divorced (my second biggest challenge to have overcome), when I moved to Portland and for the first time started seeing a psychiatrist on a regular basis to deal with all the issues that bubble up when your marriage implodes after being together for 12 years, and in observing me over a routine period she identified that my mental health issues were much more serious — that I was actually bipolar. The reason I had gone so long without a proper diagnosis was that when I’m in “hypomania” rather than
run through the streets naked or gamble excessively or do other really overtly obvious forms of extreme behavior… I fell into EXTREME workaholism. Ad when you work in financial services, that’s called “Being a good employee.” Bipolar (or any chemically rooted mental illness, as distinct from a situational induced period of deep depression such as post-partum) is something that a course of medication and other self-care regimens can eradicate, it’s something you monitor and live with every day. But thanks to modern day
medicine and a heightened awareness of the benefits of other life-style choices and habits… it is possible to live quite a productive and “nearly normal” life.

What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?

To me, leadership is the ability to set a vision and inspire people / your team to want to help you execute on that vision (vs feel like they “have” to) — while also having the ability to make the tough choices around inevitable course corrections as they arise (be they a shift in strategy or a need to shift around your team).

The recipe for inspiration that I have found most effective is: curiosity + radical transparency + speaking always from a place of love (vs. fear). By focusing on these three core principles, I find no matter what the situation, I am able to identify the specific action/s needed to adjust my own behavior in a manner than enables me to more effectively inspire others. Inspiration is magical quality — but it is also a skill and you have to work on yourself consistently. At the end of the day, we are all human. We all want to be
seen, heard and recognized.

The ability to lead and inspire — I have found — comes from the ability to create an environment where your team feels these three states in their souls, i.e. there is a deep trust that this is the core of your relationship while simultaneously being able to have the hard conversion about changes that need to be made by others to keep the organization moving forward.

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?

In my case, it was two pieces of advice — and ironically while I remember the wisdom clearly for the life of me I can’t remember who gave me the nuggets other than each one came from a different person. They are:

* The time to network is when you don’t need a network.
* You can get anything you want if you will just help other people get anything they want.

In a nutshell, to me both of these statements are saying at their core that we are all connected. Connect in a truly heart-felt way, try to find opportunities to help others whenever you can, and that good juju will flow back to you in unexpected ways. What I’ve noticed is that nearly all of the most pivotal doors that have opened and catapulted my career forward have come not from my inner core of friends and colleagues but from “looser” connections to THEIR friends and colleagues. My take away from all this is that some people have one specific person or two who transforms their lives (and I’d certainly
say my parents have transformed my life — as has my wonderful relationship with my brother) but outside of direct family it has been such a broad village that has developed over 25 years by rooting my behavior in these two principles that has provided the deepest support. For me it has been a collective karmic hug from so many different people in different ways who helped me get where I am. And now I try to pay that forward whenever I
possibly can when I meet someone — especially early in their career — hungry to learn and grow.

Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?

Ha — it was very difficult, and I have done an absolutely miserable job of it… so far. I’m hoping that will change!

I never wanted to have children for fear of passing along what I knew was some type of as yet unnamed issue with mental health (knowing how often it can be genetic) so I have not had the traditional working woman’s issue of juggling kids and career (and yeesh is my hat ever off to women who do this… ). I met my ex-husband when I was 33; we divorced when was 45. And as I look back, I have to say I was a pretty crappy wife. I consistently put my
career ahead of our relationship. Once my ex-husband had a bad motorcycle accident and had to undergo emergency surgery in a small 16-bed hospital in the middle of a very rural area — and I waited 4 whole days to come to his side because I was in the middle of a round of meetings in San Francisco that I felt were “so important” and “it’s not like I could do anything to improve his medical care”. I look back at that person and think “what was she 
smoking???” My priorities were so screwed up. Understandably, my ex-husband wanted and deserved more.

Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?

  • Identify 1–3 three things in your personal life that you will ALWAYS put ahead of work. Use those as your touchstones to schedule your time. Hold firm to those priorities — the work will find a way to get done around them.
  • Take care of your physical health. I’ve talked a lot about mental health, but physical health is another area that can go a long way towards helping you feeling sharp so that you are making the best decisions when weighing the inevitable trade-offs between your work and personal life. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete. A simple 20-minute cardio workout where you truly push yourself to break a sweat — or sometimes something as “basic” as a regular brisk walk — can do WONDERS for your ability to better prioritize. Once you get stuck behind your desk — it’s “an object at rest stays at rest” and that does not lead to good decision-making on balance.
  • Have a #SisterHive — I find that a small tribe of women whether it’s at work or in your personal life can be THE secret weapon for helping support and encourage the daily micro-adjustment needed to balance out work/life. Often your tribe will see when you are veering too far off course before you do. And you also learn best-practices and model after each other.
  • Be curious — About people, places, and things. Curiosity expands your worldview which helps you expand your awareness of the range of choices available to you.
  • Listen to the true WELLth podcast. Seriously! This is not just a plug for my podcast. I created this show to address these very issues. The podcast is rooted in three profound questions:

– What if everything we’ve been taught about money (and “making it”) is wrong?
– What if the definition of modern success is actually a recipe for disconnection from self, others, community and life?
– What tiny tweaks (or radical reboots!) can you make to better align the way you spend your money and time with what matters most to you in life.

I explore these issues by interviewing (a) experts in the four core areas of wellbeing -emotional, social, physical, and financial — for their best tips and tactics on how to address these questions from their areas of expertise and (b) what I call “true WELLth pivoters” — individuals who have thought about one or more of the above questions and taken steps to change and bring more joy into their lives >> and when you have more joy inside you, you
are a better leader.

What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.

Hands down on a personal level — the relationship with my parents and my brother. They are the only three people I have ALWAYS put ahead of work. The various ways in which I’ve been able to bring some additional joy, love, and connection to their lives to me is priceless.

I contracted Dengue Fever roughly five years ago during a visit to Laos. Long story short, I nearly died due to a Murphy’s Law series of complications. It reached a point where it was obvious the hospital staff felt this as well and my family flew in to be by my side. I can remember shaking uncontrollably from the pain (Dengue Fever is also known as “Break Bone” fever as it literally feels like someone is crunching your bones)… and thinking, “oh my god, this is how it’s going to end.” And it’s true… I did not think about work — or wishing I’d worked more :) — all I thought about were the people I loved most in life, being so grateful to them and hoping they would be ok after I was gone. To this day that memory serves as such a wake-up call about what really matters in life.

And on a professional level, it is hosting the true WELLth podcast — which I truly feel is the thing every prior piece of my career (and my personal life) was preparing me to do. My deepest hope is that I will help people find the unique insights they need for their personal circumstances to live a rich life — in every sense of that phrase (not to mention how much I’m learning personally from our guests!)

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

For me it is a tie between:

* Inspiring women to own their financial futures — to my core I believe money gives women voices and choices. And when women can use those voices and choices they often have tremendously positive impacts on their families, their friends, their communities, and even the broader world at large.

* Breaking down taboos about addressing mental health — The work that first Prince William (Duke of Cambridge) and now very much Prince Harry (Duke of Sussex) in the UK are doing in this area I find profoundly inspiring as they have such a global stage at the moment. In the U.S., the work of the Brain Behavior and Research Institute is working wonders. And as one person in a sea of seven billion, I hope radical transparency about my own struggles with mental illness can be of help in a variety of ways to others.

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