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The THRIVE Questionnaire with Christine Kang

This Busy COO Talks about how Transcendental Meditation and Enjoying Simple Pleasures Help Her Work-Life Balance

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TG: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? 

CK: Cuddle with my infant daughter for as long as I can.

TG: What gives you energy? 

CK: Being around great people who inspire me to live and love to the fullest.

TG: What daily habit or practice helps you thrive? 

CK: Transcendental meditation. The charter school I helped open in 2013 integrates TM into the daily class schedule, and the training I received there was an incredible gift. Nothing else can clear my mental cobwebs and make me feel so refreshed in 20 minutes.

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

CK: Farewell to Manzanar. I read it as a young adult, and it was the first time I genuinely connected with American history because I could see myself in the story. It is one of the reasons I feel strongly about the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s approach to diversifying the narratives and perspectives shared with students.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?  

CK: Kind of? It recharges overnight on my bedside table, but face down; and it’s my morning alarm (which often rings after my daughter has already nudged me out of bed).

TG: How do you deal with email? 

CK: I do my best to manage them without being obsessively responsive, and I only keep open conversations in my inbox—the others get filed away. Every once in a while I turn things upside down and start from the bottom up to catch the ones I’ve missed or need to pick back up. The only exception is when I’m on vacation, when I make more of an effort to unplug and not look at my phone (too often!).

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do? 

CK: I always start with a list. Writing things down helps me more objectively see what needs to be done, and I often find an immediate sense of relief from just the act of writing things out. Typing up lists and creating spreadsheets are also helpful for shuffling around and ordering tasks, color-coding them, and linking them to other tools like a digital calendar. And nothing is more satisfying than crossing something off a list when the task is done!

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it? 

CK: Sit on my balcony and take in the view, ideally with my husband and daughter by my side. We live on the Hudson River in New Jersey, and there’s nothing quite like the NYC skyline set against the water. And it’s always a bonus when we get to watch a cool tugboat or intrepid paddleboarder cruise by!

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why? 

CK: I once had a supervisor whose management style was an unfortunate combination of being rigidly hierarchical, uncommunicative, and unempathetic. Our interactions left me with a sense that my place in the organization was to blindly do as I was told, and I left the office each day in a puddle of misery and frustration. In hindsight, I’m grateful to have had the experience as a reminder of what NOT to do and how strong leaders nurture and lift their teams toward excellence rather than bark orders from the top down.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

CK: I honestly can’t recall, not because I haven’t made mistakes or fell short at times, but because to me, the word “failure” implies something much more finite and devastating (like organ failure).  When things don’t go the way I’ve planned, I’m pretty quick to see the silver lining, make adjustments, and  give it another try.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self? 

CK: Trust your instincts and surround yourself with people you can ask for help if you lose your way or just need a hand (we all do sometimes!).

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 

CK: “The sun will come out tomorrow…” ~Annie.  I was 4 when the film was released, and it was the first record I ever owned. I loved to belt the song into my hairbrush mic as a kid and I still know every word by heart.

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