We offer all of our employees the opportunity to participate in Transcendental Meditation. I first encountered this while in college. I saw a flyer on campus and went to an intro class and felt an instant connection to the philosophy behind it. But, at that time, I was a student and couldn’t afford to continue. After graduation I decided to invest in it as a gift to myself and it has really shaped my worldview and overall wellbeing. It was important for me to be able to also offer this to my employees when I started my own company.
As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brett Kaufman, a developer, entrepreneur, investor, coach, and speaker based in Columbus, Ohio. Over the course of his career, he’s started many businesses including Kaufman Development, built over $1 billion in assets, and sold over $500 million in properties. He is currently developing $300 million in real estate, hosts the Gravity podcast, and has served as a mentor and coach to over 100 entrepreneurs.
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?
Growing up, I definitely succumbed to societal pressures to be “successful” in the most traditional sense of the word. I was programmed to grow up, have a corner office, wear a suit to work every day, and make lots of money to support my family. I followed that path through college, working in finance and doing all the things people expected me to do. But I wasn’t happy doing it; that life didn’t fulfill me. Early on in my professional career, I met my wife and realized that I wanted to build a life that was meaningful to me, to her, and to set that example for my kids. Shaking out of that mindset is not easy, and takes a lot of therapy and self-care to shed the layers of past trauma to tap into the things that motivate and inspire you. Through that work, I founded my own company where I could combine my love of art, philanthropy, health, wellness, and creativity to build conscious communities where people can live, work, and enjoy. My goal now is to continue building these places that allow people to interact and engage with their surroundings and have opportunities to continue to learn new things about themselves, their neighbors, and their communities.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The grand opening of our latest project, Gravity, has brought the company and our work to a new level. Earlier this year, I was invited to deliver a keynote speech at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting. I used that opportunity to stand in front of 1,200+ business leaders in one of the fastest growing markets in America to highlight the pride I feel in the work we’re doing in the city to build a sustainable future. My own personal journey to embrace the importance of mental health inspires the work that we do in our community. Business leaders have a responsibility to be authentic and vulnerable, and we must continue to evolve and prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of ourselves and our colleagues if we want to grow as people and companies. I was overwhelmed by the response I received for months after the event — from people who hadn’t heard of mental health being spoken about in a business setting, but were glad to finally break down that barrier.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
In the startup entrepreneurial world, there is a consistently reinforced societal belief that you have to get to a billion-dollar valuation as fast as possible by any means necessary. This is often at the expense of a person’s mental health and overall wellbeing. Working 80 hours a week and burning the candle at both ends is not something to praise because it is not sustainable. A company or culture built on that won’t foster continued success or growth. Take time to meditate, ensure that you’re eating well and keep your body healthy. The old cliché of life being a marathon and not a sprint is absolutely true, but I’ll add that you can (and should!) make sure you’re on the path you want to be on. And it is never too late to change lanes or start down your own path.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
People work better when they enjoy what they do. Having an open dialogue about how people work best or creating a culture where people can raise issues or thoughts and new ideas is important for employee growth, retention, and attraction. At Kaufman Development, we ask: How do we find a way for people to feel good physically and mentally about what they do and not have to wait until the weekend, vacation or retirement to engage in their passions? We make it a priority to bring music, art, meditation, therapy and life coaching into the workplace.
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 many great ones that inspire me and motivate our team. The one that really gets to the core of me and my company is by Albert Einstein — “A problem cannot be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.”
For me, that is a push to always want to learn and grow. To be curious not only about the world but about my own beliefs and views. From birth, we are subjected to many outside influences that shape who we become which may not be who we were meant to be or want to be. Societal expectations play such a strong role in how we live and work so it is important that we do the work to unwind all of that and understand our passions and what motivates us as individuals at our core.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
- We offer all of our employees the opportunity to participate in Transcendental Meditation. I first encountered this while in college. I saw a flyer on campus and went to an intro class and felt an instant connection to the philosophy behind it. But, at that time, I was a student and couldn’t afford to continue. After graduation I decided to invest in it as a gift to myself and it has really shaped my worldview and overall wellbeing. It was important for me to be able to also offer this to my employees when I started my own company.
- Our company is a long time participant in the Built to Lead program, offering each employee the opportunity to spend time unlocking their core beliefs, both personally and professionally, and how those are related. We’ve reinforced our desire for personal excellence, hoping that each employee feels valued and engaged but also empowered to build their own path and know that we are here to support.
- Community engagement and philanthropy is at the core of our company values. We encourage our employees to identify areas where we could have impact through sponsorship, donations, or joining nonprofit boards. This allows us to align our giving with our values, and provides another way to listen to our employees about what is important to them. A special highlight is our engagement with the Columbus Pride Parade and Festival, which is now the largest LGBTQ+ pride event in the Midwest. Our company has been a longtime supporter and has influenced our internal culture in positive ways, creating an environment where people can bring their whole self to work without fear or caution.
- Volunteering is also a big initiative at our company. As part of our quarterly company goals, we include impact hours — which is the sum of hours spent by employees volunteering for organizations in the city. We have a partnership with an organization called Besa that works with us to curate specific volunteer opportunities with causes aligned with our mission.
- At the executive level, we have invested in having our leadership team participate in Strategic Coach. While Built to Lead allows us to grow together as a company, we put a strong emphasis on ensuring our leaders are equipped with the tools needed to lead their teams and continue to grow and find new challenges that are inspiring.
What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
It is in a leader’s best interest to elevate the importance of mental wellness of employees. The companies that invest in their employees and see mental wellness as a priority will be the ones that can retain and attract top talent. Employees will be motivated and perform at their highest level. The perks of free food or ping pong tables in the office can help, but they’re not a substitute for doing the actual work of engaging your employees directly and continuously learning and growing together.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
We all have trauma or emotional baggage that we carry with us. Some of it is more visible to the outside world, but a lot of it is carried internally. Everyone processes this in different ways and at different times. I believe we should talk about this more to normalize the mental health journey. It is OK to talk about therapy. It is OK to talk about meditation. It is OK to explore alternative modalities. Especially during the pandemic, it is OK to take breaks and have less productive days. We can encourage people to have these conversations and be comfortable knowing that they are not alone.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
Creating your own routine and sticking to it is crucial to maintaining mental wellness. It’s important that this includes “free time” when you can just sit with yourself and work on things that you want to work on, free from the influence of work or family.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
I’ve developed my own method of staying aligned and grounded. It is a combination of many things I’ve picked up over the years, including breathing techniques, meditation, journaling, gratitude and prayer practices. I do my best to start off every morning with this routine to get myself into the right mental space to approach the day.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer. As described, it is a book about what can happen when one decides to let go of personal preferences and simply let life call the shots. This has been massively influential in my life. It has reinforced my belief in prioritizing mental health and wellbeing and doing the work to grow and learn as a person. We can’t control the world around us or what happens, but we can be firm in our core beliefs and beings. And the stronger we are at our core, the better suited we are to deal with anything life throws at u
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. 🙂
Getting people to treat going to a therapist or coach the same way they view going to the gym, going to a cooking class, or going to a networking event. It should absolutely not be a taboo subject or a cause for anyone to feel embarrassed or ashamed. The same way we would go to a class to improve physical health, cooking skills, or professional development — we should also feel OK working to improve mental health. We all have trauma in our lives but most of it goes unaddressed, or we live our lives not truly understanding how it impacts us as people — as parents, spouses, employees, or friends. Being able to tap into our fullest potential would undoubtedly mean great things for us individually but also the community and the world at-large.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
Follow Kaufman Development on Instagram
Follow Gravity Project on Instagram
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!