Vice President of the Milken Institute on How She Finds Energy

Plus how she channeled the loss of her brother into positive change.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Elizabeth Power Robison: A new morning habit is to drink a glass of water right when I wake up. I keep the glass by my bedside overnight. It is room temperature. I find that it helps me wake up without caffeine.

TG: What gives you energy?
EPR: Big ideas. I am energized by people who strive to transform the lives of other people. I’ve focused my career on raising charitable gifts that provide access to high-quality education through academic scholarships and construction of educational facilities. Providing opportunities for others to pursue their dreams inspires me. I’m currently working on an incredible project featuring the American Dream that will encourage exploration and celebration of educators, entrepreneurs, biomedical research, public health, and financial literacy.

TG: What’s a daily habit or practice that helps you thrive?
EPR: About a year ago I started to practice meditation. These daily 20-minute sessions help me center and focus.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
EPR: “The Power Of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. We are creatures of habit because our brains need routines to simplify our daily activity. However, mindlessly following an ingrained habit can lead us to repeated actions that are not always in our self-interest. Learning to modify a habit is a game-changer!

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
EPR: My phone is on my nightstand overnight. However, I turn the ringer off every night at 9 pm and turn it back on after breakfast with my daughter.

TG: How do you deal with email?
EPR: I read and respond to work emails throughout the day. I check personal emails (a separate account) once or twice a day.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
EPR: I don’t usually find 15 minutes in my day! However, I have a long commute driving in Los Angeles. I spend more than 2 hours per day in the car. I consider this “me” time. I listen to the radio and call my family or friends I haven’t seen in a while.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
EPR: In 2014, my beloved brother, a talented journalist, tragically died while pursuing a story in Uganda. My demanding job at the time began to feel exhausting and inconsequential. Fortunately, I was able to channel my heartbreak and grief into raising funds in memory of my brother to support promising early-career nonfiction writers who uncover truths about the human condition. This renewed my belief in philanthropy to make a difference that matters.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
EPR: Probably in the last hour I failed to do something I intended to do! There is always more to do than I can get done at any given time. I’ve learned to be kind to myself, and to appreciate how much I manage to accomplish each day!

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
EPR: From Pirkei Avot: Ethics of the Sages –
Avot 4:1, Ben Zoma says:
Who is the wise one? One who learns from every person, as it says, “I have gained understanding from all my teachers” (Psalms 119:99).
Who is the mighty one? One who shows self-control, as it says, “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
Who is the rich one? One who is contented with life’s portion, as it says, “When you eat the fruit of your labor, joy and prosperity will be yours” (Psalms 128:2).
Who is honored? One who respects others, as it says, “For those who respect Me, I will respect; and those who despise Me will be held in little esteem” (I Samuel 2:30).

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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