You can take your mind to the gym every day to help strengthen the parts of your brain that allow you to focus, get stuff done, down-regulate difficult emotions, and access empathy for working with challenging people…
I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurie J. Cameron, the founder and CEO of PurposeBlue, a guest professor of Mindful Leadership at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, and a National Geographic author of The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm and Joy from Morning to Evening.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Since I was in college, I have been dedicated to the field of human flourishing and thriving organizational cultures. I love the science behind understanding what makes us excel and what gets in the way. A big part of my life is my mindfulness journey- I have trained in mindfulness with the Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh at his monasteries in France and the US for over twenty years. He teaches how to integrate mindfulness practices into daily life — to not waste the life we have — but to optimize it. I see mindfulness as a superpower in this uncertain, complex and distracted modern world and my mission is to share it widely. I do so with teaching business leaders, writing and speaking- all ways to translate the wisdom and science into modern, practical strategies. I am a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing at George Mason and the author of National Geographic’s The Mindful Day — where I integrate compelling science, practical approaches and stories of everyday situations that we face as humans and how we can cultivate stronger minds, deeper empathy and the resilience to navigate this life. As the CEO of PurposeBlue, we facilitate experiential programs to create Mindful Leaders in the workplace. We have delivered these in companies across the United States — from coast to coast and for leaders at all levels, where they learn to focus and sustain attention, grow empathy, master peak levels of stress, and increase performance and happiness.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now? I am coaching women leaders across industries on how to become more conscious of the power of their minds- both in holding them back and in propelling them forward. Their minds can give them a performance edge if they know how to see more clearly, listen differently and communicate with greater impact. I teach the science of mindfulness in amplifying power, performance and well-being. In addition, the next phase of the #metoo movement is making the culture changes needed explicit- I am working with organizations on the structural and cultural shifts that are necessary to create balance in feminine and masculine power dynamics at the leadership levels.
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?
In my second week of work with Accenture, the management consulting firm, I had the good fortune to have lunch with Susan B. Butler, the first female partner at Accenture in its history. From that day on, she became my mentor. I would bring breakfast to her apartment in Washington DC on Saturday mornings. She began to guide me, advise me, speak up for me. Importantly, she pulled me in to exciting projects that were challenging for me, and highly visible to the CEO and other leaders in the firm, such as leading the pitch for a large-scale change management strategy project in London for GlaxoSmithKline, heading the Emotional Intelligence global leadership development program for Accenture’s own partners, or moving to Brazil to take on business and practice development. Susan continues to mentor me today as I lead my own consulting and training company.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love working with kids. I bring the science of mindfulness, positive psychology and compassion to our school system and community. I have taught over 2000 children how to use the power of their own minds to shift their attention on demand, to focus, to calm strong emotions, and to choose kind actions over reacting. It is amazing and heartening to see the effects in the classroom. In a school, I teach the parents in the evening and train the school faculty over the year to create mindful classrooms- I have seen that it is more effective to work with the whole system to create sustainable learning and support than just the kids or teachers alone.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
When I was a management consultant at Accenture, my client from the energy company I was consulting with gave me the book Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, 22 years ago. In that book I learned what mindfulness is, learned how to use my own breath to come into the present moment, and learned that the seeds of happiness and joy are present wherever I am, no matter what is happening in the world around me. That book changed the trajectory of my life, and now I teach mindfulness in the US, Europe and Asia, and live mindfully (as much as I can!) each day. Years later, Thich Nhat Hanh took the hand of my daughter Ava Grace (then 9) and taught her Mindful Walking, to kiss the earth with her feet and find peace in every step.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started my career” and why?
1. Say Yes. At Accenture, a few weeks before my wedding, my mentor called me with the opportuntiy to move to Brazil just after my honeymoon to build an SAP Change Management practice across Latin America. It was not in my vision or plan, it was a big leap into the unknown, but I took the risk and said yes. Living in another culture, taking on a stretch leadership role across languages and cultures and learning to adapt to another lifestyle was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not to mention learning to samba as the sun comes up and feeling fully alive in the carnival in Rio!
2. Cultivate self awareness. Spending time in stillness — just being quiet, unplugged and listening to your own wisdom, is how you determine what matters most, what you love, and even what your purpose is. After sitting quietly one night under the stars, it became clear to me that I wanted to focus my leadership development work on mindfulness — and this was 2013. A few weeks later I received an invitation to apply for the first cohort of international teachers for Search Inside Yourself- the renown program developed at Google. It was in alignment with my commitment to bring mindfulness teachings to the world. I was accepted, and after a year of rigorous study, I was in Zurich teaching mindfulness-based emotional intelligence at Google.
3. Share your vision — get clear about what you want and make it known. Like Kennedy declared we were going to the moon- we need to declare out loud what we are aiming for to our networks, family and friends. I knew I wanted to write and publish a practical book on mindfulness and compassion for people with busy, full, complex lives- and I told people. When National Geographic was looking for an author to write their “ultimate guide to mindfulness” — I hit their radar screen because I told someone in their network. A book proposal later- we had a partnership, and now The Mindful Day is out in the world!
4. Your mind is trainable. You can take your mind to the gym every day to help strengthen the parts of your brain that allow you to focus, get stuff done, down-regulate difficult emotions, and access empathy for working with challenging people… When I had a major contract with a client start to come undone, I could feel the tightness, fear and worry rise in my body, and anxious thoughts start to move in. Because I trained my capacity for interoception (sensing emotions early on) and using my breath to shift my state, I could tune in to what was happening, hit the pause button, allow my mind to clear, and then negotiate from a grounded, clear state instead of an anxious one.
5. Uncertainty and change is the norm. When I truly internalized that everyting is always changing, and that staying open to opportunities meant I can’t predict one year from now, I started to thrive in the uncertainty. While clients were hiring us for 3-year strategic roadmaps, what I learned in my own wlife was that opportunities to live abroad in South America and Europe were unpredictable, the timing for when I would start a family was not on my timeline, and becoming an author happened much faster and much bigger then I ever saw coming. Impermanence, the nature of change and the principle of acceptance are some of the mindsets that allow us to embrace change and find joy in our life right now, and in whatever emerges and unfolds in our lives as we go.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Tina Fey! I would love to hang out with writer Tina Fey — she is brilliant, incredibly creative, funny, bold and changing the world.
Originally published at medium.com