How I Thrive: “Creating a more joyful planet simply by helping others discover and articulate their life purpose fills my heart and is deeply satisfying and fulfilling”, with Author Patrice Tanaka

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“Creating a more joyful planet simply by helping others discover and articulate their life purpose fills my heart and is deeply satisfying and fulfilling. I see the light go on and the excitement people feel when they have greater clarity about their life purpose and what is most important for them to accomplish in their one very brief and precious life. Because a life purpose involves leveraging your talents, expertise and passion in service of other people and our planet the result of someone actively living their life purpose has ramifications for those in their immediate circle whose lives they touch. But the extended effect of their immediate circle affecting each of their circles is like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings that can effect climatic changes half a hemisphere away.” — Patrice Tanaka

At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s wellbeing, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance in one’s career. The stress, mental energy, long hours, lack of restful sleep, preoccupation that result from a high-achievement life seem to directly inhibit wellness. And yet, in order to sustain the creativity, flexibility, mental acuity and resilience that are necessary for high performance, wellness and wellbeing of the mind, body and soul are also mandatory. So how do we achieve both? This is the question I’m hoping to answer through conversations with high-achieving women who have gleaned and are practicing their own philosophies on maintaining their wellbeing.

As a part of this series about what successful women leaders do to thrive, both personally and professionally, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrice Tanaka.

Patrice Tanaka is a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded three award-winning, PR & marketing firms, including the largest, employee-owned PR agency in the U.S. After a successful, PR & marketing career Patrice started Joyful Planet, a Business & Life Strategy Consultancy, working with individuals and organizations to discover and actively live their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, in their workplaces and in their communities. Life purpose and organizational purpose are the subjects of Patrice’s best-selling books, Beat the Curve (2016), co-authored with renowned management consultant and coach, Brian Tracy, and Performance360 (September 2018), co-authored with visionary entrepreneur Richard Branson and other leaders.

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 and to where you are today?

Five years ago, I felt compelled to leave the last of three award-winning, PR & Marketing agencies I co-founded to focus on my vision of a more joyful planet. My life, and this vision, began in February 2002, five months after 9/11 when an executive coach I sought out asked me to “rethink” my purpose in life. I was annoyed because I had come to her, seeking help. At the time, I was depressed and in a malaise like many New Yorkers who lived through the tragic events of 9/11, and I was exhausted from building a business with 12 other partners while caring for a sick husband who later died of a brain tumor after a long and valiant fight. I had no energy to envision a grand purpose for the rest of my life. Usually, I love doing visioning exercises, but not when I barely had the energy to get out of bed in the morning.

Two weeks later, after giving this assignment much thought and still haunted by the idea that nearly 3,000 people went to work at the Twin Towers on 9/11 and didn’t return home for dinner, I told my coach, Suzanne Levy, that “My purpose in life is to choose joy in my life every single day, to be mindful of that joy, and to share that joy with others.” I told her that if I could live my life this way every day that I would be “good to go” even if I was caught short like those nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 when they realized they had only moments left to live.

I had barely finished sharing my life purpose with Suzanne when she asked, “so what brings you joy?” I thought to myself, “nothing right now.” Suzanne kept prodding me until I finally blurted out, “dancing.” When she discovered that my childhood dream had been to dance like Ginger Rogers, but that I’d never taken a dance lesson and couldn’t remember the last time I went dancing, she gave me homework: Book yourself a dance lesson before our next coaching session. And, that’s how I started ballroom dancing, which became one of the great joys of my life. From my very first dance lesson I could feel joy flooding back into my life. Some years later, I wrote a book entitled, Becoming Ginger Rogers…How Ballroom Dancing Made Me a Happier Woman, Better Partner and Smarter CEO.

I have been on a journey of joy since February 2002 when my coach Suzanne forced me to “rethink” my purpose in life. Since then, so many amazing things have happened as a result of discovering and living my life purpose from taking up ballroom dancing, becoming a ballroom champion, writing Becoming Ginger Rogers, selling my agency and co-founding two others (made possible because of lessons I learned from ballroom dancing!), becoming a trustee of a wonderful, non-profit, Dancing Classrooms, which brings ballroom dance to elementary and middle schools to unleash social and emotional learning (SEL) in children, writing two best-selling books about life purpose and organizational purpose, and, most recently, starting Joyful Planet.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I always explain that I’m not a “classic entrepreneur,” I’m an “accidental entrepreneur.” Unlike many entrepreneurs who always wanted to have their own business since they were a young girl or boy, I was always happy being a strong number two person behind the owner of a business. The only reason I started my first PR agency was it was the only solution I could come up with when we lost our biggest client and I knew that if I told my boss at Chiat/Day, our advertising agency parent company, he would make me terminate the people three I had working on the business immediately. So, I didn’t tell my boss, thinking that I could come up with a solution to avoid this terrible action.

But the only solution I could come up with was to spin off our PR subsidiary and set up as an independent PR agency where I was the CEO and in charge of hiring and firing. So that’s what I did. I convinced 12 of my colleagues to follow me in a management buyback from Chiat/Day and start an employee-owned PR agency owned by the 13 of us.

That’s how I was able to avoid firing three dear and talented colleagues and start my first PR agency. Our talented and committed group of shareholders built an agency that within eight years was recognized as the #1 Most Creative and the #2 Best Workplace among all PR agencies nationwide. I believe there’s no stopping a committed and purpose-driven group of people. Our business purpose at our agency, PT&Co., was “To create great work, a great workplace and great communities that work.” By the later we meant, healthy, sustainable communities within and beyond our workplace through the campaigns we created for clients.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

In hindsight it was humorous, but in the heat of the moment it was scary and gut-wrenching. In my naivete I assumed that once our parent company gave us permission to proceed with the management buyback that we would approach a bank to borrow the one million dollars they were asking for our agency. We began meeting with banks about a business loan and after a few meetings I realized that no bank would lend us money because in 1990, they didn’t know much about PR agencies much less the business of PR.

Thankfully, our brilliant lawyer was able to negotiate a deal with Chiat/Day, involving performance shares that three of us had been given that would be valuable in five years’ time. He used that stock and a royalty we agreed to pay on our fee income during the first three years of business to purchase our agency from Chiat/Day.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture and work life?

Creating a great workplace is key to productivity and performance. We instinctively understood this when starting PT&Co. Our goal was to make the transition from weekend to work week as easy and effortless as possible for employees. For us that meant flexible work hours where employees chose their start and end time each day, casual dress every day, telecommuting, time off to tend to family and personal needs, and a workplace designed to honor the needs of the “whole person.” At PT&Co., this meant an airy, loft-like, open office with a living room in the center, a kitchen and spacious lunchroom, a meditation room for employees to take a time-out, nap, pray, meditate or practice yoga, and four “bubbles,” small, glass-walled meeting rooms for private conversations, in addition to a conference room.

Our goal at PT&Co. was to create a workplace where employees felt comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work and not just their “professional selves,” which would bifurcate themselves and their super powers. We wanted everyone to bring the richness of their whole self — mind, body and soul — to engage in every activity from researching to brainstorming to strategic planning.

Importantly, we wanted employees to feel comfortable offering up ideas without worrying whether they were fully baked because there might be a germ of an idea that could be the basis of the BIG idea we were always chasing.

Google spent a lot of money in recent years to determine that the secret of high-performing teams was not that they consisted of the smartest, most talented people, but that they had created something called “psychological safety” where members felt supported and comfortable throwing out ideas, fully baked or not, and not being harshly judged or penalized for doing so.

At PT&Co., we instinctively understood that if employees felt comfortable, supported and encouraged to bring their whole selves to the office they would do their best work. Eight years, nearly 200 awards later and recognition as the #1 Most Creative and #2 Best Workplace nationally among all PR agencies was the proof that we were correct in our assumption that creating a great workplace and creating great work are inextricably linked.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers two self-care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

Because my life purpose is “to choose joy every day, to be mindful of that joy and to share that joy with others” I try to do all three things. I start each day by asking for “tremendous joy.” I qualify it by saying “tremendous” joy because words do matter. I used to simply ask for “joy” and would routinely be able to recite 8–10 joyful episodes at the end of the day. One day I asked for “tremendous joy” and at day’s end counted nearly 25 joyful episodes!

I also want to be “mindful” of all the joy that I do have so my practice before I go to sleep is to recount all the joyful episodes of the day from little to big things. I count them all equally from a great conversation with my Lyft driver to gaining a new client. If we’re not mindful of our joy it can sometimes escape us that we do have a lot of joy in our life.

Every day I try to “share my joy” with others from the volunteer work I do for several non-profits to mentoring a student or young professional to helping a friend with a project or a problem.

Living my life purpose — “to choose joy,” “to be mindful of my joy” and “to share that joy with others” — is the foundation of my self-care regimen. There is a lot of research, indicating that individuals who have a life purpose tend to live longer and have healthier relationships. They are also less likely to develop sleep problems, have a heart attack or die prematurely.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

I’m ever on the lookout for ways that I can live my “life purpose” and the “business purpose” of my consultancy, Joyful Planet, which is to “create a more joyful planet.” I do this by helping individuals and organizations discover and actively live their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, workplaces and communities.

I’m currently working with dozens of employees, students and members of organizations such as the Black Public Relations Society, UNIVISION, the Omega Institute, Dress for Success, St. Francis College, Vistage International, among others.

I also ask those who want to support me to please offer up suggestions and contacts of those who might be able to help me live my life purpose and business purpose. When you ask someone for help you can activate their thinking and ideas about what they can do to help you and themselves live more fulfilling lives.

Finally, can you share with us two routines that use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

Creating a more joyful planet simply by helping others discover and articulate their life purpose fills my heart and is deeply satisfying and fulfilling. I see the light go on and the excitement people feel when they have greater clarity about their life purpose and what is most important for them to accomplish in their one very brief and precious life.

Because a life purpose involves leveraging your talents, expertise and passion in service of other people and our planet the result of someone actively living their life purpose has ramifications for those in their immediate circle whose lives they touch. But the extended effect of their immediate circle affecting each of their circles is like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings that can effect climatic changes half a hemisphere away.

In recent weeks I’ve helped people discover and articulate these life purpose statements and begin to actively live them. There’s nothing more exciting to me, knowing that I’ve helped a swarm or kaleidoscope of butterflies flap their wings and create a more joyful planet:

  • “My purpose in life is to live full-out and fearlessly, help myself and others live our healthiest and happiest lives and unleash love and good vibes on the planet.”
  • “My purpose in life is to love, inspire love and connect love to everything I do.”
  • “My purpose in life is to serve my community, be a voice for the voiceless and create positive, long-lasting change.”
  • “My purpose is to share what I’ve learned, help others see the beauty and strength I see in them, and work on making our dreams come true.”
  • “My purpose is to live my true, authentic self and help others to do the same.”

When life is very busy, and you cannot stick with your ideal routine, are there any wellness practices, rituals, products or services for your mind, body, or soul that you absolutely cannot live without?

Good question! I’m all about what is the most efficient thing I can do to achieve a desired result. For me, it’s simply to focus on my life purpose and do one thing every day that will help me actively live that purpose like starting my day asking for “tremendous joy” or counting all the joyful episodes of my day.

All of us have great days and days that are not as great. On days when you feel like a rock star what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?

Usually I will have started the day by thanking the Universe for all the joy in my life and then asking for more joy that day, specifically, “tremendous joy.”

As I go through the day I will look to “share my joy” with others. Doing this always creates more joy for me.

I try to be “mindful” of my joy as I experience both giving it and receiving it from others.

And before I retire at night, I will lovingly recount and savor all the joyful episodes of the day.

That’s my formula for feeling like a rock star!

In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?

Great question! I don’t do what I just shared that makes me feel like a rock star. I will go through the day focusing on my pain and injuries — real or imagined. I’ll usually do very little throughout the day and am very slothful in thinking, feeling and doing except for focusing on my pain and injuries.

After a while I bore myself. When that happens, I’m usually ready to switch gears and simply focus on gratitude and all of the many things I’m grateful for in life. I enumerate all these things and by the time I get up to number 10 or 12 I can no longer buy into “woe is me.”

This is how I get myself out of a nose dive.

Do you have a story about the weirdest, most bizarre or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.

If a psychic is a wellness practitioner then, yes. About 10 years ago I was in Tucson, visiting a friend who is into exploring every manner of wellness and metaphysical treatment. I am and continue to be her willing accomplice. My friend and I decided to visit a psychic, who had been recommended to us, to see what she could tell us about our future.

She told me about a man I was interested in and said she could help him recognize that I was “the one.” But that this would entail her traveling back to New York with me, staying with me for a month and having her work her powers on both me and my amour. I remember her saying it would involve a crystal statue and that this whole process would cost me $18,000!

My friend and I could not get out of there fast enough. We laughed all the way, driving back to her place on the other side of town. Laughing that long and hard did feel good. So, visiting that psychic was, perhaps, a wellness treatment of sorts.

You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving caretaker at home?

When you create a consultancy called Joyful Planet people, especially family, have expectations that you should always be in a state of joy. And they’ll call you on any behavior to the contrary. I’ve explained to my family and others many times that I named my consultancy Joyful Planet because it’s the vision I hold for the planet and also to hold myself accountable to live up to my own life purpose “to choose joy.”

I don’t always succeed, but that is my intent and my goal.

What I love about this, the fourth and final, I think, company I founded is that my work involves helping people and organizations discover and live their purpose and there is nothing about that work that puts me in a foul mood. Most of the time it’s soul-satisfying work that I love. I often say that I would do this even if I don’t get paid for doing it. It’s the single most efficient and powerful thing I can do to help others and l love doing it.

It’s probably no accident that I live alone now. My husband died after a long illness some years ago. I am happy living alone and in this way it’s impossible to inflict any temporary bad mood swings on anyone else. I would hope that, should my status change, I won’t need to discharge my stress or bad mood on the person I’m living with.

As those who know and love me understand and accept: I am a work in progress.

Is there a particular practitioner, expert, book, podcast or resource that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?

Yes. There have been a number of influences and influencers who have impacted my life. I remember reading a book from 1978 entitled, The Road Less Traveled, by H. Scott Peck and a quote that leapt off the page at me that “businesses can be a vehicle for positive social change.” I sincerely believed this and it only strengthened my resolve to make my first PR agency, PT&Co., such a vehicle. Our business purpose, as I mentioned earlier, was “to create great work, a great workplace and great communities that work.” By the latter I meant that our agency would be an agent of change, helping to create healthy, sustainable communities within and beyond our workplace.

I also subscribe to the statement made by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I believe this to be true and I’m proud to say that our agency helped to create positive social change on a number of issues, including domestic violence awareness and prevention, breast health, literacy, financial literacy, prescription drug abuse, among others.

I had the pleasure of meeting Desmond Tutu, who is the Honorary Patron for one of the non-profits I serve, The Phelophepa Train of Hope in South Africa, and was enchanted to discover what a joyful man he is. He bubbles over with joy and it cannot be contained within him. I loved that he and his dear friend, the Dalai Lama, wrote The Book of Joy in which they say things such as:

  • “Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”
  • “It helps no one if you sacrifice your joy because others are suffering. We people who care must be attractive, must be filled with joy, so that others recognise that caring, that helping and being generous are not a burden, they are a joy. Give the world your love, your service, your healing, but you can also give it your joy. This, too, is a great gift.”
  • “When we practice a Generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In Generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others.”
  • “The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, to be a reservoir of joy, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.”

I also love Oprah’s “Super Soul Saturday” interviews with enlightened thinkers of our time from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner to comedian Trevor Noah to research pioneer Brene Brown to spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle — all of whom are some of my favorite guests.

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. 🙂

Thank you! My vision of a joyful planet can be achieved if more of our 7.7 billion people discover and actively live their life purpose. I would love to be part of a movement to get as many people as possible to make time to discover, articulate and actively their life purpose.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Don’t ask yourself what the what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This quote is from Howard Thurman, the African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader.

I love the idea of people “coming alive” with excitement about their life and purpose. I’m always conscious of people who have a fire in their eyes because I know they are doing what excites them and makes them come alive. There is nothing sadder than to see people riding the bus or subway train with no light in their eyes. They might just be tired. But I’m worried that they aren’t just tired. I’m worried that they feel half-dead inside, going through the motions, unexcited and uninspired by their own lives.

When I’m sitting next to someone like that, I might try to startle them to life by asking something like: What is your biggest dream in life? A woman just a few years older than me once told me that she didn’t have any dreams. I replied: that is unacceptable. If you’re alive you should have a dream, I said. I talked to her until she timidly offered up some dreams she had. I knew her son and shared her dreams with him. He was surprised to learn that his mom’s dream was to travel to Hawaii or go on a cruise. He made it happen for her and she’s gone on several cruises now. Whenever I see her on Facebook, she is smiling, full of life and radiant! This brings me great joy!

What are the best ways our readers can follow you on social media?

Please follow me on LinkedIn (Patrice-Tanaka), Facebook (Patrice.Tanaka), Instagram (patricetanaka) and Twitter (@sambagal).

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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