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Archetypal Woman Series: Brittney Van Matre

The old one-dimensional female archetypes -- the soccer mom, the starving artist, the successful-but-lonely boss lady -- are dead. Women are creating new, multidimensional archetypes and defying stereotypes. The most fulfilled women are constantly creating in multiple areas of their lives, whereas burnout often happens when we feel like the routine of our day job is all we have time for. The Archetypal Woman Series is a tribute to inspiring women who rearrange time and space to explore and excel in a range of activities. May their stories encourage you to expand into your own uniqueness for the benefit of you and everyone in your orbit.

Editor's note: If there is a central challenge, or opportunity, of our time, in my view it's bridging seeming opposites. Left/right, masculine/feminine, science/metaphysics, corporate types/hippies—historically they've been at odds, and we've argued over which is better. But if we are going to continue to evolve, I believe they need to be integrated. Not into some bland neutral state. Rather, as a society and as individuals we would benefit from cultivating the agility to access the entire spectrum. Brittney offers an extremely compelling view of what this integration might look like. As she describes, the bridging of the corporate and meditative worlds is not without growing pains, but the potential payoff is quite promising. ~ Mary Margaret

Can you tell us about your current job at Nike?

I currently work in Business Development at Nike supporting one of our strategic accounts, Dick’s Sporting Goods. Together we partner to elevate the OMNI channel consumer experience for consumers. I actually come from an accounting and strategy background, so to find myself working in retail, and specifically consumer retail experience, is pretty funny. I truly never thought I’d be here.

My career path at Nike has been totally unconventional, in a good way. I came into the company from KPMG where I worked as a consultant for four years. I started in the internal audit department but quickly transitioned into product creation. I spent about three years traveling all over Asia learning how to make shoes and clothes - really fun. In 2013, I met the Belgian love of my life and took a chance to move to Europe. Nike relocated me to our European Headquarters in the Netherlands and I lived and worked there up until January of this year. In the Netherlands I held a few roles, first in finance and strategy then in sales doing much of what I am doing now.

My career path has been anything but traditional. Rather than climbing the ladder within one specific function, I’ve taken the road less traveled. I haven’t pursued job titles as much as I’ve pursued creative nudges - what did I really want to be doing? And then I went and did that. I have gotten to have assignments in over fifteen countries, have held eight very different roles, and have lived abroad for six years. I think that’s why I’ve stayed at the company for as long as I have. I have been afforded the opportunity to see the world, be innovative in the work I do, and continually learn new things. The people at Nike are also, for the most part, super cool. The culture has definitely shifted over the years as the company has grown, but I still think Nike is a great place to work. I am also inspired by the company’s willingness to stand for something - the recent Colin Kapernick and Serena campaigns are a good example of that.

You also founded your own company, Lead Awake, this year, and teach corporate meditation workshops. Do you feel at times like you lead a double life, or have you been able to seamlessly blend your two roles?

I definitely feel like I am living a double life! I try as much as possible to incorporate Emotional Intelligence and mindfulness into my everyday work-life. While working in Europe, I started a “Mindful Mondays” group meditation session in which I would share different practices and information for my colleagues to implement into their life and work. I also taught the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program to Nike Berlin earlier this year during my transition to the states.

Now that I am in the USA full-time and on a new team I haven’t begun sharing any regular meditation practices yet, but I did recently teach the SIY program at the Nike WHQ campus to 40+ employees as part of a pilot. I hope the program gains traction and becomes a regular offering that I take forward within the organization.

For the time being I try to delineate my worlds by experimenting with personas - being clear with myself about who I am when I facilitate workshops, who am I as a professional within my team, and who I am as a mom and wife. These all require different skill sets and ways of being.

I also love Guru Jagat’s teaching on using the “second position” and serving the narrative. I try to frequently see myself from the second position and serve the right narrative in any given moment. This is helping me to better understand how I am being perceived and also how I can most optimally serve and succeed.

Some of the meditation techniques you teach are based on Search Inside Yourself, the program founded at Google. I actually completed this program while I was at Google years ago. I noticed how it appealed to some of the more linear engineering brains in the room because the techniques are based on documented neuroscience. Is there a piece of scientific research about the benefits of meditation you find particularly compelling?

So cool you took the program! Your hunch is correct in that it appeals to the linear mind. I gave a Search Inside Yourself (SIY) keynote recently at a monthly community lecture series. Normally the event attracts somewhat of a similar demographic - coaches, entrepreneurs, wellness professionals - but when I presented SIY, there were people from law enforcement, government, healthcare, corporate - a lot of new faces.

SIY speaks in a language we can all agree on - science. I like this because I see people who are genuinely interested in becoming more mindful and they want to start that journey into themselves, but the majority of offerings out there are not inherently approachable. For people who are already skeptical, they become immediately allergic to things like singing bowls and meditation cushions. And these are the people that probably need the practice the most! SIY gives them a secular chance to explore, and also do that exploring at work.

As far as the science, it’s all so fascinating! I guess if I had to choose I would pick Tania Singer’s study on compassion. She found that when we are empathetic toward others we can burnout (oh and by the way, we are always being empathetic toward others because that’s just how we are neurologically wired!). So taking on the emotions of another doesn’t help us or them. But when we practice compassion, sensing what would really serve the other and then acting from that place (in thought, word or deed), we are creating the conditions for well-being not only within our neurology, but our physiology, and this actually allows us to connect more deeply with others.

One last note on this topic, I think it’s really important that world leaders like the Dalai Lama continue to publicly advocate for this research. In some cases we’re already seeing a shift away from pharmaceuticals to treat systemic issues like anxiety and depression, as well as mindfulness practices being taught in schools. These tiny steps are so exciting for the human race. And I think we are on the precipice of seeing radically different schooling structures (and hopefully corporations) in the world.

Why is it important to you to teach meditation in a corporate setting?

I believe that those sitting within the corporate world are extremely influential and powerful. And I am not just talking about the people at the top. Whether we like it or not, corporations run the world. The people that sit there are educated, wealthy, and are in a position to enact change. Only 27% of the world’s population are employed, and even fewer of those are employed by a corporation. Yet the corporations control the world - from political affairs, to the food we eat, the products we buy, the insurance we have, the medication we take, the information we consume, literally everything.

If we want to raise our children in an ethical, thriving, and environmentally sound society, we have to wake these giants up out of their post-industrial revolution slumber. Organizations are like organisms with their own evolutions. I think we’re beginning to see either the fall of the corporate world or the grand awakening of it. I really hope we are seeing the grand awakening, and I feel like it is part of my dharma on the planet to help these organisms evolve into places where people can thrive not only financially but emotionally. Places where people can find purpose, feel connected, loved, and part of something bigger than themselves. It’s my greatest hope that organizations and the people within them will awaken to, mitigate, and overcome the most difficult challenges of the 21st century. And honestly it needs to happen now before it’s too late.

How would you like to see the standard corporate workplace continue to evolve for the better?

Here are some dreams I have for the corporate world:

  • I would like to see career coaching, group therapy methods, and science-based mindfulness workshops required on employee development plans.

  • I would like to see 4 day work weeks with a focus on sabbatical taken every 3 years.

  • I would like to see the attendance of yearly personal development retreats being a requirement for advancement.

  • I would like to see extensive spiritual training for the leaders at the top.

  • I would like to see silent spaces offered within the organizational design of every company.

  • I would like to see the practice of tithing implemented across the board of Fortune 500 companies with radical transparency about where funds are going.

  • I would like to see extensive services and augmented work schedules for pregnant mothers both during their pregnancy, following birth, and returning to work.

  • I would like to see employees assessed and evaluated on skills such as their ability to pause before reacting, to create for creations sake, and to move their bodies.

  • I would like for corporations to encourage and reward non-linear career paths.

  • I would like for corporations to be ruled by unity, not hierarchy.

You recently moved back to Oregon from the Netherlands, where you lived and worked for several years. Did you notice any differences between the way we work here in the States and abroad?

Huge differences! One defining factor: Europeans value their time. If they are on vacation, they are on vacation. You will not hear from or see them for at least two to three weeks once or twice per year. They normally sit down for at least 30-40 minutes for lunch with colleagues and leave the office at a reasonable hour. They are balanced and rarely take things to the extreme. I also had a baby in the Netherlands and was given six months of maternity leave plus the option to take parental leave upon returning to work. As a pregnant woman I was required to stop working at least a month before my due date. These are the positive aspects.

Of course there are also negative aspects - advancement is not easy in terms of career and pay, finding a job is difficult, people are generally unfriendly and unapproachable, feedback is extremely direct, creativity and innovation are not top of mind, and work can become very rudimentary.

American working culture is intense and so much is riding on you keeping your job, including the health of you and your family. If you get sick in the United States and you don’t have a job, you’re basically fucked. The system doesn’t put the human being at the center. I believe that because of this there is an elevated level of stress at work. European workers are generally very well protected by the government and do not rely solely on their employers for healthcare. I think this is a huge differentiating factor.

Beyond that, Americans are spending WAY too much time at work. People are not actually taking a vacation, they are always online. The pace is super fast. Feedback is often not given directly or at all, allowing issues to compound on themselves and become a real problem. There is very little care given to pregnant and working mothers. On the flip side, Americans are really fun to work with (probably unconscious bias speaking here). They are collaborative, open, engaging, generally inclusive, thoughtful, and creative. There are tons of opportunities to grow, to change career paths, to succeed, and to be rewarded.

People may disagree with me, but this has been my experience. Overall, so much can be learned by acknowledging the differences between cultures and coming to common ground about what really works.

What changes have you noticed in yourself after adopting a regular meditation practice?

In my early twenties when I first started my “corporate life” I experienced a complete unraveling. A total shift in my identity and a deep sense of grief and loss. I felt I was shoved in a box that was not meant for me and didn’t celebrate all of who I am. I was totally lost. But little did I know that I was actually being found. This turning point led me into therapy and healing modalities.

I remember trying to sit on a cushion in my small one-bedroom apartment with a book titled, “Meditation for Beginners” and thinking that it was total bullshit. The journey has been long, but I have found that through my practice and my yoga that I remember who I really am. My path isn’t being revealed to me through thinking, feeling, and doing, but ultimately through my ability to surrender and accept whatever the present moment is offering. Recognizing, accepting, and surrendering to everything. This is my sweet, and achingly bittersweet, awakening.

What do you wish more people knew about meditation?

There isn’t a one-size fits all approach. There are so many methods of meditation available. Just keep searching until you find something that feels like home. And also, meditation isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Anything worthwhile in life takes tending - raising a child, building a business, having a lasting relationship. When sitting down to face your anxieties and fears, this can feel like the opposite of love, but actually it is the way to love.

Brittney is a multi-dimensional leader. She is a Business Development professional at Nike, a Certified Teacher with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, and the founder of Lead Awake. Britney created Lead Awake with the goal of helping individuals and teams build awareness, connection, and ultimately feel more alive and fulfilled at work.

Brittney can be be found on Facebook and Instagram @leadawake.

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