Recently, I walked into a formal dining room filled with fine china and butlers. At the table sat six older male utility executives ready to hear my pitch. As a young female entrepreneur from Silicon Valley leading Sunrun, the nation's largest dedicated residential solar company, I was there to describe a new business model that threatens a century of monopoly utility power: How to make solar more accessible to American consumers. Confrontation was not an option, and the gender and age gaps were not in my favor. Luckily, I have a secret weapon: meditation.
It's no surprise the energy world I work in hasn't seen much change in the last 100 years. There's a lot of money, politics and bureaucracy making decisions about how Americans use energy to power their lives. To protect this historical monopoly, many utilities have begun attacking solar because it is a powerful and competitive threat to one of the largest industries in the world. Rooftop solar is the first true form of competition that utilities have ever faced. The company I lead, Sunrun, is reinventing the way homeowners consume energy by making switching to solar easy -- no upfront cost and immediate savings. We've grown from zero to 2,000 employees and over $2 billion of assets in just eight years. Needless to say, I am constantly faced with business challenges requiring creative solutions, and the need for personal tools to maintain my balance and equanimity. This is where my secret weapon comes into play.
I've been practicing meditation for a few years now. I find that it takes away unnecessary anxiety and doubt and makes me a better performer. When dealing with challenging people and situations -- such as the meeting I described above -- a brief moment of breathing and reflection brings me to a place of creativity and positive action.
I am not the only one who believes in the power of meditation in the workplace. Donna Karan and Diane von Furstenburg have been using mindfulness meditation as a business tool for more than 10 years. Steve Jobs was a Zen Buddhist, and spoke openly about how his practice shaped both his worldview and the streamlined product designs at Apple. Approximately 25 percent of U.S. companies have now launched stress reduction programs. Numerous studies have shown meditation to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, leaving the mind calmer and more focused. And according to Science Daily, 20 minutes per day of guided workplace meditation can lower feelings of stress.
Meditation has been a go-to business tool to help me see others as part of a shared universe. It allows me to greet people with openness -- be it in a male-dominated boardroom, or across the conference table with a colleague. I even open Monday morning meetings with Sunrun's leadership team with a short meditation to help everyone prepare for the week ahead.
I'll soon be taking on a new job where meditation is sure to help me even more: as a first-time mother. Meditation helped me get through my first trimester when I wasn't feeling my best and had lower than usual energy levels. In my final trimester, my practice gives me a boost of energy when I'm back-to-back all day in demanding meetings. In the midst of a hectic outer world, meditation has allowed me create a calm inner world and peaceful home for the baby.
For many years, I have worked to introduce a disruptive innovation to the energy market, and meditation has helped keep me calm, focused and more open to transformative possibilities. As I take on my next "disruptive innovation" as a mom, I am grateful to have this secret weapon to help me succeed at embracing a new unknown.
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