Soulful Sunday is a weekly dose of inspiration from busy Chicago women who still manage to stay balanced no matter what their career—or life—throws their way.
Soulful Sunday: Your Weekly Dose Of Balance
Cheryl Mendelson, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of External Affairs for the Harris Theater.
It's people like Cheryl Mendelson who help make Chicago's cultural scene thrive. The seasoned non-profit exec has more than 25 years of experience in the field, which includes executing the PR campaign for the Chicago debut of the Paris Opera Ballet, as well as six and a half years at the Harris Theater. As executive vice president of external affairs, Mendelson founded the theater's Access Tickets program as a way to translate her career experiences in both medicine and human services to the arts. "I am so proud that in seven years the program has served 8,000 children and families coping with illness, disability, or other life challenges," said Mendelson. "It is inspiring to see the power that music and dance can have in healing the human spirit. It makes the hard work worth it."
Proving that there's still always room to move up no matter what stage you're at in your career, Mendelson was recently appointed as Harris Theater's first Chief Operating Officer. And while a promotion can bring a lot of excitement, it also can bring almost insurmountable pressure and stress. Here's how this philanthropic powerhouse stays in check:
How she unwinds:
"Pandora radio played on my mini-wireless Bose speaker. I always have music playing at home. I carry the speaker with me around the apartment—cooking dinner requires jazz, laundry is made more pleasant by chamber music, cleaning the house is uplifted by pop and show tunes! Music heals the soul and inspires the spirit. It doesn't matter what genre moves you, it is a must to help bring you back to center and recalibrate.
"Family fun is a must. One night a week we have a family activity—usually Friday night to end the hectic week before everyone's weekend activities kick into gear. My favorite is dinner and bowling. We go to a family-owned Italian restaurant and bakery named Letizia Fiore in Logan Square. It's hugs and kisses from Fabio and his mom, Letizia, and delicious homemade pasta, flatbreads, and desserts from old family recipes. Next it's off to Fireside Bowl where we load the jukebox with classic rock and bowl a few games. It's a night of old-school family fun to wind down from the week.
"I also like to read poetry; I started when I was a very young girl. I grew up in Boston, and my grandfather lived in Pittsburgh. I would write him poems instead of letters. In turn, he would send me poetry books to read. The beauty and simplicity of poetry at the end of a hectic day helps to clear the noise."
"Stop thinking about balance and instead focus on how to create positive integration. There is a book called The Art of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Fhan that I highly recommend. His belief is that through mindfulness, we can be more effective in our business and home life and feel a deeper overall sense of happiness each day. Through the practice of mindfulness (and it takes a lot of practice!) we need to stop multi-tasking and focus our energy to be in the moment, be more self aware, but to do so without judgments.
"Ten years ago I had an 'aha!' moment. I was in the back of a taxi on the phone with my assistant, multi-tasking, and feeling impatient and frustrated. When I hung up the phone, the driver said to me, 'You are a very smart woman, but you are not handling things correctly. You will never solve problems if you stay in the weeds. Fly above like a bird and look down to see the full picture. But most important, you must consciously choose to be magnanimous.' From that day forward, I have kept the definition of magnanimous—noble of heart; forgiving—on my desk as a reminder to see the big picture.
"Family time is precious and the hardest part of work-life integration because we can't create more time in a single day. My job is often irregular hours because of performances at the theater in the evening. Since my philosophy is integration, not necessarily work-life balance, I have always brought my two sons with me to the theater in the evening for performances. It is a way to share with them the passion I have for my work while, at the same time, watch them develop their own artistic tastes and become active patrons of the arts."