Finding Unexpected Mentors with Rosemary Murrain
Rosemary Murrain has a passion for non-profits. While working in the non-profit education sector, she noticed a huge amount of financial waste. She saw there was an opportunity to bring business savvy to the philanthropic world. While completing her MBA, she started volunteering with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, which turned into a job as a financial director. Years later, she is now the Managing Director of the 25 year-old organization. According to her, one of the best ways to stay at the top is to seek out mentors in unexpected places. Check out what she had to say in this interview with Principal of Parachute Coaching, Lauren Laitin.
Lauren: What first drew you towards non-profit work, and to the Center for Mind-Body Medicine specifically?
Rosemary: I honestly fell into it. After college, I had a cultural ambassadorial scholarship to study abroad in Senegal. I had no work experience but I had a friend of a friend who worked at a non-profit in Dakar. I thought a good way to learn more about Senegal was to work there. So I reached out to my friends’ friend, who was one of my first mentors, to see if I could volunteer with his organization. Working at an international development non-profit is what taught me about grassroots development and how communities come together to make change.
Lauren: Having now worked in the non-profit sector your whole career, give us a sense from a more aerial view, of what you feel like distinguishes non-profit work from other ventures?
Rosemary: I think the biggest thing is generally non-profits are mission-based, so you have the opportunity to focus your professional energy around a vision or a commitment that you align with. For me, I feel committed to helping people obtain what they need to lead better lives.
All of the non-profits where I’ve worked have focused on some type of personal advancement. I started in international education working for an organization that helped Ministries of Education in countries around the world improve the quality of education for primary and secondary grade levels. I learned a tremendous amount about how to and how not to do community development. And because most of our funding was provided by the US Government I learned about the business side of non-profit work. Through my experience traveling all over the world, mostly West and East Africa, starting education programs it was clear to me that I wanted my career to not only impact people’s social advancement but also their health and well-being. I found that if people could gain control of their physical and psychological health, they would play an active role in their own development and advancement.
Lauren: So what took you to business school given that clear focus?
Rosemary: Good question. While I was working with the education-focused nonprofit, and frankly during the first part of my career with non-profits generally, I saw a lot of wasted resources; large overhead costs; high expat salaries and benefits; arbitrary contracting rules; and frequently changing funding policies. I went to business school because I thought that there must be a more efficient way to address social challenges. I wanted to learn how to apply business principles and strategies to doing mission-based work.
Lauren: How did you create a path towards leadership within the Center for Mind-Body Medicine?
Rosemary: For me, the first step was to say it out loud, and to lay out my intention. I talked with friends and peers who knew me well and would ask me tough questions. They helped me think beyond the what I wanted in my career in general and then focus in on why the Center for Mind-Body Medicine would be a good fit. Once it was clear in my mind, then I could articulate what I wanted to do, what role I needed to do it and more practically, how to step into that role. Then I went to my boss.
Lauren: Building off of your experience, what advice would you give someone about how to carve their path; would you say that it’s critical that you create your vision and then bring that to the table?
Rosemary: Yes, I would say that’s 99% of the challenge. You have to think larger than one job or one opportunity about what you want to do. Sometimes that takes reflection or some distance to get that perspective. For me, I got that distance when I was on my 2nd maternity leave. I thought a lot about how I wanted to step back into my role. There wasn’t really any logical next step or room for growth which made me question if it was the best way for me to contribute to the organization.
Lauren: If someone were looking for guideposts, would you say that when you start looking up and there’s no clear path forward, that that’s the time to start crafting your vision?
Rosemary: That is certainly a ripe time, but I don’t think it has to be when you’re in a role that you perceive to be stagnant. I think it has to come from within, which can happen at any time. When you figure out what you want to do (and obviously you have to have some level of success to have this conversation), it is important to lay out those expectations. Certainly for me the trigger was coming back from maternity leave. On maternity leave I had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to spend my time, because finance was never my final aspiration. One of my mentors once told me that if you are in a job and you like 90% of it and you are thinking about leaving, why not try and change the 10% you don’t like first, and stay rather than go somewhere else and do something you are not passionate about.
Lauren: You mention maternity leave, and so let’s switch gears for a second! You have a high-responsibility position and you are also a mother of three; how do you approach tackling your responsibilities and interests at work and at home?
Rosemary: In one word: practice. What I’ve learned is that if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t take care of my work, my kids, my husband or anything else. I am becoming more selfish with my time. At work, before every meeting we do a simple breathing meditation. It is a simple practice, just a few minutes but really helps focus the mind on the present. Outside of work I try to carve out time for my relationships and myself but like I said it takes practice.
Lauren: Do you think that you are at a place mentally where you could see that as being aware of your needs instead of being selfish?
Rosemary: Yes -- being aware is a much less charged way of saying that!
Lauren: I think that’s a place where a lot of women struggle. They see anything they do for themselves as being a selfish thing, as opposed to really being a benefit to everything they work on- relationships included!
Rosemary: And that takes practice. Part of my self-care is a standing commitment for Yoga two times a week. That’s my time blocked out on the calendar.
Lauren: When you say you have that standing commitment, what does that mean for your family?
Rosemary: It means that I have a husband that can manage all aspects of family life. And does. We’re not even 50/50 partners, we’re 100/100. That just means that we’re both all in, sometimes you do more, and sometimes you do less, but whatever it is we’re both all in. If one of us is traveling for work then that part’s not 50/50, were are all in.
Lauren: That’s a great approach -- 100/100! What is something that you can point to that has really helped you or has been fortifying for you throughout your career?
Rosemary: I don’t know that I would say it’s one thing. What’s been most critical is finding mentors along the way who will give you the tough feedback and want to see you succeed. The more successful I am in my career, the more important is has become to identify a group of advisors. People who have been successful not only in their career but who inspire me. They hold me accountable to my goals. I’m better at reflecting and articulating those goals now, but it’s still a practice. I’d recommend people find their mentors, advisors, and trusted friends that want to see you succeed, and learn from them. If you don’t have a skill then identify the people that do have those skills and become a mentee.
Lauren: How do you find those advisors in unexpected places? I’m thinking about your wine club that I recently attended; that is a group of formidable women who could give advice on all sorts of topics, including career advice. But really, that group started just because you all like wine. It doesn’t always have to look like a networking event to make smart meaningful relationships.
Rosemary: Yes, I love those women and can always count on them for a very diverse set of opinions to help me think through anything.
One of my biggest champions or advisors right now is a someone I met through a work function but one might ask what do you have in common with a self-made Chinese businessman who sells used computer parts on the internet.
Lauren: One might! And the answer is?
Rosemary: And the answer is, he’s a shrewd businessman who is always looking for efficiency and how to leverage what already exists. I call him my business mentor, because he helps me apply these business strategies to running a non-profit but also to life in general. He knows that we can’t sustain vision-based work without a sophisticated business practice. When I have questions I can go to him and he will spend 15 to 45 minutes with me, with no appointment, and will talk through a challenge.
Lauren: Wow, I love it. Unexpected people, unexpected places. One last question: What’s a piece of career advice that has stayed with you?
Rosemary: “Sometimes you need to ask for forgiveness, not permission.” You need to step into your “badass woman” shoes, and move on in a way you know is right.
Lauren: So well said! Well, Rosemary this has been great. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
Rosemary: Thank you! It was great.