Laura Begley Bloom WOMEN@FORBES Transformative Travel: I look at how travel can change lives
When former model, stylist and trend forecaster Gemma Gambee decided to start a business combining meditation and brand strategy, her friends in the fashion industry told her, “That’s just weird. People aren’t going to take you seriously if you're talking about meditation.”
Fast forward two years, and now Gambee is getting hired by companies like Adidas and Ford to help incorporate meditation and mindfulness into brand strategy. She advises entrepreneurs on how to get ahead in business by using these same techniques. She also works with travel brands like the Morgan Hotel Group and Won Dahrma, a Korean Buddhist center where she recently led a women's-only meditation retreat.
It's all part of her goal of helping companies transform corporate culture and aiding individuals in finding an inner peace that allows them to better navigate their careers.
Here, Gambee tells why a brand like Ford Motor Company would hire her to lead meditation at a launch event for the F-150 pickup truck, gives some insight into how travel can help you get ahead in business and shares ways meditation can help advance your career.
Laura Begley Bloom: How did you get into this line of work?
Gemma Gambee: I was one of those little girls who really enjoyed going to church. I got interested in other religions, but I did find a lot of limitations, so I eventually started to explore and study mysticism. After school, I went into fashion. But I always found a disconnect between my spiritual practice and my professional career. When I discovered meditation in my late 20s, I experienced a part of myself that gave me freedom and liberation and peace and calm. I wanted everybody to feel that.
Begley Bloom: Who was your first corporate client?
Gambee: One of the world's top leading tech hedge funds, who's name I will keep private. They have about 400 people in the New York office, and at least 20% of the population has sat in meditation with me. I worked with them for about two years, offering meditation sessions right after the markets closed. They knew that it was an awesome opportunity for their employees, and the timing was ideal: People could have an outlet to unwind a bit without loading up on a cup of coffee. I saw a lot of people grow professionally and personally.
Begley Bloom: Were you surprised a financial company would hire someone coming out of the fashion space?
Gambee: This was right on that tipping point, right before mindfulness was on the cover of Time and before it became a big trend. I was excited because this is a population that needs meditation the most. But I wasn't surprised: I have the ability to articulate a mystical or spiritual experience in a very practical, no-nonsense, secular corporate environment. When I walk in, I don’t look like a hippie or a monk who was in a cave meditating for a decade. People are able to relate to me in a corporate situation.
Begley Bloom: Why do the companies you work with think mindfulness is important?
Gambee: People often talk about companies like they're separate people — but really, corporations are groups of people. There's a desire within these populations for change and for something to be different. In fact, we've all been craving and needing change lately. Mindfulness is this balm that’s risen to the surface.
In corporations, there's also so much demand because of the bottom line. And from an intellectual perspective, how we do that? We go go go, faster faster faster, move more, do more. Ultimately, as human beings, we’re just not capable of doing that. We're not machines, we’re not computers. So we're starting to see tons and tons of burnout. Collectively, we've also been searching for ways to be healthier so that we can release and come back and be more purposeful and more focused.
That's why companies like Adidas and Ford are open to mindfulness and incorporating it into their business. And it’s still the beginning. A lot of people still look at it like it's bizarre. But there are people in these worlds who say, "Oh wait, this is helping somehow. I can't put my finger on it, but I know when I do it, I feel better. I’m a better person to myself and people around me. And I get more done."
Begley Bloom: When you think of a pickup truck like the Ford F-150, mindfulness isn't the first thing you think of. What's the connection?
Gambee: I collaborated with the agency Flavorpill, which was behind the concept of bringing mindfulness to the experience of driving the F-150. The launch event was held at Troutbeck, a new country house hotel in New York's Duchess County, where I'm going to start leading meditation retreats this spring. We wanted to incorporate the idea of engaging with nature and being more open to what nature brings out in all of us — a deeper connection to ourselves.
Begley Bloom: Is Ford also trying to appeal to women?
Gambee: Yes — and from my brand strategy and trend background, I think it's obvious that women are on the forefront. There's definitely a great female movement right now and any marketer should be interested in their buying power. It crosses over into all different marketplaces, cars included. It's like having a muscle car and being a bad-ass chick or becoming a surfer and throwing your surfboards in the back of a truck.
Take my aunt: She's a 5’2” blonde bombshell who drives a Ford F-150. She loves it because it makes her feel so powerful. There are plenty of women out there who can buy pickup trucks and who are changing the dialogue and saying, "You know what? We can do this, too."
Begley Bloom: Can you talk about what you did with Adidas?
Gambee: At the last Art Basel Miami, Adidas had a global summit with their heads of PR and invited me to teach meditation and to speak about their brand pillars from a wisdom perspective. They had specific words that they were using to help focus their teams in order to become more productive. And I was there to provoke, by giving new ways to look at these ideas from a wisdom perspective.
For example, one of the words was “speed.” When you hear that word, it’s easy to think, “Wow, that's aggressive — it sounds like I have to work twenty-four hours a day.” So I reminded people: In order to speed up, you have to slow down.
It’s like being an actor. When they relax and are in the moment, they perform the best. Or a runner. The second they relax in their body and feel themselves and engage their ultimate power, then they're able to go as fast as they possibly can.
Begley Bloom: You also advise entrepreneurs. Why do you think mindfulness is an important career strategy?
Gambee: So often, we behave from a perspective of what we should be doing and we get stuck looking at what everybody else is doing. Ultimately, a mindfulness practice is a great way to tap into what you want to be doing from your heart. Whenever we’re more in line with our gut and our heart over our heads, we tend to be living a life of more purpose. And when we do that, our life tends to open up in a big way.
For example, a client of mine who was an editor/stylist stopped working for magazines and started working personally for people. She is interested in dressing people and making them feel good and powerful in their roles. She came on a retreat with me at the end of September to Won Dahrma. Within two weeks of coming back, she had tripled her client base. When people give themselves the opportunity to step away from their everyday lives, they come back with a broadened perspective and the ability to do more. The world feels it.
Begley Bloom: How does travel impact what you do, and how does it impact the idea of career?
Gambee: As humans, so many of our thoughts just keep getting recycled through our brains. What we need is disruption for our thoughts to be shifted and changed — and travel does that.
For instance, when I walk the same way to the train every single day, it’s easy for me to stay stuck in one place. But when I go to another place and see how people live and cook and behave, all those thoughts get interrupted. It inspires me when I come home, and it makes me want to do things differently.
Gambee has five pieces of advice to help you get ahead in your career
- Develop a daily practice of meditation through a relationship with a skilled teacher. The daily practice is what it’s all about. It’s about sitting and closing your eyes and practicing whichever technique that you find most comfortable. And just being quiet and starting to get comfortable within this inner landscape of the mind and being able to learn how to accept all of the different voices that we have inside of our minds. People say, "I'm just so bad at meditation, I just I can't stop my thoughts." And I say, "Maybe you're not bad at it — maybe you just haven't done it enough or maybe you haven't gotten the right instruction or maybe you're a beginner." We have all of this wisdom inside all of us.
- Allow yourself to do the work on yourself. This is permission to be open, not worrying about having to do it perfectly, not having to be a master yet. When we're at work, we feel like we have to be so guarded and act like we can handle everything. We're afraid somebody else might get it or that we didn’t do our job well. So actually allowing yourself to be wrong or open for improvement is a monumental step for all of us who are working in these kind of corporate environments. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable.
- Trust that your self development will offer you the ability to practice the best version of yourself in all areas of your life. More and more people are able to start to practice because they see people around them doing it and they're seeing their lives improve. I’ve had a lot of students come to me and say, “I just want to be around you because you feel so at peace with yourself.” Something has to ignite people in some way. You have to trust.
- Get up and walk away. Take a walk — it’s an easy, simple thing to do. It’s like a mini vacation and actually allows you to stop the thinking, breathe in the air outside, look at the weather, look at the clouds, look at the people around you, make eye contact. Be where you are. Catch yourself when you're thinking about whatever it is that you needed to escape. Your intellectual brain needs a break.
- Stop and smell the chocolate. Get a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate, something you love. And when you're drinking or eating it, look at it and smell it and taste it. So many times, I would just shove stuff in my face and guzzle down drinks. And 10 minutes later I didn't even remember that I had it. Give yourself that five minutes to enjoy the break. Don’t race back to your desk. When you come back to your desk, there’s just going to be so much more space for you to get what you need to get done done.