How She Got There: Ellie Burrows, CEO of M N D F L

Name: Ellie Burrows
Age: 31
Job Title and Description: Chief Executive Officer of M N D F L
College Name/Major: Northwestern University (Magna Cum Laude) / Double Major in Radio/Television/Film and Art History
Website: www.ellieburrows.com and www.mndflmeditation.com
Twitter Handle: @_ellieburrows_ and @mndflmeditation

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Ellie Burrows: At M N D F L, I hold the overall responsibility for the organization and provide the strategic growth plan. I’m also responsible for the overall experience of the client – everything from the design of the space, to our creative partnerships, to the quality of our meditation cushions. I work with our Chief Spiritual Officer, Lodro Rinzler, to oversee the finances, long-range planning, day-to-day operations of the company and provide leadership to position the company at the forefront of the meditation industry. We both work together to ensure that our company is always in integrity and offering an authentic meditation experience. In my mind, CEO also stands for Chief Experience Officer.

What is the best part of your job?

EB: M N D F L exists to enable humans to feel good. It gives people the space to breathe. Basically, I get to be the Boss of Relaxation. Best job ever.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

​EB: This is a crazy story! Did you watch the show Entourage? I was Lloyd. When I graduated college I went into the William Morris Agency mailroom. During my last semester of college, I went to Israel on a Birthright trip. While I was there I became very close to one of the soldiers who was accompanying our trip. He told me he had a cousin in the film business in New York and I sort of brushed it off. I started my job around Halloween in 2007, and all these kids were trick or treating in the office while I was pushing a mail cart. I happened to linger at the desk of the agent I wanted to work for and her daughter came out in a princess costume. I gave her some candy and said hello. That night I went home and randomly had an email waiting from my Israeli friend. Attached was a photo of the girl in the princess costume holding a baby! It turned out his cousin worked in my office. The next day I walked into that agent’s office and told her the story. She pulled me out of the mailroom and hired me to be her assistant. Since the story started in Israel, I would have to call this “bashert” which means “meant to be” in Hebrew.

Although I consider that job, my first true entry-level position, I always worked retail in high school, and I never imagined I would return to it as an adult. I thought I would run a movie studio, not a meditation studio. As an executive in the film business, my meetings began to evolve into coaching sessions around effective communication and interpersonal relationships. I noticed a pattern, so I chose to pursue mindfulness in a more meaningful way. I quit the film business in 2013 and traveled the world as a spiritual tourist ultimately returning to New York where I received my Certificate in Coaching from New York University and beginning a modest career as a blogger. I started volunteering for Lodro’s non-profit, Institute for Compassionate Leadership, and one day we had coffee and hatched the idea for M N D F L. I knew I had a unique skillset between my own spiritual pursuits and business experience. The secret is out: technically, this is my entry-level job in the meditation world. One is never too old to start over.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

​EB: There is a difference between people who meditate and people who want to be in the meditation business.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

​EB: Lodro Rinzler. He accepted my ambitious offer: I told him I could raise the capital and design the space for M N D F L if he could rally a stellar group of teachers and create the content. We are well-matched business partners because we have entirely different strengths and weaknesses and we know each other and ourselves well enough to know what they are. We both believed from the very beginning that we could do this together. 

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

​EB: One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Peter Evans likes to say, “True control comes from doing nothing.” I repeat this like a mantra when my emotions are heightened in my personal or professional life. From an evolutionary perspective, our body doesn’t know the difference between a bear that’s attacking us and an angry email from a boss or client. When our bodies fill with adrenaline, we want to act out in various ways by fighting or flying. We do whatever we can to try and get a handle on our emotions and gain control of the situation. But in states like that, we end up making decisions with a total lack of clarity. Sometimes if we just sit with ourselves in the discomfort and let it move through us instead of acting out or responding right away, we start to feel empowered instead of powerless.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

​EB: I have made so many mistakes and have learned a great deal from each one. It’s hard to consider them mistakes at this point because I was able to gain some needed knowledge from each one. The silly mistakes often happen when I’m moving too fast or doing too many things at once. But the glaringly obvious one was flat out ignoring the small voice that told me I was on the wrong path when I was working in the film business.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

​EB: I went to a networking dinner party a couple weeks ago and the icebreaker was “What is your current job? And what would you rather be doing?” And I laughed because there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. I remember sitting in on meetings with my colleagues at various film companies and listening to them talk with fervor and passion about film. I remember feeling envious, as the only thing I was equally passionate about was the pursuit of consciousness and mindfulness. I assumed I would never love my job as much as they did because neither of those amorphous things sounded like a “full-time job.” I quit my job in film in 2013 and it took me a full three years to find my way to make “feeling good” a career. The fact that I get to wake up every day and open the doors to a studio that helps people sit quietly and relax is beyond surreal. 

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

​EB: Great question. It’s all about their energy and integrity, particularly the presence of quiet confidence and a real palpable interest in the field. I would never hire someone I didn’t meet in person or over FaceTime. I need to see someone’s eyes to really get a feel for him or her. I also look for someone who is proactive and prepared. 

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

​EB: Did you know that a 24-year-old brain is still considered adolescent? The 20s are so much harder than people make them out to be. You don’t have to have it all figured out in your 20s. It took me a decade to figure out a genuine passion. I always heard stories about people who dramatically and successfully changed directions in their 30s after they devoted their 20s to a specific track. When I heard those stories, I thought of those people as unicorns, but it turns out they’re totally human. Use it as a time to really explore yourself. And if you begin to show yourself compassion and patience during those years, there will be much ripening to be had.

 
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