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Executive Prajna

  • Ted Rose

Drala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes, CO

When I turned 32, I walked away from a promising New York journalism career, donated all my furniture, and moved into a beat-up Airstream trailer in the Colorado Rockies  to live in a remote Buddhist retreat center. 

I remember feeling old at the time.  I also remember feeling fairly confident that I had destroyed my future ability to make a living and have a family. But I also felt as if I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t enjoy climbing the corporate media ladder and wasn’t excited by the payoffs I saw at the top. I told bemused friends and colleagues that I was considering becoming a monk.   

 I did not become a monk. But as I settled into that retreat center, I attended extensive programs led by a number of prominent Buddhist teachers. I participated in a month-long silent meditation retreat. I removed myself to a cabin above the center and did a couple isolated meditation retreats as well. Over the course of these experiences and many others, I developed new skills, ones that helped me work with my thoughts and my emotions. It felt useful and almost like a relief, but it did not feel practical. 

And yet, when I came down off the mountain over two years later, I began to put together many of the things that I had always longed for while living in New York. I built a career in clean energy that I actually loved. I got married and started a family.  I co-founded, ran, and eventually sold a successful clean energy business. I helped form an incredible community of friends and colleagues. 

And now I work as an executive coach. I spend my days working with people running businesses and raising families themselves. 

One of my clients wants to figure out how to extricate himself from a business relationship with a co-founder. Another one wants to understand how to manage her boss who can’t seem to manage her or his direct reports. Another doesn’t understand why all of his employees keep quitting. 

There is no lack of literature about executive leadership. For good reason. Businesses can have great strategies, great timing, and even ample funding, but they still fail. Why? Because something more fundamental is missing. In my experience, it is almost always about the business’ leaders and how they choose to live in the world, not just navigate the business they run.

So often my conversations with clients go deep: Are you comfortable in your own skin? How do you make important decisions? How do you communicate with respect, clarity and firmness? These questions are essential to answer for business as well as life. 

Coaching clients often initially trust me because I started a successful business, but they often end up expressing the most interest about my time at the Buddhist retreat center. The curiosity is well-placed. There’s no replacement for first-hand experience managing a Board of Directors, reading a profit and loss statement, cultivating key employees, vendors and investors. But my experience engaging with meditation practices and Buddhist teachings, along with other interpersonal skills and practices I’ve gained along the way, prepared me for running a real company in ways that I could have never imagined.  

I’m calling this blog “Executive Prajna.” Prajna is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates as wisdom. My intention is to bring together esoteric truths and practical applications, both in business and in life. I’ll draw on wisdom from many sources, from traditional management consultants to Buddhist teachers who spend their lives meditating in a cave.  Very few of us will live a life up on the mountain top or even simply studying best-practices in communication skills, but most of us have a lot to learn from the people who do. 


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