Inner Retreat to Emerge from the Pandemic with Greater Personal and Leadership Strength

Inner Retreat to Emerge from the Pandemic with Greater Personal and Leadership Strength

We asked female leaders, who will be speaking at our summit in 2021, to share their personal thoughts on the challenges, opportunities and new perspectives they have personally encountered as they navigate through the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This special series should inspire and encourage you to continue to manage the crisis in the best possible way. This is where Asher Jay, who transferred the time gained from the pandemic into sustainable actions, has her say.

Asher is an international adventurer and public figure whose compelling paintings, sculptures, installations, animations, ad campaigns, and films all have a single purpose: to incite global action on behalf of wildlife conservation.

Asher‘s travels to the frontline have made her witness and story-teller, combating illegal wildlife trafficking, promoting habitat sanctuaries and illuminating humanitarian emergencies. Her core message, again and again: biodiversity loss during the Anthropocene – the Age of Man. From big name brands like Prada, Biotherm & Adidas to well-known non-profit organizations like WWF, BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) and National Geographic Society, Asher, as interdisciplinary designer, is fluent in sensorially evocative visual discourse that transcends normative communication barriers.

Asher Jay

National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist , USA

How has the Covid 19 crisis impacted your life, work, and self-understanding as a leader so far? Have any new insights been emerged?

Covid was an abrupt direction shift. At first it felt like my world was imploding, all my travel got cancelled, all the travel related opportunities got shelved and I was left without any bearings or orientation to my own professional life. This is when one discovers what one is made of. Who are you at times of crisis when externalities create a state of personal and professional paralysis? Do you give up and play the victim or do you discern that your resilience, will power, character and conviction will figure out ways to make mascarpone lemon curd frosted vanilla bean cupcakes out of sour lemons? Yes that sounds extra, but that last mile of not stopping at lemonade, the obvious solution and pushing yourself to concoct a gourmet recipe out of the worst instances of your existence is what informs you of your reservoir. Is your fuel source within or are you entirely driven by the world around? For me, personally, my jet engine is at my core. When I find all doors closing, I embrace the incarceration as a caterpillar would a cocoon and I elect not just to evolve but transform, to emerge as a completely different being than before, a butterfly. I spent my time pitching for 2021.

I began brainstorming for ways to scale my impact, which led to coining a tech company that I am presently building out called Hive and Hamlet Inc, which will help bridge the gaps I have been exploring all my life, and make the entire effort less strenuous for the next generation.

Asher Jay, National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist, Yoke & Anchor, USA

I was inspired by the students at Harvard Conservation Society. I gave a talk there and realised just how many students wanted to walk in my footsteps and pave a more interdisciplinary path for themselves. As a woman who has had a very difficult run of ascending the professional ladder, with older women either being gracious and opening doors for me out of compassion and friendship or resorting to evoking the drawbridge effect on account of jealousy and feeling threatened by my youth. Now as I age, having done the self work, I don’t wish to ever make a younger enterprising woman’s path harder, I wish to make it effortless, this is why I care to create this platform. To help, to scale, to seamlessly empower countless others to deliver tangible impact.

Where have you felt you have reached your limits and what did you do to keep your head above water?

At the outset I felt abandoned by life, and then I realized everything happens in one’s best interest, by which I mean, even the worst moments are opportunities for growth and personal expansion. So the more trapped and asphyxiated I felt, the more I realized I had some inner demons to slay. Why was I so restless? What within me needed to be quelled and redirected more productively?

I believe in facing one's trials and tribulations head on, because in that personal accountability lies the keys to personal freedom.

Asher Jay, National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist, Yoke & Anchor, USA

The less weighed down you are by your own self limiting beliefs, fears and baggage the more you are able to apply yourself beyond individual myopia toward the benefit of people and planet. The more space you have within, the more inclusive you can be. I stand by the notion of change having to take root within one’s self first before being in a position to effect it in the world around. How do you find that last bit of energy to kick for those extra few moments when treading water that keeps you from drowning and gives the rescue boat that extra moment to scan for and save you? By tapping within, it comes from faith, optimism, and above all a profound trust in your own self integrity to show up for your own self one more time. If you don’t fight for you who will? I have had a lot of hard lessons, and gut wrenching curve balls thrown my way but I am resolute about prevailing against those odds, because my faith in myself is indefatigable. In fact the greater the odds stacked against me the more inspired I become by the challenges presented before me.

As the saying goes, “with every challenge, there is an opportunity”, what opportunities have you personally discovered (are you discovering) during this downtime?

I presently have a solo art show by mid 2021, a new tech startup Hive and Hamlet that is finding greater clarity and expression in its iteration daily thanks to an extraordinary core team of strong willed souls, a new long term brand development and marketing opportunity for my other company Yoke and Anchor, and the chance to incubate an extraordinary interdisciplinary program at a university committed to global impacts. How am I able to take all of this on? I think symbiotically, every effort challenges different aspects of me and thus calms and excites me differently, resulting in overall balance.

I thrive when I am able to seed multiple opportunities at once, and I always ensure one effort benefits from the other, so I solve for it inclusively, and leverage one platform to engage, evolve and answer for the other.

Asher Jay, National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist, Yoke & Anchor, USA

It is all toward one end goal, and one cohesive outcome of comprehensive positive impact for the collective. It is my responsibility to show up for as much as I am able, and boy I have the energy of the sun. I can’t do enough. You can’t put enough on my plate, as it only inspires me, fuels me to do more! Life is too short to not give it everything you have got. Like the sun, I get my energy from within, and it is boundless. I feel like I have done more self work, created more space within and thus have more to offer thanks to the downtime covid forced upon me. As always I emerge deeply grateful for every no, every block that has powered me down the current path that is open, and energized by an effortless state of yes.

How has leadership changed for you as a female leader? Have you found opportunities for inner retreat and contemplation?

The hardest thing I have had to embrace as a leader of my tech startup and numerous other efforts is remaining optimistic on behalf of others. Not only do I have to keep my light burning bright for me, but I have to have enough energy to spare others when they are being pessimistic or defeatist. I have to inspire when morale is down, I have to extend compassion when they are having a moment, I have to confront when they don’t wish to be accountable and help resolve so we can all come back to the whole despite having temporarily behaved like the separate parts we tend to focus on and lose sight of the whole to.

To keep spirits up and ensure alignment within each and then toward the whole is a routine challenge as CEO, but I know I could not pull off any effort without a good team to collaborate and co-create with.

Asher Jay, National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist, Yoke & Anchor, USA

A team offers alternative perspectives and is a great sounding board for ideation and innovation. I run thoughts by them for feedback all the time. I believe that we are stronger together than apart. True leadership is not about exclusive power, it’s about inclusive stewardship, that celebrates, fosters and facilitates others to shine in areas they are most passionate about and predisposed to being stakeholders in. I really enjoy being at the helm because just like my allegiance to the planet, when it comes to my people, I know I am a part of, not apart from. It is in this deep sense of belonging that I am able to hold myself accountable to the overall effort, to every individual in the group dynamic and to my own self with honesty, loyalty, vulnerability, and integrity.

What has been your biggest learning(s) so far and how do you intend to develop it/them? 

My biggest learning thus far has been around cultivating vulnerability in the space between. How do you build strong relationships within a team that is grounded in real trust? By fostering vulnerability. A term that is often misjudged as being weak, and thus frequently overlooked or dismissed in typical corporate culture, but I find it indispensable to the well being of my team. Our greatest strength is our own vulnerability. No one can feel safe showing up fully, without vulnerability being extended toward them and received without judgment from them. I am all about ensuring that level of transparency, because it builds true relationships between whole souls who are willing and able to take on more than their share to ensure the integrity and well being of the whole company, which can deliver so much more than people who are showing up as slivers of themselves, as cogs in the wheel and parts of the whole, making them eternally subservient to and unheard by a hierarchical firm.

Any other aspects that you deem interesting to complete your story?

Active listening is critical. People know when you are hearing them out while already having a programmed response or outcome in mind. They know when you aren’t actually available to their communication. So I strive not to shortchange others on listening.

Individuals who work with and for you want to truly be heard, to not offer them that dignity is to deny them their voice.

Asher Jay, National Geographic Explorer, Creative Conservationist, Yoke & Anchor, USA

Voiceless people will seldom invest more than the bare minimum in an effort because they do not feel any agency and thus do not feel personal stakeholdership in the undertaking. A company needs to be every bit as personal to every individual working toward its realization as it does to the person at the helm who has seeded the effort and is ensuring the overall direction, health and wealth of the firm. It’s not just personal to me, it’s personal to my team, and I ensure that level of commitment, conviction and engagement is self evident to us all, if it isn’t something is amiss and needs to be addressed. I always make the time to address those grievances, concerns and fears.

Review 2019: Collaborating to Build a Better World

Once again, remarkable women and influential leaders from all over the world convened under one roof to share their expertise, perspective and acumen on how the world we live in is developing and what everyone can contribute to make a positive impact. Learn more and download the offical review 2019!

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