""Not knowing" is okay. Consulting stretched me far beyond my comfort zone"

Brandon Rennels

Brandon Rennels is a mindfulness practitioner, consultant, and teacher. He recently attended the San Francisco Annual Alumni event at Kiva where we were able to catch up on what he's doing in life after Oliver Wyman. Currently he serves as the Teacher Development Manager at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI). SIYLI was born at Google and is now a leading global provider of mindfulness and emotional intelligence training in the workplace. Brandon has taught the SIY course to a variety of audiences, ranging from global investment firms, to manufacturing companies, to university social workers. Prior to SIYLI Brandon spent a few years training at the monasteries of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path since you left Oliver Wyman?

After Oliver Wyman I did something quite unconventional: I went to live at a meditation center with monks and nuns. My family and friends thought I might go stay permanently in the woods and become a monk myself (!), but I was always interested in how cultivating familiarity with our inner landscape affects day-to-day life in the "real world." I had taken a meditation class in college, and the seed that was planted then had grown to where I was ready to explore it more. After spending a few years at monasteries, training in mindfulness, I was ready to try and integrate what I had learned. Fortunately, an auspicious opportunity arose: Google had pioneered a mindfulness program in the workplace, and a start-up was born that began teaching the program at companies around the world. The start-up was looking for people who had a combination of corporate business experience and a consistent mindfulness practice. Bingo.

How is what you're doing now similar to what you did at Oliver Wyman? How is it different?

The outer form of what I'm doing actually looks quite similar: frequent travel, client proposals and deadlines, presenting in PowerPoint, and even the occasional Array formula. The work itself though is quite different! I teach leadership development programs that are based in mindfulness and emotional-intelligence. These programs are a mix of content delivery and experiential exercises; the content covers the neuroscience underlying mindfulness, why it matters in the workplace, and then how to develop it. The exercises include things like sitting meditation, mindful listening, and how to deal with conflict. The most rewarding part of the work is to hear how you've impacted people's lives. It's not uncommon to hear from participants some form of "this program changed my life." Many people find that they are better equipped to pause before reacting to a stressful situation, giving them an enhanced likelihood of reaching a positive resolution. One woman recently told me that taking the program equally improved her relationship with her boss, her spouse, and herself. 

What was one of your most important experiences at Oliver Wyman?

A pivotal moment for me actually happened one evening after work. I was on a project in Qatar, spending 6 nights a week at the W Doha. I had been there for about 6 months, so you can do the math and deduce I was SPG Platinum. I had also gotten to know the hotel staff well, and was pretty good at talking my way into a weekly suite. There was one room though, the eWow Suite, that I just couldn't crack. There was just one eWow suite in the entire hotel, and I was told it was reserved for royalty. In the entryway there was a life size statue of a horse, there was a large fish-tank, a pool table, and all the floor to ceiling windows one could handle. I tried everything to get in that room…asking nicely, asking the manager, bargaining, hard bargaining, pleading, you name it. I was frustrated over my failure, when one evening it just hit me: most of the people on this planet will never even walk in the door of a building as nice as the W Doha. And here I am brooding over the one room in the entire hotel I can't enter. Something seemed wrong with this picture : ) I realized this tendency of craving for bigger and better was rooted in a fundamental feeling of "what I have is not enough," and looking back I recognized this feeling didn't seem to go away even when I got what I was striving for. Soon I noticed this tendency was playing itself out in many areas of my life, and once I began to practice mindfulness more consistently I realized there were actually an incredible amount of conditions for happiness, available right here in the present moment. 

What advice do you have for former and/or current consultants and staff?

A couple things come to mind:

  1. "Not knowing" is okay. Consulting stretched me far beyond my comfort zone, and I could have avoided a lot of difficulty by recognizing that not having all the answers was just part of the job. The most effective consultants I knew were the ones that could say "Wow; there's a lot happening right now and I'm really not sure what the end solution looks like, but as a first step let's try X..."
  2. Trust yourself. The consulting skill set affords you the opportunity to work in many different kinds of jobs. Other people may have ideas about what a "good" job looks like for you, but only you can discover what really brings you alive. It may take a while to find a job that truly aligns with what you care about, but it's worth the wait.