During the 17 years that I've run Masterword Services, a global translation and interpretation services business, I've dealt with tumultuous times. One of the worst periods was in 1998 -- many of our top clients are oil companies, and oil prices dropped to $12 a barrel that year. Our customers scaled back their global operations, which meant they didn't need our translation services as much. We had to cut back from thirty employees to just three, and I couldn't pay myself for a few months. It was one of the most stressful periods in my business.
One morning I woke up filled with anxiety and thought to myself, "I need to focus on the positive." I realized that the fact that I was still breathing was a positive. So I focused on my breathing, looking inward instead of outward at the business problems. This allowed me to think more clearly and effectively.
I didn't identify it as meditation at first, but that's what I was doing. It was exactly what I needed at that moment to keep calm. And I soon learned that meditation could also make me a more effective leader and a better business person.
There is always stress in business -- even when things are going well. Once oil prices rose again and our business picked up, meditation became an even more important part of my life and business.
In 2005 I attended a class with Zen Master Maio Tsan, which led me to rethink my business practices even more deeply. One of the Zen Master's main concepts is the importance of focusing on elevating yourself in everything you do. In terms of my company, I've tried to apply this idea to elevate every aspect of the business -- from customer service to the training of our translators.
I decided to focus on how we could do what we do, in the best way possible, regardless of the short-term expense. One of the things we came up with involved offering free ongoing training for the thousands of independent contractors around the world who work for us as translators -- many of whom don't have formal training in translation. It's a big commitment for us, but we've decided that it's a worthwhile investment because it makes us better at what we do.
Meditation and business
Meditation has even had a subtle affect on the way I approach day-to-day business challenges. Without it, I wouldn't be able to screen out the distractions and noise that I have to deal with every day so that I can focus on the elements of my business that are most important.
For instance, one of my employees recently left the company to work for a direct competitor. My typical knee-jerk reaction would have been to file a lawsuit based on a violation of our non-compete agreement. But instead of focusing on the negative, I just let it go. Even though the employee could potentially provide the competitor with valuable information about our clients, I was able to see beyond the immediate problem. I realized that it would be more productive for me to focus on improving sales for the coming year and getting new employees up to speed.
Instead of being overcome with anxiety about problems my business faces, I'm now able to put my energy into solutions.
I believe that this change of focus is why our business began to experience tremendous growth during the last few years. In 2009 our revenue reached $20 million, and we now have 130 full-time employees and work with thousands of contractors around the world.
Creating an atmosphere of calmness
I now meditate for twenty minutes, twice a day and I encourage my employees to mediate as well. We even have a meditation room in the office where people can go to calm their minds. The whole mood of the company has shifted -- there's less stress and that has led to better decision-making.
The economy is not great right now, so it's tempting for everyone here to focus on the negative -- like the fact that we're expecting our revenues to drop down to about $15 million in 2010. But the leader of any organization sets the tone for his or her workers. And by achieving a calmer state of mind, I can bring calmness to the people who work around me. Meditation has helped me get through difficult times before and it will do so again.
Mila Golovine paid her way through a program at the University of Houston Center for Entrepreneurship by translating Russian documents. As a student she created a business plan for a translation business and after graduating quickly found her first client -- NASA.
-- As told to Zack Anchors