Patrice Tanaka, Founder & Chief Joy Officer of Joyful Planet LLC, interviews people who are actively living their purpose and contributing to a more joyful planet. This interview spotlights Sandra Fathi, President & Founder of Affect Public Relations & Social Media, current Chair of PRSA’s Technology Section, New Media and Technology Committee Chair for PRSA New York and a member of the PR Council Board of Directors.
PT: Sandra, what I love and admire about you is how you’re pursuing your passion and living your purpose, in part, through the amazing work you’ve done in building a successful tech PR firm, helping to raise PR industry standards through your work for PRSA, PRSA New York and the PR Council, raising children, and also volunteering for HavServe and other non-profits. Can you share your life’s purpose with us? I define a life’s purpose as one that leverages your greatest talents, expertise and passion in service of people and planet.
SF: Even as a PR professional, writing a personal mission statement for myself is a difficult task. Since my life, like most women, is so multifaceted, I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one. In terms of my personal life, my purpose is to raise good, caring, happy, healthy and generous children and foster a loving family environment (at home and at work). On the professional front, I have always focused on helping companies and entrepreneurs achieve their goals through the power of communications. I have been fortunate enough to use my talents and my network to help support worthy organizations such as HavServe, a non-profit organization for community-led development in Haiti on whose board of directors I serve.
PT: When did you discover your life’s purpose? Was there a triggering incident?
SF: I was living in NJ and working for a tech company in the video conferencing industry on 9/11. My husband worked in New York City and was on the bus commuting to work at 8:50 in the morning. He called me at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which has a beautiful view of Manhattan right before you enter the tunnel. He said he could see the World Trade Center and it was on fire. I was already at work and we turned on our televisions to watch the news and the second tower was hit moments later. That horrifying event made everyone I know in the New York area reevaluate his or her life. I was incredibly grateful that my immediate family and friends were safe, but there was a sense of urgency in knowing that your life could take a tragic turn at any moment. That pushed me to look at how I was spending the majority of my time – and I didn’t like it. Within 6 months, I quit my job, started Affect and vowed to create an environment where I love to go to work, truly respect and value my employees and focus on work that I’m passionate about. Fourteen years later, it’s still how I feel about starting my own business.
PT: And once you determined your purpose did you find yourself begin to actively live it? How did you begin? What did you do?
SF: When I first started my company, I think I worked harder than at any other time in my life. Although, initially, I thought I’d be able to have more work-life balance and spend more time with my 1.5 year-old daughter, it did not work out that way. However, I felt more fulfilled knowing that the people who would benefit from all of that effort and investment were me and my family in the long run. Over time, as we began to build the business, our client base became more stable and I was able to hire my first few employees, I was able to find a more normal routine. I was also able to infuse my love for charity work and volunteerism and make it part of our business culture. We take on pro bono clients that we are passionate about. We have an Affective Giving Program which provides time off for all employees to support charitable causes, a matching program for donations and team volunteer activities. Throughout the year we have opportunities for our team members to get involved in charitable endeavors like One Book at a Time, a literacy program for elementary school children, New York Cares “Winter Wishes,” buying holiday gifts for underprivileged families, and throwing a carnival for children in homeless shelters through the Women In Need program.
PT: Did knowing your purpose in life change what you do in your professional life in any way? And, in your personal life?
SF: Yes. It has definitely made me more joyful and appreciative of my life and others. I’m extremely fortunate in my personal and professional life and I am very grateful for that. It has given me the freedom to help others and support my community. I have become very involved in PRSA over the years, serving as Chair of the Technology Section, President of PRSA New York and Chair of the Tri-State District. I am also on the Board of the PR Council. Through those organizations I have met so many amazing PR professionals and even more rising stars – some of whom I have mentored and others who have mentored me. Last year I was also able to fulfill a long-standing dream of mine to volunteer in Haiti – ever since the devastating earthquake of 2010 I have felt drawn to the country. I became involved in HavServe and spent two weeks in a remote village with no electricity, no sanitation and no running water, yet it was one of the happiest times of my life. I volunteered at a free camp that the organization sponsors for nearly 500 children and conducted a Women’s Empowerment workshop to help local women start and run their own business through HavServe’s micro-lending program.
PT: How does it feel to be living your life’s purpose? Specifically, how would you describe it in terms of the success, fulfillment and joy you experience?
SF: To have the privilege to choose how I want to spend my life is an incredible gift. There are so many people who are struggling to find work, miserable at a dead-end job or have much greater obstacles to overcome. I come to work every day and get to spend time with people I love, clients I admire and work on things that I find meaningful. I come home to a happy, healthy and loving family – what more could you ask for?
PT: What is the result of knowing and actively living your life’s purpose? Is there a power that comes from knowing your life’s purpose in being able to actively live it?
SF: Something that I am particularly proud of is being able to marry my love for PR and charity work. I have been very fortunate that friends, family and colleagues have supported my efforts with their time, their financial donations and lobbying for in-kind donations from the companies they work for or their clients. Next week I am actually going to be in Haiti conducting a computer training program on laptops and tablets that were donated through Linda Krebs at LKPR, delivering several tons of personal care products that Rob Bratskeir at 360 Public Relations secured from his client High Ridge Brands, and dental hygiene products that Dave Armon helped secure from Colgate. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to use your skills for such a good cause.
PT: What are your greatest hopes and dreams for the life purpose you have chosen?
SF: As my company grows and becomes more successful, I hope to be able to dedicate more of my resources towards charitable endeavors. There are so many injustices in the world that it can be overwhelming if you want to help. You feel like your efforts will barely scratch the surface. But, when you see that small things can change the course of one person’s life, it’s all worth it.
I’d also like to see that the people who have helped build Affect are recognized and rewarded for their incredible talents and hard work. Not just the team in the office, but my team at home who have supported me all along.
PT: What do you think you would be doing now if you hadn’t determined and then actively begun to live your purpose?
SF: The dream sequence could have gone two ways: the dark foreboding one would probably be me drudging away in some high tower corporation, wasting all of my time climbing a corporate ladder; the happy light version would probably be me serving in the Peace Corps in some far-flung nation. I think I have the perfect balance of the two in my current existence.
PT: How important is it for people to discover their life’s purpose? What advice would you give others about discovering their life’s purpose?
SF: Many people would like to pursue that often unattainable goal of “choosing a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s just not always realistic. I do love my job – but it’s work – every single day. However, if you can find a job that fuels your passions, allows you to fund your dreams or helps you achieve that higher purpose, then it’s worth it. That will help you get through the day and keep you excited about what the future holds.