Interviewee Name: Mary Schnack
Company Name: Mary Schnack & Associates
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Mary Schnack: I was born on a farm in Iowa, played basketball in school, and was a journalism major in college. I was a practicing journalist for eight years before I went into public relations. Now I have my own public relations consulting business. I’m based in the Washington DC area after living in Los Angeles and Arizona for almost 35 years. And I also travel around the world doing speaking engagements and communications training: Business communication training like PR, media training, crisis communications, and branding at conferences, and seminars that are particularly set up for a business audience or for women’s groups.
Avil Beckford: How do you integrate your personal and professional life?
Mary Schnack: I’m glad you use the word integrate because I really hate the word work-life balance because I do think it’s work-life integration. I work hard and I play hard. I think my biggest problem is I don’t give myself much downtime. I definitely schedule time for friends and I’m a big movie goer. I’m big at doing things outdoors, I love sports, watching them as well as participating, and I make sure I carve out time to do those things that I love to do.
Avil Beckford: What are five life lessons that you have learned so far?
- How important teamwork is. I totally depend on my friends for my life and value them tremendously.
- Advocate, not to sit back and complain about what’s going, but to get out and advocate, whether it’s for yourself, or your child, for your community. Look at what needs to be done, be active and be involved.
- Celebrate when things go well. Take the time to celebrate that things are going well, that you have a success today, that you impacted somebody’s life or whatever that might be.
- Bounce back. Being a seven-time cancer survivor I can’t wallow in my grief, I need to bounce back and keep moving on. Sometimes the message I give myself is just to put one foot in front of the other. Simplify that message however you need to. Some days that message for me is what got me out of bed rather than pulling the sheet over my head.
- Continue to learn. Be open to learning and to education and be open to differences.
Avil Beckford: When you have some down time, how do you spend it?
Mary Schnack: I go to a lot of movies. I really enjoy independent films and documentaries so I love going to the festivals. I like being outdoors. I think nature has a tremendous healing power and the good endorphins to just really lift your spirit. I love it, experiencing different cultures, so as much as I can when I travel, I will make sure that I really have a cultural experience. And then just being with friends and having great discussions, that’s a great deal of inspiration for me.
Avil Beckford: What process do you use to generate great ideas?
Mary Schnack: Brainstorming! Having that mentor, having that business coach, having a partner or a good friend and brainstorming. I think that’s where the best ideas come from.
Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite quotation and why?
Mary Schnack: My favorite quotation is from Madeline Albright which says basically, shame on women who don’t lift up other women. And I think that that’s so true, and then Katharine Graham who was the head of the Washington Post-Newsweek also had a quote that said to “Enjoy what you do, what more matters,” and I greatly feel that way that I have to look forward to each day and fortunately I have work. I created that work so I’m excited about what I’m doing.
Avil Beckford: How do you define success?
Mary Schnack: Inner peace and happiness, and for me a thriving child. I don’t think I could have inner peace and happiness if my child didn’t have the same, so you are at one with yourself, and you’re happy.
Avil Beckford: In your opinion what’s the formula for success?
Mary Schnack: Keep putting one foot in front of the other and looking for the all the positive things out there because no matter how negative things are, there are positive things going and just celebrating in that joy of what’s happening.
Avil Beckford: What are the steps you took to succeed in your field?
Mary Schnack: I was a good writer so I had a lot of the basics, and I was a creative thinker. I would say those are the two things that have helped the most with success.
Avil Beckford: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in your field?
Mary Schnack: They should have some good basic business skills. Not that they necessarily need to have all the skills, but whether it’s finance, writing or strategic planning, strategic thinking. They have to have some good basics as their foundation and then to go out and network and meet people, and talk and explore. I think those would be the most important things.
Avil Beckford: If trusted friends could introduce you to five people that you’ve always wanted to meet, who would you choose? And what would you say to them?
- Hillary Clinton: I would ask her what she thinks the timeline might be for women’s growth in equality, for women to grow to an equal seat at the table, what other steps need to be taken, what are the most important step for us to take to do that.
- President Bill Clinton and President Obama: Your questions are great. I probably would ask them a lot of the questions that you’ve asked me.
- Winnie Mandela: It would be a tough choice between her and her former husband but I think that would be great. I think it’s taken a long time for her story to be told, and I’d like to know how she reacted when Nelson Mandela was put on such a high pedestal, which I really think he deserves, but in many ways she was left off of it, and how she felt about that, how she’s continued persevering over the years, how do you not care about what other people think but keep moving forward in the work that you’re doing.
- Wangari Maathai: She was the Nobel Peace Prize winner in Kenya several years ago, an environmentalist. I would want to ask her what inspired her to get started, what she thinks are the most important things an individual can do to help the world and I would ask her how she sees the environmental issues serve the worldwide peace process.
Avil Beckford: Which one book had a profound impact on your life? What was it about this book that impacted you so deeply?
Mary Schnack: The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. It’s definitely a feminist icon book and I think I read that before I could truly call myself a feminist, and it really opened my eyes to how we needed to continue to advocate for women’s rights.
Avil Beckford: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what are five books that you would like to have with you and why? Summarize the book in two sentences.
Mary Schnack: I would like to have Nelson Mandela’s and Eleanor Roosevelt’s biographies. Those are two iconic figures in history and I have not read their biographies yet. I know those are books that I would like to read. I would like to take the latest book by John Irving. I love John Irving’s writing and have fallen out of step with keeping up with his books, so I’d like to do that. There’s a book out of England called Cross-Cultural Business Communication so to be quite honest I’d really like to take that book because that’s a book that I very much want to read. I found out about it through The International Alliance for Women. I would also take The Poisonwood Bible. It’s one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve only read it twice and I think I would like to read it a third and fourth time.
Avil Beckford: What one music CD and movie would you like to have with you (on the deserted island) and why?
Mary Schnack: The movie that I like watching over and over again is Out of Africa. I love that movie. I like the romance, I love the adventure and exploration, I love the human dynamics, I like the way she fought against the odds. I could watch that movie over and over forever. The music CD would probably be something by Bonnie Raitt. I really loved her music and still listen to it once in a while, but rather than picking somebody that’s a new artist I think I’d want to pick somebody that I know their music is going to endure with me.
If you cannot view Out of Africa YouTube Video please click here.
Avil Beckford: What excites you about life?
Mary Schnack: Meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, I just love that.
Avil Beckford: How do you nurture your soul?
Mary Schnack: By helping others, the women I work with around the world, and the communications trainings I do. I also started a business called Up from the Dust where I import items made by women in developing countries and bring it here to the United States to sell.
I was giving a communication training to women from Rwanda and Afghanistan and I happened to mention that I was a six-time cancer survivor and this woman from Afghanistan who is a doctor in the Kandahar area which is where heavy fighting is going says, “How do you go on?” I just looked at her, it was like how could this woman asked me how I go on, I wonder how she goes on with everything she faces on a daily basis. I just looked at her and said, “Because of people like you. You nurture my soul you are my inspiration. If you can do what you do then I can easily do what I do.”
Avil Beckford: If you had a personal genie and she gave you one wish, what would you wish for?
Mary Schnack: I would wish for financial stability because then I would have more money to donate to good causes. I would be able to look at doing more charity work, really being able to focus less on paying bills and doing what I want to do.
Avil Beckford: Complete the following, I am happy when…..
Mary Schnack: I am happy when I’m with friends.
One Action to Take After Digesting the Interview
Mary Schnack: I would really like them to look at how they can let their voices be heard, what is a topic or issue that is important for them, and how they can use the power and impact of their voices to change something whether it’s their own personal level of happiness, whether it’s something that’s happening in the community that isn’t right, whether it’s a worldly issue, but my goal is to help people let their voices be heard, and inspire them to do it.
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