Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Hard Jobs

What Steve Jobs' former assistant can teach Silicon Valley about personal growth
GARDEN GUARDIANS : Naz Beheshti's new book, "Pause. Breathe. Choose." is indispensable reading in a region that glorifies work over all else at its own workers' peril. Photo Courtesy of Naz Beheshti

Somewhere between the garbage can in Steve Jobs' office to a mosh pit of Buddhist monks in Dharamshala, author Naz Beheshti found her authentic self.

Beheshti was born in Iran, but grew up in Palo Alto before getting a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Straight out of UCSC, she went to work as Jobs' executive assistant, right when he was returning to the helm at Apple.

One year with Jobs gave Beheshti up-close experience with Steve's eccentric wellness strategies, in work and in life, so much that now, over 20 years later, she traces her own lifelong path back to his initial influence. She says Jobs showed her what it meant to be the chief executive of her own well-being in addition to the leader of her own company.

In the warp-speed Silicon Valley climate of work-aholics on autopilot, the time seems ripe for Beheshti's new book, Pause. Breathe. Choose. Become the CEO of Your Well-Being. In it, she weaves more than two decades of experience as a corporate wellness coach with a matrix of ancient traditions, mindfulness meditation techniques, self-growth psychology and stress reduction.

The end result is a workable holistic framework for merging the heart with the mind to improve one's well-being in the workplace and in life. Instead of employing the phrase, 'work-life balance' as if the two were separate, she proposes a 'work-life engagement,' in which the two complement and feed each other.

Steve Jobs is not the subject of the book, but Beheshti pinpoints specific moments when his influence steered her toward a more mindful life, often recognizing that failures could serve as teaching tools.

For example, while she was making sure Jobs got his strict vegetarian meals every day, Beheshti ignored her own health in the process. Caught up in Steve's otherworldly charisma amid Apple's fast-paced, stressful environment drove Beheshti to stay wired by binging on chocolate all day. One time she included an oatmeal cookie as part of Jobs' meal, only to later discover the cookie in his garbage can.

"My healthy was Steve's garbage," she writes.

As trivial as that experience may seem, Beheshti looks back on it as a missed opportunity to understand that even though she was "thriving" and "successful" on the outside, her own well-being was falling apart on the inside.

In later years, while taking leave from a high-stress life in pharmaceutical sales, Beheshti went to India to meditate with a silent monk and also attended an event with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, where she was unexpectedly caught in a harrowing onslaught of monks trying to gate-crash the event—not how she expected compassionate, altruistic people to act. It was like being stuck in a mosh pit, she writes.

Only after hearing the Dalai Lama's laugh did her awareness kick in. The sweet sound of his giggle brought her back to the present moment. Her anger, fear and confusion drifted away like a balloon. The situation taught her that mindfulness was crucial at times when fear and emotion threaten to take over.

These are a few examples that helped Beheshti start her own company as a corporate wellness coach and her program, Pause. Breathe. Choose., is now available for all to employ.

The book unfolds in three parts, and like many personal growth programs, is structured with acronyms to guide us.

At the top of the hierarchy, we find the acronym, MAP. The first section is "Master Mindfulness: The Big M." In part two, 'A' stands for Apply the seven A's to manage stress and build resilience. The 'P' in part three stands for 'Promote your Self to the CEO of your well-being," a subset of which are the three P's: pain, prana and purpose—all to transform painful experiences into catalysts for growth. When she gets up in the morning, her acronym is RPM, for rise, pee, meditate.

But back to the pain. When Jobs died in 2011, a distraught Beheshti started a new journal, since both her parents were cancer survivors. Expressing her pain over Steve's death eventually led to the birth of her book.

While the structure of Pause. Breathe. Choose. targets those in the corporate world, the strategies will resonate with anyone. Especially now with Tim Cook saying wellness and health will be Apple's main legacy, Beheshti's timing couldn't be better.