Dr. Elise Bialylew

What if you could improve your understanding of yourself while supporting the greater good and the world around you? Born of her own passion for meditation, Dr. Elise Bialylew created Mindful in May. The idea is simple: participants spend the month of May connecting to their own being through 10 minutes of guided, online meditation. In turn, funds are raised and donated to Charity Water, an organization that builds clean water wells in developing countries. 

Elise’s meditative gestalt has not only helped people around the world connect with their inner psyches, but it’s also raised more than $100,000 to build wells in Ethiopia and Rwanda. Beyond all that good, she’s also proud to say she’s managed to find her passion and dedicate herself to it wholly. Elise is one of those lucky people who can both fulfill her own purpose while also significantly benefiting the lives of others.

Follow your curiosity, embrace the unknown and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

How did you discover your current job?

I created it. I had been working full time as a doctor in the field of psychiatry but was developing a deeper mindfulness meditation practice and interest in the coaching and technology space. A few years ago, during meditation, I had an idea to create an online global meditation campaign for social good. This was really a melding of many different interests and a deep desire I had to make a difference in the world.

I had traveled throughout the developing world in my 20s, and was profoundly affected by my time in West Africa, where I lived with families in villages and witnessed how difficult it was for them as they spent half a day walking to bring clean water back to their homes. These people were at risk of death and illness from contaminated water. I was determined to do something one day to make a difference with this situation.

I had been running Mindful in May as a side project alongside my professional life, but this year Mindful in May has grown so much that I chose to leave my full-time job in psychiatry and 100 percent of my energy into running Mindful in May. It’s pretty exciting to be able to throw myself into something I feel so passionate about.

What responsibilities do you have in your role?

I am the founder of the campaign. I create and curate the one-month meditation program, which includes video interviewing leading global experts in the field of wisdom and the mind and also managing others who are volunteering in social media and marketing. When running something with such a small budget, it forces you to learn quickly about different areas. I’ve always been someone who loves learning, so it suits my personality. One day I’m recording meditations and the next I’m coming up with social media strategies and writing sponsorship documents.

What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?

Mindful in May is completely aligned with my deepest values: community, contribution, connection, consciousness and creativity.

It’s a project that allows me to combine all of my passions and strengths to fulfill my own purpose and to contribute to the greater good.

What challenges keep you awake at night?

There are many! Running a campaign that relies on volunteers is always a challenge, especially as the individuals volunteering change each year and you have to start from the beginning educating others about the project and developing a sense of trust.  I’m also awake trying to think of ways to make Mindful inMay financially viable so I can continue to run it each year.

At night is when I find my meditation practice is particularly helpful. Some nights I find my head can be spinning from all the tasks and screen time, so a meditation practice before bed really helps to settle my mind and support a peaceful sleep.

Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?

Yes, for sure. I find that when I’m really passionate about something, when it’s really filling me with purpose and meaning, I can become consumed by it. This has impacted friendships and relationships in the past, especially a few years back when I was starting Mindful in May. But now I’m much better at making wiser decisions that take into account the whole picture rather than just my work. The key is prioritizing and learning how to say ‘no’ to things, even if, at times, it feels like you are saying no to things that you’d like to do. As David Allen says, “You can do anything but not everything.”

What are some of the rules you live by?

-Exercise and meditate regularly.

-Practice self-compassion.

-Lean in to discomfort and be courageous.

-Contribute to those less fortunate.

What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?

I think a few qualities include perseverance, resilience and self-awareness. You need to be able to monitor your inner state as you move through the world to ensure what you are doing is aligned with your values and is not overwhelming you.

Without awareness you are unable to make the crucial adjustments and iterations that will ensure you are staying on track with your vision.

Perseverance is a fundamental element of making your ideas happen. I’ve learned over the years from pursuing various creative projects that there are going to be many really tough moments when you feel like curling into a ball, crying and giving it all up (yes, I’ve been there a few times). 

Have you had any significant mentors and what have you learned from them?

My mentors have been people who may not know they were my mentors. Most of them have been from within the meditation world. One person who comes to mind is Jon Kabat Zinn, one of the leaders of the mindfulness movement. I was fortunate enough to do some training with him a number of years ago, and I was so deeply moved by the combination of his grounded, compassionate personality and the wisdom and genius of his work. He is committed to supporting thousands of people in creating  deeper happiness and ease in their lives. I can honestly say meeting and learning from him was completely transformative.  

What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?

Don’t worry so much; it will all come together. Follow your curiosity, embrace the unknown and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.