Heather Heimerl Brunold is a mother, a lifelong educator, and the Executive Director and Licensee of TEDxPasadenaWomen. Heather has always been interested in education. She said that when she looks back on her childhood, “I was always playing school.” She was naturally drawn to the idea of helping people learn – something that has driven many of the decisions she has made in her life. She ended up receiving her Doctorate in Education from the University of Southern California. While working on her dissertation, an opportunity to volunteer for TEDxWomen came up. She was immediately drawn to it. Specifically, the idea of being able to “teach outside of the 4 walls of the classroom”, something she had gotten quite used to. After that first year of volunteering, the Executive Director stepped down and left the position open.
Often times, people have a narrow view of what it means to spread kindness or create change. They may look at something like TEDxWomen and wonder how that event is spreading kindness. But if you talk to Heather, it is clear that in her mind, that is pretty much the only goal of TED. It is also a huge part of who Heather is as a person. She said, “I am not one that can put my head on my pillow at night and fall asleep without knowing that have spread kindness”. Because of this philosophy, kindness is at the center of Heather’s personal and professional missions. She strongly believes in challenging people to consider “the truth in who they are.” To ask that if all your labels were taken away, the status, your job, all of that extra stuff, “If those things are taken away what is left of you?” What she wants people to be left with is genuine kindness, compassion, and understanding because, to her, those are the foundations needed for someone to be a light in the world. With TEDxWomen, she is trying to do this – to plant the seeds in people and create friendship and conversation. To Heather, the magic of TED is being able to challenge people to have conversations that matter about how we can spread kindness and deepen empathy.
She believes the videos that are produced from the events are only a small part of TED. Heather said, “I want people to know each other, that’s the biggest mission of this.” To get people to talk and to understand different people and different perspectives. And through this to get to know themselves. I asked Heather how she passes these messages onto her children, and she said she loves to tell them that if any two people were stuck in an elevator together, any two people no matter how opposite they may seem, if they were stuck in an elevator eventually they would find something in common. It’s just how it happens. So in a way TED is like a giant elevator, with tons of people forced into this common space through a common experience with an environment designed to foster understanding, conversation, empathy and friendship.
From our conversation I could tell that Heather was someone who was deeply empathic. As someone who is also that way, I had a question for her. I asked if it was challenging for her to care so much and so deeply about so many things. Her answer was genuine and honest. She told me that she has her husband screen movies for her because she doesn’t want to watch movies that are too emotional. She said, “There is enough truth in the world that destroys my heart.” Because of this, she said she learned that it is okay to guard herself from things that drain her. Whether that is a movie or a friend, there are times when it is okay to close yourself off to it. Heather said, “I can’t turn off my depth of how I feel”, but what she can do is make a conscious effort to not become unnecessarily depleted. I think as we talk about the importance of empathy and kindness it is important to remember that when we feel so deeply, it is okay to say no sometimes, and it is okay to protect yourself.
Her authenticity and honesty stuck with me. Not only did Heather demonstrate both in her conversation with me, but it’s something she tries to share with everyone she meets. “To be superwomen or to appear to be superwomen is not authentic and it is a disservice to others you want to be helpers.” Heather is all about helpers. TED is a community of people who come together to create an experience that fosters friendship and community, which is why this year’s theme is “Rise”. Heather said that in choosing this theme she thought it was quite timely, but it is always timely because there isn’t a second to waste and we must do it together.
I came away from this interview, although I hesitate to call it that because it was much more a conversation than anything else, with my heart full. To see how many different ways people are spreading kindness is always amazing to me. There are so many different things one can do to create change and be kind. Whether it is picking up trash on the sidewalk or being the Executive Director of TEDxPasadenaWomen. And in Heather’s own words “There are no requirements for how to be a person of service.”
If you would like to attend this TEDxPasadenaWomen RISE, tickets go on sale August 15th and you can find out more about the event and TEDxPasadenaWomen the organization here: http://tedxpasadena.org/