Podcast: Marilyn Tam on Clarity of Purpose


Everyone experiences setbacks: They have the power veer us off the course we're headed, but when you have a clear understanding of your life purpose—that mission that’s at the core of everything you do—you can easily adapt to the unexpected and get right back on track.

In our latest episode of The Leadercast Podcast, we chatted with Marilyn Tam—former executive at Aveda, Nike and Reebok, and current speaker and entrepreneur—about discovering and staying true to your life purpose.

Marilyn told us that serving and helping others has been her goal since age 11, and this purpose brought her many fulfilling business and humanitarian opportunities. “When we have purpose, when we know what our life mission is, everything else falls into place,” she says. TWEET

Read on for a preview of the episode, and listen to it in full here.


Finding Purpose in Leadership

In order to discover your purpose in leadership, you must look for opportunities to serve, says Marilyn. “Any leader is there to serve,” she says. “If we don't serve, we don't inspire. We don’t lead. Only when we work together can we be successful.” TWEET

Marilyn realized she had a purpose to serve others when she found out her classmate, a scholarship student, had two parents working full-time but could not provide for their family.

“It really made me realize there was so much injustice in the world because I couldn't understand why that would be the case,” she says.

In turn, her own struggles seemed lighter. “I have to help others who have even less than I do. That's what got me motivated to serve others, to help others fulfill their potential.”


Rolling With Setbacks

One key to powering through the obstacles that come your way is to not let yourself get discouraged, she says. Marilyn immigrated to the United States as a teen to attend college, and she quickly encountered setbacks. “My one pair of shoes was ruined in the first week, and I couldn't afford any more,” she explains. “With such a strong commitment to making a difference, I had to focus on what really meant so much to me. Not having shoes didn't stop me.”

Another key is being willing to adapt your means to achieve your goal. Later on in her journey, Marilyn realized her dream job at the World Health Organization required 10 years of experience. “Of course, not even being 21, I did not have 10 years experience,” Marilyn shares. “It was really quite a setback to realize that everything I've worked for up to that point was just going out the window.”

She paused to reassess her goals. This setback brought her to retail, where she found a way to move forward in doing what she dreamed to do. “It may not look like exactly as I planned, but there's got to be another way. That was my first awakening.”


Maintaining Hope

Starting out in anything is hard. “I was young. I’m an immigrant. I’m a woman. I’m of color,” says Marilyn. She didn’t have the trappings of what most people think of for a leader. “I had to do something to prove myself, but also to stay true to my vision and mission. And that means I had to work with integrity.”

Her two pieces of advice for leaders who are starting out are invaluable:

1. Know that you're good enough. It’s all too easy to question your worth, but you can do this!

2. Know people really do want you to be successful. People are seeking joy and peace, so if your motivation is serving others, they will want you to succeed in that. “The respect came through experience,” she says. “I was truly learning to serve by understanding what it is others needed so they could be successful.”

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    This post is based on an episode of The Leadercast Podcast with Marilyn Tam. To find out more about Marilyn, visit her website here. To hear this episode, and many more like it, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

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