Overcoming Obstacles with Mindfulness

Engineer Jacqueline Gallo on how she has seized obstacles to bring about personal and professional success.

Jacqueline Gallo, 35, is an engineer who oversees quality and operational excellence for the Connecticut-based Whitcraft Group, which fabricates com- ponents for aircraft engine manufac- turers. Twelve years ago, in the wake of heartbreak, she read Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which took her on a journey that led to her a “Mindful Leader” workshop with Michael Carroll. She has been practicing mindfulness since then. Whitcraft observes the practice of kaizen, a Jap- anese management concept of “continuous improvement.” For Gallo, the two practices—mindfulness and kaizen—are interconnected.

What brought you to meditation?

Crisis. For a long time, I had been very ambitiously pursuing happiness and working tirelessly at it—but it was an external journey of pursuit, one of accumulation, and, in retrospect, avoidance of grief about the destruction of my family and the loss of my sisters to crime and drugs and my par- ents to alcohol. When my partner and I decided to end our relationship, I felt devastated and empty. I hit all the grief I had been avoiding like a brick wall. I started skydiving: I thought if I could let go of my fear of jumping out of a plane then I could certainly let go of the relationship and move on. And shortly after that, I read Millman’s book and began a different journey— pursuing happiness internally.

How did you extend the practice to your work life?

Mindfulness helps me get past myself so that I can connect with and help others. At work, I’m constantly dealing with people, with their different needs, wants, agendas. It’s easy to be pulled into a particular direction by one strong individual. With mindfulness I can stay focused on what’s better for the group and not be knocked off course by any one individual’s agenda.

What do you mean?

As a quality manager, I’m often addressing what someone perceives as a crisis: “We found this bad part, we don’t know what to do, the sky is fall- ing.” I’m exaggerating, but that’s what it feels like, energetically. Because they play a particular role and focus on what’s right in front of them, peo- ple believe that the problems are big deals—mostly they aren’t. Mindful- ness helps me to create some space, to not react right away.

Like meditation?

Yes. I have to keep my seat, just as in meditation—over and over again. When you meditate, you step back and can see your thought process. At work, when somebody comes
to me with a problem—a defect in a part—the process is similar: We step back, examine the situation, and break down what needs to be resolved. We want to look dispassionately at the process that led to the bad part and make it better.

“At work, when somebody comes to me with a problem—a defect in a part—we step back, examine the situation, and break down what needs to be resolved.”

Is that where kaizen comes into play?

That’s right. Kaizen is based on the fact that obstacles bring out potential. It involves walking people through a process, pushing them to look at it, to eliminate waste until they get down to the essential function we’re work- ing on, and then building a better pro- cess. What emerges is saner than the confused state that may have created the original process. In that sense, it’s like mindfulness, where you’re able to see your thoughts and storylines more clearly, which gives you the space to make better choices.

How does the personal help you with the corporate?

When you’re leading change in an organization, you have to know when to move forward and when not to—to understand the mindset of a particular group of people or area of the company. Sure, I’d love to go in and make change now, but maybe they’re not ready to make a complete transformation. So, I have to be patient and wait. That all comes from my mindfulness practice. Every day we work to improve a little bit, and over time, when you look back, you’ve made big progress.

It’s the same thing with sitting. Every time I commit to sit, I make a little progress in the evolution of my mind. I might not even notice it, but if I think back over 10 years, maybe I’ve developed enough space and skillful- ness to be available for my life.