Corporate culture guru Ryan Pride works to heal the American workplace from the inside out.
There’s a profound moment in life when you realize exactly who you are and what you are meant to be doing. Call it what you will—enlightenment, an epiphany, an “aha” moment—but it’s something we all strive for, whether we’re aware of it or not. Ryan Pride recognizes this moment as moksha, and it’s what has driven him to abandon a successful career in corporate America to create The Moksha Institute. Now, with the help of his partner Sheila Fazio, he has dedicated his life to healing workplace cultures from the top down and inside out, helping people find their own moksha.
Pride experienced his moksha moment about two years ago while he was working as a vice president of human resources at Furniture Brands International. The company was restructuring and laying off employees—a task that fell to Pride. As he walked one particular employee through his termination papers, the man revealed that he had terminal bone cancer and only three months left to live. The man was sure that the cancer was not due to an unhealthy lifestyle—he was an Ironman and organic foodie—but a result of the fact that he had worked for 10 years in a job that he knew he hated. At the end of a long talk about how he would make the most of the time he had left, he turned the conversation on Pride and asked, “Well, what about you? Why aren’t you doing what you love?” It became clear to Pride in that moment that what made him happy, despite the unhappy context, was that very conversation—helping someone wake up to his or her meaning and purpose in life.
Two long weeks later, after many sleepless nights, Pride quit his job. He immersed himself in his yoga practice, which had been fleeting until that point, and practiced connecting to the part of himself that he’d touched on in that moment of moksha. The idea for The Moksha Institute grew out of that—building the philosophies and practices of Eastern religion on top of his years of experience in corporate HR and his doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology. When he met Fazio (she was teaching an outdoor yoga class when they connected and resolved to work together), she brought to the budding company an even stronger base in yoga and meditation, as well as a background in clinical therapy and social work. Now, the pair have conducted sessions with leadership teams at Monsanto, Ameren Missouri and New Balance, in addition to a host of individuals and couples.
It’s important to note that the point is not to convince everyone to quit their jobs. Rather, it’s about identifying their source—some passion or practice that gives them energy and inner peace—and plugging into it on a regular basis. In corporations, this starts at the very top of the organization, training leadership teams to create an environment where employees can show up to work every day as their authentic selves and, as a result, lead happier, more fulfilled and productive work lives.
“I feel like I’m a corporate preacher,” Pride says. “I feel a very strong passion to do this work.”
It’s clear that Pride speaks the language—which Fazio says is part of what helps reluctant executives open up to practices way outside of their comfort zones. Pride cites statistics that only 20 percent of Americans are happy at work, and that 90 percent of the health issues we see doctors for are stress-related. Well-being, he says, is all about living and working in a positive environment—one where communication is open and honest, people can pursue and talk about their passions freely, and generally be complete human beings. In this environment, he says, people truly thrive—and thriving employees make thriving companies.
A few weeks before our conversation with Pride, he put his house on the market—shedding the last trappings of his corporate career. He and Fazio are moving into a small rental property together, with their first child joining them soon. Pride says it feels right to be walking the path he’s preaching to others, but admits it’s not always easy. “There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t have a beautiful cocktail of fear and faith,” he says. “If you’d asked me two years ago, ‘Ryan, are you happy?’ I would have given you a long explanation, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great house, I’ve got nice things…’ If you asked me today, I would say, ‘Yes.’ And that’s it.”
Photo credit: Wesley Law