Get Lit With Jennifer Reisch

Every other month, Luminare Group reaches out to one of our favorite clients or people in the field to learn more about what makes them glow - from the inside out. Professional, personal - all is at play in the work we do here.

Read more for a Q&A with this month’s Be Lumin-Us guest editor, Jennifer Reisch, the Legal Director for Equal Rights Advocates.

What idea/practice are you most in love with currently? Why?

I am really into non-violent communication (NVC) these days. The NVC approach to difficult conversations or interpersonal conflicts is to state an observation, express how it makes you feel, identify a need you have, and make a request. Ever since I was introduced to this model a few months ago and learned a bit about the underlying principles behind it, I’ve been seeing and thinking about ways to apply it in all kinds of situations, at work and in my personal life. It takes self-awareness and some discipline to put it into practice, especially when it comes to identifying what your own real “need” is. Oftentimes, that need (for me) is either clarity or connection, and NVC can be a really effective way to get both of those things.

If you could do one thing for a day (and be good at it), what would it be?  

That’s a hard one; there are so many things I’d love to be able to do if I could just wave a magic wand over myself…Playing the piano really well is one. But what popped into my head the other day when I originally starting thinking about this is surfing. Surfing big waves really well, with grace. Something about being locked into the rhythm of the ocean, feeling so small and at the same time so strongly connected to an enormous and powerful force as you move through it…I imagine it would feel exhilarating, exhausting, and meditative all at once.

I learned to ride waves (body surf) as a little kid. I got knocked down many times—once by a really powerful wave that came pretty close to drowning me—but I always went back. I just love the water. I took a surfing lesson once, as an adult, but couldn’t manage to fully stand up on the board in the water. It’s really hard! If I could magically transplant myself to Hawai’i for a year or so, and live right near the (warm) ocean, and had a private teacher, maybe I could get it…

What makes you smile...every time?

Watching folks of every age, size, color, and shape do the electric slide together on Friday nights at the Oakland Museum.

What do you want to do more of this year? Less of?

You’ll know when you read the answer to the last question! 

Do you have a passion project? If so, what is it?

I did have a passion project for a number of years: My husband and I ran a not-so-secret underground “supper club” called Escondida (which means “hidden” in Spanish). This was right around the time when “pop-up” restaurants were just starting to be a thing. Our motto (and mission) was simple: “Bringing food and people together.” And that’s what we did.

It was pretty awesome. I planned the menus, scoured local markets to find unusual, seasonal ingredients, and managed the guest list. A friend helped with graphic design for the first menu and invitation and then I learned how to do it myself. I would spend hours on that part, obsessing over the fonts and the images and the layout…Javier was my sous chef and our “house manager” on the night of. A good friend in the wine biz served as our wine buyer and sommelier, serving wines he selected to go with each course. My friend’s mom, who had been in the catering business for years, came to work as a server/busser. We had live music sometimes.

People sat at communal tables outside under a canopy we bought specifically to put on these dinners. Each night, we served at least four courses to somewhere between 30 and 40 people—most of them prepared in our little galley kitchen of our Mission District apartment. It was a tremendous amount of work, but we loved doing it and in the end, the evenings were always kinda magical. I miss it.

Lately, what emotion have you felt most strongly?

I’ve been feeling a growing sense of longing for creativity and inspiration. A longing to use my imagination. Sometimes, it feels like I’m a bit stuck. On the one hand, I feel grounded; I am stable and secure in many aspects of my life. I have an amazing family, a job that lets me do incredibly important work with great people, good health, and friends I love (and who love me back). I get to laugh and cry on a regular basis, and I feel seen and appreciated by the people around me, most of the time. That’s just an embarrassment of riches right there, and I feel immense gratitude for all of it.

At the same time, tending to all of these things and people and relationships makes it extremely difficult to find time or space for creativity or reflection. Frankly, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I sometimes fantasize about what it would feel like to not feel stretched to my limit, to not try to cram in more things on my To Do list than could ever realistically be done in a day…If only, if only…But then it’s time to finish that brief, call that person back, return that e-mail, pack that lunch, book that trip…And crash into bed. Somewhere in me, there is a person who thrives on creative fusion—and I’d love to rekindle my connection to her.  

What’s a word or name you never want to hear again?

Right now, I would have to say the term “SMART goal.” I’ve been deeply immersed in strategic agenda/goal-setting/work planning for-what seems like-ever at work. While I certainly have learned a lot and come to appreciate the importance of articulating (and then actually tracking progress toward) Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound outcomes (eh-hem), I have to admit that I am looking forward—nay, longing—to take a break from the acronym-laden world of strategic agenda-setting for a while.

I was fortunate to be raised by two incredibly smart and engaging parents, one of whom has run non-profit organizations since I was barely out of diapers. I think part of me assumed that being a senior manager (or executive leader) at a non-profit organization would come naturally to me—after all, I’d learned so much (by osmosis?) just listening to my parents talk about work at the dinner table growing up. But it turns out that nothing in those impromptu dinner table seminars on non-profit organizational management and politics prepared me to go through the long and sometimes-painful process of non-profit “organizational strategic planning.”

In my case, I think the challenge was multiplied by several factors, including having to cover more than one job at once while struggling to figure out how, and what it meant, to be a mom (of twins). All that to say: I’m excited to do less goal-setting and more goal-doing over this coming year. There is a lot of really important work to be done!


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