We had the good fortune of connecting with Chaili Trentham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chaili, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
\There was a point in my career where I thought ranking my priorities and then standing firm in those decisions was the answer to finding balance – and then I became a mom. If I would have stayed on that original path, I might have been chasing the myth of balance for the rest of my life. Thankfully, a professor in my graduate program had introduced me to the idea of “integration” and that forever changed the way I defined my process of pursuing wholeness as a leader, a mom, partner, friend, mentor, and the list goes on. Integration is fluid and requires an alignment between the complimentary, and oftentimes competing, aspects of work and life. I think of this like a teeter-totter on the playground. While balance is an important component of the physics behind teeter-tottering, the moment of perfect balance is fleeting because the goal of teeter-tottering is not remaining weightless and suspended in the air forever. No, the goal of a teeter-totter is to be in movement while staying in alignment. Now picture your work is on one side of the teeter-totter and your life is on the other. As they move in sync with one another, sometimes we have both feet planted firmly on the ground in our work and we have it all under control (or need to focus our energy there), which may completely impact how our life is up in the air, and vice versa. And there are certainly moments of weightlessness, when life and work are perfectly balanced, but I guarantee it’s gone in an instant – because you will accept the promotion or start a side hustle, get married, have a baby, or buy a house. And because you are a person in movement, you will choose growth or embrace change, and be thrown off balance again. The goal to better work-life balance is an integrated approach, one that aligns our values across each area of our life, and is a process in flowing through our ever-competing priorities and demands. Our teeter-totter may be unbalanced, but when we are aligned and integrated as a whole person in that daily rhythm, well, we still thrive.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I wear multiple hats on most days! Coffee on Leadership is my company where I create and design developmental conversations for authentic leaders with a team of Associates who are truly passionate about navigating the fast-changing world of work. We approach leadership development by focusing on the whole person and integrating a framework rooted in values and identity development. Covid-19 has allowed us to lean into conversations about emotional wellness in the workplace and whole leader development – what would it look like if organizations and business were leading with more values-driven decision-making and more care for a happier and healthier community than ever before? My skillsets of leadership strategy and development have also allowed me to put on an integrator hat for West Productions, a company founded by my talented and uber-creative husband. Telling meaningful stories for impact-driven brands through commercial filmmaking, my creativity is stretched in every project. I lean into my background in art, writing, and a few film classes in college, to come alongside the team who develop truly powerful narratives with their work. And at the intersection of these spaces, I also lead as an integrator at Other Dreamers, a DEI agency out of Austin, Texas. We are developing DEI training programs for organizational teams through virtual workshops and executive leadership consulting to create sustainable initiatives for organizational culture-building. It’s a dream to work with colleagues who I respect, admire, and learn from weekly.
Describing my leadership among these three separate teams may seem easy, but it has been a journey to get here. When I left a career in higher education to pursue a role I defined as a “leadership strategist” while also being a mom with two kids under 2, I felt like nothing made sense to the outside world. I had to reconstruct the way I viewed my calling and purpose, despite teaching the same content to students in the university classroom. When I finally decided to embrace the hat of “entrepreneur” and it allowed for flexibility to be fully present for my kids when they needed it, all aspects started to click for me. I realized I didn’t fit a traditional organizational structure, which was fitting since the framework of leadership development I implement in organizations is nontraditional. So I found ways to design roles that fit the work I wanted to do and when I started to just do the work, it all began to fall into place in both my work and life. This is where I finally began to hit my stride and found true integration as a leader. In all three of my roles, I design conversations for leaders that are rooted in values and driven by impact – for people, for organizations, for stories that tell a bigger picture of the world. I found a way to integrate all of my leadership with teams who show up with the same desire for authenticity, collaboration, and a radical commitment to good work. None of this happened overnight, but I am so glad I started when I did by taking one tiny step at a time. So whatever your goal, make a move and stay in motion, re-design the next iteration later.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Being in LA-county over the course of the past year has been a wild ride, so if a friend is visiting anytime in the next year we are doing it all – and yet I say that and my favorites that I miss the most are simple. We would sit down for xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung. We would hike in the Angeles National Forest and then hop over for a walk through the LA-County Arboretum. My new favorite coffee shop is Frank Coffee on Beverly Blvd. so I would absolutely grab a cappuccino and a bag of Frank Blend to make my best friend take home. Another dinner would have to be at La Grande Orange in Pasadena with a stroll down Colorado Street. But since we are dreaming here, can we pretend that all sports are happening at the same time? Let’s fit in the Dodgers, Chargers, and LAFC all at once and top it off with a full weekend of beach, shopping, and wandering around Santa Monica. LA is really where you can see it all and there are so many fun areas like the shopping in the Arts District, eateries in Highland Park, and you have to visit Olvera Street to really understand the history of the city. Ok, this is definitely my itinerary next time someone visits.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to the mentors, the educators, and the knowledge-sharers in my life – I regularly find myself in moments of gratitude because I am surrounded by the most incredible people who pour into me and the work I am doing by asking remarkable questions and joining me in meaningful conversations about leadership development and life. To the women who regularly show up to discuss navigating the shifting leadership paradigm and pursuing wholeness – Alpha Joy Lawson, Shea Smith, Brit Barron, Martha Hoang, Grace Blacksea, and Dominique Floyd – I am a better leader because of our ongoing conversations. And in my daily journey, especially as a mama, I owe so much to my dearest of friends Alyss, Lisa, Kimberly, Lauren, Emily, and Monica.
Instagram: @chaili @coffeeonleadership