Settling Smart, Dana Look-Arimoto: A New Slant on Balancing Life

By Patricia Danflous

Settle up.  Settle down.  Let’s settle our differences.  It’s not available in blue, so you will settle for green.  How often do you settle?

Stop now.  Follow the advice of leadership specialist, consultant, author, and entrepreneur Dana Look-Arimoto and start “settling smart.”

The 52-year-old, dark-haired, super-active Californian, with a bright smile, equally bright eyes and glowing skin defies age.  Her words and experience demonstrate wisdom and maturity.  Glance at her resume, look her up on Linked-In, listen to her speak, or see an Instagram notification and you’re going to want to learn more about her and what she has to say.

A former executive specializing in strategy, solutions and growth initiatives for Fortune 500 companies, Look-Arimoto was recognized by the Silicon Valley Business Journal as the 2015 Woman of Influence.  She’s delivered international keynote addresses for a variety of industry events and has a reputation for leading companies to focus on “what’s next.”

What was next for Look-Arimoto just over four years ago was powering up her entrepreneurial spirit to another level.  She founded Phoenix5, a leadership and executive coaching company that transforms individuals and organizations with the holistic energy of Stop Settling®, which aims to end the myth of work-life balance.  She recently started a podcast and her latest book, Stop Settling, Settle Smart: Rethinking Work-life Balance, Redesign Your Busy Life highlights the well-defined, logical method, mindset and movement to help individuals understand priorities and live a more harmonious life.

In its name, the business reflects Look-Arimoto’s life experience on a professional and personal level.  “Phoenix5 is kind of the fifth in a series of phoenixes in my life,” she explained.  “The symbolism of the mythological creature rising back to life from its own ashes is the brand that is authentic, genuine and experiential for myself and inspirational for others.”

“The story behind the story, goes back to my strategy advisory work,” she said.  “I co-led an analyst strategy house for six years, and I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be cool to help people take the most complex thing- the most multi-dimension thing, their fifth-dimension life – their quintessence, and boil it down into the simple, most common denominator of clarity?’  So Phoenix to the fifth dimension was a logical choice.”

Choice is a core element in Look-Arimoto’s approach to Stop Settling.  “Redesigning your life is making deliberate, conscious choices based on what you truly want out of life and learning how to prioritize your time,” she said.  In Stop Settling she offers question and answer scenarios which guide individuals in determining priorities, while providing guidelines for understanding, accepting and working within priority boundaries. 

“You can define a method and mindset that helps you choose the things you say ‘yes’ to in a way that not only fits your individual life but also gives you the push to move forward.”

Look-Arimoto’s “yes” or ah-ha moment to redesigning her life came during a high point in her career.  While moderating a Women’s Tech Networking event, a time management question was addressed to one of her mentors, Kate Purmal, a contributing author to business-oriented Moon Shot Effect.  Kate’s answer included the observation, “Oh, your problem is you don’t have enough white space.” 

“I felt like time froze,” Look-Arimoto said.  “It was as if Kate was speaking directly to me, not the audience member who asked the question.  I knew then it was time to make a decision.  I pulled the trigger; became a corporate defector, and launched my own company.  Up until then I lacked confidence.”

Twenty-four hours later she resigned her company president role. 

“When Kate said ‘no white space,’ I was inspired,” she said.  “I remember thinking, ‘Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  I have some money in the bank.  I’m a single mom, but my kids are alright, we’re very stable.  I was with a great guy clearly leading to marriage, and I just thought, if not now, when?  I had to do it quickly because I didn’t want to lose the nerve.  I always saw myself as the woman behind the entrepreneurs, but not the entrepreneur herself.  But I was at the point where I didn’t want to build another business for anyone else.  It was a choice – it was solo ownership or stay the corporate route.”

Her decision-making story is a good one, but not all roses and sunshine. “My first on-my -own client came with a significant lesson learned.  I sounded all ‘ballsy’ as I got started on my own, but I was still risk-adverse underneath.  I took what I call a soft landing pad client right away and it was a big mistake.  I had to fire her.  I have never again repeated that mistake and I know that I never will.  I’m really good about what I call, ‘doing the fit’ call.  I make sure that my clients are a good fit for me and me for them.  Now part of that is I’m really booked up.  I’ve got a wait list and I am in an amazing, fortunate position.”

While Phoenix5’s reputation and client list continues to grow, Look-Arimoto points to the women in her life who continually inspire and validate her decisions.  “Brené Brown’s work on courage has really changed my life and I am grateful for her work, her vulnerability and her teachings.  A book I love is  Kim Scott’s Radical Candor,  and my daughters, 16 and 20,  have really inspired me, frustrated me, taught me, challenged me.  My 16 year old, for example, is very outspoken, very assertive, unbelievably clear about what she wants, what she doesn’t want, how to get it.  She’s a crusader.  When I went out on my own, she actually said, ‘So it’s about time you practice what you preach.’  That was a powerful moment for me.”

Stop Settling is not about stopping, she emphasizes.  It is about living smart to get where you want to be and that is a constant journey.  “Yes, I have achieved success financially.  I am helping people and making a lasting impact,” she stated.  “Am I where I want to be?  Not even close.  My husband asked me ‘what if you only touch one life and make a difference for one person?  Is it worth it?’  I immediately said yes, but a million would be good, too.  I’m very driven when it comes to helping making the universe better, particularly during this time of racial injustice and economic uncertainty and health issues.  I feel very driven to make a difference for as many lives as possible while I’m on this planet.”

She is not settling.  “I have not settled for stretching my own ability to be more public-facing, more social, reaching beyond my usual comfort zone of leaders and executives,” she emphasized.  “It’s not easy.  I have fought, and fought, and fought against this whole social media thing and then finally, it dawned on me like, ‘Duh, if you don’t get on, you will never touch the lives you want to touch.’  So that has been a super-stretch and and I’m absolutely loving it.”

She is settling for the opposite, however.  “That’s not doing it all at one time, taking breaks, using white space and doing nothing.  I will not give up on my reading time,” she said, adding that she typically has three diverse genres going at one time.  “It’s really only been probably the last three out of four years that I’ve really gotten my act together in terms of what I want and what I don’t.  What I’m willing to accept and what I don’t.  I’ll give you a good example, I was asked to do a 5:30 am major top 10 news spot this week.  It was really hard to do, but I said, ‘no, thank you, can’t do 5:30 am.  It’s not because I’m a prima donna and I need to be in full makeup.  It’s because my sleep is vital, I struggle with sleep, and it’s just not worth it.  That was all about making a good choice for me.”

The Phoenix5 leader advises her executive clients to navigate their day in a similar manner.  She recommends planning the day around individual optimal performance.  “If I am better at writing or speaking in the morning, I plan my stuff that way,” she said.  “If I am better at strategizing thinking or just allowing myself to do research or contemplate in the afternoon, I do it that way.  My number one rule for time mastery is 15 minutes between meetings.  We need to pet the dog, do outside we need water, we need to get up and stretch, we need a break.  We need mental relaxation and the ability to reset.”

“If you’ve ever had lunch in Mexico City, let me tell you, it is a two-hour glorious experience and it is more than just food, and a break, and relaxation, and bonding and eating, it’s work,” she said.  “It’s performance-enhancing and incredibly relaxing as well.  There is a dichotomy in this country.  We see those who say, ‘I’m a superwoman because I take 80 hours worth of meetings every week.’  That’s not the truth.  Actually, productivity, joy and value goes up when we take more breaks because we have limits.  We are human after all, we’re not robots.”

Learn how you can be more human and less robotic as you discover your priorities and start settling smart.  You can learn more in Look-Arimoto’s book, Stop Settling, Settle Smart: Rethinking Work-life Balance, Redesign Your Busy Life or visit her website: www.settlesmarter.com.

Learn how you can be more human and less robotic as you discover your priorities and start settling smart. ”

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