The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Patrice Tanaka of Joyful Planet
These are tough times. With so much hate, division and fear in our society and the continued impacts of the health, racial justice and economic pandemics affecting many of us, it can be hard to find or feel joy. So, what better time to ask our friend Patrice Tanaka to participate in the Common Sense Colloquy?
Patrice is the Founder & Chief Joy Officer of Joyful Planet, LLC, a “Business & Life Strategy Consultancy” to help individuals and organizations discover and actively “live” or “operationalize” their purpose and, in so doing, unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, workplaces and communities.” Patrice is a groundbreaking public relations industry professional and business consultant with a decades-long track record of success, advising businesses and organizations and leading award-winning PR teams. She is also a prominent member of the Asian American community and I wanted to spotlight Patrice now (during AAPI Heritage Month) for that reason as well, particularly given her role in speaking out against the growing hate directed against the AAPI and other diverse communities.
Patrice co-founded three award-winning public relations and marketing firms before launching Joyful Planet. She was co-founder, chief counselor and creative strategist for PadillaCRT. Prior to that, she was co-chair, chief creative officer and whatcanbe Ambassador for CRT/tanaka, a firm she helped co-found in 2005 with Richmond, VA-based Carter Ryley Thomas by selling Patrice Tanaka & Company (PT&Co.)., an agency she co-founded in 1990 with 12 colleagues who followed her in a management buyback from Chiat/Day advertising. She began her PR agency career in 1979 when she joined Jessica Dee Communications in New York City, a PR agency she helped to build that was acquired by Chiat/Day Advertising in 1987.
But that’s only part of her story. Patrice was born and raised in Hawaii, graduated from the University of Hawaii and moved to New York City to pursue a childhood dream of dancing like Ginger Rogers. You could say that she’s always been focused on making her childhood dreams come true. This has been the animating principle of her life and career as she responded to the depression she felt in the wake of 9/11 and the death of her beloved husband from a brain tumor several years later. When an executive coach forced her to “rethink” her life purpose, she replied, “To choose joy, to be mindful of my joy, and to share joy with others.” Her first act of “choosing joy” was to take up ballroom dancing. Patrice later wrote a book about this experience (the excellent Becoming Ginger Rogers…How Ballroom Dancing Made Me a Happier Woman, Better Partner and Smarter CEO).
I first met Patrice at a PRSA Counselors Academy conference when she was one of the keynote speakers. I was inspired by her focus on discovering and living your life’s purpose and blown away by what a beautiful human being she is. I still can’t quite believe I have the privilege of calling her friend. It’s a joy to have the opportunity to include her in this series.
My thanks to Patrice for sharing her wisdom with us – and you.
Q: The planet has been through a terrible two+ years. How have you maintained joy and how have you counseled your clients about what we’ve been through and what’s ahead?
A: I’ve simply focused on living my purpose, “To choose joy, to be mindful of my joy, and to share joy with others.” I’ve been living my purpose now for 20 years and all throughout the past two+ years of pandemic, racial injustice, riots, insurrection, the increasing polarization of our country, and rising anti-Asian hate and violence. By focusing on living my purpose, I am living in an “inner-directed” way rather than being susceptible and vulnerable to everything that is happening externally. By living this way, the past two+ years have truly been my most productive and joyful years ever! My work through Joyful Planet LLC is focused on helping individuals and organizations to be “purpose-driven” rather than just reacting to everything that is happening externally.
Q: Much of the ugliness of the past several years has revolved around hatred and fear of “the other,” with politicians stirring up racial, social, gender, economic and orientation and identity bias to pit people against each other rather than bringing us together. How does your mission and work respond to this challenge? What can individuals do right now?
A: I am committed to creating a more joyful planet, which is both the name of my consultancy and my vision of 7.9 billion people living their purpose and leveraging their talents, expertise, and passion in service of other people and our planet. If more people are doing this we can, together, create a more joyful planet. My goal is to work with as many individuals and organizations as I can to help them become more “purpose-driven” and, in doing so, serve others and the greater good. If people feel helpless and powerless to contribute to society, they can sometimes use their energies in very negative and harmful ways.
Q: You began your career as a public relations professional, and you were one of the first Asian American women to own and operate a PR firm. What lessons from your PR career have you carried forward to today and what advice do you have for Asian American women – and men – in the field today?
A: My earliest lesson that has served me well from the playground to the boardroom was to “share your cookies and toys.” I can still hear my mother’s voice, calling after my siblings and me as we ran out to play with friends. People like to play and work with others who are willing to share. That’s why when I led the management buyback to co-found my first PR agency, it was with 12 colleagues and, even though I was the only one who put money into the venture, I wanted everyone to have equity ownership. One of my proudest accomplishments was co-founding an employee-owned PR agency with 13 owners. When we sold PT&Co., it was to another employee-owned PR agency, Carter Ryley Thomas. And when we sold CRT/tanaka it was to yet another employee-owned PR agency, Padilla Spear Beardsley. In doing so, we created one of the “top 10” largest independent PR agencies and the largest “employee-owned” agency with 240 employee-owners. I believe in the abundance mentality and being generous with my time, energy, and resources. This has always been my personal philosophy and strategy for success. Again, this is something I learned from my mother, June Tanaka, who was the most loving and generous person. She not only created a long and happy marriage, she raised three children who love one another, and she was a successful entrepreneur, too. Thank you, mom!
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Tell the truth, honor your commitments and be kind and generous. This is more than just common-sense advice about communications. It’s common-sense advice for living a good life.
Q: What’s the best “common-sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: The same advice. Tell the truth, honor your commitments and be kind and generous. This is what creates success in a communications career and in life.