Cari Levison of Summit:“Don’t run yourself into the ground… it doesn’t make you better at your job; Everyone will have a better experience if you prioritize taking care of yourself, even during the height of event madness.”
Don’t run yourself into the ground… it doesn’t make you better at your job — Anyone in production knows how insanely chaotic events are. I used to assume I had to be totally wrecked by the end of an event to know I did my best and was a team player. Through my wonderful mentors I learned that everyone — my team, my speakers, the attendees — will have a better experience and feel more supported if I prioritize taking care of myself, even during the height of event madness.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Cari Levison, Creative Director of Programming at Summit. Cari works with leaders across business, technology, culture and activism to craft conversations and programming which inspire participants to engage with new topics and ways of thinking. Along with her team at Summit she discovers the spaces, artforms and teachers which facilitate connection, deep learning and honest dialogue. She’s passionate about highlighting the voices and stories of those making an impact on their industries and communities through unique and dynamic storytelling. Cari graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in Journalism and Social Work.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I moved to Boulder after college because someone told me it was the “Silicon Valley” for social enterprises. After spending years working in homeless shelters in Georgia, I was interested in finding organizations that make doing good in the world a financially and emotionally sustainable endeavour. I learned about Summit and other like minded incubators and accelerators and knew I wanted to be a part of that energy and ecosystem. I worked and volunteered with amazing organizations like StartingBloc, The Unreasonable Institute and Impact Hub until I was lucky enough to cross paths with the Summit Team at an event I was producing in Colorado.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most memorable experiences was kicking off our flagship event, Summit at Sea on the night of the 2016 presidential election. Like most of the country, we had planned for a different outcome and as we watched the results pour in, we set sail on a cruise ship with 3,000 of our country’s most important business and community leaders — from the CEO of Google to the founder of Black Lives Matter and thousands in between. It was such a surreal feeling to be surrounded by these people in that pivotal moment, and my team felt the heightened weight of responsibility to maximise the time we had together. We stayed up the entire night essentially rewriting the program we had spent the past year developing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started working at Summit I was confused about how to email someone without letting them see the full chain that came before. I immediately got thrown into email conversations with folks I never dreamed I’d talk to. I ended up getting put on email with my favorite director of all time and when I emailed her, I exposed a previous conversation on the chain in which I made embarrassing fangirl comments. She responded right away noting that she could see the full chain and thanked me for the compliments. My face still gets hot when I think about it.
Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?
Summit’s impact manifests in the community we gather and the conversations which unfold through our programming and experiential design. Our Community Team spends every day traveling the world in search of the most impactful and innovative leaders while our Programming Team simultaneously spends the year curating every detail of the experience those people have at our events. We want to be exposing leaders to new concepts and ways of thinking. They might think they’re coming to Summit to hear a keynote business talk, but we’re also going to ask them to do things like join us on a visit of the LA County Jail and eat a fully plant based diet while they’re with us. These moments of expansion ripple through the communities and organizations our attendees lead.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
All of the best leaders I’ve come across personally are individuals who know themselves deeply and continue to discover more as a matter of daily and even moment to moment practice. I think Summit’s CEO Ryan Begelman is a shining example of this. He uses mindfulness techniques to improve the way he shows up to every interaction and this allows him to be present and highly collaborative, even when he feels strongly about a certain outcome. A few weeks ago he hopped off a call with someone and turned to me and said “ I really felt my ego coming up during that conversation.. I could feel it in my stomach”. To me that type of awareness is aspirational and the basis for great leadership.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t run yourself into the ground… it doesn’t make you better at your job — Anyone in production knows how insanely chaotic events are. I used to assume I had to be totally wrecked by the end of an event to know I did my best and was a team player. Through my wonderful mentors I learned that everyone — my team, my speakers, the attendees — will have a better experience and feel more supported if I prioritize taking care of myself, even during the height of event madness.
- You can ask for help — I truly did not know this was an option in the first few years of my career. Now I love to ask for help. I have a team who I feel supported by and I know we take joy in stepping in for one another when needed.
- You can use the reply direct button to email someone without allowing them to see the rest of the chain — See my embarrassing story about the director ^
- Trust your creative instincts — This one took me a while to learn. When developing a program, I’m constantly faced with many contradicting opinions on subjective matters with no right answers. I used to feel like a little silver ball in a pinball machine getting knocked around. Eventually I learned how to sort through opinions and information to ultimately make decisions I believe in and am ready to stand behind.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness — This has been my single greatest teacher and tool. If you are interested in developing a practice, I’d highly recommend Sam Harris’ Waking Up Meditation App.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The phrase my dad repeated to me most often growing up was, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. I guess he was trying to instil the principal that you have to assert what you want and need rather than assuming someone already knows or, probably more common for myself and other women, assuming the answer is already no. This notion is a driving force at Summit too — I’ve learned you can ask for some pretty audacious things. You can ask the Dalai Lama to fly from India to join your event, you can ask a Norwegian Cruise Ship captain if you can bring live chickens on board his ship for a sustainable agriculture demonstration. Often you’ll be told no, a surprising amount you’ll be told yes.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I keep a pretty low online profile — Follow us @Summit !
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!