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Female Disruptors: How Melissa Center & Tanny Jiraprapasuke aim to shake up how leaders communicate with the world

Empathy. The world needs more empathy. We are living in such divisive times (though I suppose this is the history of humanity). As technology has brought us closer together, however, we have an opportunity to bridge connection in a new way. “Other” doesn’t have to be scary or wrong. We are really all the same when it comes down to it — we are born, we need food, we are made of skin and bone and cells and organs and spirit, we want love and connection, to be seen and heard.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Center & Tanny Jiraprapasuke.

Melissa Center is a Hollywood actress & filmmaker dedicated to stories that elevate the female experience. Her award-winning short film, R.V, about the threat to women’s reproductive rights, has screened across the US & Canada and reached half a million people online. As an actor, she has appeared on ABC, NBC, SHO, & HBO. She is the star of feature film All I Want, which she also co-wrote & produced, now on Amazon Prime. She has consulted for several LA-based startups & coached pitching performance for Southwestern School of Law. She is a graduate of Northwestern University (Summa Cum Laude). As co-founder of Whole Self Systems, Melissa brings her storytelling and performance expertise to the pitching process.

Tanny Jiraprapasuke is a mindfulness coach and life-long practitioner. Born and raised into the Theravada Buddhist tradition, she received her training from Phra Maha Sakchai Thitamedho of Wat Suddhavasa in Riverside CA, and graduated from Harvard University, Divinity School with a Masters in Theological Studies in Buddhist Studies. To add to her repertoire of coaching skills, she practices and trains through the scientific-based Intensive Practice Program of The Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. As co-founder of Whole Self Systems, Tanny brings her mindfulness expertise to the pitching process.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

MELISSA: My background is as an actor, and I got my start on stage. From the time I was a kid, I was mesmerized by all things make-believe. My parents to me to see ET when I was an infant and exposed me to the theatre at a very young age. I dreamt of being on stage with Clara in The Nutcracker. I had an ET birthday party and still have my ET stuffed doll living with me in LA.

As the arts can be a volatile path, I reached a point where I knew I needed a path to more financial abundance, while allowing myself the time & flexibility to continue to work as an artist. I’d been coaching actors through a colleague’s studio, which fell into my lap, and one of my students’ husbands offered me a unique opportunity: to teach a master class at Southwestern School of Law on “performance.” Essentially, I worked with a special class to hone their pitching skills, as they were learning how to code, build small businesses, and pitch them to investors. This was the seed for Whole Self Systems: to translate my performance coaching skills to a pool of people who didn’t necessarily work in the entertainment industry.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Through storytelling craft & mindfulness practices, we are disrupting the way leaders show up for themselves and for the world. Authenticity is not just a buzz-word. Neither is Mindfulness. True authenticity takes deep self-awareness, courage, and vulnerability.

We work with our clients to get at the root of their fear and anxiety so they can stand in their own authentic selves and communicate with profound impact — whether that’s by pitching to investors, presenting to clients, or speaking in public. We believe the ways in which leaders have been conditioned to present themselves are antithetical to how humans truly connect. We are taught to project “confidence,” we are taught to shield ourselves with armor. We are taught that vulnerability is weak. Humans need to be seen and heard. Humans crave empathy. Storytelling is the perfect vehicle for empathetic connection.

In this day and age, people are craving a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them. We are inundated with technology, shallow information, and solutions that offer quick-fixes, but no real solutions. The work we do connects our clients fully and wholly to themselves, to their environment, and to the people they engage with in their daily lives.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

MELISSA My acting teacher Wynn Handman in New York City has had the most profound impact on my acting craft and on my life. For those who don’t know, Wynn is the artistic director of The American Place Theatre. He created a space for bold new voices to develop and shine. He nurtured actors and playwrights, and built a theatre that challenged the status quo. He worked with artists such as Sam Shephard, Michael Douglas, John Leguizamo, Eric Bogosian, Richard Gere, Aasif Mandvi, Kathleen Chalfant and more. You can learn more about his influence and legacy by watching It Takes A Lunatic, a documentary that premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019.

He taught me to go below the surface in my craft. He taught me the role storytelling has in cultivating empathy among people. He taught me how to challenge myself and others to bring their best selves to the table. He taught me to embrace all the colors of humanity. He believed in me as an artist and gave me opportunities to shine. I’m forever grateful.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

MELISSA My parents would always say “don’t put your eggs in one basket.” This has always stuck with me for better, or for worse. I think this phrase has turned me into the multi-hyphenate I am today. Which can be impressive and also A LOT to manage.

How are you going to shake things up next?

MELISSA We are really proud of one of our recent clients, Stephanie M Mosely. Before she came to us, she knew she had a story to tell, and a mission to change the world for the better, but she battled her own anxiety and personal trauma. A 2-time rape survivor, she was unable to share her voice (both speaking and singing) without debilitating panic attacks. Over the course of 12 weeks we helped Stephanie gain the courage to sing in public (she hadn’t in over a decade) and to speak about her mission from a place of strength and vulnerability. We can confidently say we’ve changed her life. Working with Stephanie has inspired us to find clients who, like Stephanie, are ready to dig deep; clients who have massive missions; clients who need support in bringing that mission to the public eye with courage.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

TANNY: I don’t know that I can recall a singular book or specific talk that has had a profound impact on my thinking, but I will often turn to the Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women for inspiration. The poems simply lay out the kind of inner strength and faithful conviction that the first Buddhist women had to have in order for them to continue their journey towards their own liberation. As a Buddhist and a woman, their stories are not only a reminder of my own inner strength, but also a reminder that I have to journey on for the next generation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Empathy. The world needs more empathy. We are living in such divisive times (though I suppose this is the history of humanity). As technology has brought us closer together, however, we have an opportunity to bridge connection in a new way. “Other” doesn’t have to be scary or wrong. We are really all the same when it comes down to it — we are born, we need food, we are made of skin and bone and cells and organs and spirit, we want love and connection, to be seen and heard.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

TANNY: My favorite quote is “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks”- Yoyo Ma. I learned about passion when I was in my 20’s; I’m 44 now. Before that, my life’s choices were based on what I liked, what made sense, and what would give me the best winning chance financially–as a result, I lived a pretty mundane life with very little opportunities to test out my courage. From the outside, I was doing pretty well — really — I was on my way to fulfilling the “American Dream.” However, I felt bored and started to question my existence–my purpose. The year I turned 26, I made a decision that I wanted more, so I quit my stable biotech job and started working as an assistant for a writer/director. For the first time in my life I got to witness someone who was doing work that they were passionate about. I saw him fight for his vision, risking major studio contracts. It was the first time that I knew I wanted to live on the edge, and I wanted to believe in something so much that I would put myself on the line. I learned how to recognize the difference between what I’m passionate about and what I like. Today, Yoyo Ma’s quote stands as a pillar of my being.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@wholeselfsystems on Instagram

@melissacenter on Instagram

@tannyjmindfulliving on Instagram

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!




In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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