Editor’s note: For Black History Month, Inc. asked notable Black founders who have appeared on its pages, “What inspires you?”
In November 2019, Jean Brownhill’s company had just raised $7 million. Sweeten, a technology platform to help homeowners find contractors, was in four cities with a goal of reaching 35 by the end of 2020.
Just a few months later, all that seemed to change, as the global pandemic essentially shut down the construction industry. In response, Sweeten pivoted to target markets that had more single-family residences and fewer co-ops and condos, where bureaucratic processes can drag out renovations. Sweeten is now matching homeowners and contractors in Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Boston, and Washington, D.C., among other cities.
Even before the pandemic, Brownhill was finding inspiration in biographies. “Everyone from Cleopatra to Madam C.J. Walker to Katharine Graham and Harriet Tubman,” she says. “They all have these inflection points at which they chose not to give up. They kept moving through them, and they were better for it.” But since the start of the pandemic, Brownhill has also made time for a very specific ritual she first encountered on a trip to Thailand. — As told to Kimberly Weisul
Like so many of us, I don’t commute anymore, so I have more time to exercise and get out in nature. I have used that time to reflect on all the things I have, and all the things I’m grateful for. It’s easy to dwell on everything that is going wrong, so I purposely make time to be really specific and grateful.
I learned this on a trip to Thailand, when I visited a temple. There were 108 bowls around the temple, and they gave you 108 coins. As you walked around the temple, you were supposed to drop a coin in each bowl. As you did so, you were supposed to think of something you were grateful for. The temple was filled with this ‘plink-plink-plink’ noise. Around number 70, it got challenging.
Now, every day, I try to think of 108 unique things I’m grateful for. I was doing this occasionally before the pandemic, but now I make sure to do it every day. It completely impacts the rest of my day. Conjuring those things at some point in the day makes them accessible to me for the rest of the day. At any time throughout the rest of the day, when something is difficult or challenging, quickly, one of those 108 things bubbles to my mind, and I’m thinking of something I’m grateful for. It’s almost automatic.