Calm Clarity & Leadership

DueQuach_portrait sized

This week on Leadership Development news we welcome Due Quach. Due is the founder of Calm Clarity and is one of the few people with a BA from Harvard, and MBA from Wharton School of Business and she started her life in poverty.

After building a successful international business career in management consulting and private equity, she decided to pursue her dream to help people overcome adversity and build resilience. Certainly two topics that resonate with Cathy and I and that we have been talking about for years. She wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the transformative benefits of meditation practices; Due studied various meditation traditions in India and become certified in Ashtanga as a Yoga Teacher.

She developed Calm Clarity, a neuroscience based leadership and resilience program, by interweaving meditation techniques with insights from scientific research. Calm Clarity is a social enterprise, meaning that when clients pay for Calm Clarity’s services they are also supporting low-income students to benefit from the training.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I often get calls from individuals who find someone they think is very special. I have been very blessed, as you have Relly in this lifetime, to come across some wonderful young talent. Due was one of those individuals. A friend of mine who was actually President of the Girl Scouts of America Eastern Region, introduced us at a dinner. I just fell in love with Due. I couldn’t begin to describe the things that she is doing—it just touched me. This a woman who came here in poverty as an immigrant; she’ll tell you her story. She didn’t have any intention whatsoever of becoming who she is right now when she landed on what we now know as the United States of America, where people get choices and freedom. I think her story is going to be captivating and elevating. I think everyone will take away from today’s show something very special about Due.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Due, welcome to the show.

Due Quach: Hi. I’m so glad to be on the show. Thank you so much for that very wonderful introduction. I’m really touched and moved by what you said.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Due, tell us a little bit, in your own words—we talked about you being a person who has a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Wharton. Obviously you are doing great things. You are now, I believe, at Cabrini College. You have captivated the hearts and minds of so many people. Just tell us a little bit about you’re background and how you came here and who have been very influential in your career.

Due Quach: I think when the audience hears about my story they’ll be able to understand why I feel Calm Clarity is my calling.

I was born in Vietnam during a time of desperation. After the war my parents decided that we had to escape—they had to take this risk—but they had to wait until I was maybe 6 months before doing it. So we all got on this boat and luckily when we went out to sea somehow we made it to land just as we ran out of food, water and everything.

The refugee camps in Indonesia were terrible. There was malnutrition, disease and all sorts of issues. Again, I came so close to death many, many times. If it wasn’t for these humanitarian relief workers there giving medicines away, I wouldn’t be here today. I’ve always known that my life was affected by many other people’s altruism and knew I would have to give back in the future.

Eventually, I survived but I was really slow to develop and my parents had no idea if I would turn out normal. We eventually settled down inner city Philadelphia. That was kind of like a war zone in itself. It was really dangerous; there were drugs and gangs. Refugees were robbed, beat up and killed quite often. So we had to become really street smart to survive and stay safe.

I didn’t want to be a burden to my parents so I did my best not to cause any trouble. Sooner or later they realized that I hadn’t learned how to talk. When they put me in school, all the other kids could talk, read and write. My teach thought I was special needs. She wanted to send me off to a school to learn sign language because she thought I was literally dumb. It took some back and forth before the school realized I needed to have speech therapy and English as a second language courses, that I was actually mentally fine.

Sooner or later, after a couple of years of this—by third grade I’d definitely caught up with the class and not only that, I actually jumped to the top of the class. I still remember when I brought home my first report card with straight A’s my father was so shocked. He didn’t believe it was real. He thought it was fake. They had no idea that it was possible because I had been so slow to grow up.

Somehow, despite all of the challenges, I continued to excel academically. I don’t even know how it happened, but I did get into Harvard. I remember my parents were just shocked because at that point they didn’t even really know what Harvard was. They were immigrants and couldn’t speak English and were very conservative about what little girls versus what little boys should do. It was really hard for them to accept that I was so academically gifted and I would leave home to go to college.

When I got to Harvard, it was a huge transition for me. I was coming from the most extreme part of American society—the inner city—to the other extreme, the top1%. I didn’t actually feel like I belonged there. I mean academically, intellectually I could do the work. I even made Dean’s List my first year. But slowly the social component of being there just wore me down—not having a social support network, having my family not understand what I was going through, and then the traumas that I had went through, seeing violence, experiencing violence I eventually had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

All of that came to the surface and I remember being like, this isn’t fair. My classmates don’t have to deal with this. How am I supposed to deal with this? I finally got help and I remember sitting down with a psychiatrist and him explaining to me that because of my early life traumas it’s likely that my neurochemistry was off and he kind of made it seem like childhood adversity was going to be a life sentence that I might have to be on medication to manage these symptoms for the rest of my life.

I didn’t think that was acceptable and I definitely didn’t think he and I were on the same page as to what I wanted to do with my future. So, I turned to neuroscience. I just went to a bookstore and the library and learned about the brain and what was happening to me. Then I realized, you could actually make lifestyle changes, you could change your mindset, your attitude and you could actually recover. So I started doing that and I felt much better. By the time I graduated I just went off of medication and I never relapsed.

I wanted to prove to people that you don’t have to be stamped because you came from a terrible background, that you can break through all of these obstacles and you can perform. I went into consulting because there was part of me that really wanted to create a program that could help other young people growing up in these conditions, but at that time, I was 21 years old, I had not experience and had no idea how the world worked and who was going to actually listen to me.

I decided to go into management consulting, get a Wharton MBA and eventually I was lucky enough to get into Private Equity and run a fund in Vietnam. By some point, once I paid off all of my debt, I said, you had this dream, it’s been part of your life since you were in your 20’s, you wrote about this going to business school. You have not excuses now, you have to go and do this.

I remember at that time that meditation, and mindfulness was in the news. I think Ariana Huffington was already advocating for it in her Huffington Post. So I was really curious about it, but I didn’t see myself as a new age person. Every time people brought up stuff woo-woo I would like roll my eyes because I was more into the science. I had to turned to neuroscience, behavior economics and psychology to really understand what was happening to me.

Until Daniel Goleman started to publish the Dialogues of the Dalai Lama, it was hard for me to take meditation seriously. Then Steve Jobs’ biography came out and I realized that this guy had also gone to India to study meditation and what happened to him transformed not only him but the way we look at technology. So suddenly, it seemed legitimate that I could just go to India and study meditation. So that is what I decided to do.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Amazing, just amazing.

Due Quach: I have to say, going to India was pretty mind opening. I had already been living in Asia for 6 years at the time, so I’d already been pushed to my limits to question my cultural biases and perspectives. What was right and what was wrong. By the time I went to India I was really much more open minded than I had been growing up in the United States and much more willing to look at these ancient traditions to see what they had to say. For me it was also important to get it directly from the source rather than through the new age guru’s in this country, because everyone brings their own filter into the process. When you go to it directly from the source you can actually experience what they were trying to say.

I think for me there were so many breakthroughs by going to the source. I eventually became a yoga teacher as well because I really wanted to understand the physiological impact that these practices have on your body.

Nowaday’s, especially the program I went to, there was a huge focus on anatomy. Why certain breathing techniques lead to increasing energy. Why if you breathe deeply you will actually de-acidify your blood, and lower your blood pressure. You can increase your Vagus Nerve and increase the way it functions. You can become a lot more healthy and that’s why people that do yoga tend to have less issues with chronic diseases.

I really wanted to really crack down on the science and really understand why it’s helpful. Eventually I realized that I needed to package what I was learning so that I could share it with the world, especially the focus on the science. A lot of people like me are too skeptical to listen to a lot of the explanations that I hear, but when someone can frame it in terms of science and why it’s beneficial to you, why it’s logical, then people will actually listen. A lot of people are willing to change behaviors if you present them with the evidence as to why these things are causing different benefits in your body.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Due tell us how we can learn more about Calm Clarity—your website and contact information and then we are going to get back into the practical application of what you are doing.

Due Quach: My website is I also have a Facebook page: Calm Clarity and you can follow us on Twitter as well, Calm Clarity Org is the handle.

To tell you a little bit more about the program; I started it because I realized the people who stand to benefit most from leadership and resilience training are young people. The more resilient young people become the more likely they are going to stick through high school—they are going to stick through college and thrive. They can become leaders of tomorrow. So what I’m trying to do now is try to share Calm Clarity with as many low income, young people as possible in high school and in college. It’s really terrible right now—it’s like only 40% of low income teens drop out of high school. Then those that make it to college, about half of them will drop out because the social transition is actually much more difficult for them than just the academic issues.

When they drop out they are actually saddled with that as well which leads to making it harder for them to break out of poverty.

What I believe is that if we can teach them resilience and leadership at a young age, you can even reverse the impact of toxic stress on their brains, their bodies, and help them change their life trajectory. So this is sort of the crucial moment where you can deliver interventions. Their brains are so plastic right now that it’s a time when they can build habits that serve them the rest of their lives.

We’ve been running pilots in the Philadelphia area, where I’m based. This past summer I ran a pilot with the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnership. They recruited high school graduates from across the Philadelphia, which one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. The kids shared with me afterwards how the program impacted them. I have to say, as I was reading the feedback surveys that they wrote, tears came to my eyes. These stories were so powerful.

There was a young lady in the program who I learned lives with her grandmother because her mother is a drug addict who has HIV. So she can’t live with her mother. She wrote in her survey about how the program can help her keep calm especially when people talk about her father who passed away. Before that she would just snap and get really upset at people. Now she can actually stay calm and in control.

Listen to the complete interview above, without commercial. Find out how Calm Clarity works and hear the rest of her story.


Leave a Reply