Helen Lee Schifter

Member of the Urasenke Society

Helen Lee Schifter has worked as a trader on Wall Street, and as an editor at Hearst and Condé Nast. From 2011 to the present, Helen has been a member of the Urasenke Society in New York, studying Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony- its practice, history, and philosophy. Helen lives in Manhattan and on the east end of Long Island.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I was reading Chinese and Japanese ancient poets in depth, and studying Zen Buddhism, which is closely linked to Chanoyu, the ritual of the tea ceremony.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day always includes meditation and matcha. I’ll whisk together matcha with oat milk in the morning. It gives a healthier, smoother energy than coffee, mainly due to the amino acids found in green tea.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ve found that research – careful and thorough research – is key to transforming any concept into reality. Being well organized is also imperative!

What’s one trend that excites you?

There is an ancient trend in tea that still thrills today. Chabako is a seasonal, literally portable version of the tea ceremony. I call it the “picnic” Chanoyu. It’s often performed outdoors, in a garden or a park. All of the tea utensils, the usucha (thin tea powder), and even the sweets are delicately held inside a wood or lacquer box. During this ceremony, the box is opened and each item is revealed in a beautiful sequence, tea is made and served, and then all is reversed as each piece retreats back into the box. Chabako resembles a poem, or a poetic puzzle.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese concept of “forest-bathing”. This is literally and deliberately walking in nature, slowly, with your senses fully engaged in the moment. A key health and wellness therapy in Japan, shinrin-yoku refreshes the mind. By simply bringing that rich energy back into your workplace, you become more productive.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Focus more on the mind, health and wellness. As my newest passion and subject of study has shown me, there are so many different sources of goodness that can help improve people’s mental and emotional health. The literature that Japanese and Chinese poets have given this world are invaluable, and should be appreciated as well.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Sleep is overrated!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Introspection. It’s so critical to ensure that you’re grounded consistently, even through the chaotic and busy times we’re living in. Make sure you have your priorities straight and in proper order. Health and family come first! No equivocation about that.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Ensuring whatever project I get involved in is consistent with my principles and values.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Like anyone else, I have had my share of setbacks in life. The main lesson is to never quit; and always fight on.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Believe in yourself. Have the confidence in your capacity to succeed. Ensure that you never stray from your moral compass; but maintain a steadfast faith in yourself throughout.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A contribution to the amazing healthcare workers that are on the front-lines of this fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. The work that they’re doing deserves our recognition, respect and appreciation.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

There are various programs that have been of use to me in being able to maintain ties to members of my network.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The book of 100 poems, called the Hyakunin Isshu. it’s a wonderful ageless Japanese anthology that even children study in Japan.

What is your favorite quote?

I have so many, but this week it’s from JR Tolkien:
“Not all who wander are lost.”

Key Learnings:

  • Research is key to transforming concepts into reality
  • The ancient trend in tea called the “Chabako” still thrills today
  • Walking in nature helps your senses fully engage in the moment