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Ambitious Women: Meet Heidi Durham

5 questions with CEO, mother and practicing Buddhist Heidi Durham

Published on: May 15, 2018

Heidi Durham
Heidi Durham (right); her partner, Leslie; and their 10-year-old son, Finn, in the Galapagos Islands with a local guide. Photo courtesy of Heidi Durham

What does having ambition mean when you’re a woman? When you’re a mom?

In May 2018, ParentMap is taking an up-close look at how five women think about ambition. Every week, we’ll publish a short Q&A with an ambitious woman. Who’s that exactly? She’s a mom with big dreams — for her family and for herself. 

Third: Heidi Durham. (Read the first and second installments.)

Heidi is the CEO at Art with Heart, a local nonprofit that uses art to help kids heal from trauma. She lives in Madison Valley with her partner, Leslie, and 10-year-old son, Finn. 

What does "ambition" mean to you?

When I was young I was incredibly focused, and soccer was my thing. I had a goal to play soccer at a top Division One university where I could push my body and my mind [editor’s note: Durham played at Duke University]. 

Until my 30s, ambition was really the unrelenting pursuit of what I was passionate about, which felt inward, singularly-focused and had a hot energy like a blazing fire.

Now that I’m in my 40s, how I think of ambition is passion channeled for greater good, which has more of an outward and expansive feeling and the energy of a cool breeze.

What’s a habit you have that helps make it all go?

First, as an athlete in my core, moving my body helps me feel alive and connected to myself, others and the world.

Running first thing in the morning connects me to the world through all of my senses and opens my mind. It’s a tool that helps me step into the day with a sense of clarity and openness.

Second is meditation or training my mind. I’ve been a Buddhist for the past decade.

I became curious about Buddhism while traveling in Thailand for work. Everyone I met was so at ease and kind and could accomplish a great deal with pure joy. Through daily practice, I keep training in how I am able to shift my allegiance from a bewildered, stuck mind to one that is stable, clear and strong.

Why do you do the work that you do?

My passion is unlocking potential in people. When I met with Art with Heart’s founder before I became CEO, I realized how directly the organization aligned with my Buddhist path.

[The Path] is about relieving the suffering of all beings. That’s what Art with Heart does: It uses art to help kids heal by expressing and releasing emotions, developing coping strategies for difficult times, and building lifelong resilience.

Knowing so many kids — half of all kids in America — are struggling with no resources and not enough adults trained in trauma-sensitive interventions to support their development, is motivating for me. Knowing we have a powerful solution gets me out of bed every morning on fire to broaden access. 

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be and why?

Travel completely transformed me. Travel the world early and often to widen your lens to the beauty and uniqueness that exists across landscapes and cultures. Study how community, compassion and bravery show up. Ask people to tell you their stories. Learn from their experiences, culture, values and purpose. Honor their wisdom and take pieces forward. Be a student of the world. 

Leslie and I have committed to taking Finn to a new country every year and to getting deep out in the backcountry of our own country as often as possible to connect and appreciate the beauty of our world. These activities keep us all grounded and inspired.

How has your ambition changed since you’ve had a kid?

It hasn’t changed a lot because I have an incredible partner in this joy of living life. From the beginning, Leslie and I always have asked the question, ‘How do we both protect and fuel those parts of our lives that make each other whole?’ 

We know what enlivens each other, individually, together and as a whole family unit. As a parent, especially when kids are little, it is so important to talk about what each other needs to be whole while this little person is growing and requiring so much time.

If you’re not whole, passions can die, giving birth to resentment. By being intentional with what brings joy, both individually and together, life is full and there is a sense of expansive growth and contentment. 

When Finn was little, we started a family ritual called Independent Time, or IDP. This was our way to highlight how fortunate we are to have each other and although we love and have each other, we all need different things to fill up sometimes. 

On weekends and long summer days, we always have IDP time where we may all be in the same vicinity but reading our own juicy books or engaging in activities independently but in the company of each other. 

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