Congresswoman for Hawaii's Second Congressional District, U.S. House of Representatives
As a Hawaiian Congresswoman full of “aloha spirit,” Tulsi believes that she has the great privilege to highlight and expand the opportunities that women bring to the workplace, classroom and the military. As a teenager, she co-founded the Healthy Hawaii Coalition, a non-profit teaching children to take care of themselves and the environment. An advocate READ MORE »
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: From a young age, I learned the importance of living “aloha” and grew to understand that true happiness can only be found in the service of others. I have held this close to my heart and have tried to apply these principles of servant-leadership throughout my life, whether through my service in the Middle East with my fellow soldiers of the Hawaii National Guard, working as an aide to Senator Daniel Akaka in Washington, DC, or representing the people of Hawaii in the State Legislature, Honolulu City Council, or now, in the United States Congress.
I also grew up in a family of small business entrepreneurs. When I was young, I worked in our family business, “Hawaiian Toffee Treasures.” That experience gave me a basic understanding of the kind of commitment and effort it takes to be successful in a small business, including working long hours, making sacrifices, and dealing with the inherent uncertainties of getting a small business off the ground. Growing up in a small business family taught me the value of personal responsibility and the value of every single hard-earned dollar.
The aloha spirit that guides me, and the experiences I value most, have taught me the importance of service and finding common ground in order to bring people together and work toward true progress and solutions. I strive to work every day with this mindset.
Q: How can someone who is not in a traditional position of leadership, still inspire a shared vision in her workplace or community?
A: Anyone who is motivated by a passion and strong desire to be of service to others will inspire others, whether they realize it or not. There are so many ways, large and small, that women inspire others every single day. Whether a mother, a teacher, a church volunteer or a combat veteran, women have demonstrated competence and vision at every level, in every corner of our society. To me, it should not matter what a “traditional” position of leadership offers. We need servant leaders in every single sector of our community. True progress in our communities can only occur with each of us taking a personal sense of responsibility to be servant leaders in our own lives and in our work. For example, a business owner acting as a servant leader is one who understands that being “the boss” means truly caring for her employees, valuing their work, and creating a culture that empowers her team. Once you start to treat your team, your customers, your colleagues, or your constituents with true respect and care, and not as just “another number,” you will experience the positive effects of servant leadership and will inspire positive action and change in those around you.
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. How do you stay focused on executing your big picture vision?
A: Every single day, make time to remember why you do what you do, and make sure all of your actions and decisions are aligned to achieve your goal. When you are motivated out of a desire to be a servant-leader in your chosen profession, you will find yourself constantly looking to be of service to others, rather than thinking of yourself. This keeps everything in the proper perspective and keeps you focused on what is most important.
My goal every day when I wake up is to serve the people of Hawaii, and our country. By staying focused on this, and having a plan in place, the day-to-day stresses and distractions that come up fall away. Our nation’s challenges and potential are too great to be preoccupied with anything else. To keep this in mind, I take a moment every day to reflect and remember why I am here, and who I am here to serve.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: I ran for a seat in the Hawaii State Legislature when I was 21 years old. So many people wrote me off, told me I was crazy to even try, or told me that I would “fail.” Failure was not a consideration. I knew why I was running. I wanted to serve my community and work hard to make a positive impact for them. I approached the campaign with a win-win attitude. I knew that if I won my election, I would have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to serve my community. If I did not win the election, then I still would have obtained valuable experience, knowledge, and relationships that would be priceless in any future endeavors. My advice to her would be, as long as you are motivated by a desire to make a positive impact, you cannot fail. You won’t win every single battle, and there will be challenges. But every obstacle, every battle, every challenge is actually an opportunity—an opportunity to learn, to expand, to change course, to build character, and ultimately, to be a better servant-leader. The key to your success or failure, no matter your endeavor, is your motivation and your attitude.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered? What helped you persevere?
A: There are too many examples to name. Most recently, during my campaign for Congress, I faced an uphill battle in many ways. I was told over and over that I was too young, too inexperienced and that it just wasn’t “my time.” I was told there was no way that I could succeed. But I knew why I was offering to serve, and I knew that these naysayers were not the ones who would “hire” me for the job of representing them in Congress. Focusing on connecting with the people who I was offering to serve, the people in communities all across the state, and sharing with them what was in my heart, was how I knew we could win. And on November 6th, I was privileged and honored when 81 percent of voters in Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District placed their trust and confidence in me to represent them.
In any situation, staying focused on the principles of servant-leadership and finding or creating new opportunities to be of service will enable you to overcome the obstacles naysayers may place in front of you, and will give you the focus and perspective necessary to persevere.
ON Letting go
Q: What do you do to unwind or disconnect?
A: Having balance in your life is important, both spiritually and physically. I practice yoga and meditation on a daily basis. As a lifelong vegetarian, I do my best to maintain a healthy diet, and also make time for exercise, whether it’s running, Crossfit, martial arts training, or surfing. Physical activity is essential not only for staying in shape, but also for stress relief. There will always be many demands on your time. Making sure that you maintain this balance will result in making you more productive, centered, and successful in your work and your service.
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: In 2004, I made a decision that was transformative and changed my life. At 22, I signed up to serve in the Hawaii Army National Guard. Some saw it as a huge professional risk, but I didn’t. It was a decision I made without hesitation or consideration on what the effects would be on a so-called “career.”
In August 2004, my unit in the Hawaii Army National Guard was called on to be deployed to Iraq. I was not on the mandatory deployment roster, but knew there was no way I could watch my brothers and sisters march off to combat without me. As a State Representative on my way to an easy re-election to a second term in office, I withdrew from my re-election campaign and volunteered to deploy 18 months in a medical unit. This experience was transformative and changed my life in so many ways.
My experiences serving in the Middle East changed my worldview, and increased my desire to use my experiences to affect positive change not just in Hawaii, but across the country. It also deepened my understanding that what America—and indeed the world—needs, is mutual respect and understanding for one another, what we in Hawaii call “aloha spirit.” In the military, my brothers and sisters in uniform were people of all different races, religions, and political parties, but this diversity made us stronger, and never got in the way of our being able to work together as a team, towards our common mission: to serve our country. It is this aloha that we need to practice in our daily lives, and specifically in our work, serving the people as their representatives in Congress.
ON Giving Back
Q: Why is it important for every single person sharing this earth to give back in some capacity?
A: Those who live their lives caring only for themselves, striving to achieve goals based on a self-serving attitude, may achieve a certain title or position in life, but they will not experience the true meaning of success or happiness. Whatever our line of work may be, whether in law enforcement, as a shopkeeper, an educator, an elected leader, or a CEO, personal happiness can only be found when we work as servant-leaders, truly caring for those around us, whether they are customers, students, constituents, or staff. By seeing what we can do for others, rather than what others can do for us, we will be able to collectively build a brighter, more sustainable future for all.
Q: Confidence is key to pursuing your dream. How do you build up your “confidence muscles”?
A: When I ran for my first elected office, I was 21 years old, shy, and had no experience in public speaking, debates, or campaigns. I will never forget the nervous, sick feeling I had before I gave my first 3-minute speech in front of 300 people! I stepped way outside of my comfort zone every single day as I campaigned house-to-house, having conversations with total strangers. Where I found my strength and confidence was in my conviction and desire to serve the people in my community and my state. The more I began to put others’ needs and concerns before my own, I became more confident in what I was doing, knowing that I was doing the right thing. It was not easy, but my confidence was rooted in staying focused on my motivation: being of service to others.