Getting Personal: Jane Sullivan

Getting Personal: Jane Sullivan

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 27-year-old Champaign resident Jane Sullivan, who manages grant funding and environmental sustainability efforts for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. Meditation and yoga keep her in top form. She's into scuba diving and skydiving, and she also serves as a mentor.

Tell us how you learned about meditation and how it helps you.

I was familiar with meditation through yoga but recently began practicing regularly out of a bit of desperation. I developed the terrible habit of clenching my jaw while I slept, causing major pain and even a cracked tooth. I followed the standard dentist recommendations, but was still waking up in pain, often in the middle of the night with a racing mind and a terrible migraine. I was looking for anything to help, hoping to avoid medication. There is a lot of good scientific evidence supporting mediation's many benefits, which include mental and physical relaxation. I began practicing every evening and many mornings as well. I am still an amateur, and it is just one ingredient in my recipe for relaxation and mindfulness, but it has been helpful so far.

You spent a semester studying abroad in Brisbane, Australia. Did you make a lot of friends there?

My time in Australia was amazing. I became friends with other American students and a few locals. Following some poor advice (and trying to be laid-back and adventurous), I arrived in Australia without a place to live for the upcoming four months. I thought I would easily find a place to live once I arrived. I stayed in a hostel and quickly learned that I am not the care-free wanderer I imagined. I could barely sleep or eat because I was certain I was going to be homeless. I eventually tracked down other study-abroad students and essentially knocked on the apartment door of a student from Syracuse University and asked if she wanted a roommate. To my luck, she agreed to take me off the street. We spent the semester traveling all over the country — visiting Melbourne and Sydney, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, sky diving Byron Bay, sailing the Whitsundays, camping on Fraser Island and exploring our temporary hometown of Brisbane.

You were born and raised in Glenview. How did you get here?

The University of Illinois brought me to Champaign-Urbana, and MTD is what has kept me here. I studied Earth, society and environmental sustainability as an undergraduate. At the start of the second semester of my senior year of college, I began an internship with MTD. It was pure resume-building motivation. I never anticipated a career in public transit or that I would still be in Champaign-Urbana five years after graduation.

Your internship led to a permanent position. Sounds like a labor of love.

As it turns out, the MTD is a great place to work. And I truly believe in the benefits of public transit. I've been afforded some great opportunities at MTD and have developed a real passion for my work.

What were some of your other activities in college?

I was in a sorority in college. I met some of my closest friends through that experience and am still involved in the chapter today. My brother played on the UI's club hockey team, and my family would often come into town to watch his games. I was also a frequent library dweller. I worked hard for my grades and, thankfully, I almost always had a good friend there with me.

How did you get into yoga?

Beginning my first full-time job and watching all of my college friends leave town after graduation was a transition for me. I started practicing yoga to fill the time after work and to give my body a break from sitting at a desk. I got hooked.

Have you continued learning?

Shortly after college, I found myself feeling envious of all the students going back to school in the fall. I really enjoy challenging myself, and I love to learn. I began the Professional MBA program at the UI in the January after I completed my undergraduate degree. For two-and-a-half years, I attended MBA classes two nights a week while continuing to work full-time. The program really expanded my mind, and I developed some lifelong relationships.

Was it time to take a breather?

After completing my MBA in 2015, I took a little break from extracurriculars and then was eager to learn again. I began a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program in the fall of 2015 through Amara Yoga & Arts in Urbana. I completed the program and became a certified yoga instructor in May 2016.

What else do you do?

I like to keep pretty busy. I am a member of Junior League of Champaign-Urbana and a mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have been meeting with my Little Sister since she was in third grade, and she will be entering seventh grade this fall. I also serve as the chair of the advisory board for my college sorority's local chapter. I also love to get outside — hiking, biking, camping, anything. Someone close to me recently got me into taking walks. It seems simple, but it's a game changer for me. It can be hard to get outside and do something active, so I try to get at least a short walk in every day, usually while listening to a podcast. It really has a positive impact on my well being.

Tell us about Lean In.

The Lean In circle I participate in is one of my favorite things. Lean In circles were started by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. She encourages professional women to come together to support each other by establishing these Lean In circles — essentially a small group of women who meet regularly. I organized a circle in Champaign-Urbana with women I know through Illinois MBA, Junior League and through work. A group of seven of us get together monthly to share our successes, challenges, goals and endless support for one another.

What's your best piece of advice?

Nothing changes if nothing changes. (Read it to yourself a few times and let it sink in.) It's a simple reminder that if you want to change/improve/fix something — whether it's something small that you're struggling with (like clenching your jaw) or something big that you're working toward — you have got to be the one to do something about it. I usually go for the small, gradual steps, but I never wait around hoping for things to change on their own.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

A few deep breaths followed by a plan of attack. I am a list maker and a planner. I have to step back, take a big-picture look at the situation and decide how to move forward. After that, meditation, yoga, a walk and talking through it with a good listener (I am lucky to have a few of them) will do the trick.

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georgia12 wrote on August 15, 2017 at 3:08 am

Incredible journey you have had, Jane!

Lean In groups sounds interesting. I will check if we have one in Brooklyn once I'm back from my 200 hours yoga teacher training at Ekattva Yogshala, India. If there won't be, I will certainly love to start one on similar lines ;)