Personal Brands We Love: Simone N. Sneed, Catching Brilliance CEO


Photo credit: Russell Frederick Photography  

Every so often you find an individual who is working not only to better themselves, but also working towards a better community, Simone N. Sneed happens to be one of those people. As an expert in non-profit sustainability, philanthropy and wellness, Simone is passionate about creating strategies to shift and impact the experience and lives of women and girls all over the world. Her company, Catching Brilliance, is a social enterprise built to manifest a world where women and girls can thrive in. She focuses on change and social justice, while helping individuals commit to wellness and joy. Simone is currently an IGNITE fellow at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and will be launching her newest social impact initiative, Advice For A Brilliant Life, in 2014. Read on to learn more about this brilliant entrepreneur.




Describe your personal brand in three words: 

Bold. Focused. Present.

30 second elevator pitch, Go!

My name is Simone N. Sneed and I am a non-profit executive and social entrepreneur dedicated to increasing our collective capacity to create real change for the communities that need it most.  I believe that we must build this capacity at the individual and institutional level and have committed my career and my life to this work.

Current position

Director of Development & External Affairs, Inwood House

Founder & CEO, Catching Brilliance / Blogger – Advice For A Brilliant Life

What is a typical day like for you?

I have worked very hard to create a life that is intentional and efficient. My daily schedule looks something like this:

5:15 a.m. Wake up

5:45 a.m. Train to gym

6:45–9 a.m. Work out and write/edit articles for Levo League/Huffington Post/ShimmerTeen/etc.

9:30 a.m. Arrive at work

10 a.m. Daily morning 15-minute team meeting

10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Email board members, event performance analysis, foundation proposal review, executive team meeting, phone calls with individuals looking to make in-kind donations or volunteer

12:30–1:30 p.m. Lunch. Can be food from home or networking lunch for CB or IH

1:45–5:30 p.m. One-on-one team meetings, more and more emails, catching up on news, reviewing Google alerts for Inwood House, etc.

5:30–6:30 p.m. Travel

6:30–8:30 p.m. After work, networking or Catching Brilliance work in my home office, drawing out strategy on my chalkboard wall, writing articles, pitching new media sources, reading a management book, etc.

9:00–10:00 p.m. Winding down time, Netflix, journaling, talking on the phone with family and friends

10:30 p.m. Five-minute meditation, sleep

What part did your personal brand play in getting you to where you are today?

When I was in college personal branding was a new concept. Few people owned their domain names, LinkedIn didn't exist and your brand seemed to be dictated by the work that you were known for. In that light, I took the time to look at the lives of professionals that I admired and asked myself what characteristics I wanted to be sure to embody.  Ultimately I prioritized doing work that was interesting and fulfilling to me, with a high degree of integrity and excellence, in that way my “brand” has stayed the same but my confidence in my work and clarification in terms of the arena I’d like to apply my professionals skills has increased.

Describe a failure that you have experienced and what you did to recover:

My growing edge has historically been around my ability to tolerate distress. Like many folks I’m not a fan of chaotic or toxic work environments, that said, the fact is there are moments even in jobs that we love where things can be chaotic or toxic. The truth is, when you examine the trajectories of successful people, what makes them different is that they learn to adapt in uncomfortable environments and in adapting they are able to work through the discomfort and accomplish something great. That was an important realization in my career, accomplishing something awesome means working through the hard times as well as the good times. The rewards are more tremendous than I could have imagined.

How did you garner press coverage and media attention?

I love to write and in 2007 I contacted my local paper of record, The Times Union in upstate New York and asked if I could be one of their local bloggers. I explained to them that there was a burgeoning community of young professionals of color in the city of Albany who needed advice and connectivity through local media. They agreed and the first incarnation of my blog, Advice for A Brilliant life , was born.  This experience highlighted the importance of advocating for what you want and being persistent and making a strong case, tactics that I've continued to use in building my media opportunities. Thought leadership in the arenas of non-profit sector evolution, women and girls, wellness and philanthropy is an important and active part of my life and the great thing about pursuing what you love is that one thing builds to the next.

What has been the greatest opportunity you have been offered?

When I was 16, I was accepted to Cornell University. I had grand plans of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Upon meeting with them to discuss my acceptance I was informed that they wanted me to take a year of college courses and then return my sophomore year. They wanted to ensure my ability to navigate the social environment of a university to ensure that I’d fair well not only academically but holistically. As confused and hard to hear as this was I ended up attending the University at Albany.  By the time I reached my sophomore year I had discovered Sociology and Public Policy and not only changed majors but I truly expanded my world view including ways I could have an impact. While the opportunity to attend Cornell for Biology was a huge opportunity for me, the better opportunity was the ability to change my mind and evolve.

What keeps you going?

I take my life one day at a time focusing each moment on being as present as possible. I believe that freedom is an internal opportunity and I have committed myself to being free from fear and free from want. The possibility of self-actualization is extraordinarily compelling to me and it drives me each day.

Who are some of your mentors and why?

I am fortunate to have several mentors who all are able to advise and advocate for me in different arenas. One of my best mentors is actually my colleague and Deputy Director at Inwood House, Biz Ghormley. As a peer I really appreciate her ability to ask me wonderful questions that help me grow as a non-profit executive and as young woman.  She, like many of my mentors,  provides me with space to receive much-needed feedback which allows us to grow. Finding a mentor who can be profoundly honest and compassionate at the same time is truly worth the effort and emotional investment.

What were the steps you took in college that impacted your professional success?

In college I put the effort in to better understand how I learn and also to identify the types of environments and ecosystems that I thrive in. This has allowed me to grow through my work in a way that is extraordinarily fulfilling.

What would you say to a young person who wants to work in your industry?

Passion is great and technical skill is CRITICAL. A desire to make the world a better place is well and good and a fantastic place to start however, in addition to identifying what issue or cause you are passionate about the best thing you can do is to ensure you are a true value. Add to a social impact org, for example, this sector needs strong human resource departments, more experts in data and evaluations methodologies and a stronger ability to develop sustainable revenue streams such as earned income. We want your passion but we need your SKILLS.

Words of Advice for Young Professionals:

Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

Well starting in November I will be publishing a series of articles on my Huffington Post column  called “ The New Non-Profit” exploring opportunities for the sector to evolve. In January 2014 I will be re-launching my blog Advice For A Brilliant Life with brand new videos and articles dedicated to equipping Gen Y women with the strategies to maximize their personal and professional lives. You can visit adviceforabrilliantlife.com today to sign up.

You can always find me @catchbrilliance