From Wall Street to Mountaintops: Isabella de la Houssaye ’90

Alumna offers students advice on mindfulness

Isabella de la Houssaye ’90
Isabella de la Houssaye ’90 has worked and traveled all over the world, first as an international finance lawyer at White & Case LLP, then as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers, and currently as the co-owner of Material Culture, in Philadelphia, a retail establishment and auction house. She also is an endurance athlete, mountain climber, and certified yoga instructor. In April, she spoke to Columbia Law students about mindfulness as part of the Alumni Speaker Luncheon Series, sharing advice that helped her ascend some of the world’s tallest mountains, conquer Ironman races, and overcome fear—all while battling stage 4 lung cancer. Here, three tips she applied directly to student life:


  1. When you feel overwhelmed and stressed, take a moment to ask yourself what you might be fearing or resisting. Is it a realistic fear? Is it something within your control to manage? Usually, the answer is no. So just let it go. Sometimes we resist the situation we are in: You have two exams on the same day. You can’t believe this is the hand you've been dealt. You will probably spend more time being angry about the situation than just buckling down and studying for the exams. Learn not to resist that which you can not change. The second you stop resisting the situation, you will find peace with it.
  2. When you can’t just let it go, and you’re just feeling stuck in your stress, then take two minutes and make a gratefulness list. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to take this exam at Columbia. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to learn from my mistakes by doing poorly on this exam. How lucky am I to be alive at this moment! I guarantee you, it will be impossible to continue to feel bad or sorry for yourself when you reframe the moment in this way.
  3. Be mindful of the fact that nothing is innately good or bad. A day is just a day. A job is a job. We are the ones who decide whether something is good or bad and that is something we absolutely have control over. You may not be able to control the circumstances in which you find yourself, but you have absolute power to control your reaction to it. You and you alone are responsible for your own happiness. Be mindful, and own it.

Read more in The New York Times: She Had Stage 4 Lung Cancer, and a Mountain to Climb

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Published on May 23, 2019