Neurosurgeon Dr. Teresa Purzner Finds Power In Teamwork

Dr. Teresa Purzner is the co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Cerebelly, a baby food company with a scientific focus on brain development. A neurosurgeon with a Ph.D. in Developmental Neurobiology, she led the development of a new treatment for the most common type of infant brain cancer, which is currently rolling out to children’s medical centers across the United States. Here’s what makes her feel powerful...
I feel most powerful when…
"I’m working in a well-tuned, energetic and passionate team.  Nothing is more powerful than a group of people dedicated to a positive mission.  The momentum and force can be breathtaking."
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What does power mean to you?
"The ability to bridge the gap between a big problem and a good solution, in a way that helps a lot of people in a practical and meaningful way.  I’m not a good leader, but I have a knack for narrowing in on serious problems and thinking up practical and effective solutions. Often these solutions mean handing over the real power to someone better suited to managing the momentum."

What do you do when you feel powerless?
"To be (overly?) frank, my instinctive reaction to feelings of helplessness is one of frustration and aggression.  I have spent a lifetime tampering down that damaging and non-productive instinct and now do my best to take a more leveled approach.  First, I acknowledge the fact that I feel powerless and accept that this is simply the way we sometimes feel when we are pushing our boundaries.  It’s a good thing because it probably means we’ve left our comfort zone. Then I remind myself that I have felt powerless many, many times before and I have always figured a way out of that feeling.  Next, I try to dig in and figure out the source of the feeling, then find solutions to the underlying issue. Often, that requires me to talk over the situation with people I know and trust. Taking these steps, I’ve always found a way out.  Sometimes it takes a long time and can be painful along the journey – but I always get there. I’ve never been someone who has been immune to feelings of fear, or sadness, or powerlessness. I’m just someone who tends to carry on despite those feelings."
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What’s your power anthem?
"Whatever my kids are singing enthusiastically."
Who’s your power icon?
"I get this question a lot and I’ve spent some time trying to narrow down on a single person,  If I had to, it would be my parents. But really, that’s not the way I approach life. I see amazing and interesting talents in many people I meet from all walks of life.  I try to recognize those strengths and incorporate them into my own way of living or thinking. I’m more of a mosaic of my favorite parts of many people, rather than a disciple of an individual.  I think that’s a bit of a sturdier approach to life, but who knows. Different things work for different people."

What do you wear when you want to feel powerful?
"Whatever is comfortable and clean."
[Editor's note: Christene Barberich, a co-founder of Refinery29, was previously a consultant for Cerebelly, but was not involved with writing or editing this piece.]
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