The late and great queen, Aaliyah said it best, “Age ain’t nothing but a number.” and Miranda Cummings is proving it! The 23 year old suburban native moved to Iowa during her high-school years, then back to Chicago for college where she earned a degree in Marketing Communications from Columbia College Chicago. After graduation and a summer in Europe, she found herself back in small-town Iowa trying to figure out what to do next. Now, she is Marketing Director of her community for the Blue Zones Project, a well-being initiative, that is gaining national attention. She has a confidence that is cool, calm, and collected, and should be taught to young girls everywhere. We caught up with Miranda to learn all about The Blue Zones Project and how she handles being such a Girl Boss at a young age!
What is the Blue Zones Project and what is your position within the company?
So, Blue Zones Project is a community wide well-being improvement initiative. The goal is to make healthy choices easier in our communities by implementing long term changes to the already built environment. When you think of your habitat and you think of the places that you frequent every day such as grocery stores, schools, work, and home, social circles, and community policies. Community policies are like How many parks are in our community? Do we have bike lanes? Things like that.
My job with The Blue Zones Project is the Engagement Lead, which is a fancy way of saying Marketing Director for my demonstration site.
How many Blue Zones are there?
The Blue Zones Project is actually based off a book, called The Blue Zones! It was written by a National Geographic writer and Explorer, Dan Buettner. He conducted research for over a decade of regions of the world with the highest concentration of centenarians, or people who live to be over 100 years old. He found These Blue Zones in five regions of the world: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. They found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zones residents shared nine specific characteristics. We call these characteristics the Power 9.
We implement the Power 9 principals into communities and create, as well as inform, ways to improve an individual’s well-being. When we think about the word “well-being” we automatically associate it with diet or exercise. What we don’t think of is how volunteering is good for your well-being and having a clear sense of purpose.
There are currently six states that are working on the Blue Zones Project and we are in the process of expanding across the nation. Albert Lea, Minnesota was the first Blue Zone Community, however, it was Beach City, California that really took the project to a whole new level, when it began in 2011. While in Beach City, we were able to reduce obesity by 14% and cigarette smoking by 20%. This was by making restaurants “Blue Zones friendly,” adding bike lanes, and free fitness classes in the parks, communities can begin to do something cities like Chicago have already been doing for awhile. Over time something that was trendy became a routine in the communities we’ve worked with.
Iowa was the third state to initiate The Blue Zones Project. Our governor has a mission to make Iowa the healthiest state in the country by 2016. Over 90 communities in Iowa applied to be a Blue Zones Demonstration Site and only 15 were selected. In order to become a Blue Zones Community you have to get at least 20% of the adult population to participate and want to make a change to their well-being. That is where my job comes in- I have to reach individuals and make sure they are completing their one pledge action. This includes things like biking to work, walking your dog every day and participating in a cooking class. We also engage local worksites. I spend a lot of time communicating and explaining our message. One day I could be at a high school giving demonstrations to the PE&Health classes and the next day giving a presentation to over 500 employees within a company. My job varies within my community. I never do the same thing everyday. That is exactly what I need. I’m not the type of person who can sit in a cubicle all day. I love being able to go out into the community and talking with people everywhere to see how I can apply the Blue Zones Project.
How have your past experiences help you achieve this position?
Well, I spent some time working with DraftFCB in Europe the summer after we graduated–summer 2013. When I returned from Europe two months later I had my degree, but I didn’t have an apartment, a job, or any idea what I was doing with my future. I decided to move back home to my parent’s place in Iowa and figure out what I was going to do, where I was going to go, and what job I would have. It turns out while I was at home, a former colleague of my mother’s reached out to her and let her know that The Blue Zones Project was hiring somebody with a marketing background.
My initial thought was, Oh hell no, I am not gonna work in the same community where I graduated high school. Then I read the book and checked out the website and got really excited. My first interview was at a coffee shop, then a phone interview, next thing I knew was getting an offer letter sent over to me!
You’re very young, do you ever feel discriminated against because of your age?
Um I definitely think that because my community is more conservative–small town Iowa, you are expected to respect your elders and not talk out of your place. I mean I respect everybody, that is until you give me a reason not to. I don’t care how old you are. I am guilty as charged for talking out of place. If I have something that I can add to the conversation, the order of the conversation is not something I really focus on.
There were a couple of obstacles I did have to overcome, I am young and the last time I lived here I was in high school. But I think I proved my worth very fast. My passion and drive and dedication is very visible through the way I talk about this project. Through my education, background, and previous roles I’ve held, I’ve had the opportunity to position myself as a professional. I think my confidence really adds like twenty years to my life.
What are some of the challenges you face with your position?
Well, Blue Zones is starting to really gain momentum now and we are generating a lot of media buzz. The founder of my company is great friends with Arianna Huffington, and he has been interviewed with Forbes, O Magazine, Time, ABC News, CBS, The New York Times, CNN and Dr. Oz. It is really nice to say that I was part of something in it’s beginning stages and it really excites me and makes me want to grow with the company. Also, it is a relatively small project, probably close to 200 employees nationally. This past summer, some of us went on a trip to Minnesota and got to meet Dan and eat dinner at his beautiful home. To be able to have these relationships and build my connections at the age of 23 during my first job makes me really thankful.
On the other end, there are some challenges. We are still within our first five years, so there is a lot of back and fourth, which usually stems from a lack of trust. However, trust and consistency come over time. Our product is constantly evolving. Because of that a lot of people haven’t taken the time to read the book or visit the website. If you don’t explore the mediums and research that Blue Zone has to offer, you might get the wrong idea.
It is also part of my job to present to my city council on our progress in each sector and hope I am not going to get eaten alive. It is probably the only time I am a little nervous, but I’m still here J.
Sounds like Leslie Knope.
Sometimes I really have to step back from our social media pages and try not to comment when people are completely wrong and have uninformed opinions. For the most part though, it is really positive.
You mentioned earlier that you had to move back home after college. Did you ever consider staying here after graduation?
Absolutely! I wanted to live Chicago and build my network. When I graduated I subleased my apartment to go to Europe, but when I returned my lease was up. I wasn’t really looking for an apartment while in Europe because I was traveling. More than having to move back home it was really evaluating what was next in my life. I had to be wise about what my future held and how I was going to get there.
Would you move back?
Um, I don’t know if I could go through another snowpacalypse or Chiberia. I’m a baby when it comes to the cold.
We don’t blame you.
One thing I’ve learned from this job, is that if the right opportunity presents itself, the geographical location isn’t that big of a deal. If you would have told me a couple months before graduation that I would have a full-time amazing job in Oskaloosa, Iowa I would say Absolutely not! No way! No Chance!
Once I realized the value of this position and the doors it will open I realized I really need to give it a shot. I’m so thankful that I did! We are completely expanding. When my contract is up in July, I still have the opportunity to be with the company, just elsewhere.
Where do you see your future then? You kind of have to decide in like 7 months?
Like I said before, I really love this company. While we are trying to care for other’s well-being, our company looks out for ours. We get a healthy amount of paid time off, not such a strict dress-code, and are even asked to take care of ourselves in the workplace, by suggesting to take movement breaks every two hours.
What advice would you give young women trying to pursue a career in marketing and PR?
[Sigh] Oh my gosh…. two things, first you are NEVER too young to start building your network. Even if you move somewhere else, you never lose your network especially with all of the technology available today. Linkedin is a very powerful tool, I am constantly communicating with classmates, former co-workers, cool randoms I met at parties because they are doing really cool things in the professional realm.Building and maintaining relationships are so important. Thank-you letters are your saving grace. I would also ask them to really take some time to step back and think about the opportunities being presented to you and how they can unfold, rather than focusing where you want to live. Like who cares if this isn’t exactly your dream job? Do you enjoy it? Are you happy? You are not always going to strike gold or hit jackpot on the first try. What may be bronze at first may turn to gold in the future!
To learn more about The Blue Zones Project and the Power 9 visit their website here. Be sure to follow Miranda on Instagram @mirandamacy as well as The Blue Zones Project Oskaloosa @Bluezonesprojectosky, which Miranda also manages