Sarah Gravely: “Surround yourself with good people!”

Surround yourself with good people! Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Find people that share your values, who you can listen and learn from. I am constantly encouraged to continue to show up as the best version of myself because of the people that […]

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Surround yourself with good people! Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Find people that share your values, who you can listen and learn from. I am constantly encouraged to continue to show up as the best version of myself because of the people that I have in my life. Knowing I have family, friends and mentors that will support me through anything, is extremely comforting.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingSarah Gravely

As the founder of The Starling Collective, Sarah Gravely works with organizations and individuals to curate holistic wellness programs that are tailored to meet their goals. She is a seasoned industry thought leader who utilizes her expertise to curate tailored wellness approaches, spark wellness awareness, and achieve business goals. Sarah spent 15 years navigating corporate and nonprofit communications, project management and event planning, working alongside C-suite professionals and organizational leaders. She is a graduate from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations and is professionally trained at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She holds a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Certification from Mindful Leader and currently serves as a member of the Wellness at Work Initiative with the Global Wellness Institute.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I owe my childhood backstory to my hometown, Martinsville, VA. Located on the NC border, it is best known for NASCAR and a once booming textile and furniture manufacturing town.

There are deep roots in Henry County on both my mother and father’s side of the family. To this day, some of my strongest friendships are the ones that began in childhood. It was an open and friendly community, where neighbors were close and always welcoming. There is no wonder going home is my recharge, my grounding and my comfort. I feel my whole self when I return to my childhood home and when I am around these people.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

It has been a collection of personal and professional experiences that have led me to where I am today. My professional background has been diverse across many industries and I have been fortunate to live in some of the most amazing cities in the US. It was my move to California in 2011 that impacted me forever. In an instant, my life was literally and figuratively shattered when I had an extreme near-death accident. Shortly after arriving after driving cross country for 6 days, my leg went through a sliding glass door. After over 100 stitches, a transfusion of two units of blood, and learning how to walk again, I was left with a pretty gnarly scar on my right leg that resembles a shark bite. It was the awakening I never knew I needed, and one that I am eternally grateful to have. It was during many years of healing that I started to build my well-being toolbox. I attribute my curiosity of learning about wellness and this path of creating my business to this experience. This was an accident that certainly was not accidental.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Mary Barber and Sara Whiteford, identical twin sisters, who are as wild about food as they are passionate about life. Their resume would read, trained under Michelin-starred chefs, ran a catering business in San Francisco called Thymes Two, and co-authored eight cookbooks. Individually, they are powerful women, and together they are a force. I moved to California to support their business which was specifically focused on healthy eating habits. Almost instantly, I experienced the importance of how all aspects of overall wellness start to overlap. While I was healing from my accident, they would teach me about foods that were good for my recovery and encouraged me to try various physical exercises to rebuild strength in my body. Not only did they care for me physically, emotionally and mentally during my recovery, they inspired me spiritually, all while treating me and maintaining a positive business relationship. Working with them, I was also able to see first-hand how entrepreneurship is the practice of constantly learning, creating and reinventing. Over the years, we have celebrated many successes and have experienced many failures. To me, they are the mentors that I call to brainstorm with about all new ideas. From them I have learned to always think outside of the box. Mary and Sara have made a huge impact on my life and I hope I can pay it forward someday.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.” ~Stephen Hawking

Early in my career, I was working in nonprofit fundraising. Extremely excited about my new job and new office, I took charge and started to organize folders on the shared drive and make edits to documents after completing my daily tasks. Instead of asking about or looking into the organization process or document saving systems, I made changes that would instead override the process.

I am the first to admit that I am not perfect and that I do occasionally make mistakes. While I thought I was being helpful and putting my organization skills to use along with my ability to improve procedures, I learned my lesson by not looking at what was previously in place. Moving forward, I was able to help streamline the organization system of the files in the shared drive. I was also able to fix the document that I did not save correctly by looking at the previous version and a couple of paper copies. To this day, I find the value in saving multiple documents for referencing edits. You do not want to know how many versions of this interview I have saved!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Without question, the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I have read this book about 5 times since high school and each time I take away something new. Most recently, the takeaways were applicable to my personal and professional life and perspectives that were helpful to get through the uncertainties of 2020.

If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do, and if you have, it may be worth picking up again. In no particular order, reading this book always reminds me to:

· Trust your intuition. — “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So, it’s better to listen to what it has to say.” — Paulo Coelho

· Live in the present moment — “Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy (wo)man.”

· Keep on keeping on — “The secret to life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” Failure is a part of the journey.

· Clarity comes through action and execution — “There is only one way to learn. It’s through action.”

· Simplicity — “The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.” — Paulo Coelho

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I don’t necessarily have one favorite; I think there are many that are applicable to different situations in life. However, if I had to choose, two that are recurring for me right now are, “This too shall pass” and “With pace and a pinch of grace”.

“This too shall pass” is one that my grandmother, who we called Tito, used to always say, and a reminder that I repeated to myself throughout 2020. Whether good or bad, all times will soon pass and all experiences in life are transient. It’s a reminder to simply be and feel through the best and worst of times, as they are a continuous part of this precious life.

“With pace and a pinch of grace” has been my life motto for as long as I can remember. Like with many quotes, this has a different meaning through various seasons of life. To me, at this moment, it means this is my journey, this is my timeline, and along the way, while there may be hurdles, I will always choose to handle these challenges that I may face with tact and grace, and a maybe little fierceness, if needed.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

This past year certainly has been full of pivots and redirections. While I wouldn’t say the focus of my business changed utterly, there was a significant shift. In the last few months, I have been leading webinars and workshops focusing on Wellness at Work. Living a healthy life is possible for anyone who has guidance and access to well-being wisdom and essentials, especially for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Achieving optimal wellness doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be as simple as incorporating thoughts and practices during daily tasks — your commute to/from work, completing chores at your home, going for a walk in the neighborhood, habits and routines when you wake up and before you go to bed. This upcoming year, I am partnering with healthcare systems and corporations to offer Wellness at Work workshops. These workshops will go over practical applications to implement throughout your day because it is the small changes over time that make a big impact overall — at work and at home. Scientifically tested meditation and mindfulness techniques are shared to help in reducing stress and living with greater ease. I am also excited to begin working with resorts in the southeast to develop and produce wellness programs. The best way to stay informed with these exciting projects and opportunities that I have in store is by following my Instagram and connecting with me on LinkedIn.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Without a doubt, meditation will always be the #1 habit that has transformed my mental well-being. In addition to meditation, below are experiences that I have found helpful.

1. Surround yourself with good people! Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Find people that share your values, who you can listen and learn from. I am constantly encouraged to continue to show up as the best version of myself because of the people that I have in my life. Knowing I have family, friends and mentors that will support me through anything, is extremely comforting.

2. Give to others less fortunate and give back to your community. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Gandhi

The majority of my career in my 20’s was spent in nonprofit fundraising as well as volunteering and serving on numerous boards. You cannot put a price tag on the value of time one can spend helping with a cause that is important to them. Not only can giving back increase a person’s happiness, but it is also an opportunity to connect with others who share the same beliefs.

3. Unplug! “We spend 11+ hours a day looking at screens. Research shows that constant absorption of social media and 24 hours news feeds are causing depression, anxiety, and disconnection. Yet none of us want to admit that technology can be bad for us because to face that is to face swimming upstream in a shared experience that we’ve all gotten swept away by. Managing our tech consumption is essential to positive mental health.” Robin Berzin MD, Parsley Health

Almost everything these days is done in front of a screen. There are many benefits that one can experience by reducing screen time, most importantly living in the present moment, while increasing solitude and self-reflection. It’s understandable that the screen may be more necessary to stay connected with loved ones and to continue with work, so unplugging completely might not be an option. I always encourage people to find times for usage or find times for a break and keep track of the amount of time that you spend on your phone. Screen usage is not limited to the phone, it is also the computer, television and other electronic devices. So, make sure awareness of usage is brought to this as well.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I am multi-passionate, thriving in a variety of wellness exercises. Over the years, I have learned to listen to my mind and my body.

My current meditation practice alternates between silent and guided. For guided, I have many recordings from many teachers around the globe, and I rotate between a few apps — Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer. For yoga, it is similar by creating a self-guided flow on the map or tuning into online offerings.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Of course, part of achieving optimal physical wellness includes movement. This is an opportunity to figure out how your body responds to different exercises. There are so many options as the fitness industry has exploded. From yoga, to barre, to HITT, cycling, running, walking, and everything in between, there is something for everyone. I am a believer in finding something that you enjoy, and love is key! Another habit I live by is sleep. Not only making sure to get 8–9 hours a night, but also incorporating a nap into your schedule. There is scientific research that proves that a nap not only helps improve your mood but boosts your alertness and mental function as well. My ideal nap time is between 10–20 minutes; however, I can nap longer, just making sure not to exceed 60–90 minutes. Finally, hydration is key, and to me may be more important than movement and sleep. When you are hydrated, your joints work better, your muscles are provided with adequate nutrients and waste is removed from your body. This helps with maximizing physical performance, along with an increase in energy levels and brain functions as well as the possibility of aiding in weight loss.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

While training as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I really got to know my body and how it responds to food. I tried out many different dietary theories to figure out what worked best for me. That is what is most important, working with someone to get to know you. We are all made differently and what works for you, might not necessarily work for me. There is so much science and research out there now, and many reputable practitioners to help you understand more about this. I couldn’t recommend working with one more. I think not understanding this is one of the many blocks that people face when eating healthy with a goal of losing weight or feeling good.

Another block is eating while distracted. How many of us eat food on the run? Gone are the days that we eat meals at the table. We are often finding ourselves picking up a pastry as we order our coffee, eat at our desk while we finish our never-ending list of things to do, or eat dinner while we drop off kids at an afterschool practice. While our calendars are full and our culture has changed, I encourage people to start practicing mindful eating. Start by scheduling time for one meal a week where you eat without distractions, eat nourishing food and listen to your body. Maybe one meal can lead to other meals throughout the week.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Engaging a therapist — Having someone to connect with and trust to express your emotions is key! While we can lean on family and friends, I find that working with a psychologist is most beneficial to work through challenging life experiences. Shortly after my move cross country, I started working with someone to help me cope with stress and work through extreme grief. She quickly became one of my closest confidants and trusted advisors. Emotional health is how we relate to ourselves and to others, and for me talking about my emotions, helps me identify goals, find a sense of balance, and strengthen communication to sustain relationships. There is evidence and research that shows that talk therapy brings about change at the level of the brain.
  2. Journaling is simple and can be done anywhere. It can be used to decrease negative or increase positive thoughts. It is a mindfulness technique that can help manage stress and improve emotional wellness. Through this act of writing, I am able to explore, discover and gain perspective on my emotions, releasing the buildup of the thoughts that are in my head. Taking a pen to paper reveals more depth to feelings. The best part is that it can be private to you, travel with you anywhere and not cost a dime (other than the price of materials).
  3. Identifying and Naming Emotions — Did you know that a human can experience around 34,000 emotions? It can be easy to express primary emotions — joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation. But what if you could break down each of these emotions further to identify and come to terms with how you really are feeling? This is when an emotion wheel or the wheel of emotions can come to play. There are many variations, but generally it is a circular graphic that breaks down emotions into sections to better understand feelings. I often turn to an emotion wheel when I am unsure of what I am experiencing and why. For example, I can say that I am happy, and to break it down further, I am happy because I am content, and I am content because I am joyful.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Masks are part of our reality to stay safe, but they cover our smiles. How can we still communicate empathy when we can only see half of a person’s face? Personally, I never noticed how much a smile made a difference in my life until I couldn’t see a smile. I find myself to be an observer, no matter where I am. I love to watch people interacting with others. You can see how a person may be feeling by their expressions. With the new mask mandates in public, I found myself not paying attention. During a trip to the grocery store I noticed no one was looking at each other anymore, as we adjusted to these new “accessories” we weren’t acknowledging one another. From that day on, I made it a point to start smiling at people through my eyes. Sounds silly, right? But trust me it works. At first, people would look away, but the more I practiced the more smiles I got in return. And while I am uncertain if there is research showing that smiling through your eyes helps improve emotional wellness, I know it helps me and I only hope it makes a difference to others.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Visit and revise your core values. Every three to five years, I identify as the most important tenets to guide my beliefs. Because I am always evolving, sometimes the most important values are on rotation, becoming the non-negotiable for myself and for my relationships with others. Annually, instead of making a New Year’s resolution, I choose one word for the year. This becomes the theme on what will encourage me throughout the year, how I make decisions, how I respond to situations and what truly matters the most.
  2. There is power in positive thinking. Focusing on the good in life can improve spiritual health through gratitude, and research has been confirming that positive emotions help people lead productive and satisfying lives. The Dalai Lama said, “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.” For me, positive thinking is important for spiritual well-being as it guides and integrates purpose with myself, thanks for others, and a connection to a higher power!
  3. Breathwork is a tool for meditation and there are many practices that aid mental and physical health. It is also the bridge between the body and the mind, and breathwork can help with nourishing the human spirit. The simple act of breathing can help you connect to your inner self, and can help one experience bliss, joy and life satisfaction.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

Earth, the planet on which we live, is spectacular, wouldn’t you agree? Whether hiking through the Marin Headlands while living in San Francisco or taking a sunset stroll on Sullivan’s Island while living in Charleston, I find that being outside in nature is what brings me the most joy. I have been very fortunate to live in and visit many amazing cities, states and countries with different landscapes and various terrains. And it is during the time that I spend outside that I feel grounded. The practice of grounding, also called earthing, provides various therapeutic techniques and activities that “ground” or electrically reconnect you to earth, and myself. A few of my favorite examples are walking barefoot, lying on the ground, and submerging in water.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to start a movement that focuses on educating individuals that optimal wellness can be achieved by all. And where we start is in the workplace. I have been fortunate to see how organizations and business work from the top down and inside out. Now working on the outside looking in, I see there are countless opportunities to help employees thrive while supporting their overall well-being.

According to the International Labor Organization, there are 3.5 billion people employed globally. Working takes up the majority of a person’s time in the day. As an employer, helping one person can start a ripple effect. If an organization helps their employee, then their families, friends and social networks are then impacted.

2020 has brought to our attention the importance and emphasis on the health and well-being of our employees. Wellness is no longer an option; it is part of our culture. Wellness is a bottom-line decision, especially in the workplace. There is more effort that is put into the connection and ‘check-in’ as we are all adapting to the remote office and the new WFH schedule. All leaders must pay attention to the wellness of their workers, now. Well-being check-ins should be an action item on every meeting agenda, celebrating the wins and acknowledging the challenges. Creating this environment can prevent an employee from feeling burned out, while helping improve productivity and encouraging the employee to thrive.

In December, I did a workshop with MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) residents, a local hospital system here in Charleston, that focused on practical applications to implement throughout your day, because it is the small changes over time that make a big impact overall — at work and at home. And in a presentation to participants in the Virginia Governor’s Conference on Aging, I shared scientifically tested meditation and mindfulness techniques are shared to help in reducing stress and living with greater ease.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Connecting with people is my life passion. When people ask me what I do, I often want to respond with, “I am a connector”. The list is never ending with the people that I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, however, at the top is Sara Blakely, the brilliant mind behind the SPANX brand. Faux leather leggings, anyone?!? Her advice in building a business is start small and DREAM BIG. Starting with one really great product or service and trusting the process, while keeping the product and story at your business center. Sara became the 1st self-made billionaire female by starting a business with 1 single product, no business plan, no marketing plan and no other ideas. She stayed connected to the consumer and listened. There are many cases out there for successful business strategies, Sara’s approach resonates the most with me, staying true to your mission and your heart, and always following your intuition. Over the past couple of years, I know there have been people in my life that questioned my crazy ideas, and deep down I have been staying on course and following my intuition to make it happen.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

@thestarlingcollective — Instagram

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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