Rachel Begun: “Find a mentor. Be a mentor”

Find a mentor. Be a mentor. The health and wellness industry is constantly growing and re-defining itself. If you are new to an industry or find yourself drawn to an area you don’t have expertise in, reach out and ask someone to be your mentor. Even if they don’t have the time at that moment, […]

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Find a mentor. Be a mentor. The health and wellness industry is constantly growing and re-defining itself. If you are new to an industry or find yourself drawn to an area you don’t have expertise in, reach out and ask someone to be your mentor. Even if they don’t have the time at that moment, they will be flattered you asked and likely to connect you with someone else. When you have the time, pay it forward and be a mentor to others. I can tell you from personal experience that you will learn from your mentee just as much as they learn from you!


The global health and wellness market is worth more than 1.5 trillion dollars. So many people are looking to improve their physical, mental, and emotional wellness. At the same time, so many people are needed to help provide these services. What does it take to create a highly successful career in the health and wellness industry?

In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry” we are talking to health and wellness professionals who can share insights and stories from their experiences.

In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rachel Begun, MS, RDN.

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN is a health and nutrition expert and communications strategist. She is also an executive and leadership development coach and culture management consultant. She brings the two together to help leaders and their organizations build cultures of wellness.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of New York City. We are a family of five. I have an older sister and a twin brother. I was fortunate to have grown up being able to focus on school, sports, friends and family, with family traditions being a big part of the values I was raised with. We often hear about how important it is to encourage girls to follow the STEM pathway. My love for the sciences started early on in high school and I consider myself lucky that it was never a second thought for me, as a girl, to pursue my passions and dreams. I always had the full support of my parents, teachers and professors, and it started with my ninth grade biology teacher, Mrs. Ossinoff. I carried that love all the way through college, graduating with a BS in biology and pre-medical studies from Emory University. My senior year in college I knew I wanted to focus in on nutrition. I worked for three years after graduating from Emory and then applied and got into the nutrition education graduate program at Columbia University, Teachers College.

Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to live a wellness-focused lifestyle? Can you tell us about your main motivation to go all in?

While I didn’t realize it at the time, my parents were my role-models. They didn’t preach health, nor did they have rules and regulations. They taught by example. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, my mom made sure we had fresh, whole foods in the house at a time when convenience foods were gaining popularity. I never left the house without breakfast, brought a brown-bagged lunch on most days (except pizza days on Fridays), and a fresh salad and vegetables were always on the dinner table. In addition to playing sports, my dad role modeled exercise as a means for relieving stress, getting me out on the tennis court or going for a run as a study break. The healthy food and exercise was never about weight. In fact, we were taught to enjoy good food with friends and family and get outside and move our bodies as a means of sport, fun and relaxation. Looking back, I am extremely grateful for the early example that was set for me to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

I was diagnosed with IBS and lactose intolerance in high school, not knowing that I’d be diagnosed with celiac disease 20 years later. It just so happened that as I was studying the biological sciences in college, biochemistry in particular, that’s when I also took an interest in managing my GI symptoms through diet. I started making the connection between what I ate and how I felt right as I was studying the basics of nutrition. This was the impetus for going all in on a wellness-focused lifestyle and profession.

Most people with a wellbeing centered lifestyle have a “go-to” activity, exercise, beverage, or food that is part of their routine. What is yours and can you tell us how it helps you?

What you call a “go-to” routine, I call a keystone habit, the one habit that if you do it helps all other healthy habits fall into place. I eat healthfully most of the time, exercise regularly and prioritize sleep, but the habit that keeps it all together for me is my morning routine. I wake up, spend about 5–10 minutes stretching my body outside. I then head inside, put water in the tea kettle and brew up a hot mug of tea to sip while journaling. I do this every single morning, even it it’s an abbreviated version while on the road. It is what grounds me and gets me ready for my day.

To live a wellness-focused life is one thing, but how did it become your career? How did it all start?

When I was in graduate school for nutrition, there weren’t nearly as many ways to practice nutrition as there are today. The majority of nutrition students went to work in hospitals or private practice counseling others. Working in business for food companies and foodservice management was just starting to happen. Between college and graduate school, I used my biology degree to get a foot in the door in pharmaceutical marketing. I knew this wasn’t my calling in life, but it made clear for me my aptitude for and interest in marketing and communications. By the time I completed my three years of graduate school, I knew I wanted to educate people about nutrition through the media, reaching a large number of people at a time rather than one on one through counseling. My first job out of graduate school was with a food and nutrition-focused boutique public relations agency. I then worked for a global foodservice management company, startup natural food brand and family-owned regional food and wine retailer. All of that experience allowed me to start my own nutrition communications firm back in 2009.

Can you share a story about the biggest challenges you faced when you were first starting? How did you resolve that? What are the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Marketing and communications within the food industry was exciting and I really enjoyed it. I did face a few challenges that guided my future career decisions and got me to where I am today. I always felt strongly about the food and nutrition products I put my efforts behind. When you work for an agency or a company that represents many different types of food products and foodservice offerings, you don’t always get to choose what you put your name behind. After many years of working for other companies, I realized I was best suited to run my own business, where I could choose the work I promoted and advocated for. That was the first reason I chose to start my own business. The second, which I had no idea would bring me to where I am today, is that I was on the fast track — traveling and working long hours — which was coming in the way of me living the healthy lifestyle I wanted for myself. Pretty ironic considering I was hired to be the health and nutrition expert for the companies I worked for. I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but looking back I did a courageous thing… I went out on my own to do the work that I believed in and live the healthier lifestyle I wanted for myself. That brings me to the work that I do today…coaching leaders and leadership teams so they can bring their healthiest, most productive selves to work…and realize the importance of giving that same agency to everyone across their organizations. In other words, making wellness a core business value for companies.

Can you share with us how the work you are doing is helping to make a bigger impact in the world? Can you share a story that illustrates that?

After 20+ years in food and nutrition communications, I am now an executive and leadership development coach and culture management consultant, with a focus on helping leaders and leadership teams as they build cultures of wellness within their organizations. The timing is perfect as we enter into the new corporate culture of working from home and the hybrid workplace, and employees are advocating for their health in the process. Companies are realizing that health and wellness is not a state of being reserved for only those at that top. It’s a core business value that must be accessible for everyone in the organization. How companies will do this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Leaders need to figure out how it works best in their particular organization. That’s where I come in, coaching leaders and leadership teams to envision and enact their purpose, and help them create their unique solution to building a better business culture.

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

I am currently working with leadership teams from two large companies that are trying to navigate bringing their people back into the workplace after working from home. They know safety is a top priority. They know they need a different approach to ensure their people’s mental and physical wellbeing. They know they have to figure out what the hybrid model is going to look like and how to keep teams working productively with asynchronous work schedules. What has been most rewarding is seeing these companies take a new approach. They realize their efforts cannot be unilaterally decided at the top and implemented down. For the first time, these organizations are listening to the voices and feedback from associates at all levels of the organization. That, in and of itself, shows how much business has changed since the start of the pandemic. When associates feel their voices are being heard, that goes a long way towards building a healthier workplace.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I had the perseverance to forge my own path. Unlike today, food and nutrition communications was an uncommon career path when I started out. My graduate program did not offer communications classes. When I knew I wanted to hone my skills in communications, I asked the program director if I could take communications electives outside of the program and apply them towards my degree. She said no. I politely told her she can either allow me to take classes outside of the program or I would have to transfer. She changed her mind and said yes. Today’s career options in health and wellness are much more versatile than in the past, and that means there are endless pathways for getting there. My advice to people at any stage of their career, whether health and wellness or another industry: you no longer have to take the traditional path. Do what you know in your heart is the path to your dream. It may be the harder road to start, but it will be worth it.

I knew my strengths and used them to my advantage. When it came to doing communications work, I loved and excelled in developing the strategy and messaging and implementing education programming. I did not like, nor was very good at media relations and pitching. When I started my own business, I thought I had to offer all of the traditional communications services to my clients. I quickly realized that I could specialize in working with companies to develop their strategy and then hand them off to a full-service agency for the media relations execution. When I started doing that, I enjoyed my work so much more and my business really started taking off. That’s not to say we can choose doing only what we like and are good at all of the time. What I am saying is that often we spend too much time focusing on our weaknesses and not enough time building upon our strengths.

I’ve listened to my heart and allowed myself to explore what speaks to me. I’m someone that likes to continually grow. For me that means exploring and forging new skills and paths. About nine years into running my communications strategy firm, I realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to. I had the good fortune of working with many founders of startup companies to help them develop and launch their communications strategy and I realized what I most enjoyed most was helping them build their businesses and business cultures. That’s when I began exploring coaching as a means to helping leaders develop themselves and their teams. It took me three years to transition away from doing solely food and nutrition communications work and start an executive coaching certification program. Doing that program was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life. It is also what led me to understand that I didn’t have to give up my 20+ years of health and wellness expertise to practice coaching and leadership development. I could bring my two loves together to offer something very unique in the marketplace.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. Wellness is an incredibly broad topic. How would you define the term “Wellness”? Can you explain what you mean?

I have a motto, which is “Wellness is as personal as a fingerprint.” Each and every person on this planet has their own unique set of genes, medical history, family and cultural background, preferences and lifestyle, which means each and every one of us has the knowledge to create our own unique health solutions and live our best life. When we have the privilege of resources and personal agency to do what we need to take care of ourselves and be at our best — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually — than we have wellness. In the work that I do, I want to build cultures that value wellness for all and provide each person the agency to figure that out for themselves.

As an expert, this might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons with our readers about why focusing on our wellness should be a priority in our lives?

Self-care is NOT a selfish act. In fact, I believe self-care is the most important thing you can do for yourself so that you CAN do for others and be a good role model. We can’t take care of our friends and family or be good leaders and foster productive outcomes at work when we are not well.

The society we live in prioritizes work to the point that it compromises health and wellbeing. We are teaching our kids that the only way to get ahead in the world is to run ourselves into the ground. Whether intentional or not, we show our work colleagues that not taking vacation, regularly working weekends and answering emails at 11pm is the path to success. It’s no wonder that the rates of burnout, depression, anxiety and chronic disease are at epidemic levels. Until society values collective wellness as the priority, it’s up to us as individuals to advocate for our own health.

If we are truly going to be a healthier society, it’s not enough to promote individual wellbeing. We must advocate for wellness equity for all. Because our society is so overly-focused on work, I believe the workplace is where we need to start if we are going to enact change. When workplace leaders prioritize self-care and make it safe for others to do the same, those employees have the agency to take care of themselves. When all employees can practice self-care, they are role models for their families and communities. This is how we begin creating a culture of wellness.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increasingly growing understanding of the necessity for companies to be mindful of the wellness of their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, can you share steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental and physical wellness?

Organizations come in all different sizes, with different cultures, populations, geographical locations, working configurations and access to resources. This is why each company’s approach to health and wellness needs to be unique. I do believe if we are going to optimize wellness in the workplace, we need to change our mindsets about two things: 1) Wellness starts by listening to your employees — at every level and across all departments and physical locations. Hear their stories, understand where they are coming from and what their wellness needs are. That’s when a picture will start to emerge about what needs to change. 2) Wellness is about personal agency. Employees live differently, are at different stages of their lives and have different responsibilities outside of work. While there needs to be structured team time, employees need more flexibility about how they structure their work time so they have the agency to do what they need to optimize their health and bring their best, most productive selves to work.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Become an expert in a specialized area or skillset. Once you create your success there, you can go anywhere. My success can be attributed to my specialized knowledge in celiac disease, food allergies and autoimmune disorders as well as my communications skills. That’s how I became a sought after expert, doing public speaking, writing for trade and consumer publications, and conducting 1000+ media interviews. It is also the niche I focused in when first launching my communications strategy firm.
  2. Identify and play to your strengths. The great thing about the health and wellness industry is that there are endless ways to be successful in it. I knew I was a strong verbal and written communicator so that’s where I started. Once I proved myself there, countless opportunities became available to me.
  3. Find what you’re passionate about and advocate for it. There are countess sub-specialities within the umbrella of wellness. It’s easy to differentiate between the person that is passionate about their speciality and those addressing it because it’s the trendy topic of the week.
  4. Cross-pollinate and collaborate. While there are countless specialties within wellness, they are all interrelated and work together to create the holistic aspect of wellness we so often talk about. Whether you are a solopreneur, entrepreneur building a business or work within a big company, create opportunities to collaborate with others in different areas and expertises. It’s a great way to communicate the holistic picture of wellness, which benefits us all, while opening yourself up to new career opportunities.
  5. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. The health and wellness industry is constantly growing and re-defining itself. If you are new to an industry or find yourself drawn to an area you don’t have expertise in, reach out and ask someone to be your mentor. Even if they don’t have the time at that moment, they will be flattered you asked and likely to connect you with someone else. When you have the time, pay it forward and be a mentor to others. I can tell you from personal experience that you will learn from your mentee just as much as they learn from you!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would promote the most wellness to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve already shared it throughout my previous responses! Because we live in a society that prioritizes work, the workplace is where we need to begin cultivating a culture of wellness. And within the workplace, it needs to start at the top. I’ll say it again…

When workplace leaders prioritize self-care and make it safe for others to do the same, those employees have the agency to take care of themselves. When those employees practice self-care, they are role models for their families and communities. This is how we begin creating a culture of wellness.

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

Billie Jean King is someone I greatly admire. Yes, I’m a huge tennis fan, but it’s about so much more than that. Bille Jean used her talent and influence — being a professional athlete and tennis player — to fight for gender equality. She started by fighting for equal pay for female tennis players. She played a pivotal role in getting Title IX passed. She founded the Women’s Sports Foundation to advance the lives of women and girls through sports and physical activity, and I whole-heartedly believe in the benefits girls and women receive from participating in sport. And every day she uses her voice and influence to fight the good fight and encourage others who are doing the same.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.rachelbegun.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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