Nicole Griffin of Calm: “Treat your business like a business”

Treat your business like a business: In addition to having a website, have a strategy and some basic organization. Magical thinking simply ain’t it, I hate to tell you. Do your manifesting rituals AND have a plan. Charge your crystals AND be strategic about how you position yourself and develop your expertise. Pose with your […]

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Treat your business like a business: In addition to having a website, have a strategy and some basic organization. Magical thinking simply ain’t it, I hate to tell you. Do your manifesting rituals AND have a plan. Charge your crystals AND be strategic about how you position yourself and develop your expertise. Pose with your foot behind your head on Instagram AND keep your books organized. Setting up some simple systems and automating things will make your life easier and allow you to have a greater impact while hustling less.

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 Nicole Griffin.

Nicole Griffin is a behavioral health coach at Calm, a yoga instructor, and a Middle East and North Africa retreat leader. Her yoga retreats emphasize meaningful cultural immersion and mindful travel and explore how to take our yoga off the mat and into the world around us. As a teacher and coach, she guides people to develop resilience and mindfulness with the intention to positively impact the wellbeing of all people everywhere. She has lived and studied abroad in Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon, has an International MBA, and owns Nicole Griffin 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 grew up in and around Berkeley, CA, an epicenter of health and wellness and beautiful local foods. I have early memories of my mom taking me to the local natural grocery as well as the juice shop, where she would get carrot juice for me and wheatgrass shots for her. My mom always made sure I was well-nourished by food, and my dad kept me active by enrolling me in all the sports. Health and wellness was definitely instilled in me from a very early age, and I consider that to be one of my greatest gifts. As a public school student, I also had a sense from a pretty young age that there was a wide gap in access to this type of nourishment. I didn’t know what a food desert was until much later, but many of my classmates lived in one. I grew up in a beautiful, diverse, and complex community where I had access to everything I needed to thrive and was aware that many others around me did not.

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?

Wellness has always been a huge passion and interest of mine. I have always been very active and interested in healthy living and eating. My interest in stress resilience and mindfulness has developed more over time and through difficult professional situations. At first it was more about “how do I get through this?” and then I began to understand what a big need there was for everyone to chill out and learn some stress management skills. When I was still working full time, I used to always think about how much nicer everyone would be if they weren’t so stressed out. That thought motivated me to learn how to teach stress management and resilience skills to other people. It really felt like it was something I could do to help make the world a better place.

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?

Movement is my best medicine, and I try to maintain a balanced mix of activities. I go to a functional fitness gym a few times a week, where I do coach-led strength training and plyometrics. To balance out the more intense workouts, I add in several yoga practices a week, which lately have erred more on the therapeutic/restorative side. I also take my dog for a hike almost every single day. Movement helps me process through life and find balance. Sometimes I need to do that with intensity and other times with quiet, but movement almost always makes me feel better.

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

After 20 years as a competitive soccer player, my body started to tell me that it was time to slow down. I sustained multiple serious injuries in a short period of time, including an ACL tear. My ACL tear essentially catalyzed an identity crisis that ultimately sent me into my International MBA program and back to the Middle East for a year to learn Arabic. After a year of living out of a suitcase and navigating new countries and cultures and still feeling the effects of all my sports injuries, I finally acquiesced to giving yoga a try. I was lucky to be introduced to a very special studio in Washington, DC, called Tranquil Space. Before long, I was going every single day, and about a year later, I enrolled in teacher training. Meanwhile, I was finishing business school and working full time. Since I had focused on social entrepreneurship in business school, I started building my own wellness business as a side hustle. It wasn’t until I unexpectedly lost my job that I decided to jump into wellness full time and see what I could make of it. I had to pick up a waitressing job a few nights a week to get by in the early days, but over time, I have been able to build things up more and more and create a business that I feel very proud of.

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?

I had imposter syndrome really badly when I was first starting out. I was super shy as a kid and always avoided the spotlight and shirked away from attention. When I first started teaching yoga, I felt very uncomfortable being the voice in the room and the center of attention. I resolved to meet this fear face on until it lost its charge. I signed up to sub for as many classes as I could and kept showing up scared until I gained more confidence and self-esteem. “Fake it til you make it” has always been one of my mantras, along with a quote from Will Smith — “The best things in life are on the other side of terror. On the other side of your maximum fear are all of the best things in life.” I have to say that I definitely agree with Will. In my experience, all the best things in my life have been on the other side of my maximum fear.

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?

My yoga retreats focus on meaningful cultural immersion and mindful travel. They take place in the Middle East and North Africa, which for many people is a new and unfamiliar corner of the world. My retreats aim to facilitate cultural exchange and positively impact perceptions of the MENA region. The practices I share during my retreats are meant to provide a container to process the travel and cultural experiences. My intention is to help people develop the resilience and mindfulness they need to be curious, compassionate, and courageous travelers and human beings. Furthermore, all of my retreats give back financially to local nonprofits that empower women and girls. I also hire and seek out opportunities to build relationships with local people. I firmly believe that building relationships is the best way to bridge cultural divides, and I aim to resource my students with the practices and skills they need to stay grounded and open-minded throughout their travels.

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 building out my retreat model and looking for more ways to collaborate with nonprofits in the MENA region. Eventually I’d like to offer classes and training at low or no cost to anyone in the region who has an interest in learning yoga and mindfulness practices. I am also building a more intentional fundraising component into my retreats. I can only take a small group with me on each trip, so I am actively creating opportunities to involve more people and increase my impact. In addition to wellness, I also have a background in nonprofit fundraising and developing corporate partnerships, and I would like to integrate this into my business moving forward.

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?

  1. Courage: I have always been willing to do things despite feeling scared. Over the years, I have learned to transmute my fear into excitement and initiative and have reaped the reward of many awesome adventures. Deciding to study abroad in Turkey rather than in Italy as an undergraduate sparked a fire that I have been following ever since. Had I played it safe and spent the semester drinking Chianti, I would have had a nice vacation. Instead, I became a truth-seeker, a storyteller, and a courageous, relentless traveler and guide.
  2. Mission-driven: I have always had a strong sense of purpose and mission and have stayed true to this no matter what. I am driven by a desire to help other people, to speak the truth, and to create a kinder and more equitable world for all beings. I also care about my own wellbeing and ability to live in alignment with my purpose. I don’t value productivity, profit above people, or extractive and mean work cultures. I tend to have pretty strong boundaries around this stuff, which has meant various negative consequences and missed opportunities in the short term. In the long term, it has led to more self-assuredness and alignment.
  3. Integrity/credibility: I am someone who really tries to practice what I preach and who never stops learning. I think this allows people to understand who I am and to trust me. There are a lot of false prophets in the yoga and wellness world, many of whom have a baseline certification and a big head. I invest in constant personal and professional development and dedicate time and energy everyday to my craft. There are also a lot of entertainers in this realm who have charisma but no clue what they are talking about. The students who seek me out tend to appreciate authenticity, humility, and studentship.

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?

When I hear the word “wellness,” I think of overall wellbeing. I also think of who has access to wellbeing and who doesn’t. In my mind, “wellness” encapsulates physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It represents both self-care and community care, as well as inspiration, nourishment, rest, connection, safety, security, and an overall ability to thrive.

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?

Focusing on wellness should be a priority in our culture, and all people should have access to wellness. Human beings are not machines and we all need to rest and take care of ourselves and each other. If we don’t prioritize wellness, we end up sick, depressed, anxious, lonely, and stressed out. If we live like this chronically, we not only don’t feel well and have poor health outcomes, we also lose track of who we are and how we are all connected. In short, by sacrificing our wellness, we also sacrifice our humanity.

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?

I have seen a marked uptick in mental health benefits being offered by companies, which is great to see. As a behavioral health coach at Calm, I have seen many companies purchase Calm benefits for their employees during the pandemic. Many employees are struggling to maintain work-life boundaries and to shut off their minds at night while working from home. This is compounded by the overall stress of the pandemic and the uncertainty of when it will end. Offering employees mental health benefits is very helpful at this time. Mental health benefits that come with a human touch, like access to a coach or therapist, are the most helpful, in my opinion.

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. Have a functioning and optimized website: This one might sound obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many people in wellness do not have a functioning website. It’s super simple to purchase a domain and set up a Squarespace website with basic information on it. It is simply not realistic to expect your business to grow if you don’t have a presence online. And if you have a website, but it was set up in 1997, it is time for an upgrade!
  2. Have a growth mindset: Believe in your capacity to learn new things. Be willing to say yes to things you don’t know how to do yet and learn as you go. If you want to own your own business, you are going to have to hustle and wear a lot of different hats. Eventually, you can outsource things, but at first, you are going to have to figure a lot of stuff out. Over the last five years, I have had to learn SEO, accounting, graphic design, self-employed taxes, PR, social media, legal stuff, and more. I have made it a practice to say yes (within reason) to opportunities that come my way, and as a result, I have learned and grown a ton.
  3. Reframe failures as tests: This also requires a growth mindset. Learn not to take “failure” so personally. Bounce back, pivot, try something else, try the same thing again at a later time. Learn from all of your “mistakes.” I like to use the word “experiment” a lot to keep things light and to always learn from everything I try. Not everything will work out or get the results you hope for, but that does not mean you should get discouraged or give up.
  4. Treat your business like a business: In addition to having a website, have a strategy and some basic organization. Magical thinking simply ain’t it, I hate to tell you. Do your manifesting rituals AND have a plan. Charge your crystals AND be strategic about how you position yourself and develop your expertise. Pose with your foot behind your head on Instagram AND keep your books organized. Setting up some simple systems and automating things will make your life easier and allow you to have a greater impact while hustling less.
  5. Be real: Be relatable and real, don’t aspire to be an influencer. Stand up for the issues that you believe in and don’t be afraid to talk about politics. This will allow people to relate to you and connect with you in a more meaningful way. I notice a lot of people in wellness avoiding politics or offering really lame platitudes like “we are all one” or “love and light.” I had a professor in business school who always used to say, “No one likes lukewarm tea. People like hot tea and iced tea, but not lukewarm tea.” His point was to not try to be everything to everyone. We need more people in wellness who stand for something rather than nothing.

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. 🙂

Americans should work fewer hours a week and have more time off to do the things that nourish them and bring them joy. As a society, we value work too much, and as a result, our wellness suffers. As a society, we should decide that wellness is important and prioritize it at a policy level. Our obsession with productivity and profit at any cost is unsustainable and harmful. Human beings are not machines and we all deserve to rest, thrive, and have access to wellbeing.

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.

Seane Corn and Rachel Brathen both inspire me for their ability to steadfastly speak the truth in a kind way. They both do so much good for the world and truly embody the spirit of yoga.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

On social media, I am at: @nicolegriffinwellness

My website is: www.nicolegriffinwellness.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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