Be yourself. In the beginning of my career, I used to take it personally when I would see someone for the first time and try so hard to get them to like me. Then I would find out later that they never wanted to be scheduled with me as their hygienist ever again. Later though, I did gain a loyal following that only wanted to see me. My life would have been easier and less stressful if I had just been myself. You have your own unique personality and way of doing things. People who will always come back to you are the ones who like you for who you are.
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 Christine Songco.
Christine is a certified life and health coach whose mission is to help people thrive in all aspects of their lives by finding their purpose in life, which she writes about on her website, Third Bliss. She is also a registered dental hygienist practicing in Southern California and is working towards becoming a board-certified health and wellness coach. When she’s not working, she loves spending time with her husband and 3 boys.
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 in the Philippines during the Ferdinand Marcos regime. I am the oldest of 4 kids and the only one of my siblings who is an immigrant, like my parents. My parents moved to the island of Guam when I was just a year old, to find work and pursue a better life than they had in the Philippines. A year later, my brother was born, and my sister followed a few years after him. As kids, we were never hungry, had a roof over our heads, and new clothes to wear at the start of each school year. So, I wasn’t aware of my humble background growing up until my family moved to California, where my youngest brother was born. We moved around California many times before settling in the suburbs of the Central Valley. It was there that I saw the stark contrast between my upbringing in Guam and here in the States. When my parents had stable jobs, we were able to move up to the middle class and they were able to buy us things that we never had before, like a brand new home, a Nintendo, brand name shoes, and admissions to theme parks.
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?
After having my third child, I suffered from post-partum depression and didn’t even know I was going through it. It felt like I lost my purpose in life and the things that didn’t faze me before, like dropping kids to school and making dinner, were suddenly overwhelming. It was unlike anything I ever experienced and was one of the darkest periods of my life. Looking back, I wish I had asked for help, but hindsight is always 20/20. Plus, there was a stigma in my culture when it came to mental health issues, so I didn’t want to look weak by talking to other people about it. Then I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, and that forced me to start looking after myself. In order to get well, I knew deep down that I had to find my purpose in life. Not only did I want to survive, but I wanted to thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally.
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?
If there’s one thing that I can’t do without in my wellness routine, it would be sleeping for at least 7 hours most nights of the week. That was my first goal to help me get well and stay healthy. Most people know that getting at least 7 hours of good quality sleep each night is good for you, but not many actually do it. As much as I can, I aim for at least 7 hours a night for most of the week and I know it sounds boring but it restores my energy and clears my mind in a way that healthy food or exercise cannot. I’m not saying that this is the only thing that people should aim for and that healthy food and exercise don’t help. But if I’m tired because I didn’t sleep well the night before, my workouts and healthy eating will feel like a drag.
To live a wellness-focused life is one thing, but how did it become your career? How did it all start?
As a child, I always knew I wanted to work in the health field, so wellness was always a part of my life, though I didn’t become laser focused on it until I faced multiple health challenges.
My wellness career started when I became a dental hygienist. But I also dabbled in many different types of wellness-oriented books, videos, and programs that were not related to dental hygiene but certainly supported it, like nutrition, psychology, exercise, Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda.
After my health challenges, I became a health coach because I felt my experience and the things I had learned along the way would be helpful to others who want to get well or stay well.
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?
As a dental hygienist starting out, one of the biggest problems I faced was low confidence in my skills and in myself. I would often overachieve in hopes of getting others (patients and colleagues) to like me, even when I became really good at what I did. Deep down, as a person of color, I felt that if I wasn’t as good as or better than my colleagues (most of whom were white), any ineptitude in my skills, personality, etc. would be attributed to my race and culture. I think there will always be a part of me that will always feel this way, but only time will tell. The biggest lesson I learned was to advocate for myself. I learned how important this was when I was going through my treatments. At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can tell you how good you are and what’s good for you.
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?
The work I’m doing now is based on my experience during my health challenges. When I had PPD and lost my purpose in life, it became increasingly difficult to enjoy the things that I used to and I couldn’t even function normally in my day-to-day life. I also knew, going through cancer treatments, that I needed to have a strong reason for living if I was going to survive and thrive. I learned that having purpose and meaning in life is essential to health and wellness. Your purpose in life is your big reason why. If you don’t have a good reason why you’re doing something, such as changing your health for the better, it will be challenging to stick with it.
I hope that someday there will be more studies related to this and I would love to contribute to the research that is out there already. The studies on purpose and meaning in life as wellness tools are not as numerous as the studies on exercising and eating healthy, but there is more and more evidence on the benefits of living a purposeful life coming out as time goes by.
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 on life crafting. I stumbled across an article about life crafting and almost ignored it until I got inspired by Hailey Bartholomew’s 365 grateful project. She was feeling low and sought the advice of a nun, who told her to practice gratitude. She took a picture of something she was grateful for each day and noticed that her life changed for the better because of it.
It was then that I recalled reading the life crafting intervention study as a way to find purpose and meaning in life. The study focused on students, but the principles can be applied to anyone who feels lost, confused, or unclear about their life. I created something similar for myself before I read the article, but this was evidence based and gave credence to what I was already working on. I am in the process of my own life crafting project and I think that it will help others find their big reason why, which I believe is one of the keys to success in wellness and in life.
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?
Empathy — I think being an empath and having this skill is beneficial for me and people who are working in the health and wellness field because it keeps me in tune to the feelings of those I work with and those I’m caring for. You don’t have to be an empath to practice empathy, but it helps to put yourself in someone else’s shoes because I think it makes you a better practitioner and a better leader.
Team player — Being a team player is crucial for success because if you want to do well in business, life, or whatever, you need to be open to criticism, even if it’s from another member of your team. When I was in dental hygiene school, I led a few projects. There was one in particular where the grades of the other members of my group suffered because I left out a tiny detail. I regret not asking for their input and I believe that I was responsible for their lower marks. You have to look out for the other members of your team so you can keep each other accountable, check for any problems, and bounce ideas off of each other so your practice can grow and evolve.
Listening — I’ve been told that I’m a good listener and I think that it’s essential for someone like me who works in the health and wellness industry. You have to pick up on the vibe and tone of your patient or client if you want to give them the best treatment you can provide for them. People love to be heard, especially those under your care. I think this skill can also be carried over to your colleagues, associates, employees, etc. to promote a culture that feels supporting and nurturing.
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?
Wellness, to me, means not just the absence of disease, but also thriving in all aspects of life. Let’s take plants, for example. If you have two of the same type of plant side by side; one that free of disease, but skinny & limp; the other also free of disease, but green and lush; you’d say that the one that was green and lush was the healthy one. The same goes for people. A person can be alive and free of physical disease. But if that person has bad habits, is always thinking negatively, and is always critical of others, then I don’t believe that the person is truly well. On the flip side, a person who relatively free of disease, sleeps well, develops good habits, and is fit mentally, emotionally, and physically, is someone who is well.
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?
Wellness should be a priority especially if you’re caring for others, whether it’s a patient, spouse, child, or loved one, because when you’re taking good care of yourself, you’re bringing whatever energy you cultivate for yourself, to the other person. So, if you have low energy, your performance will suffer. Conversely, if your energy is high, your performance will be high as well because you’re bringing your best self forward.
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?
One great step to improve employees’ mental and physical wellness in my state is the 3-day sick leave mandate. Before this passed in 2015 in California, I used to go to work sick because I didn’t have paid leave. I remember when I used to stress so much about missing work when I got sick because it meant that I wasn’t getting paid. My patients would complain about this but there was nothing I could do because I had a family to support. Although the 3-day sick leave is an improvement, I think that it could be better. I’ve seen schools across our state offer mental health services to students during the pandemic and I think that should extend to employees, like our 3-day sick leave.
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.
- The biggest thing I learned was to take care of myself first. I learned this the hard way as a working mother of 3 young children. If I’m not taking care of myself and I feel stressed as a result, then I’m bringing this into my practice and I’m not giving my patients or clients my best. If you need to take some time off to care for yourself, do it. We saw top athletes underperform during the 2021 summer Olympics due to pressure and stress. I heard of dentists and colleagues who had to cut down work, quit, or even pass away because they were stretched too thin. There is a savior mentality that still lingers in the healthcare field but I see it changing a little with respect to taking mental health days and mandated paid leave (which didn’t exist when I was younger). So, I recommend for people, especially women, to “fill your cup” first if you want to show up as your best for others.
- Another healthful tip is to practice what you’re preaching because people will see you as an authority figure in the wellness sphere and can also sense if you’re not being authentic. For example, patients asked me all the time if I brushed and flossed every day. If I wasn’t flossing and brushing daily and I lied to them by saying yes, I would feel like a fraud and I think they would be able to sense that I wasn’t telling the truth.
- Be yourself. In the beginning of my career, I used to take it personally when I would see someone for the first time and try so hard to get them to like me. Then I would find out later that they never wanted to be scheduled with me as their hygienist ever again. Later though, I did gain a loyal following that only wanted to see me. My life would have been easier and less stressful if I had just been myself. You have your own unique personality and way of doing things. People who will always come back to you are the ones who like you for who you are.
- Define what success means to you. For a long time, I was comfortable with having a great paying job, living in the suburbs, and raising 3 kids with my husband. When this wasn’t fulfilling my needs anymore, I went through tremendous health challenges, one of which was generalized anxiety. The problem was, I was living my parents’ definition of success, not my own. Defining what success meant to me aligned with my values and beliefs and this adds to my personal wellbeing.
- Don’t stretch yourself too thin. I had a perfectionist mentality going into my career. Perfect workspace, perfect appearance, perfect personality. This is what I strived for every day and it was exhausting. I stretched myself too thin by staying focused on minutiae, instead of focusing on what was important. The times that I actually delegated a task or scheduled a second, third, etc., appointment were the times that I finished the job thoroughly and with less stress.
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. 🙂
Follow your bliss and discover what it is that gives your life meaning, passion, and purpose. It’s not something you can ingest like a drink, pill, or food, but I believe that knowing your purpose in life is essential to your wellbeing. Your purpose in life is unique to you and is what gives your life inspiration, direction, fulfillment, and motivation. We’d probably be happier human beings if we all knew how to live a more purposeful life.
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.
I would love to meet author and fellow cancer survivor Anita Moorjani because I learned that loving yourself is just as important as getting enough sleep, exercising, or eating healthy. In her book, “Dying To Be Me”, she stressed over and over how important it is to love yourself unconditionally and I believe that, like purpose, self-love is an important part of your overall wellbeing and is something that is often overlooked.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can go to my website Third Bliss, which is linked at the top in my bio section, where I publish regularly on my blog on living life more purposefully and meaningfully.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!