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Amanda Filippelli: “Goal steps”

Goal steps. I have spent my entire career harping on people about setting goals, ha! But writing down your goals and then reviewing and updating them every so often can also calm some of the internal chaos you might be feeling. And when you can break those goals down into actionable steps, it’s easier to […]

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Goal steps. I have spent my entire career harping on people about setting goals, ha! But writing down your goals and then reviewing and updating them every so often can also calm some of the internal chaos you might be feeling. And when you can break those goals down into actionable steps, it’s easier to see how much you’re truly capable of. I think people get burned out on hearing self-help gurus tell them to map out their goals, or people think they have to have certain goals that are expected of them, but gifting yourself the freedom to set any goals you truly want and then working towards them is how we grow and evolve toward who and what we want in life. Plus, there’s so much learning to be had on the journey!


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 interviewingAmanda Filippelli.

Amanda Filippelli is a writer, editor, and book coach, and author of Blue Rooms. An award-winning writer and publishing industry expert, Amanda has done it all from freelance to copy editing to content editing to ghostwriting and book coaching to co-founding One Idea Press. Amanda’s work has also been widely published and featured, including in Barzakh Magazine, TEDxWomenPittsburgh, ACA/PCA, Pittsburgh in the Round, and WHIRL Magazine. She was the recipient of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 40Under40 award, and was the co-founder of Pittsburgh’s first premier writers’ conference, Pitch, Publish, Promote. Amanda is also the host of Write to Heal workshops, where she helps people connect and heal through the power of storytelling. Before becoming a professional writer, Amanda worked in the mental healthcare system for ten years, teaching adolescent survivors of trauma how to take control of their narrative. Amanda continues this work through her writing, workshops, and her coaching programs.


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?

Well, I’ve always been a writer. That’s the first thing I think of when I think about my childhood. I’m an only child, so I spent a lot of time making up stories for myself and using my imagination to play with. I loved storytelling games — think RPG board games — and as soon as I could draw on paper, I started telling stories, eventually penning my first novella at eight. Writing came naturally to me, but I think that was because it was largely a coping mechanism. I struggled with my mental health as a child — I was diagnosed with depression early on, but I was also anxious with racing thoughts, and I couldn’t stop counting things most of the time — all of which made socializing tough. Reading and writing was where I found solace, and focus!

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

There were two teachers along the way who really planted seeds inside me that grew to encourage me to pursue work in the world of creative writing and publishing. The first was my seventh-grade English teacher, Mr. Shaner. He saw something in me, and that really mattered. At the time, I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t socially adapt well in school, and middle school was particularly challenging for me. My parents and counselors were working to figure out how to best help me, so it was a difficult and confusing time. But every morning in Mr. Shaner’s class, we opened the day with a writing prompt, and he used to read mine out loud and then pin it to the board at the front of the room as an example of what he expected from us. That always made me feel so good — like I had real talent. When I published my first book, Mr. Shaner was the very first person to purchase it and he came to every one of my events — 20 years later.

The second teacher to inspire me was a college professor. Before I thought I could professionally work in the writing world, I went to school for a degree in psychology — so many people along the way had told me I needed to pick a career I could “fall back on”; that being a writer would leave me broke and disappointed (spoiler alert: they were wrong, and that kind of advice is terrible). In my first semester, I took a creative writing course, and my professor really went out of her way to encourage me, going so far as to take me to see a live lecture from Chimamanda Adiche. It was such an intimate and singular experience, and I left it knowing that I would become a professional writer.

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?

My husband. I know that sounds cheesy! But it’s so true. I quit my job and embarked on this journey as a professional writer and editor and an entrepreneur the week before our wedding, and I’ve never looked back. He has continuously supported me, encouraged me, has never stepped in the way, and is incredibly perceptive about me. There have been so many times over the years where I feel like I’ve lost sight of myself or my ambitions, but my husband is always there to remind me not only who I am but what I’m capable of. It’s so hard to do what you love, truly, but it’s a whole lot easier if you have a strong support system at home, and I’m lucky to have that.

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?

I wish the mistakes I’ve made in my career were funny! But I also don’t think of any of my hurdles as “mistakes” — they’ve all truly been opportunities for growth, and they’ve all been lessons that I needed to be a better entrepreneur. All of the challenges I’ve faced over the course of my career have sprouted from a need for personal growth. At one point, I needed to learn how to balance working for myself and being present in my personal life. At another point, I need to learn how to best invest in myself, in my business, in my relationships. At another point, I needed a hard lesson about boundaries. And at other points, I’ve learned crucial lessons about different tenets of business, about partnerships, about how to value myself. I had to trip somewhere to learn all of these things, but each time contained an important lesson that helped me grow.

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?

For me, this question feels HUGE, ha! There have been so many books that have shaped who I am; that have challenged my perspective, that have brought me comfort or a healthy dose of challenge — from growing up on Harry Potter and comic books to my deep and complicated love of Virginia Woolf to contemporary titans like Jessica Anthony, Catherine Lacey, Neil Gaiman, and so many more. But there is one series of books from my childhood that I hold dear, and that is Bruce Coville’s The Unicorn Chronicles.

I bought the first book of the series at a Scholastic book fair, and I ripped through it so quickly! It’s the story of a young girl whose grandmother tells her to jump off the top of a building, and when she does, she falls into another world where all sort of different creatures, including unicorns and dragons, live. But the series gets very complicated, even scary at times, and the themes it explores are complex and challenging, even to me as an adult. I just really appreciate that Coville never underestimated the children who read his books — that he writes difficult stories for them because he knows they’re smart and complicated little people. The world in those books provided me with a much-needed escape, but in that escape, those books helped me learn about myself. They were a healing tool for me then, and I still read through them every few years as an adult.

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

“For the creator, there is no poverty.” This is an excerpt from a longer poem by Rainier Rilke, but it has carried me through for many years. It reminds me that no matter my circumstances, I have everything I need right inside of me to create anything I want. Sometimes, I think creatives take their imagination for granted — forgetting that not everyone has an artistic perspective (we tend to be a self-deprecating lot) — but as writers, as artists, as creative people, we have so much power because we are never without, and this quote always reminds me to keep creating, to keep sharing my vision, and of the responsibility I have to uplift others in that process, too.

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

I have two big projects right now that I’m really excited about! I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a novel, and I’m also organizing a virtual writers’ conference this spring. Before the pandemic, I was proud to be one of the co-founders of Pittsburgh’s first premier writers’ conference. I looked forward to it all year. But in the wake of Covid, I’ve decided to shift the conference online, but we’re working on ways to keep it fun, engaging, productive, and NOT like a boring Zoom call.

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.

Structure. Structure. Structure. In my own personal experience and in my experience working with teens and adults, having a daily structure you can rely on helps ease stress and anxiety. When you have a lot of internal chaos — whether that be a result of mental illness, trauma, anxiety, or anything that makes you feel uneasy — it can be difficult to feel organized in your daily life. But adhering to a daily structure not only helps you feel organized, it can help you be more productive, and it offers you assurances throughout the day that are calming. I know that no matter what the day brings, I am going to deal with those things in allotted increments. I know that every morning I have space to read, sit with my dogs, and have morning tea. Intentionally doing something that simple reminds me every day that I have control over myself and my life.

Goal steps. I have spent my entire career harping on people about setting goals, ha! But writing down your goals and then reviewing and updating them every so often can also calm some of the internal chaos you might be feeling. And when you can break those goals down into actionable steps, it’s easier to see how much you’re truly capable of. I think people get burned out on hearing self-help gurus tell them to map out their goals, or people think they have to have certain goals that are expected of them, but gifting yourself the freedom to set any goals you truly want and then working towards them is how we grow and evolve toward who and what we want in life. Plus, there’s so much learning to be had on the journey!

Daily writing practice. I’m not just saying this because I’m a writer. I really mean that every single person should have some daily writing practice. You don’t have to write anything profound and you don’t have to write anything for any particular reason. Just the act of communicating with yourself — of exploring your thoughts and feelings and memories and hopes — and then translating that communication onto the page is so powerful. As a counselor, I used to make the teens I worked with write twice a day while they were in treatment, and that exercise evolved into a space where they were able to share their own stories as well as the revelations that they were having about their own life stories. In this way, writing and storytelling is healing. You don’t have to share it with anyone, but your mind needs an outlet — some exercise — in the same way the rest of your body does.

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

For me, meditation comes in many forms. Sometimes I like to sit in quiet meditation — you know, with my legs crossed, palms up, and with intentional breathing — and sometimes I need to sit in Child’s Pose while I work things out in my mind and in my body, but I find the most meaning in early morning moments, just before the sun comes up, in the dim light of my home, and I like to sit in that morning quietness and write. There’s something about the cusp of daybreak that feels sacred to me; something about it that makes me feel safe and untethered to anything else — I’m not thinking about work or deadlines or cleaning the house or that appointment I have later in the day. I just feel connected to something then. Calm. And that’s been the most rewarding type of meditation for me.

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.

Go outside. As a book-loving introvert with Major Depressive Disorder and asthma, I’ve struggled my whole life with exercise and physical wellness. I would much rather be reading a book or playing a game or having a conversation or doing anything else other than exercising. However, nature has always served as such a respite for me. I love to travel and hike, climb around in the woods, and will always challenge myself when it comes to an outdoor adventure. But those types of opportunities aren’t available every day, so I have to convince myself just to take a walk outside, around the neighborhood. It sounds ridiculous — even to me — but there have been weeks when I just didn’t go outside; when I told myself that I’ll fill up on our next trip somewhere. But once I do get outside, even if for just a 10-minute walk around the block, I instantly feel a sense of relief and gratitude. For me, going outside is an act of intentional self-care that always pays off (despite my cognitive dissonance around it).

Talk it out, and then do it anyway. I like to stack up my schedule and tell myself that I’ll get a workout in once I’ve crossed off my to-do list, and we all know how that goes (read: I’ll never cross off that entire to-do list). And before I know it, it’s Thursday and I haven’t been outside in four days. In times like these, I know I need to get to the root of the problem. So much of our physical health innately depends on our mental and emotional health, so it’s important that we acknowledge and explore the obstacles we put in front of being healthy or feeling good in our bodies. I’m lucky to have a partner and friends who are both understanding and insightful, and who help me dig down to what’s holding me back. But after that talk, you then have to do it anyway. That’s what I tell myself about taking that walk, jumping on the elliptical, committing to that hour of yoga: do it anyway. Something about those three words pushes me past my hurdles and into action.

Seriously, stop overthinking/justifying/negotiating and just do it. Sometimes I get into a real rut. Most people do, but it’s hard to talk about. Sometimes you see ten pounds jump on the scale or you notice you’re huffing up the stairs more than usual or you just don’t feel good in your skin, and sometimes getting to that point can make me feel hopeless. Getting to that point can feel too far away from where you want to be — like the climb is too high. On top of that, I often feel embarrassed about it all. I’m not a particularly coordinated person, nor am I a natural athlete in any sense of the word, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to feel good in my body. And it’s as simple as that. I have to remember it’s as simple as that, and that exercising — in any form — is an investment in myself. Plus, as we all know, every single time I get through a workout I feel so good about it. Why the hell doesn’t that motivate me to EVER start a workout??

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?

My husband and I never eat the same meal. We eat together, at the same time, but we’re always eating two different things. I’m a full-time vegetarian/part-time vegan who oddly lacks a sweet tooth and prefers a rutabaga over ice cream. My husband likes potatoes, cheese, pizza, and ketchup. That’s his food pyramid. He loves sweets and sugar and is wildly averse to trying new foods. But he also stays in shape by working out and keeping track of his intake. I used to think he’s sort of an anomaly, but he’s not. Like everyone else, he knows what is good and bad for him, but there’s also an overwhelming amount of disinformation out there. And by disinformation, I don’t just mean information that is false. I mean that our foods are mislabeled, misrepresented, stamped as healthy but filled with sugar. I mean there are a million different schools of thought about how to eat, a million different packaged diet programs, a million different “health coaches” and nutrition plans, all of which are different than what a nutritionist or a doctor might tell you, all of which is different from what your textbooks said, all of which is different from the evidence you see in your own life and in the lives of people around you. Healthy eating is very important, but real healthy eating has been made nearly illusive in American culture, perverted by the industrial food complex, appropriated from around the world, so I don’t really blame people for their habits. There’s a much larger system at work that prevents us from integrating health and wellness into our lives in a real and genuine way — especially if you’re poor. Also, cheese tastes really good.

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

Regular internal excavations. It’s important that we spend as much time as we can talking with ourselves. Culturally, we tend to stifle our emotions as they come up so that we can make room to move on to the next thing in our schedule. We disrespect our bodies when we don’t allow ourselves to experience and process our emotions, and I think this really stems from the way we label certain emotions as “bad” — sadness, anger, despair, etc. But there is no way to really measure happiness and joy if you’ve never acknowledged the things they weigh against. Plus, stifling our emotions, bottling them up and burying them down, only creates larger systemic problems for our emotional, physical, and mental health. Instead, give yourself the permission to feel anything as you feel it, and then talk with yourself about it. Reflect on it. Turn it around in your mind’s eye and do the work it takes to understand why you felt it. Write about it. Create something because of it. Conducting these regular internal excavations can help you grow as a person, can help you release the things that cause you anxiety or sadness, and make you a more empathetic person.

Honesty. Nobody has all good traits. And I think it’s important that we remind of ourselves of this. Every one of us has less-than-desirable traits weaved into our personalities, and the suppression of those things causes enormous damage to our emotional health. Instead, get honest with yourself. What are the things you know about yourself that you need to be aware of and maybe even work on? It’s okay to not be perfect. In fact, I’ve found that my closest relationships are with people who are able to acknowledge their more difficult traits, accept them, and who work to integrate them in their lives in a way that isn’t damaging to themselves or others. Because it’s when we don’t acknowledge a thing that it becomes insidious and infects our relationships. I think we give so much weight to things about ourselves we’re uncomfortable with that we forget those things are part of what creates the best things about us, too. We need all of it — the “good” and the “bad.”

Therapy. There’s nothing new to say here. Go to therapy. You deserve a space that is dedicated entirely to your own healing and personal internal work. Therapy is for everyone. Everyone should go to therapy. Go to therapy.

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

I understand why they say to smile when you’re feeling down; that there’s a body of research out there that shows how you have the ability to cultivate your own emotional states — or at least alleviate difficult ones — in the same way that it’s been shown that how you talk to a plant determines how well it will grow or not grow. I believe we all have this power over ourselves, and that it takes honest discipline to develop that type of control. But I’m not sure that it always promotes emotional wellness. Again, we give so much weight to feeling happy and joyous all of the time — that “things” aren’t good in our lives if we’re not feeling happy — but our emotional landscape is more complex than that, and we shouldn’t ignore uncomfortable feelings. We should lean in when it’s safe to lean in — with professional and personal support, of course — and realize that there is learning to be had in feeling things other than happy. Emotional wellness is about having an understanding of yourself. It’s about growth. If you’re always trying to smile through the pain, then you’re never fully embracing growth.

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

I grew up around a lot of religious people, in both a secular and devout home. I was indoctrinated in Catholic rituals, then in evangelist practices, and I was labeled and ostracized from it all when it became clear that I was a child with “mental illness.” Now, in this Western era of spirituality — when boomers are turning to Eastern cultures and Gwyneth Paltrow for answers, and millennials have littered the marketplace with tarot cards and crystals — it’s hard to separate the hollow feeling and distaste I had about God and religion as a child from whatever this contemporary search for meaning should be called. But I heard someone recently say that religion is about faith and spirituality is about connection, and that stuck with me because it gave simple language to something I’ve been trying to define for most of my life.

Create something. I write about this a lot because I think it’s the most important thing we can do for our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. feel the most connected to something bigger than myself when I am creating something. Obviously, writing has been my most valued form of creation, but I find that making anything with my hands helps me connect to something deeper. When we create for the joy of creating — when we create outside of our job or our trade or outside of expectations — we give our energy over to that creation. We imbue it with our intention and the emotions we’re feeling. We make meaning. And oftentimes, when we give ourselves over to creating something, that process usually helps us discover something about ourselves, that might then lead us down a new path, because creation is reciprocal like that.

See other people. No matter what you believe in, there can be no doubt that the essence of whatever it is — the universe, God, nature, spirit, the tech running this simulation we call life — can be seen and felt inside every human. Connecting with other people, really seeing them — who they are, why they feel how they feel, how they think — offers us a higher sort of emotional wellness that feels spiritual to me. It’s the reason we fall in love with each other in so many different ways, and it’s even the reason we dislike each other. Being able to step outside of our preconceived judgments, out of our insecurities, out of our motivations, and giving space and time up to another person is the holiest thing we can do.

If you can, travel. I’ve never felt as connected to something much bigger than myself — something full of incomprehensible beauty and complication — than I have when standing in the middle of a dense forest, when walking on a glacier, when sitting on a rock a billion years older than me, when watching a giant whale breach, when trying to clumsily sign a question to someone who speaks a different language than me, when getting lost on streets my feet might only ever touch once. Traveling, even in short distances, helps us expand our perspective and forces us to contemplate where we fit in the world, in time, in existence.

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

I have conflicting thoughts about this. On the one hand, I’ve often complained about how it’s impossible in modern times to walk from one place to another without there being some sort of civilization or without trespassing on land that someone “owns.” It feels unnatural to me. It feels like as skyscrapers rose into the clouds, we stopped walking on the ground; stopped touching nature, exploring it, feeling it — even the harshness of it. Everything is sterile and sheltered and claustrophobic, which has become directly reflected in our emotional and psychological health. Being in nature requires that we surrender those things and connect to something organic, which can be a very healing and spiritual experience.

On the other hand, white American men have co-opted “being in nature” as an expression of masculinity (read: Bear Grylls, that guy who doesn’t wear shoes, and the like) — as if nature is something to conquer. Abi Andrews wrote a phenomenal book about this. And capitalism has turned time in nature into a commodity that causes people to buy all sorts of unethical plastic and flock with it to national parks and campsites en masse.

When does being in nature move past these concocted notions of meaning and into a place where spiritual wellness can be fostered? On too many occasions to count, my husband and I have pulled over and just started walking, directionless. These have been the most powerful of all our experiences with nature. We’ve found hidden grottos, miles of glacier that grew suddenly out of a rolling hillside, tucked away waterfalls, and the soft creaking of trees that had maybe never been stood beneath. In these times, I’ve felt connected to not only my husband but to a different understanding of everything — that indescribable thing some people call God.

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.

Mental healthcare reform. Full stop. We need more than campaigns to end stigma and a month out of the year to raise awareness. At this point, we are willfully ignoring the millions of children and families who are tied up in the treatment and foster care to prison pipeline. If 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 6 kids are reported to have a diagnosable mental illness, at what point do we re-evaluate how we grade mental health? There are good people doing important work out there, but it’s all under the thumb of an ill-equipped, outdated, and underfunded system that people don’t want to talk about. We need the U.S. Surgeon General to declare mental health a public health issue so that we can begin to re-evaluate and reform how we diagnose, treat, and — most importantly — perceive and understand mental illness.

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 🙂

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I think she’s a model for the future and has everything it takes to create big and meaningful changes in the world for the betterment of everyone (ahem: AOC 2024). It would be a dream come true to get to spend a power breakfast brainstorming with her!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me everywhere, usually with the tag editor_amanda, but the best way to connect with me and follow my work is through my website (amandafilippelli.com) and by joining my newsletter.

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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