Have a vision of your purpose, select your path, develop an expertise.
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 Ann Van Eron.
Ann Van Eron, PhD, MCC is CEO of Potentials, a global coaching and organization development firm with experience coaching leaders and teams all over the world, including the United Nations, World Bank Group, CVS Health, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and Ford Motor Company, for more than thirty years. Ann specializes in creating environments where people have open-minded productive conversations for greater results. She is certified as a Master Coach and has a doctorate in Organization Psychology from Columbia University. www.Potentials.com.
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 a large family (the oldest of 5 siblings) with parents who saw the world completely differently. I could see from both of their perspectives and tried to help them do so, with little success.
I encountered the same challenges in the work world, among friends, and just about everywhere I turned. How can people be productive together when they are literally seeing things so differently? I wondered.
I created an organization and a peer coaching program in high school to support students in being healthy and creating community. When I was a manager for a Fortune 500 company, it seemed the biggest challenges involved getting people to work together, to trust one another and to be aligned. Often the most intelligent people had the most difficult time working together. I knew there must be a way for people to communicate more effectively and to achieve more together and to experience greater wellbeing.
Affected by what I’d seen at work and in my personal life, I eventually pursued a doctorate in Organization Psychology and studied transformational leadership and executive coaching. I worked with all kinds of organizations to create positive environments of respect and productivity.
As a global executive/team coach and organization development consultant, I have worked with many leaders, teams, and organizations. Through that process, I have realized the negative impact of polarization, judgment, bias, and stress; all of these keep people closed and not realizing their potential. After working with many teams and organizations to address diversity challenges and create inclusive and engaged cultures, I realized that if people could notice when they became closed to themselves and others and shift to being open, more possibilities and co-created solutions would be available. Being open is essential for wellbeing, resilience and thriving.
After years of developing and facilitating cultural change, diversity and leadership programs and coaching leaders and professionals, I synthesized a process for effectively relating. I created a system based on experience and research identifying what people do well when they are connecting. Over time, I noticed five essential moves or skills that support positive and productive relationships and emotional and social intelligence. I believe the process of shifting to being open is one of the most critical skills for success in times of change and uncertainty. I wondered how I could assist leaders and team members in finding their oases amid the arid deserts they were creating and experiencing.
I have devoted my life and career to supporting openness and wellbeing within people, teams, organizations, and communities. I have been fortunate to witness amazing transformations when people shift from reacting to being open and adopting an open stance. I am committed to sharing the process of taking an open stance so people can experience more joy and work together to make teams, organizations, families and the world better for all. If ever we needed more openness and open-minded conversations in the world, it is now.
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?
I started reading biographies and self-help books as a young child. I loved learning and remember saying that I wanted to write books one day to help people experience better lives. I wanted to experience a more joyful life. I was attuned to the stress and suffering around me.
My mother was way ahead of her time emphasizing the need to drink plenty of water and to focus on health. I got her to join me in learning and practicing meditation when I was 13. I have practiced some form of mindfulness since then.
My father always exercised and I joined him in jogging when I was in high school. Regular exercise has been a part of my routine ever since.
My uncle started orphanages all over the world and I have always aspired to make life better for others and make a difference with my life. I started out early on the path of wellbeing! I have always been taking classes and reading and searching for greater wellbeing.
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?
I have found it useful to start the day with exercise. I have run outside, done the treadmill and taken aerobics classes my whole life. Currently, during COVID, I run up flights of stairs and walk. I also stretch and lift weights.
I often read or listen to podcasts and motivational speakers as I exercise.
Then I take a few minutes to meditate and journal. I note what I am grateful for, moments of joy and experiences of serendipity.
I try to get 10,000 steps a day and will often walk outside or in my office. I also take several yoga classes each week.
Probably most importantly, I set the intention of being open minded and joyful each day. This commitment makes a difference in focus and action.
I have been a vegetarian for decades and eat a plant-based diet.
Finally, I stay in touch with friends and do my best to support others. I try to make a difference and make life better for others.
I am an avid learner and often participate in workshops and communities focused on wellbeing.
To live a wellness-focused life is one thing, but how did it become your career? How did it all start?
As I mentioned, I have been on the path of supporting wellbeing since my earliest years. I saw the value of bringing together neighbors and communities to support positive relationships.
My first role after college was working with an organization that offered workshops on creating inner peace and I facilitated groups to share learning and engage in mindfulness and wellbeing practices together.
I had the idea of enhancing workplaces to help more people experience wellbeing since many complained about the stress of their workplaces. I joined a Fortune 500 company and became a manager. I created products for their global clients to help leaders to be more effective and I started facilitating organization development processes to build healthy teams. Upon reflection, I have been fortunate to have a passion that I have followed. I have wanted to support people in experiencing more joy and wellbeing. Of course, I wanted to experience joy and meaning myself. As I worked on myself, I have shared my learnings with others.
Over time, I started my own consulting company and pursued a doctorate in Organization Psychology. I also studied Gestalt Psychology and became an executive coach. Learning and taking classes has been a constant for me.
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?
One of my early challenges was not having a clear path on how to proceed. I often took on projects involving teams, leaders and organizations without feeling the confidence that came later with experience and learning. Each situation was different and I had to be open to identifying what was most needed. Of course, I now realize that given our fast-changing world, we always have to step out without full knowledge. I reframed this as being humble and being open to learning with my clients.
When I counseled or coached people, they often shared the challenges they faced in their workplaces. I thought I could make a bigger impact if we changed workplaces to be healthier environments where there was more engagement and alignment. When I started out there was not a clear path for helping teams and organizations change. I eventually found a program at Columbia University in Organization Development. I was so excited about the prospect of making a difference that I started to do cultural change and diversity assessments and developed strategies for organizations.
As part of the process, I conducted focus groups, interviews and surveys and assessed many aspects of how organizations functioned. I worked with cross-cultural teams within the organizations and would often provide reports to a Board of Directors. We developed plans to address issues of engagement, respect, diversity and equity.
Through that process, I realized the negative impact of polarization, judgment, bias, and stress; all of these keep people closed and not realizing their potential. After working with many teams and organizations to address diversity challenges and create inclusive and engaged cultures, I realized that if people could notice when they became closed to themselves and others and shift to being open, more possibilities and co-created solutions would be available.
After years of developing and facilitating cultural change and diversity and leadership programs and coaching leaders and professionals, I synthesized a process for effectively relating. I created a system based on experience and research identifying what people do well when they are connecting. I identified five essential moves or skills that support positive and productive relationships and emotional and social intelligence. I believe the process of shifting to being open is one of the most critical skills for success in times of change and uncertainty. I wondered how I could assist leaders and team members in finding their oases amid the arid deserts they were creating and experiencing.
I have found focusing on mindset and helping people to notice their judgments and shift to being open as critical for individual and organization success. When we embody open-mindedness, we can co-create greater results.
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?
I have devoted my life and career to supporting openness within people, teams, organizations, and communities. I have been fortunate to witness amazing transformations when people shift from reacting to being open and adopting an open stance. I am committed to sharing the process of taking an open stance so people can experience more joy and work together to make teams, organizations, families, and the world better for all. If ever we needed more openness and open-minded conversations in the world, it is now.
One organization I worked with does a lot to make a difference in the world. The CEO and management team was engaged in a serious conflict with the directors and key leaders. I worked with the organization to support greater dialogue and understanding across the different areas. As a result of the process, the organization adopted the view of “assuming positive intent” and engaged in more open and engaging dialogue. The organization became stronger and more effective.
I have developed leadership programs that supports resilience, wellbeing and thriving. I teach leaders a process for noticing their assumptions and judgments and shifting to being open. When people take an open stance and engage in open-minded conversations the results are transformative. People are talking to coworkers in new ways and they are experiencing more wellbeing and engagement.
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?
- Intention and optimism
I have been committed to my own wellbeing. I naturally experienced stress and worry and was determined to experience more joy, resilience and wellbeing. I trusted that I would be able to find the things that would work for me. I was open to experimenting and did not give up. I have been clear in my intention to experience joy and wellbeing and have read, studied and attended countless workshops to find the best strategies. I believe that emotions are contagious and that it is my responsibility as a leader to model integrity and openness with my clients and community. I continue to share what I am learning with clients I coach and in my workshops. I have found many strategies that work well for me and my clients, such as ensuring I have an open mindset, developing grounding habits to be present and exercising and looking for what is going well.
- Commitment to making a difference and being diligent
I have spent time reflecting on my strengths and my purpose and values. I have envisioned connecting leaders to themselves, others and their creative energy to enjoy life and to make the world a better place for all. This personal vision has helped me to focus my work and helped me to make decisions. I have studied coaching, conversation skills, emotional and social intelligence, mindfulness, organization development, positive psychology, yoga and other areas to ensure I have skills and knowledge to support leaders. I have devoted my life to making life better for others. I have wanted to make a difference and am fortunate that many people tell me I have done so. Just this week, a person in one of my courses said that he was able to support a colleague with compassion when his family member was shot. He knows how to give empathy and to have a meaningful conversation. I am so glad he could support his colleague in a time of real need. The colleague shared that others were saying platitudes to him and he only really felt supported by the leader in my course. It means a lot to me to make a difference through my coaching and consulting work as well as developing courses and books and blogs to share insights and support people.
- Flexible and open to possibilities
I am persistent and work hard. I keep an open mindset and see possibilities in people and situations. I have experimented with different projects and different methodologies. I tend to look for what is working and what is possible. This has made my work and life interesting. For example, I needed an image for one of my first blogs. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I tried drawing it myself. I had never drawn anything in my life and had not even desired to. However, I saw that I could express my ideas with simple drawings and have enjoyed doing so ever since. Of course, it’s important to put effort into your work.
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 is our state of being. It involves all aspects of life since one affects another. Areas that contribute to our overall level of wellness or wellbeing include:
- Physical health (our energy/vitality, functioning, how we sleep, what we eat, how we move/exercise, etc.)
- Psychological (acceptance of our emotions, how we deal with challenges, resilience)
- Intellectual (how we think and use our mental capacity, our focus and mindset)
- Relationships (our connections with family, friends, colleagues, community and the greater world)
- Spiritual (our inner connection, sense of meaning, joy and aliveness)
- Material (having financial stability, a home and food and needs met)
- Work (engaged in meaningful activity to benefit others and experience growth, creativity and meaning)
- Environment/culture (experiencing a positive and healthy climate at home, work and greater community where people are respectful and engaged; emotions are contagious)
Ideally, we are experiencing positive aspects in each of these areas. Of course, life offers a lot of challenges. Wellness requires us to understand “what is” and to work with the challenges we face. Wellness involves being resilient and growing in the face of what we experience while working to positively impact each aspect of wellbeing. Often enhancing one area supports the whole life experience. For example, walking can help us to feel better physically and psychologically. Walking and talking with a friend can enhance our relationships and sense of connection as well as be intellectually stimulating.
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?
We all want to be comfortable and have more joy in our lives. We only have one life and we can do a lot to make life better for ourselves and those around us. By devoting time and effort to our wellness we are likely to have a better quality of life experience and positively influence others. I started exercising when I saw my father doing so and my daughter goes to the gym now — perhaps based on my example. She may not say that is her reason! Ideally, when we focus on wellness, we may be able to avoid some negative health consequences. Research shows that people who have positive connections with others are more likely to say they enjoy life more and have greater longevity. In sum, wellness is about our quality and quantity of life. We can each ask, as Mary Oliver did in her poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We need wellness to pursue our dreams and to live life fully.
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 am glad to say that companies I am working with are supporting their leaders and teams to be more resilient by offering workshops and courses on engaging in open-minded conversations, coaching skills and practices for resilience. Certainly, COVID has required a lot of changes. People are working remotely and often caring for children and/or elderly family members at home and are facing a lot of stress. Leaders and employees are learning to manage their stress in new ways by changing what they say to themselves and building practices that support being mindful, open and centered. I have worked with leaders to be more empathetic and to take time to connect more personally with their team members. For example, leaders are building check-in times in meetings where people can share their experiences and what they are learning. Leaders are working to focus on building relationships in addition to the tasks at hand. Addressing the whole person was new for some leaders and it has been transformative in creating more cohesive and engaged teams.
Some companies are offering coaching to more leaders and others in the organization. Others are teaching leaders how to incorporate coaching and listening skills. Others have devoted resources to leadership team development which has enabled leaders to be aligned and build engagement toward a shared vision. A lot of team work is being done live virtually with great success with team members across the globe.
I am glad to see that companies are talking more about wellness and encouraging people to develop practices such as gratitude and also things like walking, mindfulness and taking breaks.
While it has been a challenging time for all of us, it is great to see a greater openness to exploring and developing wellness practices.
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.
- Develop yourself, be healthy and well. You are the instrument.
First, we need to focus on our own health and be a model for what we plan to share or offer. For example, as an executive and team coach, I have reflected on my strengths and areas for development. I have worked to be healthy physically, materially, psychologically, intellectually etc. I can share my journey with clients and colleagues and let people know that I truly believe people can change and grow. I also know how hard it can be to change a pattern and the benefit of reflecting and trying different strategies. I believe my own modeling of listening and giving empathy and being open-minded has influenced leaders and teams as much as my teaching. People are hopeful when they encounter others who have been on the journey of self-development and have made progress. It is useful to remember that your primary instrument for change in yourself and how you model listening and understanding.
2. Have a vision of your purpose, select your path, develop an expertise.
I had to do a lot of reflecting and searching to find the areas that I wanted to pursue. I knew that I wanted to support people in being healthy and positive. I experienced challenges of working with managers who were not skillful and I thought that I could influence more people if I supported leaders. This helped me to find the field of organization development. It was a new area when I started and I had tried several other programs including an MBA. It is helpful to be open to finding your path and area that you want to develop an expertise in. For example, after doing research for my doctorate in transformational leadership and change I had the opportunity to support cultural change related to diversity. I then developed expertise in the diversity arena and cultural change. I facilitated groups of leaders in companies responsible for diversity. This grew into my realization that things could be better if people know how to be open-minded and engage in positive and productive conversations. It is then that I developed an expertise in open-minded conversations. You see, I followed what interested me and over time developed expertise. It is useful to be open and explore various areas and then focus on building your knowledge through experience.
3. Be engaged in continuous learning and be open minded.
There is so much to learn in any field. Throughout my career I have always been reading, attending seminars and programs and been open to learning new things. It has helped me as a consultant to focus on learning a key area at a time. For example, I studied leadership and then diversity and conversations. I got certified in executive coaching and developed team coaching initiatives. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself as you notice interest in related and different areas. I also studied mindfulness and joy. Since I had my own business, I could determine my focus. I never get tired of learning new things and I enjoy seeing connections between areas of wellness.
4. Develop a system, signature processes and programs.
If you want to be known as a thought leader, it is useful to develop your own system or signature process. For example, after years of working with teams and organizations, I developed the OASIS Conversations process to support people in having open-minded conversations with others who have different perspectives (everyone). This process became the core of many leadership programs I developed for organizations like the United Nations. I developed a book and course and even certified coaches and leaders in the process. It has sustained the test of time and been valuable for leaders all over the world. I have also developed another course and book called Open Stance which is a system for building the mental muscle of being open. I am also offering a course called Cultivating JOYBeing. You probably can see that each of these programs is related to my purpose. Yes, it took time for me to develop these programs since I integrated much of my experience and learning in various fields. I encourage you to work toward developing your own systems. It is fun and will enhance your confidence and recognition as a thought leader, whether you are an entrepreneur or work in an organization.
5. Be focused on supporting others, less on self and don’t worry about what others are doing.
There are so many avenues to develop your career in the wellness industry. I believe a key to success is to keep focused on supporting others and making a difference. People will sense your sincerity and integrity when your goal is making a difference and supporting wellness. I have been fortunate to follow my own path of what was needed and what most interested me. I have enjoyed my journey. While I have been open to seeing what others are doing, I have worked to stay true to myself. I started my consulting business quite early and it has been fulfilling for me. It is easy to believe there is one right way for careers to progress but I have seen many different paths. If your focus is on providing support and enhancing wellness and listening to what interests you, you will find your path. Don’t give up and keep working.
6. Share what you are learning generously.
There is so much to know to experience wellbeing and wellness. Make it your goal to share what you are learning with others. When this is your focus, you will naturally attract people who want to work with you. I have not put a lot of attention into being well known. I have mostly focused on being a good practitioner. My work has grown primarily through referrals. I have shared blogs and participated in conferences and written books as a way to share what I have integrated and discovered.
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. 🙂
My secret dream is to start an Open Stance Movement. Embodying an open-mindset and heart are needed. I would love for people to commit to being open-minded/curious, open-hearted/compassionate, open-centered/courageous and open-handed/taking kind action. Given the challenges we are facing in the world it is natural to be judgmental and closed. However, what we really need to do is build the mental muscle of taking an Open Stance and being open to engage in positive and productive conversations to co-create solutions. With an Open Stance we can each take kind action to make the world better. Collectively, we can make the world better for all. Now is the time for such a movement. Too much energy is wasted when people are polarized on their positions and not listening to one another. I trust that people can learn to be open to themselves and others and that we can collectively make life better for all. I envision sharing the value of embodying openness and sharing practices to support an open stance. Ideally, people will make the commitment to be open and take kind action.
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 partner with thought leaders and influencers who want to support an Open Stance movement. Of course, Oprah comes to mind. Brené Brown’s work on courage and connection is making a big difference. It would be fun to partner with her. Arianna Huffington has really influenced wellbeing and has a convincing voice and platform. I also find Martin Seligman’s work on agency to be inspiring people to take kind action. David Brooks talks about the concept of being open versus closed and it would be great to hear his thoughts. I appreciate the work of Adam Grant and his call for us to think again and to be open-minded. I have participated in Otto Scharmer’s forums and appreciate his work to make the world better. Marshall Goldsmith also could help support a movement to take an Open Stance. The more thought leaders who joined, the better.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
OpenStanceMovement on Instagram.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!