…Gratitude. No matter what I’m going through or how hard or challenging circumstances may be, I can sit down and write (or even think) about what I’m grateful for, and viola, I feel happier. Writing out a gratitude list is a surefire way to reframe things in a positive, constructive way. Because, at the end of the day, if I’m alive, that’s one thing for which I can always be grateful.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Carlstrom, COO of Oxygen Plus.
Lauren Carlstrom is on a mission to create healthier communities around the globe by helping others to breathe easier. As Chief Operating Officer of Oxygen Plus, she is instrumental in cultivating teams that contribute to the company’s mission of delivering pure, breathable oxygen to health-conscious consumers for improved performance and energy. Lauren spearheads the company’s market growth, including digital and retail expansion, as well as national and international distribution. When she’s not leading the cause toward improved quality of life through Oxygen Plus, she enjoys boating and surfing, as well as reading and creative writing.
Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I hail from Minneapolis, Minnesota — the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” notoriously cold winters that scare those who don’t know how to master them, and now, the place which reignited racial progress following George Floyd’s murder. At heart, I’m a family- and work-ethic-centered Midwesterner with a bent for innovative people, ideas, institutions and cities — all of which have drawn me toward various cities up and down our West and East Coasts. I’m currently back in my hometown after living and working in London, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City and studying at various institutions.
I’m certain my most formative years owe credit to my K-12 gradeMontessori education. My mother made personal sacrifices so my brother and I could have this schooling, which I truly believe made me the pioneering, hard-working, collaborative friend and businessperson I am today. During these foundational years, the students did not sit at a desk all day. We could move around the classroom, ask questions and challenge teachers. Older students, who were more accomplished in a topic or study, would teach the younger students, who were less accomplished.My curiosity was applauded.Research was encouraged as a means to solving problems. Being kind to each other and considerate of the community was a must.Even as a Kindergartener, we were treated and expected to act as whole persons.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
My first, career-making job was at a hot advertising agency in the U.K. I got the job by sorting out how to get a work permit in another country — a feat that ultimately impressed the agency as my resume was light. No one thought I could get a job at one of the best agencies in the world with zero experience. This resourceful act brought me to the desk and boardroom table of some of the brightest creatives and industrious business people I have ever met.
I started out as an intern, earning the equivalent of 100 USD. I survived on three sausage rolls and free toast with peanut butter or Marmite each week, before being brought on full-time. My time at the ad agency offered me experience with brands including Sony Bravia, Orange Telecom and a newly launched, glossy fashion magazine. I found myself doing, or around things so uncomfortable and out of my natural element. However, I was learning from people who worked hard and challenged me to sink or swim. I also gleaned an international perspective and gained confidence in myself as I adapted to a new culture, a different way of working and a cutthroat industry. Perhaps most importantly, I finished my time with the knowledge that daring to dream, and taking action on that dream can bring it to fruition. This ability to believe and actualize is what I can transfer to other entrepreneurial endeavors, and is one important thing I’m able to offer my team in my current role at Oxygen Plus (O+).
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was first starting was not understanding hierarchy within a system, and the dynamics related to power in an organization. An early job I had at a U.S.-based advertising agency brought an incredible amount of stress, which did not fit my personality nor lifestyle. It interfered with me accessing my innate creativity. I didn’t know why I couldn’t make it work, so thankfully, I was fired. I decided a MBA and lateral move to a start-up company, which was creating a new consumer product category (CPG) called recreational oxygen, would be a better fit. The challenging, solution-seeking nature of this new opportunity ignited my creative and professional juices. I could be me. I could explore. I could learn. After several years in the same company, there hasn’t been a day I’ve been bored. Even in the current challenges we’re collectively facing, I find I can thrive. COVID-19 is one example where my flexible, creative, problem-solving abilities are adding value to the organization and our customers. I have gone from feeling disempowered in a large, established culture to feeling empowered — and empowering others — in a smaller, evolving culture. It’s a fit, and that’s why I love it. So, finding your fit is the lesson I learned.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to my mom — who founded Oxygen Plus (O+) — the company I currently lead. I’m most grateful that she did not let me work in her company until I had something of real sustaining value to offer. Despite my repeated begging, I had to have at least 10 years of professional experience outside of O+. It was hard waiting and watching certain decisions being made — especially because I often felt I had an answer. So, not only did her decision give me a deep sense of gratitude and eradicate any sense of nepotism, but she also helped me understand I had to have something of substance to offer wherever I worked. My mom, and boss, etched in my leadership the power of embodying the vision and mission of the owner and the company. I wholeheartedly believe in the mission and vision of Oxygen Plus. Through it, I have a lot to offer the world, by giving our customers a product that allows one to breathe with ease — any time they need a lift.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be leading Oxygen Plus (O+), a truly innovative CPG company which offers an effective, natural energy and recovery product: pure recreational oxygen in portable, handheld canisters. Our company and team are dedicated to offering O+ to wellness-minded people who breathe supplemental oxygen to go further — at work, home and during play. Oxygen Plus helps individuals to think, feel and perform at their best, side effect free. As a company, we’re also dedicated to sustainability in our sourcing, manufacturing and financial contribution decisions. Our product components and packaging are sourced in close proximity to our Minneapolis headquarters and our canisters are 100% recyclable after use. We also manufacture our products in an environmentally-considerate clean room at a FDA-facility, and we donate a fixed dollar amount from each canister sold to causes that help solve our clean air crisis.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1) Breathing. Intentionally. Slowly. Inhaling through the nose. Breathing frequently throughout the workday. Before a big decision. With supplemental oxygen when you’re working or playing hard. Ambient air when you’re not.
2) Nature. Connecting to it. In hot or cold. Skin exposed and barefoot whenever possible. Seeing and hearing nature long enough to see a sunset or wild animal in a captive moment. But, not too long to get bitten by a bug.
3) Walks and exercise that fits. As a former ballerina, the gym didn’t cut it for me. Neither did Pilates, barre, spinning nor even most forms of yoga. The Gyrotonic Method® and a physical therapist who understands breathing and movement, in addition to long walks with my dog and surfing, have been the best physical exercise for me. I have never felt stronger or happier than with these specific regimens. It took me awhile, but I found what works for me and I love it. I’m also strong enough in my true core to try new things. Recently, a motor boat pulled me while I rode my longboard.
4) Gratitude. No matter what I’m going through or how hard or challenging circumstances may be, I can sit down and write (or even think) about what I’m grateful for, and viola, I feel happier. Writing out a gratitude list is a surefire way to reframe things in a positive, constructive way. Because, at the end of the day, if I’m alive, that’s one thing for which I can always be grateful.
5) Friends and family. Accepting them. Allowing myself to be surprised by them. Continually getting to know them. Being open to new people and perspectives to grow and expand. Keeping people in my inner circle at the center of my non-work priorities has always served me well. Smiles, and yes, sometimes tears, invariably result. However, the connection and rootedness that takes place by receiving and giving to a network of others has always breathed life into my day and week.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
As air pollution affects 95% of people worldwide, doing what I already do with my company — offering affordable canisters of pure recreational oxygen and raising awareness and funds for anti-pollution initiatives — is a movement in which I believe and want to see grow. However, Oxygen Plus also taps into the greater health and wellness need, which is important in a consumer market where there are a plethora of unhealthy choices.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1) I don’t have to have all of the answers. Or even the answer to the question in front of me. No one has all of the answers. I learned from a mentor that most men are okay with the “fake it ’til they make it” tactic in business, and thus, as women, I can exercise that same tactic.
2) If I find and embrace the confidence I had as a child, I’ll have all I need for my adult life. The more I connect with what I loved, hoped for and was excited by in my youth, the more I channel into loving and owning what I am doing today.
3) When you lead, you’re often alone. Being a leader can sometimes put you in the line of fire. Even when you do most things right or well, people sometimes need a target. It helped me to know that leading came with a cost. And, that the solitary times were temporary. As you stick with it, other leaders will come into your life and enrich the journey.
4) Balance personal and work life from the get go. I put a lot into my work life early in my career, often sacrificing the personal. I do wish I had begun to develop my personal life sooner, as the benefits of that spilled into my professional life. When both were a focus, I was more connected to the people on my work team, which was an important — even a missing component to my personal leadership development.
5) You can have fun at work…if you learn to breathe easy. One of the best lessons I learned was how to determine what is and isn’t in my control. Once I got this muscle strong enough — to the point I could tell I was in a mode where I was misaligned — work got a lot more enjoyable.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I see mental health as the key to all personal, societal and environmental wellbeing, including sustainability, veganism and environmental changes. The way I see it: It starts with the self. When we take care of ourselves mentally, we are more likely to care for ourselves physically, spiritually, etc. And, when we care for our whole selves, we are then more likely to consider how our choices impact other people, plants and animals (thereby sustainability, social justice, pollution) which are ultimately and indelibly connected.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!