Laurie Ruettimann of ‘Punk Rock HR: “Exercise is my therapy, but my workouts can be intense”

I’m a vegetarian. There were years in my life where I traveled for work and ate nothing but fast-food burgers or chain restaurant steaks. Binge-eating was my coping mechanism. When I went to work for an editor named Vadim Liberman, he laughed at my extreme exercise routine that still allowed for double cheeseburgers. He said, […]

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I’m a vegetarian. There were years in my life where I traveled for work and ate nothing but fast-food burgers or chain restaurant steaks. Binge-eating was my coping mechanism. When I went to work for an editor named Vadim Liberman, he laughed at my extreme exercise routine that still allowed for double cheeseburgers. He said, “If your body were a temple, you’d treat it better.” He was right. No animal should die because of my jacked-up relationship with food.

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 interviewingLaurie Ruettimann.

Laurie Ruettimann is a former human resources leader turned writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. CNN recognized her as one of the top five career advisers in the United States, and her work has been featured on NPR, The New Yorker, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Vox. She frequently delivers keynote speeches at business and management events around the world and hosts a popular podcast focused on fixing work. She lives with her husband and cats in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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?

My parents were hippies who didn’t have much of an education, hated the Vietnam War, and went on a first date to see a band called The Doors in 1972. They were married a few weeks later.

My spontaneous and sentimental Baby Boomer parents — who love to talk about their perspectives and emotions — gave birth to a cynical Gen Xer who loves her family very much but doesn’t have time for their feelings. Growing up, all I wanted to do was rage against the machine and kick the patriarchy in the face. Not much has changed.

Thankfully, I have younger Millennial siblings who don’t mind being my parents’ friends.

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

Very few people who earn a college degree find a job in their chosen field. Think of all the sociology, anthropology and English majors out there who have “happenstance careers.” They graduate from college, fall into an unexpected opportunity, and wind up working in that industry or field for most of their lives.

My career followed a similar path. I have an undergraduate degree in English that came with a mountain of student debt. I wanted to be a writer, but there was no way I could afford graduate school. Someone at my university identified an entry-level job in human resources but didn’t know what HR meant — only that it paid well and might give me opportunities elsewhere in the organization. While I no longer work inside a big corporation, I’m still attached to HR. Work is the narrative of our lives, and I stick around for the story.

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?

Back when I was an emerging writer, an editor at a business magazine called The Conference Board Review liked my blog and reprinted my articles on its website without my permission. His name was Matthew Budman. When I called him on it, he apologized on the spot and offered me a monthly column and contributing editor title.

Writing is thinking, and the only thing that makes writers better is rigorous feedback. Up until that point, nobody regularly edited my work or offered much feedback. Everything changed for the better in my life when Matthew took me under his wing.

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?

Large companies tend to organize around a hierarchy of titles and tenure. When I worked at Pfizer, my job title was unimpressive. Plus, I hadn’t been there as long as my Baby Boomer colleagues. It never felt safe to stand up for my ideas or speak truth to power. But what I’ve learned is that it’s always safe to speak your mind and raise objections if you develop strong, professional relationships at work.

Nobody likes to hear from the whiny girl in the corner who feels like a victim, but they will always listen to someone who puts in the time and listens to them. People at all levels on the organization chart will have your back if you have theirs. Had I just spent the first year at Pfizer trying to understand others, I might’ve been understood a little more.

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?

The best books tell stories of ordinary people who discover fundamental truths about their lives. That’s why I always come back to The Great Gatsby, a 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The main character is a mysterious millionaire named Jay Gatsby who lives in a mansion on Long Island. The story is narrated by his friend, Nick Carraway, who chronicles Gatsby’s rise and fall.

When you grow up in America, you’re told that you can choose your path. Anything is possible. But The Great Gatsby exposes the myths of personal and career reinvention and reminds us that you can’t outrun your history. You might as well deal with it.

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

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

It’s easy to confuse boundaries with avoidance. When I dodge difficult and challenging people and conversations — at work or in my personal life — I prolong the pain and make things worse for myself.

You never accomplish cool things in life if you’re stuck in the past. Maybe your childhood was rocky, or perhaps you have a horrible history with a colleague at work. Please don’t run from it. Happy lives are built from self-awareness, rigorous honesty, and personal courage.

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

I’m working on my next book, the history of corporate drinking and why we bond over alcohol at work. Although COVID-19 forced many of us to connect with our coworkers in new ways, the truth is that we’re drinking more than ever before — especially at work. I’m writing a book to be helpful to people who drink to endure their jobs. Can you enjoy work and hang out with people without cocktails, beer or wine? I don’t know yet. I’m on that journey, too.

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

Exercise is my therapy, but my workouts can be intense. I’m a marathoner who also lifts weights. For fun, I run up the stairwells of the world’s most gigantic skyscrapers to raise money for charity. But sometimes I need therapy from my therapy.

Several years ago, I learned about the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing. The concept is simple: you walk under a canopy of trees and focus on your breathing. It’s less of a hike and more of a meditative stroll. Nature is therapeutic, and you can now find me slowly walking through the woods about three times a week. I’m a better woman for it.

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.

I have three crucial habits that aid my wellness:

My sleep schedule is on my work calendar. I can’t fall asleep if my brain is still working through email messages and conversations from the day. Creating a nightly routine and blocking time off on my calendar means that my mind is focused on my real evening job: getting some rest to be ready for whatever’s next.

I’m a vegetarian. There were years in my life where I traveled for work and ate nothing but fast-food burgers or chain restaurant steaks. Binge-eating was my coping mechanism. When I went to work for an editor named Vadim Liberman, he laughed at my extreme exercise routine that still allowed for double cheeseburgers. He said, “If your body were a temple, you’d treat it better.” He was right. No animal should die because of my jacked-up relationship with food.

I don’t count steps, I count effort. When you work in HR, you become a de facto leader of the wellness committee. Even if you don’t want to get healthier, you’re suddenly in charge of the weight loss meetings and the 10,000-steps-a-day challenges. What I’ve seen is that much of that doesn’t work. So, instead of counting calories and tracking my steps, I monitor my overall effort. Did I move today? Have I stepped away from my laptop screen? Did I break a sweat? If yes, good job. If not, I need to get moving.

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?

Healthy eating is a privilege, a human right, and also a mystery. There’s unequal access to affordable fruits and vegetables in this world. Although we have a right to nourish our bodies with healthful food, the government hasn’t done enough to prevent its citizens from contracting foodborne illnesses from fresh produce. And dietary guidelines are mysterious and influenced by corporate lobbyists with access to power and money.

The best advice I have about eating healthy is to question everything and trust nobody except yourself. You’re an educated individual who is ultimately responsible for your decisions. If more of us acted like the CEOs of our lives, we might demand more from government institutions and food corporations worldwide.

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

Here are the three things that I do to safeguard my emotional wellbeing:

When I’m about to embark on something new or scary, I ask myself, “How will this fail?” I list all the reasons something will fail, and I try to fix them before I get started. It’s an old, stoic exercise called the premortem. If you fix the glitches before you undertake a new challenge, you have a better chance at success.

When something bothers me, or when I’m peripherally involved in something that makes me uncomfortable, I ask myself, “Can I do anything to improve this?” If I can make a difference, I’ll try. If not, I’ll find an excuse to walk away or end a conversation.

Whenever I’m upset with someone and know that I’m right, I ask myself, “How am I wrong?” It’s an exercise in empathy and compassion, and it often leads me to a quicker reconciliation and more profound connection with a friend or colleague. This exercise is beneficial for people in committed personal relationships, too.

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

I’m an atheist who isn’t particularly spiritual, but I’m a student of theology. It was a passion of mine in college. I love to know what other people believe. It helps me to understand humanity, why the world works the way it does, and how to communicate with colleagues and friends during difficult times. When you have an insight into someone’s motivation, you can resolve conflict faster.

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.

It’s a fantasy that some people are leaders, while others are not. If you live and breathe, you are the boss of your life. Whenever it feels like you’re stuck in a rut or powerless to change things, remember this: Self-leadership is available to all of us. Make a small decision, get a quick win, and build on that.

Leaders are powerful figures in our society, but not all influential people in the spotlight are leaders. Be the boss of your own life. Open up doors for yourself. Then use whatever power you earn to make life better and more comfortable for others.

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 🙂

I want to have lunch with Bruce Springsteen. His voice has grown stronger with age, his art more relevant. Some people fear getting older, but it seems like Bruce just got better — and he was already terrific. I’d like to ask him about his own physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My new book is called, “Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career.” I wrote this book for anyone who is trying to figure out what’s next — personally or professionally. I’m also a podcaster and freelance writer, and you can learn more by visiting

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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