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Marisa Donnelly: “Spend time with yourself to discover what really resonates with the core of you”

Spend time with yourself to discover what really resonates with the core of you. I think the idea of ‘spiritual wellness’ looks different for every single person. This is why I would, first and foremost, advocate for identifying what your own version of spirituality and faith is. It’s hard, especially in our media-driven world, to […]

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Spend time with yourself to discover what really resonates with the core of you. I think the idea of ‘spiritual wellness’ looks different for every single person. This is why I would, first and foremost, advocate for identifying what your own version of spirituality and faith is. It’s hard, especially in our media-driven world, to distinguish what you believe within the nose. But it’s this process — and spending time with yourself to investigate your true feelings — that helps you determine who you are and what you believe.


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 Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Donnelly.

Marisa Donnelly is a writer, editor, teacher, and founder of Be A Light Collective, a creative marketplace, online community, and writing/editing services company with a mission of re-shaping education through a relationship-based learning lens. She is the author of Somewhere On A Highway, a collection of poems, the founder of Momish Moments, a platform dedicated to empowering journeys of parenting.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/8c17287187f423acce0cd514befd64a0


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?

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

Whenever I’m asked this question, a million people float through my mind but one who really resonates with me is my fourth grade teacher. I remember the moment with this teacher down to the color of my notebook and the feeling of the pages between my fingers. She had handed each student a notebook and said, simply, “Write.” It was the first time I was empowered to be creative and share my heart. It was the first time I truly saw the freeing power of words. From that moment forward, I was excited about writing and that love has never wavered.

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?

So many people have inspired my journey, but most recently, I have been motivated by my son. I came into his life when he was eight years old (through dating his father) and he has not only encouraged me to pursue my work but has been a relentless supporter of everything I do and create. He gives me the energy to keep gong (even in the midst of a global pandemic) and he often brags about me to his friends and classmates. He reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing in the first place — to help people, grow relationships, and secure a stable lifestyle of freedom and fun for my little family.

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?

Some may think this is funny and some may think this is (almost) tragic… I feel the latter…but I almost didn’t get my first dream job because I didn’t follow up to an interview right away for fear of being “too eager.” What I learned is that if you’re truly passionate about something, you have to lean in — who cares if you’re “too much.”

You won’t be “too much” for the right people and opportunities.

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?

I’ll never forget reading a book called A Face First when I was in late elementary school/early middle school. In the story, a young girl goes through a tragic accident that transforms her face, forcing her on a journey of looking inside rather than outside. With her facial deformity, she has to redefine her sense of self and discover that her worth is not her body. It was a powerful story that has stuck with me all these years. Whenever I think of it, I’m reminded of the power of moving through life with your personality and your heart — everything else is temporary.

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

“You are not for everyone.” This quote has met me right where I was so many times. It’s a reminder that no matter what you do, say, or become, people may not like you. And that’s okay. You’re not meant for the world. You’re meant to be you and to make your mark.

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 always working on something! Besides the huge career pivot into launching a homeschool during the pandemic (you can learn more about that here), I’ve also jumped into creating a YouTube channel and some other short projects (including upcoming courses!) My goal is to help people in all stages of their journey find their voices and next steps both personally and professionally.

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.

  1. Create ‘zen zones’ in each day or week. Every person has what I call a ‘zen zone’ — a time in the day or week that you feel the most called to and inspired to work. For some, this may be the late hours of the night. For others (like me) it’s the wee hours of the morning. Find your own zone and lean into it, build your schedule around it.
  2. Carve out time to read or listen to something inspiring each week. We grow our minds the most when we are studying, learning, and moving beyond our own experiences and perspectives. Whenever possible, carve out time each day or week to read, to listen to a podcast, or to watch something that motivates you/teaches you something. This is never time wasted, regardless of how busy you are.
  3. Sleep. This may sound silly, but along my journey I have realized that sleep is the body’s natural equalizer — and it’s so incredibly important. Don’t neglect it. When you sleep, you reset your emotions and you give yourself a natural ‘reset button’ heading into the next day.

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

Over the years, I have experimented with different self-care and meditative practices. Two that really resonate with me and that I incorporate into my schedule are breath work and journaling. First, breath work is a technique of deep breathing that utilizes both “belly breathing” and “chest breathing.” This type of breathing, paired with closed eyes and a relaxed body, helps you to shift out of your overthinking and into the present moment. You can realign with yourself, your goals, and you can literally reset the oxygen levels in your body. It’s life-altering. I first discovered this practice through Breathe Degrees and now I make it a regular part of my week.

Outside of breath work, I am a big believer in journaling as meditation. Although it’s not the “traditional” meditation, it is a way to spill your mind, to regulate your emotions, and to make peace with whatever is stressing you out. It can also help you to practice both mindfulness and gratefulness — two practices that are often overlooked in our fast-paced culture.

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.

  1. Incorporate off-screen time into each day. This can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk without your phone, or as ‘complicated’ as scheduling “off hours” into your evening where your cell goes into ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. This not only gives you the space to distance from your work, but it also allows you be more intentional with the people and experiences around you.
  2. Take movement breaks every hour. As a teacher, I am always encouraging my students and clients to move their bodies — especially when they get bored, frustrated, or stuck. The same goes for all humans (especially when we are all working from home or tied to our devices for virtual work/learning). Moving our bodies creates a rush of endorphins that resets negative energy and gets us refocused on a task. Even if it’s as simple as walking around the block, the movement helps to realign.
  3. Redefining exercise as your body’s playtime. Many of us have negative associations with exercise because we’ve used it as a punishment or told ourselves that we ‘have’ to do it in order to be better versions of ourselves. Exercise isn’t a punishment, though, and the sooner we realize this and see it as something to be enjoyed, the healthier we’ll be.

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?

There are so many different diets out there and I’m not a nutrition expert, so I can’t necessarily comment on what’s “right” or “wrong.” What I do know, though, is that we have to limit our intake of processed foods and lean into what’s more natural. The more natural things we put into our bodies, the better we will feel.

I also think it’s easier to follow a healthy diet over a restriction diet. Just like with exercise, food shouldn’t be seen as something to be restricted (punishment) or something only given when you do a ‘good job’ (reward). Instead, we should strive to create healthy relationships with food and enjoy what we’re consuming. Something I recommend is finding foods you like and trying to add them into your daily or weekly plan (both ‘healthy’ and ‘not-healthy’). This will create positive associations around food and guide your diet to be focused on what you enjoy rather than what you’re withholding.

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

  1. Give yourself time and space to heal. One of the biggest issues with our ‘humanness,’ if you will, is that we are always trying to rush our healing. We think that we can just ‘get over’ things that hurt us, and the sooner we do, the better we’ll feel. But that’s not the case. Sometimes (most times) it’s the journey through the pain that helps us to understand ourselves, to align with the greatest versions of ourselves, and to truly overcome — and we miss out on this process when we rush or try to pretend everything’s fine. Whether you process with someone else and work through conflict together or you isolate and give yourself physical space, allowing yourself to process your emotions is pivotal.
  2. Embrace your vulnerability. One of the most toxic beliefs you can ever have is that softness equates to weakness. This is absolutely not true. When you are your most open, vulnerable, and honest, you connect with others in powerful ways and allow yourself to be truly seen. This is the most freeing part of the human experience.
  3. Push for communication (even when it’s hard). Communication is one of the core aspects of every single relationship. From platonic to romantic, the more comfortable we become with talking about the nitty gritty and truly trusting people with our hearts, the better and stronger our bonds will be. The key, in my opinion, to emotional wellness is finding ways to share what we think and feel even when it’s hard and even if it may hurt someone in the process because it’s not what they want to hear. As long as we speak with intention, grace, and integrity, we will move forward.

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

I have always been obsessed with happiness — finding and creating it — so much so, that in my past, I’ve been accused of being a preacher of ‘toxic positivity.’ While I don’t agree with the naysayers on that one, (as my personal belief is more of a ‘bright-side’ approach rather than a ‘just-pretend-it’s-all-fine’ approach), I think that the more we teach ourselves to focus on the good and physically move our mouths into a smile, the easier life becomes.

While I completely understand that moving through pain isn’t as easy as “just grin and bear it,” I firmly believe we can make an impact on ourselves and others by choosing to smile and choosing to celebrate what is right rather than what is going wrong.

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

  1. Spend time with yourself to discover what really resonates with the core of you. I think the idea of ‘spiritual wellness’ looks different for every single person. This is why I would, first and foremost, advocate for identifying what your own version of spirituality and faith is. It’s hard, especially in our media-driven world, to distinguish what you believe within the nose. But it’s this process — and spending time with yourself to investigate your true feelings — that helps you determine who you are and what you believe.
  2. Find time to pray, meditate, or doing something you love as an act of ‘worship.’ Spirituality is born in taking careful time to do things you love with the intent of connecting with your higher power, your inner sense of self/peace, or with the universe. Again, this looks different for every person. As a Christian, my ‘worship’ looks like singing, like journaling, like writing in my devotional, or like taking time to sit quietly in prayer. I would also encourage you to remember that the time you carve out for spiritual wellness doesn’t have to be ‘fancy.’ You can pray while you’re doing the dishes; you can praise God on your drive to the gym. It’s not about how you’re connecting with your maker; it’s about the intention behind it, and desire you have to do it in the first place.
  3. Study, read, learn, and absorb. In my opinion, optimum spiritual wellness looks like continual growth. Find books to read, podcasts to listen to, journals to fill, and people to inspire you on your walk. Spend time asking questions, thinking deeply about topics, and pushing yourself to learn all that you can — not only about what resonates but also what others believe, too, so that your perspectives can be continually challenged and strengthened.

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

I’m a big advocate for getting outside. One of the most transformative physical moments of my life was hiking the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming with four of my best friends. I’m not an avid hiker, and the challenge was far more than I expected (read: I almost died haha) but pushing myself and experiencing the pure joy and accomplishment of reaching the top is a feeling I’ll never forget.

I think nature frees us in that way. It pushes us beyond our wildest expectations, it grounds, it connects us, and it shows us that despite all of the craziness we go through, we are a part of something far bigger.

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.

I founded my business, Be A Light Collective, with the vision of ‘being a light’ to others — through inspiration, through purposeful connections, through relationship-based services, and through positivity. I think we live in a world where, unfortunately, we become so self-focused and wrapped up in our own needs and pain. The idea behind ‘be a light’ is that we can share our passion, our hearts, and our spark with those around us to truly make a difference. Light always overcomes darkness. There is hope, even amidst our most shadow-filled days.

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 🙂

There are so many incredible people in the world! If I were to choose one person who has been inspiring me as of late, it would have to be George Couros. George’s drive, passion, and expert mind around education has inspired me for years. There is so much I would pick his brain about, especially in the field of teaching, dyslexia, and my own personal journey of homeschooling.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m all over the place on social media! You can find my personal work on my website, blog, YouTube, Facebook or Instagram. You can follow along with and connect to Be A Light Collective on our website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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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