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“Spend time outside” With Michelle Velan

Spend time outside. I mentioned the importance of nature to optimize my sleep but spending time in nature is non-negotiable for me. Even though I’m naturally an ‘always-on’ mode type of person, especially because I feel really excited about what we are building at the moment, I make sure to switch-off. For example, I schedule […]

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Spend time outside. I mentioned the importance of nature to optimize my sleep but spending time in nature is non-negotiable for me. Even though I’m naturally an ‘always-on’ mode type of person, especially because I feel really excited about what we are building at the moment, I make sure to switch-off. For example, I schedule walks in the middle of the day to incorporate exercise into the day, but to also let myself reflect on other things than work. While in nature, I often practice mindfulness. This helps me to calm my mind, recharge and boost my productivity for the rest of the day.


As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Velan.

Michelle Velan is CEO and co-founder at Wonder Source a marketplace enabling individuals to easily book one-to-one virtual coaching and wellness services, from a global community of handpicked and carefully vetted experts. Michelle has Czech and Slovak roots but is originally from Montreal, Canada. She moved to the UK a decade ago, and before taking the leap to launch her own business, she worked in the startup space and most recently held senior roles at venture-backed AI tech startups.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Inthe busy modern life, I think people often overlook important parts of their wellbeing and without proper health — spiritual, physical, mental — people are surviving but not thriving. I have worked most of my career in the fast-paced tech startup environment and at a point in my career, I experienced burnout. It felt like I just wasn’t hitting my stride. After delving deeper, I realized it was because I had placed more weight on certain areas of my life while allowing others to become nice-to-haves. I noticed that I wasn’t alone — many of my friends and peers felt the same way. But once I began investing in myself and working with experts, I saw just how powerful of an impact it had on every level of my life. This is a big part of why I, together with a long-time friend, decided to launch Wonder Source.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As of today, the most significant and interesting story in my working life has to be when I took the decision to start my own business. Launching my first own business in the wellness space wasn’t obvious to me. For many years, I thought about different business ideas, but it never felt right — it wasn’t the right time, or I didn’t feel excited enough about the idea.

I think ultimately what pushed me over the edge and made me change my career and my life goals was when I faced a burnout. That was the catalyst that led me to decide to start my own company within the wellness space. Through my own experience with burnout, I struggled to find the right experts to help me identify and overcome it — the process felt very complex and lengthy — and this was a major contributing factor to what inspired the business.

With a background in the tech startup space, moving into the wellness and self-growth sector was unexpected to some extent. I’ve always been interested in wellness and I now feel really motivated by the fact that I’m working towards helping people live healthier and happier lives. And, even though it may not be directly related, my previous experience working with startup companies taught me about sales, growing a global business, and working in the technology space, all things which are very useful when running Wonder Source.

What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

There are pros and cons of starting your own business, but I’m a big believer that if you feel compelled to embark on something new, you should try to follow your intuition. However, there’s no getting around the fact that changing your career and getting out of your comfort zone is hard. If you’re going to launch your own company, ideally do it in an area that you are passionate about and believe adds real value. For me, being closely connected to the core values of my business has helped me to stay motivated in times of self-doubt.

I feel we sometimes try to control our journeys too much and don’t leave enough room for opportunities that look different to what we initially hoped would present themselves. I apply this thinking to many areas in my life: know yourself and be real about what you want, but at the same time be open-minded to the extent that feels intuitively right and be prepared to leave your comfort zone.

Whether it was in school or in any of my past job roles, I always had a tendency to feel intimidated at the beginning of starting something new. But experience has taught me that you don’t have to wait until you’ve reached a certain level of success or a particular title, to earn the right to have a voice. As you grow in your career, you will always encounter people who are more successful or more accomplished than you, so make sure you work hard, prepare and continue to learn. Overall, the lesson is to always believe in yourself whatever you decide to embark on — if you don’t, no one else will! Plus, don’t forget that everyone had to start somewhere.

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?

My biggest mistake earlier in my career was that I didn’t have enough patience. I am naturally curious and love learning, and at times I tried to do too many things at once, which led me to feel overwhelmed. When moving from a corporate role at a publication house to the fast-paced tech startup world, I was often exposed to a high-stress atmosphere and hectic situations. Being able to switch-off when needed and prioritize were key to not be overworked and overwhelmed.

Now, when running my own business, I religiously use the Trello application to plan and prioritize. I approach my to-do list more mindfully and try to redefine what productivity means to me.

The ability to focus and prioritize well are key ingredients for success. It’s a work in progress to get this right, but I am constantly checking-in with myself to make sure that I’m working on the right things, with the right amount of focus.

I believe that we need to think of our careers or businesses more in terms of running a marathon rather than a sprint. Naturally, the right pace will constantly change and be unique for every individual and situation, but diligently prioritizing and leaving a little room for flexibility as things will inevitably change would be my advice. As Bruce Lee said, “It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”

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?

It is hard to pick one particular person as I have been inspired by so many people in my life. I never had a mentor per se, but my grandfather served as a role model for me in many ways. He emigrated to Canada from the Czech Republic and started a manufacturing company from scratch that is still in the family and operating today. His hard work resulted in having manufacturing facilities and selling to countries all over the world. In a way, he had the distortion reality that people say Steve Jobs had. My grandfather’s way of believing in himself and persevering has been very inspiring to me both in my career and personal life.

One of my role models I looked up to when creating my own business is Sarah Blakely the founder of Spanx. She preserved and created an incredible business against a lot of odds. And, it seems like she has done so in a way that was kind and authentic to her, which I find incredibly inspiring.

Now when running my own coaching platform, I’m lucky to be working with such amazing coaches, who I can go to for help and advice whenever I need some support and mentoring.

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 believe we need to implement a more proactive healthcare approach. According to a Rand study, 60% of adult Americans have at least one chronic disease, the majority of which are lifestyle-driven, preventable, and reversible. I’ve spoken to UK-based doctors recently who agree that we need to think about healthcare from a proactive standpoint. And, to address this they are complementing conventional medicine with a more functional medicine approach.

I launched my online marketplace, Wonder Source, with the mission to remove some of the hurdles that people face when trying to find credible and vetted experts. People often don’t know how and where to start on their journey towards greater success, health and fulfilment.

One of my goals is to “normalize” seeking support from someone, and to remove the stigma that still exists around getting help, whether it is for mental or physical health or professional issues. I want to make it easier for people to be more proactive about their health and wellbeing.

Making real lasting changes to one’s life is hard but is so much more achievable with 1:1 coaching. When people partner with an expert and feel accountable to someone, they usually find it easier to move forward and avoid getting stuck or caught in limiting beliefs.

Predisposed does not mean destined, but people need personalized help to understand what they need to do!

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.

Everyone is different and what is important for my overall wellbeing may be different to others. But the top five lifestyle tweaks that I have incorporated into my lifestyle, and that I believe can also aid others towards a better wellbeing are the following:

Prioritize sleep. Many studies show that it’s essential for overall wellbeing and happiness. To optimize one’s sleep can be very difficult, and a few tweaks might not be enough, but I do believe that with the right support, most people can improve their sleep. For example, when I have had a bad night’s sleep, I make sure that the next day to follow six rules that I created for myself, which are:

  • Start the day with meditation and breathwork. This is a great way to kickstart the day to relieve any anxiety or stress. I apply breath coach James Dowler’s techniques. You can find him on Instagram, and he is also one of the coaches on Wonder Source
  • Spend at least 30 minutes in nature taking a brisk walk or just sitting outside observing my surroundings
  • Incorporate low-impact exercise into my day, even if it is only 15 minutes
  • Journaling is something that I find incredibly powerful if I have a lot on your mind
  • Eat well and especially cutting out stimulants like caffeine and sugar
  • Get off technology two hours before bedtime

Spend time outside. I mentioned the importance of nature to optimize my sleep but spending time in nature is non-negotiable for me. Even though I’m naturally an ‘always-on’ mode type of person, especially because I feel really excited about what we are building at the moment, I make sure to switch-off. For example, I schedule walks in the middle of the day to incorporate exercise into the day, but to also let myself reflect on other things than work. While in nature, I often practice mindfulness. This helps me to calm my mind, recharge and boost my productivity for the rest of the day.

Work with a coach or expert. The personalized approach of an expert can add so much value to your life. From identifying and reframing your limiting beliefs, to reducing stress by talking through challenges, to making real changes by keeping you accountable. I have worked with a variety of coaches for my career, to breathing, to energy work, and the benefits they’ve all provided to my life can’t be overstated.

Journaling and gratitude. Journaling is a form of self-expression that can lift and empower people to understand their complex feelings, find creative solutions and reduce worry. Simply putting words on a page will probably not get you all the benefits of journaling, but effective journaling can result in many positive outcomes and improvements to your quality of life.

Listen to your intuition. Experiencing a burnout highlighted the importance of connecting to my intuition and inner guidance, and actually having the courage to follow it. I now prioritize health and avoid “shoulds”. I regularly check in with myself to make sure I feel excited about what I’m working on and that I believe it’s adding real value.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Talk to each other more, share experiences and stories. Don’t be afraid to reveal more of you and how you are feeling with trusted friends or experts. This is even more relevant in times like this, when many people are working from home and have been isolated for a long period of time.

Seeking to have meaningful conversations with people, whether it is with coaches, friends or partners, can provide you with new perspectives, enhance self-awareness and reduce your stress. A study by Prof. Matthias Mehl at the University of Arizona found that people who spend more time interacting and have more meaningful, substantive conversations are more satisfied and feel a higher wellbeing. Similarly, the Harvard Study on happiness found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends, and social circles. “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster,” says Dr. Waldinger. This is also an opportunity to focus on positive relationships and let go of negative people in your life, or at least minimize your interactions with them.

There is still a stigma surrounding mental health. People often don’t find it easy to be honest about how we’re actually feeling and getting help from someone to address this. Personally, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my own experience about burning out, but when I started to speak to experts and friends about it, I quickly noticed how common this is and how important it is to share your story.

This is why I launched a business where people can easily connect and interact with professionals in a comfortable environment. Making 1:1 coaching more accessible, and normalised, across a variety of areas, will hopefully make people feel less reluctant to speak to experts about their issues and get help to address these.

My hope is that people appreciate the benefits of working with a coach and getting the support they need to thrive and live a healthier and happier life, which I believe is in reach for everyone. Successful people like Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, Alexa von Tobel, founder of LearnVest, to Alexandria Ocasia Cortez, the youngest US congresswomen, have all worked with coaches. It is fair to say that there has been a trend towards wellness and coaching in the last few years, but I feel we haven’t come far enough.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Think of your career or business as a marathon, not a race. We can’t do everything at once. As Bill Gates said, “most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Instead of trying to do everything at once, think long-term and be mindful about where you want to go and how you want to add value. Take breaks to reflect and even sometimes ‘No’ is a perfectly appropriate answer. A research by the University of California found that people who find it difficult to say no are more likely to experience stress, burnout, and even depression.
  2. Believe in yourself more. Dreaming big would serve a lot of people more. Even if your limiting self-belief gets in the way, try to recognize them as just that, and allow yourself to aim high. As Henry Ford said, “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” — I love his quote and believe it to be true.
  3. Work with people that inspire you, and that you can be authentic and honest with. A good team or work partner will not only improve your productivity, but also overall happiness.
  4. Reframe “rejection” and “failure.” If you want to live a rich and full life, you will make mistakes and fail along the way. Think of these as stepping stones. Have a good attitude, be professional, do the research and don’t waste people’s time, but don’t be so precious about being rejected or failing (the latter is still hard for me in certain areas!). Another way of saying it is, it will usually serve you best to focus on the process not the outcome.
  5. Cultivate a willingness! Approach your career and business endeavors with a willing vs. a willful attitude. Willful is the forcing, the impatient and pushing side of wanting and going after goals. It is characterized by worry and not trusting. You can often feel it as tension in your body and it doesn’t feel good. Willing on the other hand is the ease, the guidance, the trust and acceptance of the process and the pain it takes to get where we’re being led. You can feel it in the acknowledgment of signs, not failures. There’s a subtle distinction between the two, but the difference is profound. One distinction that I’ve read about and can relate to is that willfulness may only get you as far as you can see. It’s true that it has helped me reach my goals in the past. Willingness, on the other hand, can help you go beyond your goals and experience more than you knew was possible. Being willful gives you a (false) sense of control. Willing is about giving up control. The root of being willing is letting go of control and trusting that everything is working out for you. For a lot of driven personality types, being willful comes naturally and it may even feel like a prerequisite to success, however, it can leave you feeling drained, out of flow and potentially missing out on greater opportunities than you could have ever imagined.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

For me, it is mental wellbeing. Living and working in a busy city like London, I come across a lot of people who are highly stressed. The human condition is that we encounter challenges and suffering and it’s a completely normal part of life. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and I see people feeling ashamed of their struggles and therefore don’t speak up about it or seek the necessary help. I personally suffered from a burnout at a point of my career and as a result I am extra mindful of taking time every day to do the things that will put me in a good and motivated headspace such as meditation, exercise, connecting with family and friends. Mental health is the most important for me because health — physical, emotional, spiritual — is the necessary foundation for everything else to thrive. Without it, nothing else matters.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Follow Wonder Source on:

Instagram:

@wondersource_

https://www.instagram.com/wondersource_/

Facebook:

@Wondersource

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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