Wendy Strgar: “To develop resilience, abandon the story line”

Abandon the story line. When things fall apart, it is easy to get lost in the rollercoaster of the story line. When faced with too many unresolved issues at once, negativity gets loud and resonant with other past mistakes. Giving up our story line requires the courage to stew in the discomfort of the present breakdown […]

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Abandon the story line. When things fall apart, it is easy to get lost in the rollercoaster of the story line. When faced with too many unresolved issues at once, negativity gets loud and resonant with other past mistakes. Giving up our story line requires the courage to stew in the discomfort of the present breakdown without a narrative, replacing the banter with persistent attention to how we are thinking and talking to ourselves.

I had the pleasure to interview Entrepreneur, Advocate, Innovator Wendy Strgar. Wendy is the founder and CEO of Good Clean Love, a pioneer in the organic personal care product industry. Wendy started Good Clean Love in her kitchen in 2003 after hearing from many women about, and experiencing for herself, the painful side effects of using petrochemical-based hygiene and intimacy products. Today, Good Clean Love products are sold internationally, are among the most scientifically advanced personal care products, and endorsed by physicians nationwide for their safe and nontoxic ingredients. Under Wendy’s leadership, Good Clean Love is a certified B corporation and a champion of sustainable business practices that has also worked to change FDA policy of testing personal care products on animals. Wendy is also a sexual health educator, popular blogger, relationship expert, and author of two books. In all her work, Wendy aims to share tools and insights to tackle the challenging issues of sustaining love and healthy intimacy.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Myentrepreneurial story is the classic story of necessity being the mother of invention. I started Good Clean Love in my kitchen in order to save my marriage and my sex life. I was one of the child survivors of a horrible divorce in the 1970s and because of this, I was extremely invested in making my marriage work — not only for me and my husband, but also for our four kids.

Before I began Good Clean Love, I facing many conditions that women now come to us for. I’d given birth to and nursed four babies and with each successive child, I found myself increasingly vaginally dry. In addition to dryness, after 4 births caused additional physical issues like vaginal prolapse, which was eventually surgically repaired — a recovery that far eclipsed the pain of giving birth. These complications contributed to serious weakness in my lower back, further impacting my physical and emotional health. At that time, issues like this were never publicly discussed.

We had been married for 17 years by the time I had my last child and I understood how important sex was for our emotional balance. Beyond that, I personally understood the differing issues between kids who came from a functional family and those who didn’t. This meant that giving up on my sex life was not an option.

These experiences in my reproductive years inspired me to develop real solutions for women’s health problems through founding Good Clean Love. Because of that my personal life work and my company’s mission is dedicated to making love sustainable and lasting. For me, this meant reflecting on how love existed over time, how families stayed together and how relationships renewed themselves.

Truthfully, I think many of us are trying to resolve our childhood issues, or those issues are guiding life choices that we may not recognize until much later. I feel unbelievably lucky and blessed that I built a career that has allowed me to not only learn these things but also to teach them.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The most interesting thing that happened in my career was when I learned about bio-matching products to existing optimal biological conditions, which is called biomimicry. This discovery was accidental, and came to shape the future of the company’s products.

We donate to almost every non-profit that asks for clean lubricant — and in this case it was our local chapter of HIV Alliance who tested our lubricant and sent me a nice letter about how it most closely resembled human secretions. I didn’t fully understand the implications of this letter until a year later when several university labs started ordering thousands of samples for studies.

In 2012, the study came out and named us one of the safest lubricants on the market at the time. In the study, the issue of osmolality was first introduced as a key safety attribute. To be honest, I did not fully understand the findings at first so I called every researcher who was quoted in the story. Dr. Richard Cone, a biophysicist from Johns Hopkins University returned my call and became over time a friend, teacher and our scientific advisor.

Dr. Richard Cone spent decades doing female sexual health research, and much of his learning had never been put to use in developing safe and effective products for women. He was quoted in the original article summary saying “Basically all lubricants need to be reformulated,” so I asked him how.

What I learned over time from working with Dr. Cone is that when we make products that support the way the body maintains its integrity and heals itself then we are not going to do any harm. This is an ethos we’ve brought into every aspect of our work, from the bioplastics we use for packaging, to becoming carbon neutral, to supporting reproductive organizations around the world.

I feel like if we are not solving a problem or making something better than we are just adding to the noise and trouble in the world. This accidental discovery has shaped the growth of Good Clean Love and I am so thankful.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Good Clean Love stands our because of our devotion to making innovative solutions that impact the broader health regulations for types of products in this category.

The sexual health and feminine hygiene companies that have dominated product shelves for decades have sold petrochemical based products, which we now know contributes to the incidence of issues including Bacterial Vaginosis and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.

Good Clean Love questioned the FDA testing protocols requiring animal tests for product clearance. We successfully proved these tests provided false positive safety data which has allowed these companies to flood the market with products that are not safe for human vaginas.

We became PETA’s partner as a business working for regulatory change and united, took the fight to the FDA. We triumphed in having the FDA accept new forms of human testing to replace much of their required animal testing. We are still working on replacing the final test, but this work ultimately ended up influencing the historic FDA predicate device policy and requiring osmolality testing for any new devices submitted. This effort required coordinating the highest level leadership at the FDA to meet with the scientists working with us.

Large organizations are often resistant to change. It was exciting and exhausting. A lot of people underestimate my ability to keep fighting. I think it is the true key to any success.

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?

When the student is ready, the teacher appears, and I believe that this has always been true in the evolution of Good Clean Love. Before learning about biomimicry, I was praying to find someone who understood the science behind healthy vaginal products. I could never have orchestrated the series of events that led me to meet Dr. Richard Cone and find common ground to work together.

The timing was important, because I believe that people appear in your life when you have the humility to realize how much you don’t know. It was not only recognizing that I needed help, but also that the company had reached an inflection point and was capable of incorporating the help.

As it had with Dr. Cone, it happened again in 2019. I was ready for help and I knew it. While attending a conference, I met Blair Kellison, CEO of Traditional Medicinals. In his inspirational keynote, he shared the amazing growth and capacity that happens in a company when the Founder is willing to step aside for business guys to maximize their successes. In short order Blair has become our single most influential company advisor, a role that he rarely accepts. I think the saying goes; when preparedness meets opportunity, miracles can and do happen.

It is these miracles of asking for help and being prepared to change and grow that has made the difference for Good Clean Love.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is something I have actively worked to cultivate. Emily Dickenson once wrote “dwell in possibility.” I believe that resilient people are self aware, emotionally intelligent, and adaptable to possibilities. Emotional balance gives people the ability to weather life’s storms by seeing the ground you have to stand on, rather than looking into the chaos.

Resilient people have the capacity to know when their emotional state is triggered and can look inside instead of placing blame outside. They are problem-solvers who see life as an opportunity to find solutions. This is what makes most anything possible.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My childhood heroes were Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They each had the ability to stay centered in the truth of their situations.

These men taught non-violence to huge communities which required astute discipline and leadership because people had to be convinced that fighting back could never win. Many people lost their lives for these messages, as they both did. Ultimately, their non-violent work caused pivotal shifts in history and proved that highly organized and righteous acts can shine the truth on the perpetration of injustice and racism.

These examples show me that true resilience always takes the long view. We may lose battles, it might look like something is not working, and the cause may never fully win. But, resilience defends the heart and it has impact long after the act itself.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I was told by many people (including our minister and my husband’s family) that our marriage was impossible. Over the course of our 37 year marriage, there have been times when I wondered if I was foolish not to listen because it has been one of the greatest challenges of my life.

In many ways, I started my business to teach myself that we don’t get to choose the love we have, but whether we can accept the love that is offered to us.

The collective action of the Making Love Sustainable columns and the two books that came out of them over the last 15 years was many small acts of resilience. The process required me to come back to my marriage again and again, with the intention to learn how to stay, how to receive love, how to give without giving myself away.

In addition, many people told me that I would never be able to get the FDA to change their regulations about predicate devices. Over several years we painstakingly developed data to prove their animal testing requirements were providing false positive test results. We held many meetings with them over many years.

Last year, the FDA confirmed the first time clearance of our product without 3 of 4 animal tests, and most importantly, stated publicly that they would no longer rely on predicate devices in the name of progressive science. They also added a requirement for osmolality testing and I deeply appreciated this, perhaps for obvious reasons.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

The biggest setback in my life was the loss of my eldest son in 2018. Nothing could have prepared me for this loss and many days I thought I could not go on. Most of us don’t understand the power of grief and how it forces a transformation in your life. One simply does not get over it.

I was very fortunate to be surrounded by the loving people who make Good Clean Love possible, who supported me in my grief journey. My previous work on resilience had taught me that grief was an active problem solving process.

I forced myself back into practice of movement and became a yoga teacher. I traveled the world to meet with spiritual teachers who taught me practices that allowed me to rest my mind and my heart. I started my newest book about how life works over again, and have been working to articulate how critical our agency is when we are faced with loss. Most recently I returned from India where I met a holy man who helped me release my son to the universe and remember myself. I am transformed physically, emotionally and spiritually, as are my beliefs about how life works and what really matters.

I am able to go forward again and deeply feel grateful for the beauty and love that persists in spite of his loss. This is the most amazing miracle of my life and I believe is possible because of all the efforts I made in developing resilience throughout my life.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story

I had a lonely and painful childhood, culminating in my parents’ violent divorce when I was 13. The most courageous thing I could do was ask for help when everything was torn down. My request was met with an introduction to Carolyn, my counselor who helped me through the tumultuous years of adolescence.

I learned something critical at that time that I believe was the foundation of my resilience: you only need one person in your life to reflect back the love that you are. In those dark years, that happened in my weekly sessions with Carolyn. She was available to me as a voice of light and love so that I could believe I was loveable, and she taught me the truth of possibility.

I still remember the day she told me that not everyone is born into their real family, that for some people their family is a possibility to be discovered. These lessons have been the foundation of what it has meant to grow and sustain a family, especially in the face of great tragedy.

Resilience is really a profound form of self love, of believing in your own goodness and that the world will love you.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Here are the five steps that I teach to become more resilient:

  1. Start from the inside out: By learning to pay attention and identify our own emotional issues we prevent them from spiraling out into issues that impact our most important relationships and our work aspirations. The emotions we ignore will grow into dysfunction or physical pain. By becoming emotionally intelligent we also become socially intelligent.
  2. Be Present. It is only in the present moment, in the instant of here and now that our experience takes on any real meaning or offers us any truth. Squandering our attention on the regrets of yesterday or the anticipation of tomorrow’s worries is how we distract ourselves from our real power. It is only in this present moment that we have impact in our own lives, and this realization is truly liberating. Without regret or worry, we discover we have the energy and space to create our lives.
  3. Abandon the story line. When things fall apart, it is easy to get lost in the rollercoaster of the story line. When faced with too many unresolved issues at once, negativity gets loud and resonant with other past mistakes. Giving up our story line requires the courage to stew in the discomfort of the present breakdown without a narrative, replacing the banter with persistent attention to how we are thinking and talking to ourselves.
  4. Witness body anxiety. Anxiety isn’t a state of mind, it is an energy that lives in almost every body. Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses, impacting over 40 million people in the US daily. One of the most effective ways to work with anxious energy is by recognizing it, focusing our attention on feeling, identifying, and naming the visceral experience of it. One of my teachers, Pema Chodron, says that getting lost in our anxiety by ruminating on the stories is like kicking the wheel of our own suffering. Without using our attention deliberately and separating the interior experience from the story, we feed the cycle of pain and lose ourselves inside of it. It takes both a lot of courage to lean into the physical experience of anxiety.
  5. No quitting — no giving up. Persistence is a practice. When things are not working, many do not know how to stay is the space between success and failure — it takes practice. Quitting is way too easy because there are many ways to distract our attention, and because many of the consequences of quitting are not visible at the moment we walk away. Just like persistence, giving up becomes insidious (like most bad habits). Every worthy achievement is a result of people who didn’t quit when things fell apart (and trust me, they did).

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have long dreamed of creating a movement of love agents. Do you remember the brief ice bucket challenge? I want to create something like that, but with ripples of long-lasting impact that could change the world. Social media makes this even easier because we can share when a love agent performs random acts of kindness and witnesses the experience of receiving love. This experience replaces old wounds and we become driven by kindness because it gives back to us.

Acts of love become the currency with which we dare others to step up to their highest self.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Tagging them might not work, but I would love to meet Michelle and Barack Obama. Their resilience during their time in leadership (and since) is awe inspiring. During these challenging times for tolerance, they continue to be a voice of reason in the name of justice and humanity.

Even with the assaults on the work they accomplished in office, they still remain resilient and believe in a system for greater good.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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