Whitney Combs Of Tempest: “Willingness to learn and grow”

Willingness to learn and grow — I regularly learn so much from my team. I actively seek information from my team on what is working for them and how they would like to see the coaching program evolve. The global health and wellness market is worth more than 1.5 trillion dollars. So many people are looking to improve […]

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Willingness to learn and grow — I regularly learn so much from my team. I actively seek information from my team on what is working for them and how they would like to see the coaching program evolve.

The global health and wellness market is worth more than 1.5 trillion dollars. So many people are looking to improve their physical, mental, and emotional wellness. At the same time, so many people are needed to help provide these services. What does it take to create a highly successful career in the health and wellness industry?

In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry” we are talking to health and wellness professionals who can share insights and stories from their experiences.

In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Whitney Combs.

Whitney is the Director of Coaching at Tempest, the only clinically proven digital recovery program that provides holistic, shame-free and effective care to anyone who wants to change their relationship with alcohol. Whitney earned her health coaching certification through the National Society of Health Coaches and worked as a Physician Assistant and Professor of Medical Education for over 10 years. Whitney is also a mother of four and has more than 4 years’ experience working with other parents who are in recovery.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?

I grew up as an only child in Tampa, Florida, and had a really happy childhood, but started struggling with depression at an early age, probably around 16 or 17. So, I dealt with depression and anxiety almost my entire life and used alcohol to numb those feelings of depression and anxiety. Then, in 2016, I had an incredibly traumatic year in terms of my drinking and in 2017, I decided that if I was going to turn things around and have better mental health, I really had to stop using alcohol to numb my feelings. So, I did an internet search for yoga and recovery, and I found Holly Whitaker and Hip Sobriety (now Tempest). Very quickly, I started attending her webinars and then I joined what was then Hip Sobriety School and the rest is sort of history. Since January 2nd, 2017, I’ve had one night of drinking. So I have over 1,600 sober days over the last four and a half years.

Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to live a wellness-focused lifestyle? Can you tell us about your main motivation to go all in?

For me, 2016 and 2017 were pivotal years. The challenges I faced with my drinking in 2016 were definitely a catalyst. Having such a traumatic year and really wanting to get a handle on my mental wellness became my main motivation to go all in.

But also, I have to say, Holly Whitaker was inspiring. I think part of my main motivation was the mission of this company which is to expose people to a different path of recovery; something different from AA, which seems like the only option when you’re out there looking for help with your drinking.

Most people with a wellbeing centered lifestyle have a “go-to” activity, exercise, beverage, or food that is part of their routine. What is yours and can you tell us how it helps you?

Aside from just taking medications, I eventually learned that I had to start to build a toolkit of practices that would keep me healthy. Medication is one tool in my toolkit, but it doesn’t do everything. I still have to do a lot of work around my mental health and my recovery in order to stay sane and sober.

So, I don’t have a single go-to activity, I have an entire toolkit of activities and that includes movement; I’m an avid Pelotoner. It includes starting my day in a very grounded and intentional way with journaling and meditation. It includes reaching out to other people when I’m struggling in any way and getting support from friends who’ve struggled with the same things I struggle with. It also includes drinking a mocktail, the same mocktail, every single night. So, I can’t pick just one thing. For me, it has to be a combination of all of these things in order to stay mentally healthy and centered.

To live a wellness-focused life is one thing, but how did it become your career? How did it all start?

My father was a therapist before he went to law school and so I had that as a reference point, but I think it was my struggle with depression and anxiety that really drew me toward a wellness profession. I didn’t want to see other people struggle as much as I did for so many years before I found other ways to manage those feelings of depression and anxiety.

After I’d attended Hip Sobriety School, I loved the program so much, I decided that I wanted to help other people find this path of recovery that was so different from the mainstream path of recovery at the time. I think seeing a path to recovery that was holistic in nature and free from shame and blame, and free from an environment where you’re told that you’re broken, and you need to be fixed; all of those pieces of the Tempest method really drew me in. So, I started bugging Holly about how to become a coach and what I could do in order to work in this space, and she wound up hiring me as the Director of Coaching in December of 2017.

Before Tempest, I worked as a physician’s assistant for about 13 years. I worked in neurology specializing in seizures and sleep disorders. And then I worked as a professor of medical education in a PA program where I taught neurology, women’s health, and psychiatry. So, I’ve been in health and wellness professions my whole life.

Can you share with us how the work you are doing is helping to make a bigger impact in the world? Can you share a story that illustrates that?

I think helping people to create a life that they don’t have to escape from by using alcohol is helping people to wake up and really face their own emotions, their own feelings in their own life, as well as their feelings and emotions around how they relate to the world around them. So, I think that this work has an impact on the world because we are helping people to get sober so that they can go out and do good work in the world. All the time, I see people who have struggled mightily with addiction and successfully move into a space where they’re not drinking or not using substances anymore. And they have the time and energy to begin to give back to their community in so many ways.

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

Right now, we are in the process of expanding our coaching program so that we can reach more people. We’re also looking at increasing the value of our offering by making sure they have intersession support between our four-week coaching sessions. That might end up including sending texts or emails to members or even group coaching, but it’s exciting to figure out how these things can add value to our offering and give people access to something that wasn’t readily available to them before.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I think compassion is a big one and I think what illustrates that is how I work with my team. I manage a team of coaches that do one-on-one coaching with people who are in recovery. But the coaches on my team are all in recovery as well. So, I have to be very cognizant of the fact that they are also doing their own recovery work and I have to be compassionate in terms of understanding if they need time off or if accommodations need to be made. I have to support my team, not only professionally, but personally.

Teamwork, I think, is wildly important. As we’ve expanded the coaching program, I’ve worked with the coaches to make sure we are using each team member’s greatest talents and strengths, so we perform better as a whole.

A third thing that’s been instrumental to my success is tenacity. It’s not common for someone to have a member experience and decide, ‘I’m not going to stop until I work for this company!’ but that’s sort of what I did to become a part of Tempest. So, there was definitely a great deal of perseverance, courage and tenacity that contributed to my success.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. Wellness is an incredibly broad topic. How would you define the term “Wellness”? Can you explain what you mean?

My definition of wellness is building a life that you don’t need to escape from. Most people in this world use something to provide an escape from the stresses of daily life. While it’s normal, healthy even, to take breaks and escape sometimes, true wellness is having a life that you don’t desperately need to numb out from. At Tempest we teach people to meditate, to do yoga, to journal, to rest, to move their bodies…basically we teach people how to build a life they don’t need to escape from. And this is a journey, not a destination. It requires daily commitment and work to have this life. It’s hard work but so worth it.

As an expert, this might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons with our readers about why focusing on our wellness should be a priority in our lives?

Building on my last response, I think wellness should be a priority because if we don’t take the time to build this life that we don’t need to escape from, we find ourselves just marking time or wasting time. So, whether it’s alcohol or weed or scrolling Instagram or shopping or being addicted to relationships; everybody has something that they use to numb out. And, as I mentioned above, it’s not necessarily bad to numb out but sometimes it’s bad when that’s your only coping mechanism. And so, the priority becomes building a toolkit to address the things that make you want to go numb and building an arsenal of things that you can use so that you don’t need that numbing so badly.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increasingly growing understanding of the necessity for companies to be mindful of the wellness of their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, can you share steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental and physical wellness?

At Tempest, we have a wellness benefit that we offer to our coaches, and all employees. They get a sum of money every month to put toward anything that’s health and wellness related from therapy and massage to meditation or a yoga class; almost anything that they want. I think this along with other things that are just built into the fabric at Tempest demonstrate that we genuinely care about our employees’ mental and physical health. Other companies are starting to wake up to this importance. We’re seeing employers adopt wellness-focused benefit programs like Benepass and Gympass to help their employees reach better mental and physical wellness. I think the most important step is to acknowledge the importance of supporting employees in this more holistic way.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Passion — I became passionate about health and wellness after moving through the Tempest (then Hip Sobriety program). I had a deep understanding that I needed to work with people to help them see how life changing it is to take alcohol out of their lives. Telling people in my life didn’t feel like enough, I needed to share this with a wider audience and the best way I knew to do that was to join the Tempest team.
  2. Compassion — Because my team is a team of people who are in recovery themselves, compassion becomes incredibly important. I need to be aware of the fact that my team members need time and space to work on their own recovery. I need to structure our work in a way that allows that time and space when it’s needed.
  3. Willingness to learn and grow — I regularly learn so much from my team. I actively seek information from my team on what is working for them and how they would like to see the coaching program evolve.
  4. Vulnerability — It takes courage to share parts of my story in order to help our members feel seen and heard. This piece is particularly important in recovery. I have an opportunity to normalize our members’ thoughts and feelings by sharing my own experience.
  5. Self-awareness — It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness to be able to work in health and wellness and stay in recovery. I have to keep my finger on the pulse of my own recovery journey on a daily basis. I have to make sure that I am healthy so that I can care for others (i.e. put my own oxygen mask on first).

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

I know I keep saying this, but it’s just so important. If I could start any movement, it would be one that helps people create a life they don’t need to escape from. It’s just revolutionary in terms of how you approach mental health and wellbeing. And at Tempest, I feel like we’re doing it. We are helping people to wake up so that they can do good work in the world. We are helping people to build lives that they’re happy in and that they’re satisfied with.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Dax Shephard. He’s an actor who’s been very public about his own recovery. I would love to hear more of his recovery story and more of his thoughts about how we can help to shape this recovery space in a way that makes sense to everyone. He’s very AA and 12 Steps focused. So, I would love to have a conversation with him about the differences between that 12 Steps focus and the way we frame recovery at Tempest.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit www.jointempest.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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