Welcome to Project Fabulous Femme! Once or twice a month, I'll introduce you to a Fabulous Femme who's inspired me. I invite them to share their perspectives on being a modern woman and other vital corps topics. Please be kind, curious, and open-minded.
Andrea Nakayama has been an inspiration to me as women, a business owner, but most importantly, as a gifted and generous teacher. You see she’s the CEO/Founder and Educator at Holistic Nutrition Lab, her school for practitioners, where she teaches practitioners (like me) the science and art of a functional nutrition practice. (That’s when Andrea’s not consulting on some of the toughest clinical cases as a Functional Nutritionist.) Most weeks over the past two years, I’ve been able to pick up all the geeky anatomy, physiology and functional nutrition information she’s been throwing down that helps me co-create healthy, transformative change for my own clients. Her feminine, disruptive (in all the right ways) approach to inspiring others to reclaim ownership over one’s own health made her a kindred spirit. Her resilience and commitment to her calling after losing her husband to brain cancer in 2002 is nothing short of inspiring. Without any further adieu, meet Fabulous Femme Andrea.
Q + A
[Kara] How would you define being a modern woman in 2015?
[Andrea] It's fun to think about, but I really think that a modern woman in 2016 and going forward, is a woman who can pursue her passions, whatever they may be. So I think that some women are interested in family and really pursuing a career as a mother and a wife or a partner; and some want to do more than that or different than that outside of the home; and some of us are really passionate about the work we do.
So I think a modern woman is one who can really understand, accept and pursue her passions, whatever they may be.
[Kara] It's such an increasingly difficult juggling act. Do you have any advice?
[Andrea] I think it depends on what we want, what our reality is and what we need to be able to do in our lives to fulfill ourselves. I think we get really stuck on the juggling act of trying to do it all and be it all. What I'd rather us do as women is retreat back into what's important to us and why, and know that what we're doing is for our good. I think it becomes a juggling act when we've overextended ourselves in one area too far beyond what is fulfilling.
So I think the answer is actually pulling back and listening to what feeds us and fuels us. Because even when you're juggling a lot… I'm somebody who runs a business and has 17 employees, and I'm a single mom. I work hard, but it feeds me so much. It doesn't feel like I'm juggling. It feels like I'm thriving. So I think that's where we make mistakes, thinking that we have to do it all or it has to look a certain way. I would encourage us all to look at it from different angles and see what is necessary to feed and fuel us.
[Kara] Great point. Thank you. It's a nice segue, in a way, to the next question. Here at vital corps, my general approach to things is a bit unconventionally analytical, a bit resourceful and a bit playful. There is also a lot of talk about "shit" - both from a physiological perspective but also just from a calling-out bullshit perspective. That said, what would you like to see modern women give more of a shit about?
[Andrea] Their own happiness and the pursuit of their own happiness. I think that we get caught up in a lot of external "should"s. And really dialing in and tuning into what makes you happy, what makes you thrive, and working from that place is I think what I would love for us to give more of a shit about. Because, from there, so much comes when we're in tune with who we are and what we want in our lives. I'm seeing this happen more and more. So I would love for us to give more of a shit about what makes us happy.
[Kara] And we'll all be happy if we continue to shit properly, too.
[Andrea] Exactly. Absolutely.
[Kara] I think when we're looking at questions like this, sometimes the opposite isn't truly the opposite, but another perspective. It’s important to consider this other perspective to get us to a place where we can really understand things. So, coming at that question from the opposite perspective, what would you like to see more modern women give less of a shit about?
[Andrea] What's coming to mind is pleasing other people and putting others first. I think we're all familiar with the analogy of putting your own mask on first, like you do on an airplane, but I don't think enough of us live into that. I see too many women—and I think it's kind of beaten into us throughout our whole lives—suppressing our own desires and putting others' desires before ours. This happens in the classroom. It happens in the workplace. I think it happens in family life too, where moms are putting their children's lives first.
And I'm not saying we don't care about other people and work in empathy with everybody around us. But I think we forsake ourselves too much. So I would like to see us give less of a shit about everybody else around us and start caring for ourselves.
[Kara] That taps into the vein of what I talk about a lot here at vital corps, so it's nice to hear other women are putting that message forth as well. Taking care of yourself and putting yourself first, some of these next questions are kind of around the how we do that. I think some modicum of creativity is integral to that kind of self-care. How does creativity show up in your life, and how do you nourish it or stimulate it when you're just not feeling it?
[Andrea] For me, I've always identified as an artist. When I was a little kid, I was an artist. I actually went to art school, so my undergraduate degree is a bachelor of fine arts. I studied design. I studied fine arts. I actually feel like I'm making my art more than I ever could have imagined now in my life as business owner and as a functional nutritionist. That's because I'm constantly involved in transformation, other people's, my own and the industry's.
I feel like I'm constantly and fortunately (knocking on wood all over the place) involved in creativity and a creative process. I think the beauty of creativity is that there is no "there" there. You are always creating. You are always evolving. I think we have become a culture that really just wants to be in the state of transformed. We want to skip through the process; and the process is where creativity happens. So what I really encourage people to do is be in the process, every process, every aspect of transformation. That is creativity.
Honestly, I don't have to do too much to nurture it because I feel like I'm in it. But there are things I might tune into to when I need a little inspiration for a seed I have brewing that isn't quite getting watered enough. And they are really simple things, like looking up and paying attention outside, whether that's the way the rain is falling on the leaves or a podcast that is really exciting to me that's outside of my industry so I can gain some other perspective.
Unlike some of my students and colleagues, I'm not tuning into health and medical podcasts all the time. When I'm trying to feed my creative juices, I'm tuning into other contexts, and that is what feeds me and sort of provides that watering hole for those seeds that may be developing.
So I think creativity is, in some ways, lost in our culture because we're scared of process, we're scared of being in the unknown, we want the answers… and that's not what we creativity is. I feel really fortunate that I am in a creative process all the time, or often enough. It's very exciting.
[Kara] I think hearing you talk about being in your art and living in it all the time, it's almost like a yin and yang kind of energy. I think that's probably why I'm drawn to the way you teach.
I come from a really pragmatic background where I started off my career as a CPA and was working to turn around bankrupt companies. So it's very process-driven and creative in its own sort of problem-solving way. But I think there is such a nice flow to how you teach and how you break down concepts, and that makes so much more sense now hearing that answer from you.
[Andrea] I think what I teach more than anything is how to think differently and how to think into the unknown. When we do that, we are involved in a creative process.
And I love that you said problem solving, because I also believe that any industry can be creative because everything requires problem-solving. We tend to relate creativity with the arts, but really it's all creative. The way you make dinner is creative. The way you parent in any moment has to be creative because our kids are always bringing new things to us that we don't know how to deal with yet. So I think there are opportunities around every single corner for us to approach problem solving in our life with creativity.
[Kara] So true, and I'm sure every entrepreneur that reads this is probably nodding. Because you know as a business owner, and I know as someone starting a business from nothing… we’re creators, you create something from nothing. It's impossible to do that without some modicum of creativity pouring into the work.
[Andrea] Yeah. And it does then take I think… as those of us who have built businesses or anything, know that the seed needs to be there, but we also need to practice implementation. That's true of people pursuing health, pursuing a business, pursuing writing a book. We have to do both. We have to have the big idea; and we have to implement. I think oftentimes people lose one or the other along the way, and that's where we need to tap in and figure out where we need support.
[Kara] Speaking of implementation and it being a practice, here is another "how" question, because you know what it takes to be sort of walking your talk every day. What is your favorite nonnegotiable act of self-care? What do you do to decompress or recharge besides sort of stepping outside or some of the things you mentioned that nourish creativity?
[Andrea] There definitely is the tapping into external sources. I love seeing what's going on in certain aspects of the world, especially in relation to story and storytelling and contextualization.
But my nonnegotiable is sleep. I do not compromise on my sleep. I have a pretty strict bedtime. I feel like I turn into a pumpkin at a certain point. I am really committed to getting my sleep. And it doesn't mean that it's always enough because, even though I have a bedtime, I also have a waking time. Sometimes I could use more.
But to me, if I don't take care of myself, I can't do the work I want to do in the world or that I feel like I'm meant to do in the world. I want to feel my best or as close to my best every single day, because there is a lot to juggle and there is a lot of unpredictable shit that comes up every single day.
I think that the little ways that we create what I like to call a "cradle" for ourselves so that we can be our best selves are awesome. Those are the best things we can do for ourselves. For me, one of those is definitely sleep. It's just non-negotiable.
[Kara] I know you can speak to sort of the West Coast philosophy on self-care and nurturing, but I know one of the things I see with my clients… and a lot of them come from New York City. I spent 11 years there myself. There is this notion that a lack of sleep is somehow this little red badge of courage, that you're somehow bionic or you're amazing, and it's something to be lauded and praised. What would you like to see change around that sort of attitude, and how do you think we could get there?
[Andrea] My college training, so to speak, was to feel guilty if you slept more than four hours a night, because there was just so much work to be done and so much competition. So I got that ingrained in me as well. "The less sleep, the better. The more macho, the more hardworking you are, the more awesome."
It wasn't until I learned the ways in which my adrenals were tapped and that was affecting my thyroid and my autoimmunity, some of the signs and symptoms I was experiencing, and learned more about it physiologically, learned what I was doing to myself, that that shifted for me and it became a nonnegotiable. I really didn't push it for anything if I didn't have to.
So I think in terms of what I would like to see shifting, it goes back to that idea of how we can be our happiest selves and put ourselves first. That idea that less sleep is beneficial or is somehow macho is about an external reflection on self, and I don't really care about that. There are certain ways in which I do want to be seen, but I want to be seen for my good work. I know I can do my best work and be my best self in the world in every way, in every aspect of my life if I take care of myself.
For me, what I would like to see shift is that we come back to the priorities of what self-care means. Sleep is one of the most crucial and powerful things we can do to support ourselves. It is when detoxification, regeneration, digestion, everything falls into place so that we can balance everything that happens during our waking hours. So I think it is an awareness that I would like to see shift.
[Kara] I couldn't agree with you more. It is so important. The former accountant in me would also like to note it's the most cost-effective way to work on your health.
[Kara] You've talked about happiness. You've touched on creativity. You've talked about how important sleep is, to sort of underpin those two things. Let's talk about success for a moment, because this is something that comes up in the vital corps tribe a lot. How do you measure it for yourself?
[Andrea] It's such a good question. I have recently been quite enamored with Gretchen Rubin's work on habits and habit changes. The book Better Than Before is where she really goes into that. I'm also a fan of personality tests of any sort. Because I feel like the better we understand ourselves, the better we understand how unique we are and then, in turn, how unique everybody else is around us.
They are not going to be like us. When we present the ways in which we are, we know we can hold that, laugh at ourselves, acknowledge it, and look externally and recognize where somebody may not be that same way. I think as business owners, that's really helpful because it helps us understand our clients, our audience, everybody around us.
But for me, when I think of success, I think it really comes down to being seen and being received for the work I'm doing in the world. For me, success is feeling like I'm doing good work and then seeing that response come in. Seeing how my audience responds, my colleagues respond. Having good conversations where I can reach out to someone like Gretchen Rubin for an interview and she takes it because she's aware of my work.
Those things for me become, "Wow. I'm making a difference. I'm making an impact. It matters, and I feel seen." That for me is personally success because that is one my things. I need to do the work, but I need for it be recognized or seen.
I think that is different for each of us. Some of us need to feel it just internally. Some of us need to feel it internally and externally. That's me. Some of us just need external validation. Some people are going to question whether they are ever successful or not. So I think we each orient differently to it. But for me, it's feeling like I'm doing good work and that work being received, and those two things matching up. Does that make sense?
[Kara] It absolutely does. Not to sound patronizing in any way (this is purely from a place of respect): the work you're doing, it really matters. What you're doing to sort of change how people look at health care and how people look at preventative self-care is some really powerful stuff.
[Andrea] Thank you. It feels like we're on the precipice of a game-changing way of thinking about health, and I am just so honored to be a part of that conversation.
[Kara] To be a part of it? I think some days you're leading it. [Laughter] You're leading the conversation.
[Andrea] Thank you.
[Kara] To your point about when you can reach out to other women who are kind of doing their thing and being fabulous, thank you again for allowing me to ask you some questions today. Because I feel the same way from sort of about you agreeing to do this interview with me.
[Andrea] Thank you. I think it's important that we all engage and move forward. It really is a tribe. The more we can support each other in the ways that we are reaching out in the world, the bigger the force. As you know, for my students and my community, I'm behind each of you and what you're doing and really applauding it. It's super exciting to see the change and the dent we're making together.
[Kara] Cool. You touched on supporting and applauding each other. Who is a fabulous femme inspiring you these days?
[Andrea] It's so interesting. I was thinking about this question, Kara. This morning… let me provide a little context. My son turned 15 yesterday. He is in a new school. He's in high school now. But he went to a Waldorf school since kindergarten to eighth grade. That's the same class, the same teacher for that entire time.
That community became really tight. Of course, we've been through years of our children growing up, and parents getting divorced or remarried, or parents getting sick, our parents getting sick. We're such a tight community. As we all move into different high schools, we don't have that same relationship with our children's friends' parents.
This morning, I just snuck out of the office for a little bit because some of the moms were meeting at the local organic restaurant for tea and breakfast. I snuck out to see everybody. It was just astounding to me to see what all these women are doing and facing: kids with health issues, spouses with health issues, parents with health issues, career changes, career pursuits and, as we were talking about from the get-go, what can be a juggle.
I was there for an hour. There were tears. There was laughter. There was hugging. Who I really want to say I'm inspired by is the modern woman. It's us. It's what we're doing. I think it is phenomenal. It is a lot to juggle at times, and it's also a lot of opportunity. I just applaud each and every one of us for being who we are and doing the work.
[Kara] Such a great example of how much other women can be inspiring to other women. I think when I started this whole notion of highlighting the fabulous femmes I know, it was really born from the idea that you don't need to be a celebrity; you don't need to be someone that has a PR agent; you don't need to be anyone except who you are to really be able to inspire other women.
[Andrea] Absolutely. And I think the more we are ourselves, the more inspiring we are. That is definitely something that I have experienced along the way. I remember when I first started garnering an audience or people were following me, I was thinking, "I'm like a middle-aged widow. Why are they following me?"
Then I realized it's because I'm a real person. We need more real people as our role models. Not to name names, but not the tall, blonde, buff… we need real people to be our role models. And I think we are for each other.
[Kara] So cool. One last and easy question. If another woman wants to contact you or learn more about what you're doing, how can they connect with you?
[Andrea] I think LinkedIn is a great place to reach out.
Practitioner Note from Kara: Andrea has written a really interesting article (including some useful handouts) on leveraging empathy in practice. Read it here.
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