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Build a thriving life with Megan Gunnell

Build a thriving life with Megan Gunnell


Are you as inspired by the incredible founders within the health and wellness industry as we are? Now we peel back the layers of success and delve deep to discover just how such founders came to be where they are today – spoiler alert: it takes hard work and dedication.

First up is Megan Gunnell; Founder & Director of the Thriving Well Institute, Psychotherapist, Writer, International Retreat Leader and Public Speaker working in Grosse Pointe, MI. Take a look at our other amazing founders here.

Megan is a leading expert in wellness, self-care and mindfulness, her work helps clients transform, restore and reach their highest potential.

A dynamic public speaker, she has presented and facilitated workshops and retreats globally in Finland and Costa Rica and nationwide most notably at the Bryant University Women’s Summit, Rhode Island, at Miraval Resort and Spa, Arizona, at Red Mountain Resort, Utah and for notable institutions such as M.D. Anderson and The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

With over 20 years experience in the healthcare and therapy industry, she has extensive clinical experience both inpatient and outpatient and a wealth of knowledge to support profound change and growth and you can read more about Megan online.


Today we have the pleasure to interview….Megan Gunnell, Founder & Director of the Thriving Well Institute, psychotherapist, writer, speaker and international retreat leader.

What is your superhero origin story? Please, do let us know what your superhero nickname would be as well, in case you have one!

I think my persistence and commitment to self-care has a lot to do with my superhero story. When I hit the wall or feel overwhelmed, it sort of feels like superman changing in a phone booth. I tuck myself away for a few minutes, tune in to what I need, nurture myself with healthy self-care strategies and re-emerge with my cape on!  There is a lot on my plate and I enjoy the richness of my life, but I would never be able to keep up with it all without a method for thriving myself.

I don’t let much get in my way, so maybe my superhero nickname should be “make-it-happen Megan”.

What was your eureka moment, and how did you test your idea?

It’s funny, I think after 23 years of being a therapist, it finally hit me all at once. ‘What is the formula that makes people thrive at home and at work?’ I really researched my caseload for answers.

I studied what worked and tried to narrow it down to a super simple recipe and came up with 5 foundational principles. Self care, mindfulness, gratitude, boundary management and effective communication skills.

I guess I did it all backwards! I had been testing this idea of building a thriving life for my clients over the course of 2 decades and only recently came to my eureka moment of discovering that there is a specific set of tools that really work for people.

What’s your competitive advantage when it comes to the industry?

Accessibility. My concept of thriving makes mental health accessible to all. Who doesn’t want to thrive? I also feel I break down what feels complex and make it super simple for people. When clients feel completely overwhelmed, we take it one tiny step at a time beginning with a healthy foundation of self-care solutions. If I can get a client to just focus on sleeping better for a week, suddenly things start to feel easier and their coping and bandwidth increase immediately.

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?

I over planned everything! For my first international retreat in Costa Rica I had spreadsheets of material. Lists upon lists! I think I packed more paperwork than clothing! My own anxiety about trying to make every minute perfect for my guests was actually preventing me from being present and inflow.

When we arrived, women wanted to unhook and sleep for the first 24 hours. I realized getting them there was 1/2 of the experience and staying present was critical.

Flash forward to the Costa Rica women’s retreat I just hosted in April of this year. I didn’t even have a printed agenda. I knew how I wanted the week to flow and I had a specific plan of what I was offering, but I allowed myself to lead the group based on their energy. If they seemed tired one evening, we did a gentle meditation session. If they were super energized, we did our drum circle that night. All the women at the end of the week said how absolutely perfect it was for them! I’m grateful that over time I have the skillset and confidence to completely surrender my agenda and attachment to the outcome and stay super present, engaged and at the moment in front of me as I facilitate real transformation for people.

What role has social media played in your success?

It has helped me refine my message and establish myself as an authority. I try to share relevant and current information on mindfulness and self-care and invite people to learn simple strategies that will make their lives more satisfying, positive and enjoyable. Twitter has been a surprising platform for me.

I’ve discovered several important professional connections there and have been invited to speak at really great conferences via Twitter DM’s and call for speaker tweets. Facebook might be my favourite platform though and I’m just starting to get more comfortable with sharing videos and going live. It’s hard for a recovering perfectionist!

But I’m choosing to be courageous, authentic and real as I forge ahead with the Thriving Well Institute messaging (master your own social media strategy).

When partnering with fellow companies, creators or influencers, what criteria do you look for?

They must have legitimacy in their education and training.

I’m seeing a lot of self-proclaimed gurus out there sharing their opinions to the masses. Many prey on the vulnerable in a way that feels really unethical and reckless to me as a clinician.

I’m also looking for well thought out and researched content. I won’t partner with anyone who is exclusively motivated by money, success or power. That’s an instant ‘no’ for me. I’m looking to work with people and companies who are aligned with their integrity and who are invested in excellence and evidence-based outcomes. I guess it’s the University of Michigan in me? But I’m trained to look through a critical lens and I am also committed to bringing the very best to my clients. I won’t compromise on that.

Who is your ideal collaboration with?

I would love to collaborate with 1440, Omega and Kripalu and bring a course or retreat to them based on the 5 Principles of Thriving. I think it will resonate with their audience and I know my community would flock there to attend!

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?

My husband, Freeman is a really supportive listener. Sometimes I need to dream and process out loud and he can hear me without reaction or judgement. I also love that he is an artistic and creative soul too and sometimes we come up with collaborative offerings that might seem super far fetched to outsiders, but to us, it’s all within the realm of possibility. We’ve been together 25 years and some of the wild ideas we had early on are now becoming realities. He’s a trained chef and owns his own bakery/cafe in our community.

Early on in our marriage, we decided to move to Europe for 18 months. We lived in Munich and travelled all over. It really shaped who we are as people and as parents. We used to dream about renting a villa in Tuscany and hosting food and wine tours and now we’re doing it annually. He’s also my go-to when I need food for any of my wellness retreats or one-day events. He always comes up with super healthy, delicious menus for my guests and people feel nurtured and supported enjoying his creations.

We’d love to create a Thriving Well Institute cooking school one day and have plans in the works to start teaching the basics of simple, healthy cooking for busy people.

One of the biggest complaints I hear in my practice is how hard or time consuming it is to eat clean. I’d love to make this feel more simple and accessible to people and I am lucky I have a trained chef at my side to make this dream a reality.

What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?

Hands down the most worthwhile investment of time and energy were giving my all to raising my children. It’s one of the biggest investments of your lifetime and the ROI is infinite! My kids are growing up to be really incredible people. They’re both in high school now and they’re reflecting back to me all the things I tried to instil in them. It’s like this mirror of love and teaching and encouragement where the more you put in, the more you get back.

They remind me to stay grounded, open my heart, show up brave and allow myself to be vulnerable in the way they’re living their lives. They have both played an instrumental role in building our family businesses. I’ll be curious to see how that shapes who they become as adults too.

What piece of industry advice do you often hear that you disagree with and why?

It feels like everyone has advice on the best pathway to success.

But in all honesty, it’s yours to create. Some people swear by blogging or Facebook ads or getting more social media followers or by publishing your book or speaking engagements or online courses or memberships or whatever!

It can feel really overwhelming to entrepreneurs and founders. This may sound cliche, but the answer is within you. Get quiet and still and tune in to what the next right step is for you. Stay aligned to the work and things will unfold beautifully. There are a lot of pathways to success.

What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?

I have TONS of advice on this! In fact, I now offer coaching packages to people who are interested in developing a thriving business. I’ve developed a 10 step program to building a business that includes everything from refining your offering, finding your ideal clients, networking and marketing. It also covers legal and financial guidance to the foundation of taking really good care of yourself so you and your business can thrive!

I think the most important thing for early entrepreneurs is to stay committed to the cause.

Really work to define what you’re offering and why you’re offering it. If you’re deeply invested and connected to your mission and vision, it will support you through the doubt and discipline required to be successful.