“We’re conditioned to see
our bodies as perfect or imperfect, and define perfect as one specific thing, but we aren’t conditioned to listen to our bodies or love ourselves.”
Anna Gibbs, founder of Wellness by Anna
Anna Gibbs is the founder of private coaching practice Wellness By Anna, a holistic health coach, and a certified yoga instructor in Richmond, Virginia. Here she talks about how taking control of her health shaped her entrepreneurial pursuits and the difficulties that come with being your own boss.
Can you talk a little about your background and how it influenced your business now?
My first experience as an entrepreneur was as a freelance photographer. I’ve always been a photographer. I’ve always thought that way. I think I just came into the world that way. Both of my parents are artists; my dad is an illustrator and my mom is a writer. I got my first camera when I was twelve. I got really into that and studied photography and videography in school. I did four years at VCU and got my BFA in photography and film, which I completely loved. When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I loved photography and the arts, but I was also being really called to the wellness industry.
I was raised health oriented, but I didn’t understand how to best work with it. I didn’t know enough about how to approach exercise and food to make myself thrive, especially when our society sets us up to be pretty confused about what’s healthy, what works and what doesn’t. It took me getting into a really uncomfortable and isolated place after college to hit a point where I knew I needed to make a change, find out who I was and what I wanted to do.
I started transforming my lifestyle, focusing around fitness and nutrition. This was the launchpad for me. I learned about my own body, about food, about how I can make my body work in the best way. Once I underwent this transformation, I learned that I could build not only physical strength, but emotional strength as well—something I was really lacking before. After this, I made a little Instagram dedicated to fitness, nutrition, and mental health that people really started responding to. People were asking me questions that I actually had answers to, which, to me, was exciting. I had always felt like I didn’t know how to harness my passions or how I could help people, how I could make myself useful. All of a sudden, this thing that had always been a part of my life was starting to feel like the answer. I enrolled myself in holistic health coaching training, got my certification in a few months, then started taking clients.
What sparked your vision?
Honestly, my parents. They’ve been entrepreneurs my whole life, and they really modeled that for me. It was all I saw: They were never in an office. They were working from home or on their own schedules. So for me, going to work meant turning what you love into your job and business. Seeing both of them be so successful my whole life made me feel like there wasn’t any question about it—that’s just what work was. It was just a matter of finding a way to do it. It was non-negotiable, I just had to figure it out.
What were your fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
How I was going to make money and get clients. The big thing starting your own business is you have to be pretty fearless, and I am not! You have to be super brave. I was constantly asking, ‘What if I don’t get any clients? What if I do get clients, and they all hate me and then I have no clients? What if I charge too little, and I don’t make any money? What if I charge too much, and no one wants to pay me?’ There were so many fears. I really had to navigate how to work the whole process. It’s so hard to make ends meet as an entrepreneur this young, but it’s a huge privilege to be able to do this and have the option at all. I’m lucky to be able to do the work that I enjoy. I feel really lucky to be able to grow what I’m doing.
“That’s probably the most gratifying experience: knowing that I
am making some sort of a difference, even if it’s just one person in one
moment. That’s enough for me. That’s everything.”
Anna Gibbs, founder of Wellness by Anna
What problem in the world did you set out to mend?
The first thing that comes to mind is how, as a society, we tend to approach wellness. How we’re conditioned to approach wellness in terms of how we look, not how we feel. Once I started to notice these tendencies in myself, my perspective changed—for example, how we to see exercise as a form of punishment or purely a way to alter our bodies and become “more perfect.” We’re told what’s perfect and imperfect, especially about our bodies, from the moment we’re born. People are taught to morph themselves or hide if they don’t fall under this definition. People are taught to cover themselves up, which has always bothered me.
With my personal experience, when I started to feel like I wasn’t in control of my body, I started to hate it and wanted to change myself. I go back to that feeling and I wish that I had started the path to a healthier life out of love for myself—not because I wanted to look a certain way or not look a certain way, but because I wanted to feel the millions of benefits that exercising, eating well, and listening to your body is good for you. But so often, it doesn’t start from that place of love. So that was the problem I wanted to fix, that tendency that people have to start exercising, stop exercising, stop eating or overeating, out of dislike for themselves.
I think a big thing I try to drive home is the reasons to improve health through exercise and food: That’s another problem. So many people aren’t tapped into their bodies because we aren’t told to. We’re conditioned to see are bodies as perfect or not perfect and define perfect as one specific thing, but we aren’t conditioned to listen to our bodies or love ourselves. There’s an education gap that starts in childhood; I’d really like to help mend that as well. I’ve started taking a children’s yoga and wellness training program so I can bring these skills to kids, because that’s when it all starts. I want kids to know there’s an alternative to: “Skinny is better. Do what it takes to get there.” I want to heal the destructive idea people have that, once they change how they look on the outside, they’ll feel better on the inside. That’s so backwards! So that’s my mission, to close that gap.
What has been your biggest challenge starting your own business?
Starting a business. All of the little things and moving parts that you have to make happen yourself. This early on, there’s no team; there’s no one holding me accountable. If I wanted to lay in bed all day, well...there’s my office and a few feet over, there’s my bed. So I think being organized and making myself do all the things that a business needs to run. Making my business cards, my website, setting a price list, so many little components that just have to get done—while still making it me, making it accessible and approachable and aligned with my personal taste. Staying on top of everything, organizing my time and responsibilities, organizing my brain on top of meeting clients and scheduling. Organization has been the biggest challenge. I always thought, “Oh, I just want to work for myself and not have to listen to this jackass telling me what to do!” Well, now I own my own company, and no one is telling me what to do. So now what do I do?
I’ve also run into challenges specific to being a young woman in this industry. I’ve had to turn people away who asked for coaching because they made me feel uncomfortable or disrespected my personal life and space. There have been a handful of experiences with men who have just wanted to get me alone. There’s a safety element to consider that’s always something to navigate and be aware of for anyone in this industry.
What has been your biggest triumph so far?
Those little moments when I’m talking to a client and they let me know that my presence in their life has made an impact, those are the moments when I can remind myself, ‘Okay, I am doing something right. I’m not doing this all for nothing.’ That’s probably the most gratifying experience: knowing that I am making some sort of a difference, even if it’s just one person in one moment. That’s enough for me. That’s everything. Because that’s what I needed, and I know how it feels to be alone and lost. And I still feel that way a lot! But being able to provide that support for someone else is the ultimate triumph.
How do you see Wellness By Anna evolving?
I’d like to eventually grow into a permanent center. I want to find a way to make it something everyone can access. Right now, it can feel like a fantasy because there’s so much inaccessibility. But I want to have a space centered around healing that people can go to and leave feeling healthier and more supported. I want to make a place where people can come and meet with their coach, their guide, their therapist, whatever it may be. At the very least, I’d want it to inspire health and change. That’s the ultimate evolution and goal. I don’t need to be everyone’s coach. I don’t need to talk to everyone, or even reach everyone. But if I can make a place that touches someone even for a second that helps them realize there’s a path to a healthier life for them, then I’ve done my job. As it exists right now, Your Well is the seed for that end goal.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
Take your time. You don’t have to rush or have everything you want to have right this second. Work for what you want, but know it takes time to get there. Things take time both externally and internally. Be patient.
Can you share the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
Don’t take anything personally, especially when it comes to clients. If people don’t show up or don’t follow through, it’s not necessarily because you failed or are bad at what you set out to do. It’s worth considering whether or not there’s something to do differently in the future, but it’s not personal; that’s just life. Every experience is a lesson. But it’s been a huge challenge for me. People have their own trajectory and are in their own bubble, so separating your own perception of yourself from the way other people see you is really fundamental for perseverance. Just be where you are.
This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.