573 Debra Wanger:
If there is one trait that predicts the success of an entrepreneur it is resilience… the ability to embrace change, not take everything personally, and invest in your own health and wellness.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who started her career as an actor and singer – and then an agent guiding the careers of big names like Halle Berry and Antonio Banderas at Creative Artists Agency – before leaping into entrepreneurship as a wellness coach.
Debra Wanger has performed in theaters, cabarets, and screens from New York to Los Angeles, and her journey taught her much about resilience and how to overcome her fears. Author of the bestselling The Resilient Actor: How to Kick-Ass in the Business Without it Kicking Your Ass, Debra shares her own wellness journey and practices – and shares why investing in your own self-care is your best business asset.
Debra Wanger is a Certified Bulletproof Human Potential Coach, studying in a year-long program with the Bulletproof Certified Coach Training Program with Dave Asprey and Dr. Mark Atkinson. As a coach, Debra specializes in helping actors, creative types and entrepreneurs find a healthy lifestyle balance while maintaining an exciting, satisfying creative career.
Debra travels the country speaking and working with young actors to learn healthy habits to set them on a course for a long, healthy career as a Resilient Actor!
Today we talk about what acting taught Debra about successful entrepreneurship, and why your health and wellness is your biggest business asset – plus practical steps to boost your immunity, find balance in your life, and boost your resilience and vitality.
So let’s get into it with Debra Wanger, who’s diverse career has also included work as an award-winning actor, director, producer, professor, best-selling author, disc jockey, law intern, arranger, choir director, radio producer, announcer, teacher, coach, housewife, last but exhaustively not least, mom. I love talking to entrepreneurs who bring cross-disciplinary expertise to the table – as her experiences and insights about the acting world provide so much insight for female founders, whether you find yourself taking things too personally or neglecting your health.
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Debra Wanger.
Melinda Wittstock: Debra, welcome to Wings.
Debra Wanger: Oh, thank you so much. So happy to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: Likewise. I’m happy to have you, and you have a long background as an actor and a singer, and I’m curious what that taught you about entrepreneurship?
Debra Wanger: Well, I see actors and singers very much like entrepreneurs. I think we are entrepreneurs. You’re always out there hustling, you’re always looking for work, you’re always trying to get that next gig, you’re always trying to climb the ladder. There’s a lot of rejection, a lot of no, and it’s a lot about relationships, a lot about finding your best self, finding balance. So it completely prepared me for the business world and for helping entrepreneurs.
Melinda Wittstock: I totally get that. Tell me a little bit about your acting and singing career.
Debra Wanger: I mostly did and do stage work. I like live theater, that’s my thing. Love musical theater. Started when I was about nine, got the bug and that’s all I did for a long time, a long time being as a kid. I was singing, acting, dancing, dancing around the house, making up songs, all of that, doing plays, singing in choirs, basically everything my mother would allow me to do after school.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s wonderful, when you just are pursuing your joy.
Debra Wanger: Yeah. Yeah. It just came out of me.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. So what made you start to move into the wellness space as a coach? Was that just something personally that happened in your life? What was that spark?
Debra Wanger: Oh, well, I was doing great professionally. I had a career going, I was working, I was acting, but I was fat and miserable. I was a mess personally. So, that took me on a long journey of trying to get my act together, basically, trying to figure out how to lose that weight, how to not have the mood swings, how to stay away from binging on sugar, all that, how to not be completely depressed when I was out of work, all of that. That led me through a long journey, which led me to experiment with a lot of health things. And then eventually I found Dave Asprey and Bulletproof and his work, and that seemed to really work for me.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, Dave is great. I remember when I discovered his Bulletproof coffee mix. That was pretty awesome. And all the supplements.
Debra Wanger: Yeah. And I found his stuff like seven years ago and it was just this basement blog before the company and the books. And it was just some random guy. It made no sense that eat more fat to lose fat. And this was before everyone was doing keto and all that so I was like, “Well, what the hell, I’ll try it.” I just had my third kid and I had lots of baby weight and my hormones were all out of whack from two pregnancies. My first one was twins in case you’re doing math. So I’m like, “What the hell? I’ll try it.” And I did and it really worked.
And then I helped a friend go Bulletproof casually, just non-professionally as a friend and helped him lose 80 pounds and get off medications and really change his life. And he’s like, “You’re good at this. You should be a coach.” And I said, “Well, if Dave ever has a coaching program, I’ll be the first one in line.” And he did, and I did and then 10 months after that I finished the coaching program. I was in the first cohort ever to be trained as a coach. And then I decided to incorporate that into what I do. I was like, “Wow, not every actor and entrepreneur has to be fat and miserable and stressed out of their mind. There’s a way to achieve balance and I would love to help people not make the same mistakes I was making.”
Melinda Wittstock: So, so good. I have to say, I love the name of your book, The Resilient Actor: How to Kick Ass in the Business (Without it Kicking Your Ass), and as you were mentioning, it’s kind of a tough road for actors and singers. My daughter is a singer songwriter. She’s 17 years old. She has no idea really what she’s getting herself into.
Debra Wanger: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: I’ve already noticed with her that so much of succeeding in the business, especially as an independent recording artist, is all about the marketing and being able to sell yourself, and this is true for female entrepreneurs as well. You also have this background at CAA or Creative Artists Agency, you’ve helped guide the careers of many big names, Halle Berry among them. How do you counsel around this struggle that so many women have, no matter what they do, of just like stepping into the light and being seen. It seems like such a crippling fear for so many.
Debra Wanger: Right. And it seems like men don’t have that same problem.
Melinda Wittstock: No. No, they don’t.
Debra Wanger: Letting their light shine. We’re one of the things that we’re taught is, oh, we need to be humble and not brag and not be too loud or cause trouble or whatever, which I don’t think is a belief that necessarily serves us. And I think humility is being the correct size. It’s not being too big, but it’s also not shrinking and pretending you … Oh, just a little old me. So it is challenging to find your voice and take risks. It’s scary to put yourself out there.
The cover of my book is that, and thank you for enjoying the title, is me with boxing gloves around my neck, because I see performers, entrepreneurs, anyone who’s self-employed is like a boxer. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to get punched. It means being able to take the punches. The whole nature of it is you have to take risks because you’re going to get hit. You’re going to sometimes get knocked down. You’re going to do some hitting, but the more resilience, the more reserves you have, the more balance you have, the more you can withstand those and still stand to box another day.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s so true. Do you think that we also have this, I don’t know, just such a desire to be liked by everyone, because this is a parallel I can see with it with an actor, a singer, a female founder, that we want to please everybody, but we can’t.
Debra Wanger: Of course. And then think about social media. How good does it feel when someone likes your post? You put a picture of a salad you had on Tuesday at this restaurant and someone likes your post, you get a little hit. And if someone doesn’t like it or they troll you and say something mean, it can destroy your day. Everybody wants to be liked. Everyone wants to belong. And the more you can surf that wave and not take it personally, the better off you are.
Melinda Wittstock: So Debra, going back in your own career, I mean, because we have so many experiences and sometimes they manifest in the form of a challenge or a block or a failure or something like that. But as entrepreneurs, we learn that those, that’s the goal. Those are the learning experiences and getting through them to the other side is what gives us our confidence to go on and tackle newer, bigger things. What were some of yours? What were some of the things that you had to overcome?
Debra Wanger: Oh gosh, I dropped out of my first undergrad program because I really didn’t like the head of the department. I found it to be a really tough place, like a very military almost style of that we’re going to break you down to build you back up thing. For me, it was too much mind games and I was just too raw, too tender to handle it. So I dropped out of school. So that was one thing, finding my way back to college and finishing my undergrad and then eventually going to grad school.
That was a challenge. And that decision-making of this doesn’t feel right, but oh my God, I can’t drop out of school. I can’t do that. I have this plan and good girls don’t do XYZ. So that was a big challenge. As I mentioned, my weight and dealing with depression and an eating disorder and all that. That was a huge thing to overcome and something that I still manage to this day to stay healthy and positive. Those things have made me so much stronger and I wouldn’t have written books, I wouldn’t be coaching people if everything was hunky dory and I sailed right through.
I wouldn’t have moved down to San Diego and met my now ex-husband and had my kids and whatever had I not gotten fired from my last job. Things happen for a reason. And again, try not to take it too personally and find the strength and the lesson in them.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So true. I’ve built five businesses and I think of all the other things I did as a journalist and a TV anchor and host. If I’m really honest with myself, I grew the most when I was up against some sort of challenge or I had some sort of reversal or difficulty or block or something like that. Lots of successes, but I didn’t really learn anything from the success.
Debra Wanger: Right. It’s not the funnest way to learn.
Melinda Wittstock: But it comes with the territory as an entrepreneur, especially if you’re the type of entrepreneur that’s creating something completely out of whole cloth. Because you’re inventing something, you have a hunch, a theory. You can see something that other people can’t see. And then your job becomes to persuade other people that this solution is good for them. And you’re making a whole market or educating a market.
Now, that’s the kind of entrepreneur I am. So that’s kind of a challenging path because it’s hard not for it to be personal because you’re validating something in essence that you’ve come up with in your own head through your experience or something you’ve seen that other people haven’t seen. And so, yeah. It is a harder path for sure.
Debra Wanger: And some days are going to be harder than others. Some no’s are harder than others. And it doesn’t mean you can’t feel lousy about hearing no, especially from … There are some people we want to hear yes from more than others, “Oh, if I could just get that deal, that could really send me up the ladder.” Some of them stay more than others and, okay, give yourself a day to feel lousy about it, but then you have to just shake it off and get back on.
Melinda Wittstock: What do you think is the biggest challenge for women entrepreneurs?
Debra Wanger: Oh, gosh. The wanting to be liked thing is big and the balance. Do I have a family? My relationship, to taking care of my house. Is it work? I mean, I think balance and the trying to have it all thing. I think every woman has to find for themselves what that balance is, but there’s a lot of should’s and navigating all your should’s to find your own path is challenging and often being redefined. We went from having very few choices to too many choices and then again, now we should do it all. So I think it’s finding a balance.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. So Debra, as a certified Bulletproof Human Potential coach, there’s a lot about human potential. So let’s break this down. I mean, there’s our physical health, our mental health, emotional health, all these sorts of things. Tell me a little bit about the program and how you teach people to be their kind of optimum selves.
Debra Wanger: Yeah. Well, I don’t have one path because everybody’s different. Everyone’s coming from different experiences. Everyone has different issues. Everyone has different speeds they want to work on things. Some people are rip the band aid off, let’s get in the deep end and fix me and do everything right now. And other people want baby steps and are sticking their toe in the water. So I don’t have one program. I don’t have one, we start with this and then we do this.
I sit down with the client and figure out what are their needs? What are their goals? What strengths and weaknesses do they have? Where are they interested in, growth? And we’ll take an inventory of their health and balance and self-care and everything else, but it’s what do they need? And then we’ll figure out goals and steps and habits to get to those goals. And then I helped them with accountability.
Most people do need to clean up their sleep and deal with stress management and perhaps lose a few pounds. Many people have deficits in their physical energy. And I do believe that until you have your physical in line, it’s hard to do the mental and the creative and everything else, because if you just don’t have the energy or the clarity of mind to be able to show up to do your life, it’s harder. So often I will address people’s health and supplementation, exercise, stress management, relationships, all of that stuff. But I don’t have one clear path.
Some people want to work just on their business and some people want to work on their marriage. And a lot of people do want to just be less stressed out and lose the 20 pounds. But it’s finding what works for each person. And that’s part of the fun, is that I’m not just doing a cookie cutter program for everybody. I’m using all the tools that I’ve gotten in a lot of different ways, as a health coach, as an actor, as a mom, as a grad student, as a talent manager. I’m taking all these different tools and kind of finding a way to customize it for each person. So that’s fun.
Melinda Wittstock: There are so many challenges for people getting healthy. When I think of COVID and what it’s revealed in this country about just sort of the comorbidity and the pre-existing conditions and so many things just like through eating bad food or breathing air that’s not great or drinking water out of plastic bottles. You know what I mean?
Debra Wanger: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s really vital, I think, that we boost our immunity.
Debra Wanger: Oh, yeah. I mean, there’s nowhere to hide right now. I mean, with COVID, it really does … If you don’t have your health in order, people have a much worse time with it or don’t make it at all. Whereas I also know people who don’t even know they had it. They don’t have symptoms. So it’s a real good diagnostic to find out how your health is doing. And there is unfortunately a lot of pollution and our water is not clean and our air is not clean, like you mentioned. And we need to kind of go out of our way to make sure we’re drinking filtered water and eating good quality food. I do think organic is important just because of all the stuff they spray on the food.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. All the pesticides. I mean, every time someone goes in and has like French Fries or a piece of bread, they’re basically eating weed killer. That can’t be good over time.
Debra Wanger: That just doesn’t sound like it’s healthy.
Melinda Wittstock: For women, it can disrupt your hormone balance. It can do all kinds of different things. That’s important, but also mental health and emotional health for entrepreneurs especially for women who, we try and do it all often. And the last thing we do is think about looking after ourselves. And I’ve learned over the years and perhaps it’s just kind of with age that no, I actually have to come first, not last. So like my meditation, taking the time for myself, doing all those things is absolutely vital. Why do we put ourselves last so often? Why is it such a struggle? Why do we feel guilty about doing good things for ourselves?
Debra Wanger: Well, if you can solve that, you get a Nobel prize.
Melinda Wittstock: But we have to. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I do this podcast, because I think from the context of being an entrepreneur and being the CEO of a company and a growing company, if you are not healthy and if you are not at your optimum, how can you possibly create a great company? How can you inspire a great culture? How can you attract a great team? How can you be at your best? How can you make those decisions that are difficult to make if you’re not laser sharp? You really, you’re the number one asset in your business. And you’ve got to start, I think, thinking of yourself as an asset. And then how do you look after that asset? Because without your health, whichever way we look at the health and I’m looking at it holistically, but without that, really you’re kind of like jeopardizing your business.
Debra Wanger: Right. If you don’t have energy and you can’t think straight, you can’t run a business or start a business or hustle. I mean, it takes a lot of energy and a lot of clarity to go and get it and to really hustle. And I think people take that for granted. Oh, well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Or, it’s more important to work than sleep. No, you can’t think. I can’t, at least, think straight or be in a good mood or represent myself well if I didn’t get enough sleep. I mean, that’s a non-negotiable for me.
And if I’m eating crappy food, I just, I burn out. And I think where did it come from, I think there’s definitions of what a good woman is. It’s an old, old, old, that we take care of everyone else first and we’re nurturing so that we’re being selfish if we’re taking care of ourselves. But I think it’s that cliche of put your own oxygen mask on first. We really do need something to draw from. We can’t give to other people, we can’t take care of our employees, we can’t put a good presentation together, whatever that is, unless we have taken care of ourselves.
And it doesn’t have to be a ton of time. It doesn’t mean that we are ignoring everyone and we’re just at the day spa all day long. But sitting down and doing 10 minutes of meditation and a walk in nature, taking an hour every day for yourself, if you can do that, even if it’s not all in one chunk, it’s amazing what you can get done and feel like you’re already winning the day. Pardon me. If you’re already winning the day of just by showing up and drink a big glass of water, take a walk around the block and meditate for 10 minutes, it can change your life.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it really can. And tell me a little bit about your process.
Debra Wanger: Well, I have kind of two processes. I have two different ones. I have the when I have my kids and when I don’t have my kids, because I share custody. When I don’t have my kids, I can indulge in self-care more. And when I’m in COVID and I’m not driving everybody around as much, I used to just be driving, driving, driving, just school and activities. So that’s allowed me to take more time for self-care. I usually get up and drink a big glass of water first thing, because it’s hard to get that water in, especially once I’ve had my coffee.
So if I start with having one big glass first thing, good filtered water, then I already feel like I won. Then I’ll usually sit down and do a meditation, dogs and kids willing, do 10, 15 minutes just right … I have a little cushion in my bedroom and that’s just … It’s not a big formal, fancy meditation. It’s just trying to slow my brain down. I used to think that you had to eliminate thinking, which is impossible. No, it’s just about slowing it down a little bit. And then frequently I will end that with some visualization, maybe a little gratitude exercise, just enumerate some things I’m grateful for. Imagine my day going well and what would that mean, set an intention for the day. 15 minutes, 10, 15 minutes.
And then ‘ll usually get on my exercise bike and burn some stress off and do a ride or do a little bit of some arm weights and things like … Some squats, just in my little home gym called my living room. And then have my Bulletproof coffee most days. Sometimes I’ll have a green smoothie without a lot of fruit in it, but try to be low sugar. And then it’s either helping out with the kids when they’re homeschooling, when we’re distance learning or I sit at my desk and I get into the email and I like the earlier morning, the first thing to try to do the more difficult tasks, when my brain’s a little fresher.
And I usually set a … I try to pick just three to five things I’m going to do for the day. If I have a long to-do list, I get overwhelmed. So I’m just going to … And then I just sit down and try to bang one out at a time. Then I have client calls, podcast, interviews, whatever, doing some writing. Because I’ve got two books and an audio book at this point and I’m starting to germinate new projects. I used to travel and do a lot of public speaking. There’s no public just speak to right.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, there’s Zoom. I’ve been doing Zoom conferences and things and having to do video it and whatnot. It’s effective. It’s not quite the same, but all I can say is this podcast spawned off retreats for high performing female entrepreneurs. And because of the pandemic, we had to push it and I figure by October, we are all going to need that kind of connection and pampering and all of that.
Debra Wanger: Community. Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s in Costa Rica at this beautiful resort called Imiloa. It’s right on the Pacific Ocean with the most beautiful beaches. And it’s like all the … It’s like a five barefoot, five star, just this amazing place and really focusing on that self-care aspect as well as how women can really help each other in business. So I’m so excited about that I can’t wait. I’m bored of my house.
Debra Wanger: Yeah. And we need connection and support and variety and-
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly.
Debra Wanger: I need to romp around on the beach with some monkeys. That sounds great.
Melinda Wittstock: Yes, it does. Anyway, how can people find you and work with you?
Debra Wanger: Well, you can find anything you want to know about me at debrawanger.com. There’s info on the books, my speaking gigs, if I’m doing an acting project, it’s all right there. And my books are on Audible and Amazon.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Debra, for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Debra Wanger: Oh, my pleasure.