Courtney Nichols Gould On Turning Your Passion Into A Career

Photo: SmartyPants Vitamins

Courtney Nichols Gould is not your typical wellness entrepreneur. She's now running Smarty Pants, the fastest growing gummy vitamin company in America, but before this, she helped launch an anti-terrorism technology in U.S. airports, known as CLEAR.

I remember visiting her in Venice just two years ago when she had close to 20 employees working out of her home. The arrangement certainly destroyed any chances of work-life balance, but it enabled her to invest more money into her company. That’s passion.

Today the company has 32 employees in a spacious office in Marina del Rey, California.

But Courtney doesn’t think that you should necessarily quit your day job and turn your passion into a career. So before you make any big career moves, get some tips from Courtney Nichols Gould.

People talk a lot about turning a passion into a career; what’s your take?

I think that happens for some people — successfully — if that passion is solving a real problem instead of just loving something. For me, success has flowed from following my curiosity about a problem I have experienced firsthand.

I think it's wonderful and ideal if you can turn a passion into a career, but you need to decide what your priorities are (free time versus earning potential, etc.) and make sure it matches the day-to-day reality. If it doesn't match, you could set yourself up for a lot of frustration down the road. If it does match, then hurrah! You may be onto something. You will still have lots of slings and arrows, but it won't dissuade you because you'll be doing something you love and going to bed at night knowing you're solving a real problem.

Any tips for readers trying to get healthier?

Number one is to eliminate the fantasy that any one diet or regimen is going to fix long-term health or weight struggles. The unglamorous reality is that lots of little changes added together cumulatively make the biggest impact and the one that can be sustained.

It’s trusting your gut (literally) and being mindful and observant of how you feel. If something you ate, did, tried, made you feel better (not just a quick-hit better, but smiling-through-your-day better), then probably that's something to keep. If it makes you feel tired, sluggish, irritable, or unhappy, less of that. Common sense (versus wishful thinking) is a very good way to be an expert.

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You are a co-CEO with your husband — any tips for running a company with your partner?

Have a really good husband? I think we'd both say the most important thing is communication. We actively worked with a coach from the day we started our business to make sure we were clear on our areas of responsibility, that we had very complimentary skills (a must to avoid stepping on toes and egos), and a persistent dedication to not leaving stuff under the rug.

Don't underestimate how hard it is to fail in front of the one person you want to think you are the awesomest. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but for us it’s another child — something we created together, something our kids have watched grow and contributed to. Neither one of us could have built SmartyPants without the other. And we love each other. A lot.

Supplements and vitamins have gotten a bad rap. What’s your take?

Oh, boy. Well, I think the big problem is laziness. Laziness in our industry. Laziness in the media.

It’s a myth that the vitamin industry is unregulated. We are required by law to test our products to ensure that what we say is on the label is in the bottle. We are, by law, forbidden to make false or unprovable claims. Does it mean everyone complies? Absolutely not, but to say those requirements don't exist just isn't true.

Many supplement companies just get lazy, falling back on murky claims and slacking on quality control. The vitamin industry needs to lead in quality. That is why we started the company. That said, we definitely think more needs to happen. We just volunteered to register all of our products with the FDA, and I know many of the other high-end brands are going to do the same. We all benefit by a clean industry that follows the laws.

In covering our industry, the media has also been lazy, falling back on click-bait headlines and sensationalism when nuance is called for. The headlines scream “Vitamins Do No Good,” which is a little like saying food does you no good. It depends on the kind of food, how much, when, and for what purpose. I have seen what vitamin A can do for a chronically deficient child. It is considered by every leading NGO and economist in the world to be the most efficient way to prevent childhood mortality.

Other media stories proclaim "Supplements Won't Prevent Cancer!" Well, we agree. I don't know any respected supplement company that says it would. Most supplementation is to deliver better daily health, not cure or prevent a disease.

Yet we agree with reports that we should get 100 percent of your RDA of vitamins and minerals from diet. Do you want to know how many Americans, based on the USDA (along with NIH and others) recent survey, are doing that? Five percent. And sadly, that number is trending down year over year. So, yes, you should, but very few people do. Should we ignore a very common-sense solution?

I think more vigorous pursuit of quality in our industry, and more vigorous pursuit of the facts in the media, would lead to better health for all.

Anything you'd change about the supplement industry?

Absolutely. That's why we started our company! We think more transparency, testing of every finished batch of product (which we do), and elimination of the ability to sell direct to consumer without additional hurdles would be a very good start. We all agree about eliminating bad actors who get in to make a buck and don't necessarily care about the impact of their products on their customers.

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How do you find balance?

I gave up on the idea of balance and now try to be more present in the moment. That way, every role brings me joy and challenge and the opportunity to be better. A better CEO, a better wife, stepmom, daughter, sister, friend ... just better. Life is so fluid that I just can't give equal attention to all my obligations at all times. I can look to my fellow humans for feedback on if they feel like I am doing my part. Sometimes I am a better mom than CEO and vice versa.

Favorite way to break a sweat?

Not for public consumption.

Best advice you ever received?

"This is Water,” the famous commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace back in 2005. He said that the best you can do is to find grace in the everyday moments of our lives both big and small and appreciate the magic in all of it.

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Worst advice?

"You should tone it down.” Boy, I wish my vulnerable teen self had never heard that one! Took me 20 years to undo.

What does mindbodygreen mean to you?

That we aren't just one thing; we are all these things; we are all in one — trying to solve any challenge with a silver bullet is folly. It’s about small, realistic, and sustainable changes that over time have a profound impact on how we live our lives.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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