Interview by: Lauren DiGennaro
Lauren Simko is the Founder and Visionary of Areté Herbs. She is the Medicine Maker/Formulator of the herbal apothecary and is a Traditional Western Herbalist and Health Coach.
1. What sparked your interest in herbal medicine?
My passion for plants, healing, and nature arose after several years of studying wellness, health and fitness. Throughout my college career, I was searching for knowledge on how to attain optimal health & wellness. It started with my undergraduate degrees in Exercise Science & Nutrition, then lead to my Masters in Public Health focusing on Integrative Health and also my Integrative Health Coaching program. Despite my academic studies, I felt that a vital link was absent from the “complete” picture--there had to be more to health than just exercise and nutrition. I then had my first Botanical Medicine course which was an elective in my Master’s program. Maia Toll was the master herbalist who taught this class. This was the nature piece that was missing from all of my prior studies. This resonated with me and I fell in love with herbal medicine. I immediately started studying under Maia in her herbal training program. Maia was the most holistic practitioner I have ever met and I wanted to be just like her. I still see her as a major influence and mentor in my life.
2. How did your education and professional goals change throughout the years?
As mentioned above, I have always been hungry for knowledge on optimal wellness & holistic living. I was obtaining one degree at a time which only covered one domain of health. A few degrees later, I had a few domains covered---but these weren’t the whole picture. I realized that exercise or nutrition alone weren’t going to make anyone “holistically well” and that there was something greater and more encompassing out there. So my education started very narrow, and then expanded to account for many other areas of wellness. I really resonate with herbal medicine and the nature component to health more than any of the other fields I have studied. All of my education fits somewhere, but I am now focusing on my herbal apothecary business. This makes me truly happy to do something I love every day. I plan on writing more blogs focusing on holistic lifestyle, herbal wisdom, and seasonal living. I think this will be a fulfilling way to combine my Integrative Health Coaching skills and my writing talents.
I am also thinking BIGGER now. Our 5-10 year plan includes Arete Ranch, a holistic resort, similar to Kripalu. Also financial freedom is on the top of my list now. Getting out of the rat race and being really free is a goal that I am actively striving for. I am delving into real estate investing on the side to help speed this process up and create more passive income. I just purchased my first multi-family house and have tenants! Of course this is my background business while I focus on my true passion.
3. What made you want to start your own business?
I wanted to love my job. I wanted to do my passion for a living. I didn’t want to be so restrained to the 9-5 rat race. This was my way out of the vicious cycle of working for a company or for someone else. I guess it boils down to freedom. I also didn’t want to look back when I’m middle aged and have regrets. Time is something we cannot get back, so it is the most important commodity. We can’t take back those years spent working in a cubicle wishing things were different. Also, no one is hiring a health coach or herbalist. This is still a little too progressive for our society at the moment. If you choose this path, you need to make your own way.
4. In the past working as a health coach, what were the biggest strides and struggles?
Working harder than my clients. As a health coach, you shouldn’t work harder than your clients and that was something I struggled with starting out. Also, you can’t force coaching on anyone. If they are not a fully active participant, it’s not the right time.
5. What has been the best part about your career in health coaching and your business and what has been the scariest/worst?
Right now is the best part of my career and my aspirations are still much higher! We just are reaching our one year mark! This benchmark is an achievement because most start-up businesses never reach it. We also are upgrading our facilities to have a rustic, barn studio space to house Arete’s headquarters. I recently hired my first employee a few months back and have many plant-passionate people interested in interning with us to deepen their herbal knowledge. Even though everything is going as I have hoped and this first year I would deem a success, starting your own business and fending for yourself is also the scariest. I’m putting myself out there like never before. I am putting my passion on the line. Being a new business and “bootstrapping” my way along means that I am financially just getting by each month. Ideally, with time this will change, but right now I have to hustle to make my dreams a reality.
6. Where did you learn all of your knowledge about herbs and health coaching?
I studied under a master herbalist named Maia Toll who lived in Chestnut Hill, PA at the time. She now relocated to North Carolina. I was first introduced to her in my Botanical Medicine course in my MPH program. After graduation, I immediately signed up for Maia’s Herbal Foundations program then continued onto her Advanced Herbalist Training. So, I’ve studied under her for a few years. This is where I received my herbalist certification and also an herbal wellness coaching certification.
I received my Integrative Health Coaching certification from West Chester University. I took this masters level program alongside of my MPH. This program focused more on the coaching models, active listen skills, and core competencies of a coaching practice.
7. What has been the most influential step in your journey in this field?
I’d say that I have two. My first really right move would be taking Maia Toll’s herbalist programs. This was exactly what I was looking for my whole life, but didn’t know it.
My second one would be starting my own business. There’s no turning back now that I know that I can have a business and life that I love. I cannot imagine doing anything else. Failure isn’t an option. I’ve got a taste of working for yourself and the limitless possibilities that come along with it. I stopped thinking small, so that I can see the bigger picture. Life just got really exciting.
8. In your opinion, what is the most important part of holistic health?
This is easy—our connection to nature! I strongly believe that our health is deeply connected to nature. Living in harmony with the natural rhythms of the Earth and reconnecting with our inner wisdom is the essence of living a fulfilling, authentic, and purposeful life. Our health is so much more than just the absence of disease.
9. How has working in this field impacted your life?
Starting and owning a business has made me grow as an individual exponentially. I am more confident and determined than ever before. I’ve learned so many business skills through trial and error over this past year. I just learned how to use QuickBooks (an advanced accounting tool) and I’m actually excited about it! Now that I am a boss, I constantly work on my communication and people skills. I want everyone who works at Arete to be happy, enjoy their work, and want to be here! I’ve had a horrible boss in the past and that experience has shown me everything NOT to do. I try hard to be transparent and to place people where they will flourish and grow.
Following your passion, launching a business, and actively getting out of the rat race is stepping out from the crowd. It isn’t what the majority of people do. It’s seen as too risky and not attainable. I am proving that doing what you love in life and make money is achievable. This shows others it is possible for them to do the same and follow their dreams or at least expand their options.
10. If you could give me on piece of advice, going into this field, what would that advice be?
Unfortunately, the odds are against you when starting a business. So you must have passion, motivation, determination, and drive! If you want to be a true holistic health coach and/or herbalist, you will have to make your own path in the world. You won’t find a job post for this on CareerBuilder—not yet at least. If you do, beware—health coach is a hot word at the moment and insurance companies like Aetna will say they are hiring health coaches, but in reality they are hiring customer hotline representatives. Meaning you are in a cubicle with an ear piece explaining customers’ benefits.
I recently read an amazing book that I strongly recommend to anyone wanting to start their own business—before starting their business! It is called The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. This book was a life-saver (business wise) and was a very enjoyable read too.
Another book I’d recommend is Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. It shifted my perspective on money, business, and life in a very influential way. Out of all my formal studies, I never learned how money works and how to “work smarter, not harder.” This book is a must to have a better life.
Second tip—make sure that you know exactly what you want in life and what you want to do before putting all of your eggs in a basket. It is crucial to have a very clear picture in your mind before starting a business on a whim. This is a commitment, so you need to be very clear on your intentions, direction, and niche.