Tina Wells, THE ELEVATION APPROACH: Harness the Power of Work-Life Harmony to Unlock Your Creativity, Cultivate Joy, and Reach Your Biggest Goals

Tina Wells, THE ELEVATION APPROACH: Harness the Power of Work-Life Harmony to Unlock Your Creativity, Cultivate Joy, and Reach Your Biggest Goals

Zibby interviews accomplished entrepreneur, business strategist, author, Zibby Retreat headliner, and repeat MDHTTRB guest Tina Wells about The Elevation Approach, a powerful and innovative guide for achieving work-life harmony. Tina describes the tools she designed to help her friends (and now the world) integrate their personal and professional goals and values–from holding yourself accountable to resting to knowing which friends to keep around. She also shares what she is focusing on now: family time, reading, and an incredible line-up of creative projects (like her fabulous Target products and newly launched luggage brand!).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Tina. Thanks for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” this time to discuss The Elevation Approach, your latest book, which has been so helpful for me already.

Tina Wells: Thank you, Zibby. I’m always happy to be here and talk about books.

Zibby: I had so much fun with you at our retreat. That was so great that you came down to Charleston.

Tina: The best. I read ’s book, which was so good.

Zibby: Really fun.

Tina: It was fun. It was so fun to be around so many people who love reading books. I’ve never been on a retreat with readers, actually. It just filled me up to go back and write more in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Thank you. That was such a cool opportunity.

Zibby: Sure. It is nice being around people and knowing that it’s not just numbers. It’s not just hopes and “the reader.” It’s actual people standing in front of you reading. That’s nice. In addition to the eight million things you also do and have done with your career and your children’s book series, which is all over the place, and everything else, you have taken the time out of your post-burnout life to devise an entire program for the rest of us to help us through not work-life balance, to achieve work-life harmony. Tell everybody a little bit more about this.

Tina: The Elevation Approach is something I developed, really, to help me and also my friends. I was at coffee with a friend. I was talking about my many children’s books that were forthcoming. She said, “Oh, my goodness, I wish I could get this idea out of my head and onto paper. I just don’t know where to start.” Like most good girlfriends, we love to solve problems. It got me thinking about how I was able to do it and what changed for me. Obviously, I write in my book about burning out at twenty-seven. I started my first company at sixteen. I really started to think about this idea, especially going through a pandemic, what would it mean to live in harmony, not seek balance? Then how would you bring things to fruition? Those were the two big thoughts that came together when I created The Elevation Approach. It’s an approach that has four phases or stages, whatever you want to call it. I like to call them seasons. It starts with two seasons that I think we’re all used to and the two that led to my burnout, which are preparation and inspiration. Preparation is the idea that we all do the legwork to see if our idea is feasible. Then in the inspiration phase, we go socialize it. We meet people. We talk about it. I think many of us are very good at those two things.

What I found was that I was in a constant cycle of preparation and inspiration. I would prep an idea, go get super fired up, do more work, and I just wasn’t getting anything done. What I finally figured out I needed was recreation. Recreation led to the fourth phase, which is transformation. I was actually getting things done when I would take a little pause. I don’t know how many of your listeners are type A like me. The idea that I should pause and not just keep hustling or grinding was incredibly foreign. I remember — I write about this in the book — getting called out when I was at a retreat in Utah. For many of you, that’s epic relaxation, supposedly. I was called out for my exercise still leaving me incredibly stressed and anxious. I thought I’d develop this cheat method. I was going to work out really hard and do these things. None of that was helping. Now I feel like I do way more than I did before but with so much ease. I really do feel like I have found a way to achieve work-life harmony. It doesn’t mean I’m always in that state. If I’m not, I know how to get myself back there. I know how to pull a tool out of my toolbox. I have definitely found that this is a much easier way to live and thrive.

Zibby: Wow. Of course, you just made up the framework. Of course, you did. Part of it is the SMART method of goalsetting, basically. I can’t remember what they all stand for. Basically, that you have to have specific, actionable, measurable goals, right? Measurable, actionable. What are they? Not systemic. What would the S be? Specific. What’s the R? Timely?

Tina: It’s in my planner. in my planner. I should know this. Again, all the tools, as we talk about — I have many different tools in the framework. I don’t use all of the tools. Creating rituals is the most important tool for me because I’m someone who lives so much of my life not at home in my environment. I’ve found that I have to have rituals to help me sustain. For someone else, it could be a SMART goals framework or building a tribe of friends. Everybody is going to find that two or three things in these different principles stick out as things you really need to do. For many people, it’s like, I have a lot of ideas. Maybe they need a SMART goal framework to really make sure that they can track with that.

Zibby: Interesting. I just gave myself this goal this weekend, which was to do ten — I bought a ten pack of workout classes. They expire in forty-five days. I’m like, okay, I have forty-five days to do ten classes, which is ambitious, to be honest, because I haven’t worked out ten times in the last ten years. Not ten years. Ten months. Then I was like, oh, I just did exactly what Tina was saying. It has a time thing. It’s specific as opposed to all the other times where I’m like, I should work out. That’s so vague.

Tina: Exactly. That speaks to the bigger point, which is probably number one on my list, which is accountability. That’s why when I talk about the principle around knowing your numbers, I’m not just talking about finances. I think so many of us, when we are in business-creation mode, it’s all about numbers, numbers, numbers financially. When I talk about knowing your numbers, for me, every morning — I wear my Oura ring every day. I want to know my readiness score. I want to know how much I’ve slept. How ready am I for the day ahead? Looking at my calendar, have I seen my friends this month? I have certain things that are like, if I’m not feeling quite myself, I can look at some numbers I’m accountable to and say, this is why. For you with the working out — I’ve also found things have to make sense to me. I’m not a believer in, just go with it. Even when I decided recreation was part of The Elevation Approach, I measured it. I measured how effective and efficient I was after I had a moment of rest. I was like, oh, I’m five times better at crushing it and getting to the finish line when I take a pause than when I just go straight through. Okay, now I need to take a pause. It wasn’t natural. You’re going to have to find the same with those classes where you’re like, but why? What’s the accountability? What am I measuring after? Do I feel better? Am I presenting better to my team and my family? If you can’t figure out why, you’re just not going to do it anymore. You’re going to say, that’s nice, but it’s a nice to have, not a must have.

Zibby: Interesting. I had a lot of fun.

Tina: See?

Zibby: It was so fun. Selfish, but fun. You also have a whole ledger for your relationships, which I also found fascinating. Tell me about that and why it’s important for us to keep a ledger of some of the things we’re getting from our friends and our tribes.

Tina: If your audience is primarily women, I would say, busy women, whatever stage you’re in, if you’re raising children — some of us are starting to take care of aging parents. We are incredibly busy. We don’t have more time. The most important thing, I would say even more important than managing your budget — you can always make more money; you can’t make more time — is how you spend your time and with whom you’re spending that time. I found a few years ago that when I kept thinking I didn’t have time to do the things I wanted to do, what I realized was I was living on other people’s timetables of where I had to be and what I had to do. I had to go to this event. I had to do this. I’m sure many of us felt that way before the pandemic. We were always obligated to do something on somebody else’s calendar for ourselves. Then you went to a place where you didn’t do anything. You’re home with your friends, your family. Then you had to get back into it. I remember about two years ago, so many friends saying, I’m finding it really hard to get back into the hustle. I don’t really want to go all the way back in.

I developed this ledger because sometimes we think relationships are strong or you’re supported as the friend. Then when you take a moment to pause, you realize, actually, the relationship isn’t what I thought it was. Wow, why did I never take a moment to pause to see if I’m really getting out of it what I need? It’s so critical because I really believe that accomplishing your goals, accomplishing your dreams is really connected to that tribe of people that you build. If you don’t have the right people in that core group, how are you then going to get to the level you’re trying to go to? I think we spend too much time talking about mentoring and networking and not enough time talking about friend-toring and sponsorship. To even get yourself into the place to meet a sponsor, it’s all about time management. You need to have that time available to go take that meeting. If you do anything, any exercise in the book, I really think the most important exercises are around relationship management, for sure.

Zibby: My printer wasn’t working, but you had a whole worksheet of twelve pages. I was like, I should definitely do this whole thing. I’ll do it later. I’ll do it when I get back to a printer that works. It’s good just to take stock and remind yourself, why should I think about what art brings me joy? Maybe I should just take a pause. It is your life. It’s not going to get better if you don’t make it better.

Tina: I find that if you’re on an express train — I can only speak from experience. I have moments in my life where I have been on an express train, and I’m not able to slow down and actually say, is this what I want? until, almost, something tragic happens. I talk about my dad getting sick. That was a big pause moment for me in my late thirties to really look at someone who I could tell was so fulfilled with their life and so happy. I wasn’t feeling that way. I don’t think we ever want a dramatic event like a pandemic to make us all pause. I do, in the book, ask you a lot of questions about yourself. I think everyone is entitled to change their ideas about what they dream and hope for, but if you don’t know what you want in the season, how do you know what you’re a yes for if you don’t even know what you want right now?

Zibby: What in your life is giving you joy now? What have you decided to prioritize on your own time?

Tina: Creative projects, for sure. I’ve always loved middle-grade writing. It’s just a passion. Getting young readers to engage in reading is something that I think is just — reading changed my life. As a tween girl, reading about worlds that I didn’t live in in South Jersey expanded my idea of what my life could be. It was such a game changer. I just love writing for young readers. I love designing product. Designing product for Target has been incredible, building those collections. I realized to be in a more creative zone, I actually had to really declutter my calendar from a lot of commitment just so I had moments for more inspiration than I’ve ever needed before. For so many years, I functioned as an executive where I was really the hiring, the firing, the budgeting. I still have those responsibilities, but there’s also the creativity that has to get delivered and has to come from me. That has really taken a priority. Then I would say a lot of family time. I’m the oldest of six. As my niece and nephews are growing, as my parents are aging, I’ve really realized it’s important to prioritize. I had two and a half decades where I worked crazy fast and never wanted to say no to the board, never wanted to say no to a new opportunity. Now I feel like I’m far more picky. I’m very grateful for that, but I also think that comes with being really aligned with, what sounds good? What am I a yes for? Not just saying yes to everything that comes our way.

Zibby: Is there anything you’ve said no to, afterwards, that you were like, oh, that was a huge mistake? No? Nothing?

Tina: No, which is crazy. I think it is because I put in the work to say, here’s where I’m going in the next three to five years. Here’s what’s really important. If I do those quick tests — is it aligned with what I want to do in the next three to five years? Is it going to help move these goals forward? Is it in line with my rituals that I need to do? If it’s not hitting for any of those, then it should be a no.

Zibby: It sounds so easy when you say it. It sounds so clear and crisp and smart. Yet I don’t know if I could do it in such a methodical way when some of these things are more emotional. I’m like, maybe this. Maybe that.

Tina: You could once you found success. I think everybody has to test it and find the success. For me, what I mean is, thinking back to what life used to feel like, the knots in my stomach when I was running everywhere and almost late everywhere and wanting to be present but also thinking about the next place I had to be, when I think about that — I used to be a researcher, so everything’s very numbers driven for me. I can look at my bottom line and say, I made less money when I did that. I made way more when I did this. It was less effort, but it was more applied. I think everybody should take a moment to audit that way. It’s not all about finances for anything we’re talking — as a CEO, that’s a huge part of it, but it’s also about my health. Do I feel healthier? Do I feel better? Do I look better? You have to take all that into consideration. It is hard. Recreation is still a struggle for me. I just went through this whole conversation in my head a couple weeks ago when I was looking at my summer and saying, it looks a little light. Maybe I want to add in all of these things. Then I’m like, what are you doing? You know fall is transformation. If you skip the recreation season, nothing’s going to come together. You’re going to burn out before you can have the energy to power through the end of the year. I still have to give myself pep talks even though I know this works for me.

Zibby: Interesting. I know, it’s hard with the summer. I’m like, okay, now it’s time to relax, but wait, I still have all these meetings.

Tina: Summer is a verb. We summer now. Now that we’re back in full force and we’re watching people on Instagram summer, then we start to feel like we have to do more.

Zibby: What’s your advice for aspiring authors?

Tina: Oh, goodness. First of all, I just love to read. I think it’s really important to read any and everything. Don’t judge yourself for what you like to read. I was just saying to a friend the other day — I was trying to think of a word. It was super specific. I was like, darn it. I need to be reading The New Yorker again. I don’t know why. I just need exposure. I need my vocabulary to have a bit more exposure right now. I would say to read as much as you can and then not judge what you write, how you write, when you write. I think that there are so many — you and I have talked about this before, where there is a way you have to do it. I have defied the odds in every way possible in what that way is. I think it’s not comparing yourself to other writers and also writing about things that you like. That comes through when you are really interested in the topic or what you’re writing about. I feel like the reader feels that.

Zibby: It’s so true. Amazing. What do you like to read? You said you always like to read. What are you reading now?

Tina: Right now, I’m reading a book called Lessons in Chemistry. Oh, my goodness, I am such a fan of this woman that the book is about. I just love her. I love books that transport me to different time periods too. Summer reading has always been fun for me ever since I was a tween. I felt like it was a time where I could read what I wanted to read. I still feel that way to this day. I can’t wait to read Sunny Hostin’s new book. I read her first book.

Zibby: Summer on the Bluffs?

Tina: Yes, and I loved it. I loved Ama. There are those characters that stick with you. I can’t wait to read the new one.

Zibby: Summer on Sag Harbor.

Tina: There are just so many books for women. I love thrillers. We Were Never Here was one of my favorite books that I read last year. Lucky was great. Counterfeit was fun. I just like any strong characters. I write a lot of fiction. I read adult fiction. It’s funny, I write middle grade. I always try to have that, what’s feeding me and keeping me interested? Then how do I write something for younger readers that feels interesting? Then I just read tons of magazines. I love Design magazine, Style. I do read weeklies on planes. Is there anything I read particular? It’s funny. I’m working on a travel brand right now, and I haven’t really read a lot of travel magazines. I love to travel.

Zibby: Tell me about the travel brand you’re building.

Tina: I am reimagining what I hope is really beautifully designed luggage. There are fifteen pieces in the collection, but products that everyone needs. I fly a hundred thousand miles a year, so I know a lot about living on a plane. I wanted to design a collection that was affordable but also just really good-looking stuff. I think we’ve landed it. There’s a bigger announcement coming later this summer. I have been in the world of building luggage now for almost two years. It’s been crazy to have to learn all the things I never knew about YKK zippers and the wheels you want to have. All that stuff has been really fascinating. I would say I read a lot about the industry, about manufacturing. I kind of fell into manufacturing, and so I had to be a quick study. It’s very interesting. I spent a lot of my spring reading about global trade cases as it relates to US and China and tariffs. That’s not fun reading, but super important in my new line of work, for sure.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is so exciting. Congratulations. All of it’s exciting. It’s nice to peel back the curtain and see how you do it all as opposed to just — you started the book with people asking you, do you sleep? You’re like, yes, I sleep seven and a half hours. You don’t just say, somehow, I do it. You lay it out and help the rest of us. It’s really great. Thank you.

Tina: Thank you.

Zibby: Congrats, Tina. Hope to stay in touch again.

Tina: Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye, Tina.

Tina: Bye.

THE ELEVATION APPROACH: Harness the Power of Work-Life Harmony to Unlock Your Creativity, Cultivate Joy, and Reach Your Biggest Goals by Tina Wells

Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Share, rate, & review the podcast, and follow Zibby on Instagram @zibbyowens