Redefining Rest for Public Health Professionals, with Marissa McKool

hosted by:

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Marissa McKool, the founder and creator of McKool Coaching and the Redefining Rest Podcast for Public Health Professionals. They discuss burnout in public health professionals and how life coaching can be helpful in working through burnout.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Marissa’s journey from working directly in public health to life coaching 
  • How Marissa first discovered coaching
  • Why Marissa decided to start McKool Coaching and the Redefining Rest Podcast for Public Health Professionals
  • What burnout is and why it is such a big issue among public health professionals
  • How changing your mindset and outlook can be the first step in working through burnout and other adversities
  • Actionable tips on how to start working through burnout and getting more rest
  • How important it is for public health professionals to branch out and continue innovating through different fields

Today’s Guest:

Marissa McKool, MPH, is a former public health leader turned career and life coach who helps public health professionals eliminate their burnout without quitting their job. Marissa received her MPH from Emory University and held several leadership roles in government and academia working on sexual violence prevention and reproductive health, before finding herself burning out. Through coaching, she was able to eliminate her stress without anything outside of her changing and now helps others do the same. She is also the host of the Redefining Rest Podcast for Public Health Professionals, where she helps listeners reduce their workload, create more time, get more rest, and feel better.

Featured on the Show:

Other Resources:

Episode Transcript

Marissa 0:00
You’re gonna have moments where you’re going to have ideas, we’re gonna be like, this would be so much better this way or this would be better or here’s a gap, we need that. So if you have those yearnings inside of you, those perspectives, those thoughts, we need you in the world. And I think mindset coaching and getting coaching will help you kind of decide on purpose, what to think, and have the unintentional thoughts that come up the limiting beliefs, the dow not affect you as much so you can really move forward.

Sujani 0:32
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:47
Hi, Marissa, and welcome to the PH SPOTlight podcast. It’s so great to have you here joining us to talk about a very important topic. So thank you, first of all, for you know, reaching out and offering your knowledge and your wisdom with our listeners. And I’m just so excited to jump into this topic today.

Marissa 1:07
Thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Sujani 1:09
Yeah. So you know, for our listeners, I’ll give a bit of a teaser as to who you are. And then I really want to hear your story in terms of like how you became a coach. So, you know, for our listeners, Marissa is a former public health leader who then turned into a life and career coach specifically focused on public health professionals and helping them eliminate burnout and getting more rest. And I know I’m someone who had gone through a period of my life where I did face burnout, and I had done a episode a while ago. So this is a topic that I’m very, very, very happy to speak about, and will take every opportunity to speak about burnout and rest for public health professionals. Before we jump into how you became a coach for public health professionals, Marissa, I always am curious to hear from our guests how they discovered public health because it’s not a field that at least I was aware of up until maybe partway through my undergraduate degrees. So I’m always curious to hear how individuals discover this area of public health to dedicate their careers towards.

Marissa 2:15
Yeah, I think my story is very similar to many others, which is I knew, I always loved helping people like I was drawn towards that. And growing up, in my mind, that meant becoming a doctor, which I think is very common. And in high school, I actually went to like a summer medical camp to learn about what being a doctor would be like, you know, saying this now looking back, it’s so different. But at the time, I left that experience thinking, I’m not smart enough to do that, which is not true, right? But when we think about the messages we receive, particularly, you know, identify as a woman, about, you know, your abilities and smart and science, I walked away from that experience being like, yeah, I’m not smart enough for that. So I’ll go to nursing, which is also a message we receive, which is not true, like nurses are so smart and so capable and so important, but that was, you know, I internalize some of the messages we received from society about that. And so I thought I’d go into nursing, went to the University of Arizona for my undergrad, honestly didn’t do very well on my courses. And now I can say that’s because I wasn’t really that passionate about chemistry and biology and all of that. And I applied to nursing school, because they’re the way they have it is you apply your sophomore year, so you finish your nursing degree, your junior and senior year, and I didn’t get in, I didn’t even get an interview. And then I was like, okay, I’m gonna try again. And so I waited a semester I applied again, I got an interview, I still didn’t get in, and I was kind of at a crossroads. And in my freshman year, I actually took a class on HIV prevention, which I didn’t realize was public health. All I knew was I loved it. I loved learning about it. I was fascinated. But when I would tell people, particularly my parents, they’d be like, I don’t know what public health is like nursing is so much more stable, like you’ll have a great income, which, for my parents, who neither of them have a four year college degree. My dad was a janitor, and my mom was a dealer at a casino. Of course, they thought that like they wanted their children to be stable and secure. And to them. They’re like, what the heck is public health which, you know, this was decades ago. So now more people know what it is. But when I got rejected from nursing school, I ended up taking a leave of absence and going to Tanzania to do some HIV prevention work. And that’s really where I had the moment of like, no, I really want to do public health and even if other people don’t get it, that’s okay. And I came back and I changed my major to public health and I excelled in those classes like it truly was exactly where I wanted to be, and I was excited, and I did the work. And so I think a lot of people have very similar experiences to getting to public health through trying the kind of clinical medical side first.

Sujani 5:11
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And it’s always that this one course that completely changes your path in, I guess we say, university or undergrad, and you’re in the US, and you call it college. But yeah, it really changes the path that you’re on. And I think unlike some of my guests, I didn’t notice that you have a Bachelors of Science in Public Health. Whereas, you know, a lot of the guests I’ve spoken to that specialization in public health kind of came in their grad school. So, you know, I’m curious to hear from your perspective, having done specialization in public health at the bachelors level, as well as a master’s level, what sort of differences do you see or what was different about the two degrees that you could kind of point to?

Marissa 5:57
Yeah, and I think now there’s so many more undergrad or bachelor degrees in public health, particularly in the US than when I was an undergrad, I was very lucky that University of Arizona where I was had one, and I had some peer mentors, like they were my friends, but they were a little older. So they truly were more of a mentor helped me with that. And I remember after doing my undergrad in public health, thinking, I don’t care what field you go into. If you go into pharmacy, if you go into medicine, if you go into social work, I just felt like everyone should have a baseline in public health and an undergrad degree in public health will be great for that. It’s a very much a overview. That was my experience. It’s an overview of what public health is its public health 101 from research, biostats, to community engagement, and then content overview, so a lot of different content classes. So it also really helps you figure out what area whether it’s skill or topic area you’re interested in. And then with the master’s degree, you know, it’s a little bit more narrowed in, it’s not as much as a doctor degree. But oftentimes, you pick a track or a department, whether it’s global health, or health and social behavior, or epidemiology. And you get a little bit more specialized as far as the knowledge and the skill area. But you of course, still have room to learn other content areas and other skills while you’re in the program. So that’s kind of how I look at the two. And I think the expectations for the programs are different as well. Like in a master’s, I had a thesis and undergrad, I think I had a volunteer kind of Capstone I had to do so there’s some slight differences there as well.

Sujani 7:39
That’s great to hear. And so yeah, I see that you graduated from your masters in 2015. And you had a number of different roles kind of working in public health. And then you found yourself starting this coaching business at the beginning of last year. So yeah, curious to hear how that happens. So maybe you can take us from graduation to where things are today with your coaching.

Marissa 8:05
I went and got my master’s at Emory University, which I should say I took a gap year between undergrad and my master’s and worked in social work as a case manager directly with the community, which was such I’m so glad I did that. And then I got my master’s at Emory. And while I was at Emory, I did a lot of work on violence prevention, that was really an area I was really passionate about. I did my thesis, I worked with CDC, a lot of different things. And then after my master’s, I went to CDC to do a fellowship in sexual violence prevention for a couple years. At the end of my fellowship, my mom got unexpectedly ill, and I moved home to take care of her while finishing my fellowship. And then I decided to stay closer to home and ended up getting a leadership role at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. And a lot has changed at that school since the time that I started there. I should preface this by saying but at the time, there were some folks in different leadership positions that were making choices that I didn’t agree with the others didn’t. I was doing the job of what prior was three people and at other universities was three people. You know, there’s a lot of funding cuts, I had gone through a really challenging budget period. And there’s a lot of challenges that I think everyone’s experiencing in public health at any time, and particularly during the pandemic. And I just found myself exhausted and overwhelmed. And the moment I realized something’s really got to change. I would notice if I got an email a nights or weekends, it got to the point where I would start crying because I was already so overwhelmed that just the idea of someone else emailing me, asking me for more like overwhelmed my emotional system, my nervous system. And I kind of was like listen, I’m really smart. I’ve done great work. I’ve worked at CDC, I’ve done my own research like why can’t I figure this out? Like how to make this work? I’ve advocated I was super outspoken of what I felt needed to change. I tried all the calendaring systems, I tried everything, the advice out there tells you I exercise more, slept more like, I was like I’ve tried it all, none of this is changing. And so the last resort that I feel like you get messaged about is just quit your job and find a better job. And honestly, I was thinking about that. And then my roommate, who also worked at the school at the time, recommended a podcast, and I started listening to it. And the host who ended up becoming my life coach was talking about how your emotional experience is created by your mindset and what you think all day. And to be honest with you for about three months, I would listen to the podcast, and I would argue with her in my head, I’d be like, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You’re telling me that I can change this, you know, the leaders don’t have to change, like, I really wrestled with it, because it goes against what we’ve been taught, right? But what I found was after listening to it for about three months, I started to feel so much better, like emotionally, I wasn’t as exhausted, I was less resentful, which was the emotion that I kind of swam in, I felt more confident, I felt more empowered. And I could finally see it’s like almost glasses came off, where I could separate okay, that stuff I cannot control. And trying to control that or force that to change is wasting my energy. And it allowed me to redirect to where I can control and- And where I can control and how I can make sure that changes I make actually serve me. And I saw such a change. And I ended up hiring her and working with her for several years. And then the pandemic hit. And I think everyone in public health when the pandemic first hit, we had the same experience as everyone in the world, which was just fear about our safety and our about our community. But then on top of it, our workload changed. For many of us, we had more work, it was faster pace, there were higher expectations. And then our family and our community were asking us questions like we were the expert on COVID.

Sujani 12:04

Marissa 12:05
And so there’s a lot more going on. And I remember this moment where I looked around, and my colleagues were experiencing so much more stress and overwhelm, and exhaustion than I was, not because I’m a special snowflake, or I’m different just because I had these mindset coaching tools. And they didn’t. That was the only difference I could really see, of course, some of our circumstances were different. But I had the ability, I had learned how to manage my mind, how to understand how my thinking is impacting my experience, and adjust that in order to help myself, I didn’t mean I didn’t have negative emotions.

Sujani 12:45

Marissa 12:45
I just had a tool that other people didn’t. So it just kind of illuminated. There was a really big need in public health for this. And I decided, you know, I wanted to do that I’m always been really passionate about the workforce. And I think folks in public health are so passionate about it, and sometimes to our own well beings detriment. And I don’t think that’s okay, like I want to change. I want to make sure everyone in public health can do the amazing work we’re doing with our it being at the expense of ourselves.

Sujani 13:18
Well, to so many questions come to mind. And I think the first one everyone’s wondering is what is the name of that podcast, Marissa?

Marissa 13:27
Well, it has a cuss word in it, or am I allowed to cuss on here?

Sujani 13:30
No. So maybe we will link it in the- Maybe the individual’s name so people can look for it.

Marissa 13:36
Her name is Kara Loewentheil. And her approach is coaching through a feminist lens. So she coaches people who have been socialized as women, on understanding how the patriarchy impacts your thinking, in your experience. I have a podcast for public health professionals that is called redefining rest. So if folks also want to check that out, that’s also available. Kara is also my like, I’m in her Advanced Certification right now. So a lot of the tools I learned from her as a student and now as a coach, you know, I of course apply it in my work as well, too.

Sujani 14:09
Perfect. Yeah, your podcast, because it’s applied directly to public health professionals is also another great, great resource and tool that I’m definitely going to check out because I think a lot of the things you said I can completely agree with, you know, the piece about us public health professionals just being so passionate about our work. And sometimes I think, you know, the way we present things doesn’t necessarily land the way we’d like it to- to people in our network. And we saw that right? And I think for me, the biggest eye opener was that you know, the science and the evidence says that, for example, we should be masking or we should be vaccinating but then just communicating that and just getting so involved in that communication and that education and awareness and being frustrated that the rest of society isn’t understanding it and you know you battle with that in your head, and like you said, you can really get burned out with that and frustrated.

Marissa 15:05
Yeah, absolutely. And actually ended up doing a on my podcast, a series of episodes specific to COVID challenges. So how to deal with anti vaxxers. If you as a public health professional, get COVID, how to navigate the politics of public health. You know, when you think about another profession, let’s say lawyers, when there’s kind of like a legal crisis, most lawyers aren’t spending all their time out of the office, particularly if it’s not the work they do. Like it’s specific work, being stressed about it. But I find it public health. And listen, I do this, too. So we’re all together in this where we’re so passionate about it, that even outside of our working hours, we kind of feel this responsibility.

Sujani 15:48
Oh, my God. Yes.

Marissa 15:49
Yeah. And what I found that the masking in the vaccine is that’s what was causing a lot of additional stress, like unnecessary stress, feeling like you had to convince your family or your community or getting upset every time you see someone in the store without a mask. And then you know, of course, people ask you, so then there’s the other direction, but you know, kind of separating like, hey, right now, this is not my job, like, I don’t have to love it. But I don’t have to let it take up so much space in my mind and create so many unhelpful emotions, while I’m trying to take some time off. We struggle with that, because we’re passionate, we’re not in this field for the money, we’re not in it for the fame, we really, really care. But we also you do need to take some time to intentionally recognize that it’s also a job and we are full humans. And when we’re not working, it’s really important. We allow ourselves to have that respite.

Sujani 16:41
I so needed to hear that, Marissa, you don’t understand. I do want to talk about kind of like burnout and stuff. But I wanted to go back to something you said that I was curious about you said, you know, after you got a bit of that coaching, and you could almost feel yourself taking off this like lens and looking at things that were happening at UC Berkeley in a different way, you were able to confidently go in and make changes. And I’m curious to know, like, if you remember what those specific changes were and how you approached those conversations?

Marissa 17:15
When I say changes, what I really mean are changes to the way I was thinking all day, which is really, really important. It definitely isn’t as like, appealing as a checklist of actions, right? Like all of us need to love a checklist. We’re great at taking action. But what really needed to change for me and with my clients and people I work with what also really needs to change is what we spend all day thinking about, because that creates your emotional experience. So for example, what I was doing was I was spending all day complaining about everything I thought was wrong, like anytime I get an email, especially if it asked me to do something that I thought was out of my job description, my record clear in my head would go on and on. This is unfair, they need to hire people, how can I expect this of me. And when I did some coaching, what I realized is that record players totally optional, and it gets in the way of me confidently saying no or setting boundaries. It gets in the way, if I decide to do it, I’m just doing it and doing it quick and efficiently. So it’s off my plate like it becomes almost a barrier. And it makes it so much more difficult and emotionally draining that record player in our head. And it doesn’t serve us. This is the tricky thing about brain, sometimes the way our brain speaks to us, it sounds like it’s useful and it’s helping. But through coaching, when you examine it, you often find it’s not. The result is you avoid responding, you distract yourself, you’re kind of in your head complaining so much that you drag it out. And then if you do AdvoCare do say no, often you’re doing it kind of from a forceful defensive or resentful place, which doesn’t feel good and then often doesn’t help you. And so that was the change is like the narration in my head all day and nothing outside of me had to change. And actually I was much, much more efficient and effective. Then if I did need to say no or set boundaries, or change the way it did my work at actually that being useful for me, because I wasn’t sitting there doing it while kind of having so many negative thoughts in my head.

Sujani 19:19
Yeah, no, I get that. I can see how that could take a ton of time, like just getting your brain to think differently. And I don’t know if you’re probably still working through that. But do you think you can kind of pinpoint like how long that took you to be able to effectively make that change in your mind?

Marissa 19:38
Yeah, managing your mind is what I call it where you kind of observe what you’re thinking and not take all your thoughts as true facts and decide if you want to believe them and change your thoughts varies for each person, particularly on like the specific area and it’s also lifelong work which I also know people don’t want to hear but it is like, we won’t get to the stage of enlightenment where your brain just, you know, is perfect and doesn’t offer you unhelpful thoughts and isn’t sometimes mean to yourself. And so for me with the workpiece, it was actually only like three months. But then I went and worked on my dating anxiety. And that took like two years, and some of my clients I work with the work stuff takes six months, or can take a year. But if we end up working on couple sessions on maybe family stuff, it takes less time. So just varies person to person. And part of that is the way in which we kind of absorb the thoughts we have, right? So we’re not taught to really think about, okay, where do your thoughts come from, we just assume they’re just true facts, like our brain are just observing the world. But really, our brains just speaking to us through a specific lens that a lot of times we’ve adopted this lens unknowingly, so you know, what you hear from your family growing up, what you hear in the media, what you hear in school, religion. And then of course, the messages, systems of oppression sense, white supremacy, the patriarchy, fat phobia, all of it. Our brains absorb that and can internalize that even if you are and people around you are trying to actively counter those messages. They’re just everywhere, we’re swimming, so we absorb it, and our brains kind of reprogram it and repeat it to us in our head, in our voice. That sounds kind of reasonable and factual. And so often, the thoughts we think unintentionally, we just think are true. And so part of it is kind of undoing some of that. And depending on your experience, you know, some thoughts are stronger in your brain than they might be in someone else’s brain. And so it is very individual. I mean, of course, there are commonalities, which is why a podcast is really useful, and everyone can learn from it. But then the individual takes it a level deeper.

Sujani 21:57
Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. And this idea of mindset coaching, and in the life coach, I’ll be honest with you that I kind of never saw the value of it until very recently, you kind of like think I don’t need it. I’m not someone who needs it, or how could it really benefit me until you truly experience it. And I started getting some coaching through different programs probably last year. And of course, like you said, podcasts are another way of getting that coaching, because you feel like someone’s literally in your ear telling you all these things. And then with your coaching business, you talk about helping people who are out of their mph for two to five years and are feeling burned out that you can help them, right? And so my question is, you know, identifying burnout for public health professionals is one of the biggest barriers that I see, at least, like from my experience, I knew I was working in some opioid overdose kind of work. And I like yourself was just drowning in work. And I got to a point where I didn’t recognize that I had a lot of work or was extremely stressed about my deliverables until I like almost collapsed and went to the ER. And then the doctor telling me that it’s like stress induced. And that was the reason I almost collapsed and like, blacked out. And then it took a number of weeks for me to get rid of this like headache. I couldn’t even turn on a computer or the light and just had to sleep it off for a number of weeks. And then I remember having a chat with my friend who was like, it sounds like you’re burnt out. And I was like, no, no, I’m not because like, burnout doesn’t happen to us, because we don’t see patients, we’re not on the front line. So I don’t think it’s burnout. I think I’m just tired, or I think something else is happening to me. I guess I’m curious to hear, when do individuals from your experience kind of recognize that they have been burnt out and that they do need some sort of support to be able to, like get over this piece so that they can go back to enjoying the work enjoying contributing back to society in their role as a public health leader, professional. I think you also said it where you kind of think the only solution is quitting your job or finding a new job. But if you don’t learn to manage the stress and the burnout, then it’s going to be a cycle that continues, right?

Marissa 24:26
Yeah, exactly. And I think burnout has very different definitions. I don’t know if we have a universal one and everyone’s experience with burnout. You know, often I just use the word stress. I’ll just share the way I think about it. And I kind of borrowed this and adopted this from the book burnout by Emily Nagasaki and Amelia Nagasaki, because I just loved the way they described it, which is that the exhaustion you feel is actually an exhaustion from being stuck in an emotion. So for example, I was stuck in resentment. That’s one piece that I see some people experiencing. But the other piece they talk about is when you’re stuck in the stress cycle. So our bodies, you know, are designed to experience acute stress. That’s how we’ve survived as a species, right? So think about 1000s of years ago, you know, if we saw something dangerous, whether it’s poisonous berries or a lion, we had a thought, we need to do something, we might die, whatever the thought was that our brain had that sent neurological signals throughout our body to kick it into gear for the stress cycle to begin so that we could do something. That’s acute stress. But burnout and chronic stress is really when you get stuck in that cycle, when you’re just constantly in that cycle, scientifically, how that shows up in people like for you, it sounds like your body reacted in a certain way that maybe created headaches, or you know, you fainted or passed out. And for other folks, it presents differently. But what I find is that what most people who are experiencing that level and stress and burnout all can relate to, is if you ask them, would you like to get more rest? Are you exhausted? Would you like more time off? Would you like less work? And the answer is not just a yes. It’s like a full embodied emotional, yes. Like you can tell they’re dreaming about it. And they don’t believe it’s possible. It’s not just like, yeah, that’d be nice. No, it’s like, dehydrated person in the desert, when you’re like, would you like water, and they haven’t had water for two weeks. And so of course, like everyone resonates with what burnout is differently. But part of the piece is, as you said it, even if you quit your job, which I’m not against that actually think in public health, the way the world is changing in the workforce is changing. Moving jobs more frequently is to the benefit of folks working in public health. And I don’t think we do it enough. However, what you said is accurate, you bring your brain with you to the next job, the next job is going to either have the same or similar or different challenges, but there’s no job in the world without challenges. And so you bring your brain with you. So if your brain is kind of on the autopilot thinking the thoughts that induce the stress cycle, right, like, for me, it was my brain was reacting to an email as if it was reacting to poisonous berries, like this is a problem, something’s gone wrong. And if I brought my brain to a new job, I would still have those thoughts. Maybe it wouldn’t be about an email, maybe it would be about a colleague, maybe it would be about a work trip. So you do have to do the mindset work to get to a place where you are in control of what you’re thinking, and what you’re feeling. It doesn’t mean the challenges go away, it doesn’t mean we deny the challenges, it means that in the face of those challenges, in the face of the barriers for us, in the face of promotions of burnout, you decide on purpose with intention, what you’re going to think, what you’re going to feel, and what you’re going to do, also you learn to be okay, if other people who are mad or disappointed in you, let them have their feelings. And you don’t worry as much about that. You don’t kind of take on the emotional responsibility for other people you don’t, you know, deny yourself rest because you feel like it’s your responsibility to take care of everyone, like there’s layers to this. But ultimately, it is about empowering yourself and thinking and feeling and doing with intention. So you get a different result.

Sujani 28:23
And so yeah, you know, some of our listeners are kind of putting their hands up and saying, yep, that’s me. Are there some simple, actionable tips that you can share with our listeners, and I do know that you have this free course that I’ll definitely link up to, because it sounds great. You know, over the three days, you kind of do provide individuals with some tips and ways that they can kind of go about it. But yeah, curious to hear if there are simple things that you can share here on the podcast that folks can kind of apply in their own lives, as you know, as early as immediately after they- they finish listening to this episode.

Marissa 29:01
Yeah, definitely. But I want to kind of set the foundation a little bit which is talk a little bit about why taking rest can feel so hard for us, kind of the way we’re message to about it. And the way we think about it is that we can’t take rest or rest as hard because of things outside of us because we’re understaffed or underfunded, or you know, whatever it may be, which those things need to change, but thinking about it that way is so disempowering, because it means things outside of you, you have little to no control over, after change before you can get rest, which is not true but leads you to deny yourself opportunities of rest you actually have and also feels very hopeless. And part of the reason even when we have an opportunity of rest and by rest, like anything can be rest, rest is a mindset, right? So we’ve all had the experience where we are supposed to be resting whether you’re laying on on a beach, or a massage table, and you don’t feel rested at all, you feel more stressed. Because of what you’re thinking, because you’re like, I don’t have time for this, I have too much to do, I’m gonna have so much work when I get back, whatever it may be. So anything can be rest, we’ve been sold that rest as a spa day and rest asleep in. And that’s true, but like some people feel rested, running three miles, because they’re not thinking about work. And they’re having thoughts that create kind of relief and calm and presence and all of that. But part of the reason we don’t take opportunities of rest, like I think the common example so many folks can relate to, is how many of you listening have delayed or skipped your lunch, because you’re thinking I have too much to do, I have to get this done, I can’t disrupt this. And it seems so like innocent, and also it feels so true. But really what your brain is offering you is a set of unconscious beliefs, we have been told to believe we have been told to believe that rest has to be earned, that rest is a reward. And that rest is for the deserving, and that some people deserve it and others don’t, or others have to work harder. And that productivity is the key to rest that productivity matters more than rest. And while when I say those terms, those phrases, you might be thinking, I don’t believe that. But your brain has offers it to you in different ways I have too much to do, I have to get this done, it will burden others, I’ll wait till this big project is over. And those unconscious beliefs we have, you know, we’ve gotten them from everywhere. Like for me growing up and seeing my dad who didn’t have paid time off. Like if he took days off, they were unpaid. And having to make that choice. I think I absorbed some of that, right, I was seeing someone who rest really had to be earned, they had to save a certain amount of money. We also get those messages from school, right, the way the school structure is set up with vacation. And we also get those messages from systems of oppression, right? So if you’re socialized as a woman, you get the message that, well, you don’t really deserve rest until all the checklists at home and at work. And if you’re a parent are done, and then you can rest because your responsibilities take care of everyone else. Those are just a few examples. But I think the key is to understand that a lot of times when we are telling ourselves, we can’t take rest, even in something like taking lunch. What’s driving that are these unconscious beliefs underneath. And that’s where some of the work of mindset is, is detaching from those and believing rest is always available, rest is not given it is taken, rest is choice, rest is up to you. Rest is infinite, rest can be anything. I think with that foundation in mind, part of the first thing to do, which you know, doesn’t sound sexy, or necessarily fun, or as easy as kind of a quick checklist is challenge your thinking. Don’t believe everything your brain offers you and really question it and really spend some time, you know, allowing some space to see, okay, how is this belief serving me? How could this belief not be true? How is the opposite true? Like, just allow yourself some space to do that.

Sujani 33:11
When you mentioned that kind of challenging the way you think, I heard a really good approach to just self care and things like that. And the individuals podcast I was listening to she kind of mentioned, just like even simply changing the way you phrase certain things. So the example she gave was, we would often say, oh, I can’t miss my workout, or I can’t miss my lunch. And if you can replace that can’t with the word don’t, it kind of empowers you to say like, I don’t miss my workouts or I don’t miss my lunch. And he almost like gets your brain to really believe that you don’t do that. And kind of prioritizes it, right?

Marissa 33:51
Yeah, I’d also add like what I like to do, is taking it a step further and frame it into I’m choosing to or I’m choosing not to. So I’m choosing not to take my lunch, most of us avoid saying that. And we say I can’t take my lunch, when we flip it to I’m choosing to which is true. Some of us feel bad about that. But the other option instead of feeling bad and being mean yourself is seeing it as an opportunity to make a different choice if you want to like-

Sujani 34:20

Marissa 34:21
There’s no right or wrong. It’s up to you, what’s rest to you. What you want to choose to do, what you don’t want to choose to do might be different than someone else. But at least be honest with yourself and give yourself that opportunity. So I do find instead of saying I can’t or I have to if you start changing it to I choose to I choose not to not only will you feel better, but you will have moments where you realize you want to make a different choice and you’re so much more empowered to do that.

Sujani 34:49
Yeah. I know for like myself, I was always curious what coaching was and kind of like how that works. And I think for any of our listeners who we’re now wanting to either like hear from you a lot more and work with you, perhaps maybe you can tell us a bit about, you know, how does coaching work in this scenario when you’re working with different public health professionals from different backgrounds? And what that experience looks like with you?

Marissa 35:17
Yeah, I mean, my podcasts, are you finding rest, anyone can listen to that. And that is coaching, like what you’re getting are coaching insights and coaching tools and helping you change your mindset. And there’s all types of coaching, like, really, and I do- Your experience very common, where it’s like, what is this life coaching is that even a thing and I think part of that is because it’s a newer field, like when therapy started, which beginning was unregulated, people felt that way too. And, of course, there are some types of coaching that are less effective. And, you know, there’s different types. The traditional career coaching often is, let me help you practice for an interview or tailor your resume. There’s also spiritual coaching, which is very different. So it just varies. But the mindset coaching idea is really about both your mindset and your emotions. So I work with clients one on one, on Zoom, we coach every single week. And essentially what we do is we examine their brain like what they’re thinking, and what they’re feeling and how they’re reacting to their feelings. So for example, when I have clients who are starting to do that shift, and I’m choosing to I’m choosing not to, and starting to make some changes and choosing to take rest more, I should more phrase, it’s more stop denying themselves rest, because there’s just so many areas, we’re doing that, what happens is your brain is gonna freak out. Because your brain has been programmed to believe you can only rest when it’s a reward when you’ve done quote unquote, enough, which is arbitrary. And so we end up just chasing this concept of enough. And so when you start to make these changes, your brain kind of freaks out, which is totally normal. And part of the coaching work is learning how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of changing your brain of your brain kind of going through that experience. And learning how to be comfortable and allow your emotions, at least my experience, particularly in the US, we’re not taught about emotions, what they are, where they come from, we’re taught basically, negative emotions are bad, you should always seek to feel good, but not too good, because then you’re bragging.

Sujani 37:31

Marissa 37:32
But really emotions, quote, unquote, positive or negative, are part of being human like, we will always experience them and nearly equal measure. And we want to that’s the beauty of being human. Like, the reason that when you feel joy, it feels so good is partly because we’ve also gone through the challenges of sadness and despair and whatever else it may be. So a lot of coaching also is relating to your emotions differently, and learning to allow them and seeing the change from that. I know sometimes when you haven’t done it, it seems a little like, okay, behind this curtain. And part of that is because it is just such a relational process of let’s examine your thoughts, let’s challenge them. Let’s really open up a space for you to get curious about this. Let’s teach you how to allow emotions, how to relate to your emotions, it is truly so transformational. And then the other thing I’ll say is one of my goals in coaching is that my clients walk away and even podcast listeners without working with me one on one, knowing how to coach themselves, because I don’t think you always need a coach, you can learn to do this yourself, to question your thoughts, to change your thoughts, to allow emotions. And to me, the most liberating tool we have especially internalized oppression, is being able to undo that undo the unhelpful thinking we have and choose intentionally how we want to think, how we want to feel. And if we can have everyone get that tool so that they can do it on their own, then we really have made some changes, like you aren’t reliant on a coach or having to live somewhere having certain finances like you have that tool, you can do it yourself.

Sujani 39:11
Now, that’s such an important step because you know, we’re not always going to have Marissa in our ears walking behind us. So I’m really glad to hear that. Shifting gears a little bit. I’m very curious, because you’ve kind of are doing Mckool coaching full time now, right like this is this is where you’re investing all your time and energy and are you kind of able to use some of the things that you learned in your Master’s of Public Health degree in this work? And I’m curious to hear kind of where do you see your coaching going in the future?

Marissa 39:50
Yeah, I love that question. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot. I think there’s a couple things. One, I’ve definitely been learning so much about business, which has made me realize even more or that I think folks in public health need to know more about business. Because public health is business, like even if the revenue is tax dollars or grant, it’s still business. And so it’s funny like in that direction, I’m thinking about what I’m learning for businesses like, oh, how does this apply to public health, but also one of my goals is, you know, the coaching industry has a long way to go. Like, there are some really great things about it. But it’s largely white dominated industry, some of the coaching tools or approaches that are used across industry are used with just that lens, and not really considering the way individuals are socialized in the world based on whatever identity they hold. In public health, a lot of the work I did in sexual violence prevention, reproductive health, we definitely, you know, examine that that’s a part of understanding like, how are the experiences different among different communities who have different barriers and have different challenges. And bringing that into coaching, I think is so so important. I also think coaching, it’s changing. And you know, my mentor, Kara Loewentheil, is one of the kind of former people changing it. But public health, what I loved about being in public health is the community and both with the communities we’re serving, but really with each other, we would have trainings, or we would have meetings, there’s so much community building and engaging. And sometimes in coaching, it can feel like that’s not there. And I really want to bring that into the space, like, you know, there’s so much benefit to community building and engaging in community. And I believe it can be done in the coaching context, and I’ve seen some successes with it. So I want to bring that in as well. Ideally, if I’m like, okay, 10 years down the line, I’ll have a bunch of coaches, who are also former public health leaders who are coaching everyone in public health, and helping them have the tools and empower themselves to change their experience. And, you know, have that be its own slice of the pie in the public health workforce.

Sujani 42:06
Yeah, sometimes I feel like public health is kind of behind when we compare ourselves to like the tech world or the business world, just in terms of like, marketing tactics, for example, like, we can use some of that in public health. But, you know, when the entire world had already figured out how to create infographics, and they’re kind of like, done with it, that’s when public health discovers it. And we’re like, oh, cool, you know, there’s this other communication tool that we could use or, or podcasting, for example, or now coaching, like you mentioned it. So, yeah, it’s, it’s kind of like, public health in my head is sometimes like the baby of it. And then we’re kind of having to catch up and leverage these different tools to advance our field. So I’m really personally happy to hear things that you’re wanting to do to really like change the the workforce of public health, which I’m also trying to do with PH SPOT. So really happy to hear that there’s a peer in this area and mission.

Marissa 43:05
Yeah, definitely. And, you know, I also think, I don’t know if you felt this way, at any point. I know many other people have and I did where when you’re in public health, particularly I felt this in grad school, you kind of get this messaging that like, going to the private side is selling out and a problem. And now my perspective is like, no, that’s where the opportunity is, like, I think there’s so much opportunity for public health to be more innovative and more effective. But there are major challenges doing that in government, even in academia. And so I think there’s huge opportunity in doing it in kind of the private side. And I see my coaching business as part of that. And I’m sure, you know, you see yours as part of that. And I think the reason why message to that private is a problem is because of course there are businesses that have unethical practices, even ones that say they’re doing public health work. But if we have public health leaders, starting those ventures and doing that, we have the tools to really think about how can these be equity centered, how can these be anti racist? How can these be with the community and for the community? And I think we just don’t have enough folks in public health who see themselves as being able to do that or being encouraged to do that. So then what happens that part of the market is filled by business people, people who don’t have a public health background tech people who don’t really care about the community. Of course, there are outliers. I’m not saying all folks in those sectors do it, you know, unethically, but I just think there’s such a huge missed opportunity for public health folks trained in public health who have done the work who are leaders to take up space in this area, and honestly make more money that they would not make in government or academia or anywhere else which we deserve. And you know, push the boundaries and be innovative. The world is changing so fast. COVID has taught us that and we need to be nimble and quick and flexible and Innovative. And I just think more public health folks in the private sector space as leaders, as owners, as founders will be able to offer us that. So I’m super passionate about that.

Sujani 45:11
And like, yeah, just this like need for, like more private public partnerships, and just thinking differently about our public health problems, because I think, when you’re kind of like in this groupthink mentality, the solutions that you come up with are not as innovative as bringing a diverse group of individuals around the table, and there’s couple podcast episode with Leshawn and Nitin, that we kind of like discuss this topic where we do need to see that more in public health. And I’m, like, really happy to see that these conversations are happening. And recently I saw on LinkedIn, there was a senior leader in like the federal department who was kind of ending his career in public service after only 10 years. And, and I really liked what he wrote, because he said, he’s ending his term with the federal service. And he personally believes that you don’t necessarily need to build your full like 35 Plus career in the federal sector, he feels that, you know, individuals should come into the government, innovate a little bit, step out, let somebody else come in, and kind of like also take that learning that you kind of gathered in the federal service or government and go into private sectors, or I don’t know, not for profit, or academia and just kind of like, move around. So you can share that knowledge. Right? I really hope people adopt that mentality. And yeah, think about ways to bring public health into other sectors and vice versa.

Marissa 46:37
Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve even pushed it further, like, tech or business. And, you know, when we think about the private sector, from a public health point of view, we often talk about it as the consulting side, which is fantastic. There are challenges with that, of course, but it can be so much more than that. It can be a podcast, it can be a coaching business, it can be innovative, product design, like design thinking with public health leaders, like anyone listening, who’s early in your career, who’s in school, you’re gonna have moments where you’re going to have ideas, we’re gonna be like, oh, this would be so much better this way, or this would be better, or here’s a gap, you can take up that space, and you can be creative and figure it out. And you might have thoughts in your head or other people telling you, it’s not possible, you can figure it out. And it might be in a unique path that you go on. It might be a different kind of business venture or a different kind of career. But we need that. So if you have those yearnings inside of you, those perspectives, those thoughts, we need you in the world. And I think mindset coaching and getting coaching will help you kind of decide on purpose, what to think, and have the unintentional thoughts that come up the limiting beliefs, the doubt, and then the thoughts other people offer to you not affect you as much so you can really move forward.

Sujani 47:54
Yeah, thanks for like that encouragement for and of those early career professionals who are thinking about where to start their careers. And yeah, I want to also kind of echo what Marissa said, like not to shy away from that. And if you ever need kind of just someone to bounce off ideas. I’m always available on LinkedIn. And Marissa, maybe you can also tell us where folks can find you and chat with you if they do need that mindset coaching or need to bounce off some questions.

Marissa 48:24
Yeah, so I’m very active on LinkedIn as well. Marissa Mckool and you can connect with me DM me on Instagram. My handle is public health coach, I’m pretty active on there as well, of course, my website, Mckool coaching. And then my podcast redefining rest, I put it out every single week, there are about 30 minute episodes. So always available there as well. And as you said, I have a free course right now, burnout recovery. And there’s some exciting things I have in the pipeline. I’m doing an advanced feminist coaching certification that I’m probably going to create a master class based on what I’ve learned that would be coming out like in the fall some other exciting, free opportunities. And then if folks are interested in learning more, what is one on one coaching, what are the benefits? I have a whole podcast episode that explains that. But you can also DM me, we can set up a time to chat and we can talk about more specifically how it helped you.

Sujani 49:19
Thanks so much, Marissa. And as you were talking, I took out my sticky note and I wrote I am choosing to rest and underline. And another thing I did is you know I have a 10 month old and I love spending time with him. And sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not you know, working on PH SPOT or doing other stuff. So I also wrote down I am choosing to spend time with my son so I know that I’m the one who’s actively choosing so thank you for that.

Marissa 49:45
Yes. I love hearing that. And I’ll also say like guilt is a normal human emotion. It doesn’t mean what we’re thinking is true. You know, we can just be like okay, brain, I hear you. It’s okay, I can allow this skill and I’m choosing this anyways.

Sujani 50:01
I love that I’m gonna, I’m gonna subscribe to your podcast. Thanks so much Marissa. And I can see that I’m gonna have you come on again. And we’ll have some exciting conversations once again.

Marissa 50:13
I would love that this could be one on one, and we can dive deeper in the future.

Sujani 50:17
Perfect. Thanks so much.

Marissa 50:18
Thank you for having me.

Sujani 50:22
Hey there, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And, as always, if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we will have everything there for you. And one more thing before you go, have you been looking for any of these three things? Number one, guidance to establish a clear path towards your dream public health career. Two, mindset and resources to help you continuously progress in your career and three, complete confidence to take control of your career to ensure long term job satisfaction and employment. If you answered yes, then you have to check out our Career Program it’s an intensive hands on training program for early public health professionals, including recent graduates and students. We help you take the uncertainty and overwhelm out of building your public health career through this program. And so you can find out more about the program and joined the waitlist for the next cohort at And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into this podcast and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

Join the PH SPOT public health community

A place where passionate public health professionals commit to take their career to the next level – there is no other place like it online!


A simple template to get you started.

We will also add you to our Public Health community so that you can receive more awesome stuff from us. If you’re not enjoying them, you can unsubscribe instantly.