Doug Marshall Q&A

October 21, 2019
Doug Marshall used to have a career filled with stress. Today he teaches mindfulness to those still in the trenches.

“I pretty much only teach tools that take less than five minutes. I remove the barriers like time or situation. If you don’t have time to close your eyes and meditate – awesome, meditate with your eyes open while driving, or while walking your dog or pushing the stroller. We can quiet our mind in the midst of something else. It might not be ideal, but something is better than nothing.”

You started out as an entertainment reporter in New York, interviewing such celebrities as Madonna and Angelina Jolie. What made you transition out of journalism into communications?

All major changes in work have just been me adapting to supply and demand and following my interests and passions. Before I did reporting or social media strategy and content, I was a banker at JP Morgan. I majored in finance in college. As I grew into myself, I grew out of banking. I went to work in marketing and PR for beauty brands, fashion retailers and lifestyle brands. Some of those jobs were corporate and I didn’t love a 9-to-5 desk job. So I went freelance for the last 10 years. I go where I’m needed. In New York I also did celebrity entertainment reporting on red carpets and on camera and wrote for print. I’ve always had several tracks going at once. I get called for projects and if it feels right and the income is abundant (money or experience), I do it.

You handled the social at Saks and launched the campaign for Ellen DeGeneres’ home and apparel collection. Was that as fun as it sounds?

Social media is fun because you can be creative in giving a brand a voice. Depending on the brand, there are little boundaries. I get to distill what customers of a brand are saying and create content that keeps them in mind while giving the brand some authority. Beyond it just being awesome to be associated with Ellen DeGeneres’ brand, her team are some of the nicest people I’ve worked with. In terms of content creation, doing live capture for Instagram or Snapchat at events and activations is great – you connect with so many people and get them jazzed about brands and experiences. I’ve been doing street style videos for Bond No. 9 fragrances since 2011. I go on the streets of NYC to spray strangers with scents and get their reaction. It’s the most fun job in the world. It’s amazing to see how receptive strangers are to a man with a camera holding free samples. Even people who don’t want 15 minutes of fame feel compelled to stop. I’m very disarming and I don’t take no for an answer. I negotiate. If they say they have no time, I say I need less than a minute. It’s amazing what people will say yes to. Fragrance diehards who never want to be on camera stop because they want a free sample. Social media sets a standard for people not wanting to miss out on something, even if they don’t really want it. I never get bored doing social. Even if it’s managing customer complaints – I’ve seen it all in 10 years. The things people do to get free stuff and the things they say for a refund by threatening a lawsuit is never-ending. Coworkers and I screenshot our faves and text them back and forth with various emojis. There is fun to be found in the most mundane tasks. The irony that I work in the social media world and teach mindfulness is that on the brand side we’re fighting to be on people’s minds 24/7. On the mindful side I’m trying to get people to disconnect and a lot of the problems I’m solving for through self-help are related to pressures that amplify on social like politics, comparison and FOMO. As far as that goes, my career is well-diversified.

You’ve spoken about your career in New York as feeling like you were always checking things off lists and always late, which was causing anxiety. Is that when you started to explore mindfulness?

My journey into all of this started in 2003 when I got sober. My life was not in a good place and I was over-indulging in drugs and alcohol and I felt awful. Most of my confidence came from alcohol, and underneath that was shame and self-destructive patterns. I felt my life was meant to be bigger than that, but I felt trapped. It wasn’t easy, but I found my way to therapy and eventually sober recovery and life slowly got better. Better became great. But something was missing. I would be happy one day and the next I was cranky, resentful, fearful and ungrateful. Feeling good didn’t feel sustainable. In 2010 after I got laid off from a big corporate job and was having lots of problems in my relationship, my complaining was constant. My friend was like, you need to get out of this. He told me about Louise Hay, which led to Marianne Williamson to Dr. Wayne W. Dyer to Gabby Bernstein. I found the solutions I was seeking in the form of self-help. I learned tools for coping with anxiety and stress, exercises to let go of the past, practices to stay present and not project future failures. I learned tools to shift my energy, clear my energy, raise my energy and tap into feeling good. The access to feeling good felt limitless as long as I was willing. I blogged about it in a very real and transparent way on I became passionate about self-help because it saved me. Each state of unhappiness or drama in my life has led me to solutions that help me. I call it grace. And today, I just share what has helped me with others because no one has time to feel like shit.

What tools did you learn that you were able to implement in your life?

Short and long meditations. Emotional freedom technique. Breathing. Journaling. Movement. Affirmations.

What led you to Minnesota?

My husband and I moved to the Twin Cities four and a half years ago when he got a job here. Relocating to a new city for his work meant that I was uprooting my career, social life and network that took me 15 years to build in New York. I fought it for about a month and a half and then I came here to check it out. I fell in love with how beautiful it is here, how kind the people are and how clean it is here. My fantasy of what New York was faded when I saw Minnesota. I weighed pros and cons and had this intuition that maybe there was something waiting for me in Minnesota, too. Like I wasn’t just moving here for my husband’s job. I made the decision to dive in head first to Minneapolis. I decided I was going to participate in my marriage as a loving and supportive husband and leave New York so that we could build a life together. I made the right decision on many levels. One, my husband and I are more in love now than ever. A slower pace of life and more space (we have a small house vs. one-bedroom apartment) has fed our souls as a couple. I found my way into speaking and teaching. I found myself here. I am meant to be here, for now. I love it here and I am happy and feel at home here.

You started blogging about your wellness journey nine years ago. Did you find the act of writing cathartic? has been a place where I’ve learned about who I am. Every time I sit down to write, even responses to this, I learn new things about myself. The more I write, the more I understand myself in relation to this world. This is huge because before I got sober, I didn’t think I mattered. If I can write something deeply personal and not feel ashamed, embarrassed or sad about it – that means I’m healing and proud of who I am. Julia Cameron has a beautiful book, The Artist’s Way, and she says we should journal every morning when we first wake up to get thoughts out of our mind and onto paper. Not only is it a release, it’s a channel to learning about ourselves, our creativity, or who we are. It’s a download as much as a purge. For this reason, some people journal. I blog and I don’t hold back. There are a few deeply personal things I am not comfortable sharing. But I know if I do, it means I’ve accepted it and I can use that experience to reach someone else. When I share my truth, whether it be about addiction, getting fired from a job or being bullied for being gay, it always seems to reach someone. I get messages from people that say my truth helps them tell theirs. I don’t know why I share so openly, and some might roll their eyes, but I’m called for this. My words impact me and they reach others. Writing is a deeply beautiful part of my life and it’s how I feel connected to myself.

When did you decide to make mindfulness your life’s work?

In 2015, when I moved to Minnesota. The lifestyle here allowed me more free time, so I dove into my bathtub and kept meditating. My energy shifted and I was open to what the universe had in store for me. Very organically I started getting asked to give motivational speeches on self-care, stress and anxiety. People wanted to tap into the knowledge I have, which is really just years of practicing tools. This led to me designing workshops and small-group coaching sessions to empower individuals and businesses to grow and prosper through self-reflective work. I break down meditation and mindfulness tools into easily approachable ways for people to try them out. I remove barriers to entry like “I don’t have time” or “it’s hard.” Most tools take 30 seconds to three minutes to tap into feeling good. My purpose is to help people clean up parts of their lives that keep them from feeling good. It’s good to feel good and we all deserve that.

You now have a thriving practice conducting workshops and giving presentations and much else. What is most gratifying to you about this work?

Each workshop or lecture is based on presenting information, sharing my experience and teaching lessons and taking questions and finding tools to apply to them. It’s never the same and I can’t predict outcomes. It’s different every time. So basically, I just keep working on myself, practicing tools and applying them to situations as they come up in my life to broaden my experience. It works every time but never the same. It’s so much fun and it doesn’t feel like work, yet it’s extremely important and meaningful work. I watch people have breakthroughs or admit things that they are struggling with that they’ve never told anyone. But they admit it in a room of 20 people or 150 people. What is most gratifying is I help cultivate a safe space, help people feel accepted, which allows them to open up. Then I can share my experience with a tool or give an example. I get to help people just by showing up, being honest and being open. My life and experience with self-help tools is my manuscript for helping others. I’ve never been in a workshop where at least one person didn’t have some sort of “ah-ha” moment. All I do is show up and be me. No one asks for anything more. That’s pretty cool.

You have made it your goal to distill big mindfulness concepts into easily accessible tips. Do you find that people find mindfulness intimidating?

One hundred percent. But more, I think people who don’t understand what it is are sick of hearing about it. Like kale. My dad and I were at a restaurant this summer and he ordered a garden salad at a restaurant he always goes to. They started making it with kale rather than romaine. He was pissed and went on to the server about how he hated kale before he took the first bite. I was like, “Just try the damn salad.” He ate the salad and loved it. When the salad was different from what he expected, he was convinced he would not like it. He tried it and he changed his mind about kale. Same with mindfulness: Non-believers are rebelling against it even more, writing about how it’s total bullshit. People are saying it’s making us have less urgency to finish things because we are becoming too mindful and less committed to a deadline. As someone who practices mindfulness and meditation, I believe both camps. There are times when mindfulness has backfired. When I worked from home a lot, I would take a bath and meditate in the morning and feel so relaxed that I took way too much time getting ready. I would call it self-care, but it was cutting into my productivity. It would be 11 a.m. and I hadn’t done much work. I was too relaxed. I realized I had to find my ow pace within mindfulness. I had to adapt based on what my day looks like. I only take a bath in the morning now if I’m going to an office or out in the field because I don’t have endless time to do it. If I’m hanging at home and need to be in front of my computer, I don’t take that bath and I’ll do a quick meditation for less than five minutes. I believe that there is such a thing as too much self-care. At times it was a procrastination and avoidance tactic. This is why I learned and pretty much only teach tools that take less than five minutes. I remove the barriers to entry like time or situation. If you don’t have time to close your eyes and meditate – awesome, meditate with eyes open while driving, meditate while walking your dog or pushing the stroller. We can quiet our mind in the midst of something else. It might not be ideal, but something is better than nothing. A little bit of attention to some mindfulness can produce radical results.

You use social media deftly to spread your message and your brand. What is your philosophy to using social to promote wellness?

I don’t even think of my social media as promoting wellness, as much as I consider it promoting living life to the best I can in any given day. My number one goal on social is to connect with people. My number two goal is to have fun creating content that means something to me. The by-product is that it might mean something to you, too. Everything I post is deliberate, whether it’s taking pictures staging me in a cool outfit or walking my dog. For example, I might have a pic of my dog and we might be looking adorable, but the caption has a serious message in it. Maybe it’s about how my dog helps me to see the world more because I walk him daily and wouldn’t be venturing out without him. Or how I used to have a fear of dogs but I met a dog that changed my mind about all dogs and now I love animals, which led me to getting the dog we have now. I post things that have meaning for me, and when you post about things you care about, you will attract people who care, too.

What is one thing all executives can do to manage stress?

That’s a big question with a simple answer. Become aware of your stressors and the toll it’s taking. For example, there’s a new stressor for me now that I’m over 40. If I spend too much time in front of a computer or iPhone in a day, I get a bad headache and I feel like I have tunnel vision. Then my body starts to feel stiff. I call it technology poison. If I spend too much time on tech in a day, I feel bad. I’m practicing becoming more aware of that fact. If I feel a headache coming on I start thinking, “Can what I’m working on wait?” There are times I say, “I’m going to let this be enough right now and I’m going to stop.” Or if I’m reading or scrolling Instagram, the answer is always, put it down and walk away. When we begin to have awareness of things that are causing stress or making us not feel good, that’s when things change. Even if you don’t know how to change something or manage it, if you get curious about it and become aware of the symptoms, the solutions find their way to you. So, to manage stress, become aware of what’s stressing you and how it’s affecting you. Awareness is key.