Updated: Feb 6, 2021
Enter Kelli Youngman (she/her), one of brightest souls you’ll ever meet.
A Broadway performer who found herself back at her NYC apartment during the pandemic, Kelli has channeled her energy into creating LIGHT – a community where she coaches members toward healthy mindsets and wellness that “goes much deeper than an occasional self care moment” (Youngman). We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Kelli about her LIGHT community and her own mental health journey. We think her words will inspire you to thrive, just as it inspired us.
1. From your experiences, how much mental health awareness is there within the performance industry? What is being done well and what can still be improved?
I think that there is an awareness but I don’t think that people always prioritize their needs. So in terms of what’s going well, I think that in general people are starting to understand that mental health is an important factor in their careers. However, I do think that - especially now, with everyone’s insurance kind of being up in the air because of work weeks - all of that ends up affecting the access. And I do think that there are some resources, like The Actor’s Fund, that really make dancers’ and performers’ needs a priority. But, again, I do think that there could be a little more support. I guess it comes down to really just normalizing it.
The people in my circle are very pro-therapy, and very much willing to invest in their mental health, which is I think a good change that’s happening right now. But again, I think just making it more of a norm, and making it part of how we maintain our wellbeing - especially when you’re in a long running show, trying to find that balance of doing the same thing day in and day out, staying inspired and staying happy.
2. The LIGHT community you're creating is amazing. As a mindset coach, what are some of the most important adjustments you've made to your own mindsets over time to feel more well and worthy?
I think that the biggest thing is just practicing and reminding myself that we already are perfect and worthy and whole. I think especially when it comes to performers we have this idea of perfection and we’re constantly striving towards something which, I think, makes dancers and performers extremely resilient, the way that they’re constantly seeking that growth. But it’s also about widening that perspective to see that where you are is already valuable and what you are already contributing is the most perfect thing - because being human is already a gift. The biggest thing has just been realizing that mental health takes practice, and mindset work takes practice. And, yeah, there’s going to be days that don’t feel great and that’s okay, but reminding yourself and being gentle when you are in that position, then being able to step back and say ‘okay, my emotions are what I’m feeling about this current situation are my emotions, and that does not define me. I am still who I am regardless of the outside circumstances.’ And once you start separating those two and learning more about how to deal with your emotions, it just changes how you approach everything. Because it’s not about you - it’s about the external circumstances and how you choose to interact with them.
3. Can you tell us about a person who was important to you on your mental health journey?
The biggest support I have in my life is my partner, Steve. We live in New York, we live in a studio and we’re around each other all the time, and he’s really 100% been there throughout my journey. Before I really “made it” as a performer, when I was in my audition phase… [Steve has] just always been really supportive of taking care of myself, and giving me that additional support. Encouraging me to go to therapy when I really needed it, and just allowing me to be completely messy one day and completely inspired and joyful the next. And realizing that all of those pieces of me are still part of who I am - even though they are not exactly my inner core being, they are parts of me.
4. If you’re comfortable with sharing, could you tell us about a time when you reached out for mental health help -- whether to a friend, family member, professional, or community? What motivated you to reach out? What made it hard to reach out, and how did you overcome that challenge?
I’m also adopted. So, I remember when I was in High School I had asked my mom if I could go to therapy - I kind of just wanted to talk about certain things that were going on in my life and how I was finding my own identity as a teenager. So, that was my first experience with therapy. However, as a minor, I just don’t think I was ready to take on that journey; I didn’t know how to do it. I feel like I had a couple sessions and then I kind of stopped going. However, when I was in college one of my brothers was going through chemotherapy, and he was diagnosed with cancer. He ended up passing away when I was a sophomore in college, and that’s when I really started seeking out my own mental health resources. So, I went to Fordham University, and they have a mental health center there. Because of the situation, I was able to get free mental health resources there - and actually I feel like that was maybe just offered to students who needed it. I was really really fortunate that I had that support during that time. Because it was really challenging to be away from my family while my brother was going through all of that, and dealing with my survivor’s guilt… all of it was a lot. So, I know that the support that I received through therapy at that time was instrumental in just getting through that chapter. So, yeah, I feel like that was really the first time that I took that step to get help for myself.
5. As an artist, innovator, and creator, what new wellness resource or tool would you create for people if you had unlimited resources?
That’s a big question! I think I would, honestly, want sort of what I’m building with my LIGHT community but really make it accessible… make it something that becomes taught in schools. And I know that foundations and organizations are already working to do that, but I think it really starts from integrating the idea of mental health from a young age. Mindfulness and meditation and things like that are taught in schools worldwide, and I know people are already starting to do that work. But, again, just starting to give people the tools and the skills to learn how to deal with their emotions. Because, even myself, I’m still learning how to do it! It’s not something that I was taught as a kid, and then growing up you don’t have that skill set. I feel like that would be the biggest thing, and then just having a really large network to just focus on helping people feel good. On the other side of the struggle is all of this joy and purpose and clarity and alignment that really can come when you are feeling like your best self and when you give yourself the permission to find happiness. So, normalizing the emotional skills but then normalizing being happy.
6. What is a song, story, or video that can always make you feel better?
I feel like it really depends on the day - there’s not always only one thing. However, right now there’s this song Better Day that’s been my go-to jam over this whole pandemic. One of the main lyrics is “ain’t no better day for love” - and I feel like when I go on my walks and I just get outside and see the sky and the trees and listen to this song...the combination of those things usually really lifts me up. But I think also just remembering that even in the darkest times that there is light, that no matter what...I read this beautiful quote recently - You are the sky, and everything else is the weather. So I think just that sense of knowing that we are already connected to the divine universe and we are 100% source - made of that same star stuff - that always gets me really really inspired and relaxed.
7. On the LIGHT Community and Mindset Work
I am launching an online course called
The Performer’s Plan - and really it is promoting wellness for performers. Inside of the course I’m teaching mindset. I’m teaching how to claim your identity, find your value and your worthiness. I’ll be teaching a little bit about nutrition and how to support your physical body with movement. Also about budgeting - finding wellness with your money and money mindset. And focusing on how to put it all together! I think there are a lot of programs out there and they’re teaching us the skills and techniques, however, they’re not really giving us the resources to support ourselves. I think that once performers have access to this kind of information... people will be able to pursue their careers with passion instead of feeling like they don’t have the resources to commit to their calling. I think that performers are the best, most amazing people in the world for sharing their gifts. I want to keep inspiring performers to step forward into their light and to just live the life they really really want.
When it comes to mindset work, people automatically assume that it’s “just focus on the good, just be happy” - but there are steps and there are processes to get there. It’s also learning to be okay with the uncomfortable feelings, or to be okay with the negative emotions - but then how do you retrace those thoughts and find out what’s causing it so you can work on them and develop better thoughts that support you in a different way.
It’s been such a wild journey because truly - I was talking to someone and they said “Did you think you’d be doing this a year ago?” - and I said No, absolutely not! I’ve always been extremely passionate about self-improvement and growth and just really inquisitive about the energy that’s out there supporting us. It’s been a really natural unfolding of events that’s led me to be here and to be able to share this with people - I’m excited to see where it goes.
8. In response to grief/loss about lack of work due to the pandemic, specifically in performers.
I totally honor that people are feeling that and going through that - it is tough. However, I feel that the way that I’ve been able to navigate it is to remember that it’s not over. This is just a temporary moment in time - yes, there are moments where I’m really sad or missing theatre and wishing it was different - but at the same time I’ve mostly remained hopeful because at some point it will be back. This time, and I know that it’s a privilege to be able to say this, has really been a gift to me. I’ve gotten the ability to see my family or spend more time with my partner and just really get to know myself in a way that I never would have if I didn’t have this time. So, I, honestly, have just been in the space of gratitude even though everything on the outside looks crazy. I just can’t help thinking that this time has been a gift. I think the more people can focus on the fact that It’s not over, your career is not gone. This time, you can choose to use it however you want, and you can keep growing and everything that you gain during this time is only going to make you a better artist, a better human, and at the end of the day then you can keep showing up for whatever you want. I think the biggest shift is just remembering that it’s not over - and that even a year, two years in the span of a lifetime is so small. Just finding ways to implement and give yourself tools and strategies now so that when things start picking back up you have them and they’re already in place - and you can keep really thriving in the things that you want to be doing. Give yourself the space to feel what you’re feeling, but give yourself the ability to look forward, too.
Huge thanks to Kelli Youngman for sharing her invaluable wisdom and light with us. Follow her journey @kelliyoungmanwellness (IG), and get involved with her LIGHT community here (for some amazing free resources she's put together!), and here (to learn more about The Performer's Plan).