Deborah Szekely Interview with GSN Executive Director, Paul Schmidt
As the Green Spa Network’s message for “vital people, vital planet” has been gathering steam this year, I took a moment to sit down with Deborah Szekely to reflect on both of our organizations’ humble beginnings and take stock of what’s ahead. What we discovered is that you can’t have a healthy planet without healthy people and you can’t have healthy people without a healthy planet.
GSN: In 2002 at the ISPA Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas, you challenged the spa industry to “Green itself”. Can you remind us of what moved you to make that plea then?
DS: There is so much potential. That was true then and it is still true today. I feel it would take an ocean of words to describe what lies in those two words “Green itself”—but let me try by approaching from a few different angles. People go to spas to seek health and renewal. They look up to those who work there. They expect them to have the answers, and see them as mentors and role models. Since we in the spa industry are listened to, who better than we to spread the word that nature needs saviors? She is exhausted. She needs us. Think about how we bring nature into our business; the sounds, the scents, the natural woods. All to make people feel connected with nature; to think green; to restore the spirit as well as the body. And we who work in spas are special. We are drawn to this calling, where massage, fitness, yoga, hiking…all bring vitality forth. We are givers and healers of people. Therefore I see us as called to heal the Earth. I guess it’s that simple really. We are healers, not despoilers.
GSN: What is your view on sustainability now?
DS: As spa people, we teach simplicity and basic truths. Eternal truths. And nature is the eternal teacher. So when you come to environmental sustainability—two long words—it means that as we take, we give back. As stewards, we support and strengthen our natural resources. We always begin this cycle from a place of respect for how we’re all connected. I am so frustrated that many spa people don’t see themselves as healers. If we put the healing element first, a sustainable business model would just come naturally.
GSN: How does the pursuit of personal vitality relate to the imperative for attention to planetary vitality?
DS: As I have stated, it starts when we can fully embrace our role and responsibility as healers, teachers and mentors. In these roles it becomes natural to be conscious of how we lead our lives. It makes sense to embrace the principles of wellness in your own life. When you start there, your influence on your staff and your guests falls in line with these higher principles, and the true abundance of wellness or sustainability, or whatever you want to call it, is unlocked with everything now spiraling upward. And so, the Wellness Warrior project began, in theory, with one’s self. You know you can’t be a warrior unless you stand strong. You can’t talk about nature without being a friend. And you can’t have a healthy planet without healthy people and you can’t have healthy people without a healthy planet.
GSN: In what ways would you recommend that the spa industry shift its thinking to prepare for the future?
DS: Again, to embrace our role as healers and then engage at the community level. I think spas should become a player in their city or town. There are so many issues that are affecting the health of our nation. And it need not only be in the realm of personal health and personal care. Consider development and housing issues at the local level. These are issues of wellbeing and we as spas, as businesses that are concerned with the wellbeing of our cities, could stand up and make a fuss when it counts in a community. You can’t be apart and be a part. Can’t judge and sit back. We have to join in. People want to hear our voice, and when we speak we stand up for good things; for the right things. Wherever that takes us, who knows? For now, there are so many causes that we can join, so many problems we can help resolve. It is the best time to take action.
GSN: You have described Wellness Warrior as your “project for the next decade” when you started it in 2013. Can you tell us anything about what might be your next project?
DS: I don’t have a next project. I’m talking about my last decade of life itself. My plan is to rally enough support through the Wellness Warrior mission to bring all the beautiful things spas offer to the world. Not just the people who already go to spas, but everyone, because everyone deserves to be supported, to be educated, to be healed. Spas are a great place where that can happen every day. For me? I’ve been downsizing, which is a big job! I’ve sold my big house and moved 5 minutes away to one that’s half the size. It’s hard work getting rid of 50 percent of the things you own. You have lots of decisions to make. I’ve lightened my footprint. I only need help in my gardens and home one day a week now. I’m not taking up what I now see as excess land or excess resources. I try to only use just what I need. This has given me extra $$ for travel which I like to do. So along the way I’m having FUN! I’ve never been 93 before and I’m grateful to live a very nice life. Every day is a new adventure.