Female Disruptors: Kristen Harness of GoodHeart Collaborative On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Feel fear but do it anyways. I don’t know exactly who said this but it’s always been on the front of my mind. Fear is always there for me, but I have learned to push past it and move forward anyway.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristen Harness.
Kristen Harness is a Former Nonprofit Founder and the Founder/CEO of GoodHeart Collaborative, LLC a Wellness-Tech Company passionate about disrupting the burnout cycle in helping professions through providing evidence-based supportive services and community for women. As a survivor of sexual assault and exploitation, Kristen is also passionate about advocating for other survivors and sharing her story of hope and healing. She started GoodHeart Collaborative because during her time at the nonprofit, she experienced severe times of burnout, compassion fatigue, sickness, and vicarious trauma. She learned the hard way that her own wellness and self-care were essential for being able to provide quality and ethical care to others and developed a mobile app called GoodHeart, a Social Professional Growth and Wellness app exclusively for women who work in Helping Profession. She teamed up with Professional Mentors in these fields, in order to provide resources within the app, to help boost wellness and build resilience.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I am a former Nonprofit Founder of a residential mental health safe home program for girls recovered out of sex trafficking ages 11–17. I have been passionate about raising awareness about human trafficking and supporting survivors for almost 17 years. It was a dream of mine to open a safe home and something that I was very passionate about due to my own experiences of sexual assault and exploitation. After beginning my healing journey, my heart began to have a deep compassion for other girls who had experienced sexual violence. I really wanted to show these girls that they weren’t defined by what happened to them, it wasn’t their fault, and there was hope for their healing.
I took a trip to Pattaya, Thailand in 2004 and was exposed for the first time to human trafficking. It changed me and from then on, I was doing what I could to help. In 2013, I officially started the nonprofit. I spent 7 years there and experienced the most wonderful times and met the bravest survivors. I also went through a lot of dark times while working there. It’s a very high stress environment to start from scratch and operate a 24/7/365 safe home for girls who have gone through so much trauma. The endless fundraising, regulations, expectations, and stigma around this topic just caused a lot of stress and anxiety in my life. I am naturally an Empath as well, so I internalize everything. I also felt a strong burden to give these girls what they needed and to help in every way we could. When we couldn’t help, it devastated me. I worked myself sick. I was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, PTSD, and adrenal fatigue. After months of research and going to a therapist, I realized I was experiencing severe burnout, compassion fatigue, and suffering from vicarious trauma. I found out, again through research, that many people, especially women, in these helping professions also experience these occupational hazards and there was just a lack of information and support around them. That’s what eventually brought me to starting GoodHeart Collaborative in July 2019.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
You know the things I mentioned above are not new problems. Sex trafficking is not new. Child sexual abuse is not new. Burnout and compassion fatigue in helping fields is not new. These topics have been taking lives and ruining careers for many years, yet why don’t we talk about them more? The answer is, there is too much of a stigma around it. People don’t want to talk about sex trafficking or child sexual abuse because it’s too hard of a pill to swallow and/or it may be that they’re actively engaging in these crimes themselves. We don’t talk about the mental, emotional, physical, and psychological consequences of working in high stress trauma-exposed environments because people in those fields are the ones who we go to for help, not the ones who need help themselves. Some in society believe that doctors, ministers, therapists, nonprofit leaders, attorneys, social workers, or first responders can’t be trusted if they’re going through their own problems or challenges. So, they keep it quiet, suffer alone, and hold it all in until they can’t anymore. Some hold it all in until they take their own lives because the pressure is too much.
My goal with GoodHeart Collaborative is to disrupt the burnout and compassion fatigue cycle through awareness, learning, knowledge, and access to resilience building resources. To show that there is another path to walk on. To say, You are not alone in this.
These are issues that are present every day and are negatively impacting people’s health, mental wellbeing, careers, and lives. We can no longer just sit around and pretend like these things aren’t happening. Awareness is a good start but without action systemically, organizationally, and individually, we will not see any change. That is what I want to do. I want to start with the individual and then step up to work with organizations, so they can be better equipped to meet the wellbeing needs of their employees. I developed and launched the GoodHeart App because it’s the most efficient way to reach as many of these women as possible.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started the nonprofit, I was pretty clueless about what I was doing. I learned quickly but most of that learning came through mistakes, embarrassment, and dreadful moments of looking stupid! In the very beginning I was presenting to a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, case managers, lawyers, etc and as I was walking up to start, I tripped over my own shoe and almost fell. Then I actually had the wrong slides for the presentation they wanted me to give, so that threw off my whole presentation and I pretty much just stumbled along pretending I knew what I was talking about. They asked a lot of questions I didn’t know the answers to because I wasn’t familiar at the time with how social services worked. Needless to say, my best moments of training came from hard questions that I didn’t know how to answer. After a couple of years, I was pretty well-versed on the intricacies of working in that particular field, but it took a lot of embarrassing moments to get there!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I am constantly looking for inspiration from other female entrepreneurs. I spend a lot of time reading stories, articles, and posts about women who I aspire to be like in business. One of my IRL mentors is actually not female though. His name is Bryan Herde. He started out as a consultant during my time at the nonprofit and has continued to be my friend and advisor for many years now. He is a spiritual guide and mentor for me. I had many outrageous emotional-roller-coaster moments starting and developing the nonprofit, and Bryan was always a steady sounding board for me. He helped me learn to trust the process and trust God, to deescalate, and how to better manage my emotions. To me, this was more important than any business idea I could learn because the entrepreneurial journey is so challenging with all of its ups and downs, that it’s critical to have the ability to manage those emotions and move forward with the vision and mission of the organization. Bryan really helped me with this.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
This is a tough question for me because for so many years I have worked in or been a part of institutions or industries that absolutely need to be disrupted, overhauled or at the very least, improved. I was sexually exploited in a church by a pastor’s son with leadership in that church aware of it and yet let it continue on for years. I worked in the nonprofit sector that has many antiquated practices, that it’s no wonder people get burned out in nonprofits. I worked in and with social services, the juvenile justice system, and the foster care system and witnessed with my own eyes, the injustices and bad decisions that are made on a daily basis for our children and other vulnerable populations. I have heard story after story about men and women making themselves sick and committing suicide because of the pressure and high stress of their job in a helping field.
To me, ALL of these need a disruption. We need to stop some of these practices in their place and find a better way. This is WAY easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Just like tackling the issue of sex trafficking, you have to look at how you can stop it in the life of 1. If you focus on the problem at large, you will become too overwhelmed and disheartened and then won’t do anything at all. I believe there is always room for improvement, no matter how well something is running in its current state.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Jeff Bezos said, “We are stubborn on vision, flexible on details.” That one always stuck with me because sometimes we can get too bogged down on the details not going as planned, that we never get to see the vision come to life.
- Feel fear but do it anyways. I don’t know exactly who said this but it’s always been on the front of my mind. Fear is always there for me, but I have learned to push past it and move forward anyway.
- Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face always. 1 Chronicles 16:11 — For me, I find my strength for all of this only in God. The battles I am trying to fight are not for the faint of heart. I need to know that He is with me through it all.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I just started. I don’t know what “done” means for me but as of right now, I am excited for the future of GoodHeart Collaborative. I have big dreams and visions for it. I want to reach 1,000,000 women with the GoodHeart App and set up business partnerships to offer this resource to their female employees. There is just too much work that needs to be done for me to stop yet.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think women who are disruptors tend to be more outspoken, more assertive, stubborn, and less submissive when it comes to “business as usual”, and so in turn, some may see them as being a “b!tch” or having a bad attitude, when really, we are just tired of seeing the status quo over and over again, and we know that we can make a difference. Women are so influential and effective, and yet full of compassion and empathy. This to me is an extremely powerful combination for change.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I really enjoy listening to the podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz. I am fascinated with the start-up stories and journeys of companies and entrepreneurs. We see the “overnight” success or where they are now, but we often don’t take the time to learn about the beginning days, the struggles, the less-than-successful attempts at launching their idea or product. I find it inspirational and it gives me hope to know that even these successful companies had their struggles and challenges, and yet they were able to overcome. I find optimism in that.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Well, I hope I am doing that already! This is my movement. I am multi-passionate and unashamed of that! I want to simultaneously keep raising awareness about sex trafficking and sexual abuse of children, while also shining a light on compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress in helping professions. My vision is that people would think twice about buying a child for sex, because let’s be real here, demand is what drives the sex trafficking industry. My second vision is to see women working in helping professions happy, healthy, satisfied, empowered, supported, and balanced by daily practicing restorative self-care habits, and consistently being aware and prepared to cope with and manage the common occupational hazards of working around human suffering and trauma, so they can give the highest quality care to themselves and the people they serve.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” Mother Teresa
This was and is my favorite quote because it shows the power of collaboration and how we all play a role. We are all a piece of the puzzle and when we work together, we can actually accomplish something beautiful.
How can our readers follow you online?
Download the GoodHeart App on the Apple Store or Google Play.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!