UPDATED: February 3, 2020
PUBLISHED: February 4, 2020

In 2011, Gabrielle Bernstein was taking New York City and the country by storm. Her chic version of spirituality and personal development was unheard of at the time, and twenty-somethings across Manhattan were eager to sign up. She garnered nicknames like “the Dalai Lama of the Gossip Girl set” and “the new Carrie Bradshaw.” She smiles fondly at those times.

Now, the 40-year old No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, motivational speaker and spiritual teacher could be considered a veteran of modern personal development. That is, the kind of personal growth that doesn’t feel out of the touch with the real world. It’s taught with guidance, not rules. It’s softer and more human. Bernstein was at the forefront of that change.

“When I first started in this industry, I was one of the few people talking about this stuff,” Bernstein says. “No one was gluten-free, no one was drinking green juice, people weren’t busting through the doors of their yoga studio. It’s beautiful to see wellness as such a trend now.”

Like so many in the genre, Bernstein’s success is built on her own story. Once a successful public relations consultant and club promoter, she found the party life in New York. Addiction, chaos and unhappiness resulted. Her rock bottom led her on a path to find happiness and contentment within.

“My own personal journey of spiritual growth and recovery has been the driving force of all the books I’ve written, all the talks I’ve given and all the work I’ve been doing for the past 15 years,” Bernstein says.

And that work has paid off. She published Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles in 2011, marking her entrance into mainstream popularity. She’s produced six more books, with the most recent one, Super Attractor: Methods for Manifesting a Life Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, out last November. She’s reached the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best-seller list. She’s made appearances on Oprah’s Soul Sunday and The Dr. Oz Show. She holds a Guinness World Record for the most-attended guided meditation, leading it alongside Deepak Chopra, whom she considers a dear friend and colleague. Amid her relatively quick rise to success, Bernstein maintains the same message.

“I’m here to help people crack open a spiritual connection of their own understanding,” she says.

She’s come at that goal in a hundred different ways, which has increased the reach of her message. Whether judgment, self-doubt or self-loathing, the goal of finding and developing that spiritual connection with ourselves, with a higher power, is at the core of her business.

“I don’t think about my work as part of an industry,” Bernstein says. “My work is to wake up more people into feeling comfortable talking about this stuff.”

Indeed, for many people, reading something like “crack open a spiritual connection” might sound intimidating. It might result in a nervous chuckle. They might expect a feel-good speech that rings just a little too close to new-age religion for their comfort.

To those, Bernstein doesn’t have much to say. She isn’t thinking about the detractors or haters, or even those agnostic to her message.

“I trust that whoever is coming to this type of work is someone who needs it,” Bernstein says.

For all the soft language, there are real and tangible principles behind Bernstein’s business. She leads seminars that help attendees work through buried childhood trauma in ways they couldn’t before. Her calming nature is one that allows fans to feel comfortable and open to share deeply painful memories and feelings they otherwise couldn’t.

She’s seen the trends throughout the wellness industry and she’s excited for the growth that comes with social media. She feels that her calling is to be a source of inspiration and love in the world. Social media helps expedite that calling. But with that tremendous growth comes the inevitable bad players out to make a quick buck.

“Our truth is what heals,” she says. “Our truth is a transmission, an opportunity [for people] to see themselves in us. It creates a connection. If you’re not doing this work from a place of service first, that’s the threat.”

Modern personal development brings other concerns. Self-care is equated with a new meditation app or a trendy book. It can be used as an escape from the true, deep work of identifying our core issues, and working through them.

“I wish [my audience] paid more attention to their feelings,” Bernstein says. “A lot of people out there are doing meditation or manifesting or trying to attract things into their life or are reading the books, but they’re not really nurturing the feelings that may be the underlying root cause that blocks them from whatever it is that they desire in their lives. It’s the bravery and the willingness to feel into the places that scare us that allow us to step into the light of who we are.” 

Meet the other New Thought Leaders:

The New Thought Leaders
Tom Bilyeu

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Illustration by Hanane Kai

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Jonny Auping is a freelance writer based in Dallas.

Scott Bedgood is a freelance writer and the author of Lessons from Legends: 12 Hall of Fame Coaches on Leadership, Life, and Leaving a Legacy. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife Sami.

Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.