Kris Carr is changing the way people use their energy in business and in life. As a recognized wellness entrepreneur and cancer thriver, she teaches entrepreneurs what a strong sense of self and growth mindset can do to push their health and wealth forward.
I first met Carr 10 years ago at a Hay House writing workshop in New York City. Exactly a decade later, I find myself at her stunning country home in Connecticut interviewing her for this cover story. Call it kismet, but there’s something to be said about pivotal experiential connections in work and in life over time.
At that writing workshop years ago, aspiring authors from around the world gathered to hear what secret sauce would inevitably turn their unpublished manuscripts into bread and butter. Carr, a speaker at the event, talked candidly about the reality of becoming a New York Times bestselling author and how to turn tough topics or personal experiences into a book or business. Her stories—and the way she told them—resonated with the room. This, of course, was well before social media or digital marketing was a revenue generator for entrepreneurs. Her tips and strategies have passed the test of time and influenced a generation of content creators, philanthropists, activists and entrepreneurs—so much so that she caught Oprah Winfrey’s eye.
Carr’s sense of humor is incredibly contagious, and she embodies an eloquent, calm demeanor that instantly reels you in. Pulling from her own experiences, Carr coaches people how to navigate difficult emotions and conversations—both of which have to coexist for success.
As a wellness entrepreneur, award-winning author and speaker, Carr inspires people to take action by increasing their self-awareness and self-esteem and utilizing their skills and passions to live fully. She is an expert in the personal development arena—an industry “poised to grow from [$]44.11 billion in 2022 to [$]71.42 billion by 2030,” according to a 2022 SkyQuest report.
Kris Carr on sharing her story
Carr has been living with stage 4 sarcoma, a rare vascular cancer in the cells that line the inside of blood vessels, for 20 years.
“I remember the moment I was diagnosed with cancer because it was such a huge rupture in my life. But, in many ways, it was also the catalyst that allowed me to start living like I mean it,” Carr says. “For instance, I wasn’t happy in my career or in certain relationships. I knew nothing about my body and how to take care of it. And I was often very cruel to myself emotionally. At the end of the day, my health crisis inspired me to figure out what truly healing actually meant.”
“Rupture,” she says, comes in all shapes and sizes: a divorce, losing your job, a diagnosis. Life happens no matter who you are or what you do—none of us are immune to these things, but we can learn from these experiences and create a path to what she calls “fully alive living.” Carr has navigated both—rupture and forging a new path—all while helping millions of people along the way.
While some people look for a sign or message to change their life’s trajectory, Carr’s life changed with her diagnosis. She knew she had no other choice than to take care of herself on a deeper level. Little did she know that her health crisis would become the inspiration for a successful wellness brand that would help patients and people interested in disease prevention from across the globe. She also didn’t know it would inspire entrepreneurs of all ages to tell their own stories, health-related or not, and embrace their unique skills to start businesses worldwide.
Call the shots
“It all started with learning how to navigate the medical system and deciding to become the CEO of my own life,” she says. “The first doctor I met with suggested a triple-organ transplant and the next doctor gave me 10 years to live with no treatment options. If I had listened to them, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Carr realized she would have to create a plan to help herself heal and build a strong team, similar to the way she had built businesses. She began researching the best lifestyle practices for longevity and interviewing more medical professionals to understand how they were going to work together. The ultimate goal was to find somebody who not only knew the most about her very rare disease (according to Brittany Siontis, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, “sarcomas comprise less than 1% of new cancers diagnosed every year” in adults) but would also treat her like a human being.
After a lot of research, Carr found her “second-in-command” at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who suggested she do nothing—just live her life.
“My doctor educated me about my type of cancer,” Carr says. “I learned that it could either be slow-moving or aggressive. It could also start one way and suddenly change. We wouldn’t know until we got a baseline. ‘You’re a total black box,’ he said. ‘So, we’re just going to watch and wait; let cancer make the first move. In the meantime, I want to encourage you to watch and live.’ And I was like, ‘What the heck does that mean?’”
Creativity at the core
Prior to her diagnosis, Carr was an actress who worked in film, TV and theater. She remembers having to stay thin for her job since she was on camera all the time.
“It didn’t matter what you ate or how you felt, as long as you were thin and looked good,” she says. “It was a radically unhealthy way for someone to pursue their passion in life.”
Leaning on her creativity was the only way she knew how to survive on a personal level. So, she started documenting her journey through journaling and filming. Carr’s documentary-style videos highlight all the ups and downs of her journey. “Creativity is part of how I get to know and understand myself,” she says. “It’s helped me overcome some of my biggest obstacles. It’s always been there for me; it’s always been my guide, my inner voice, and so I just turned on the camera and started writing. At the time, there were no outlets for people like me—young women living with cancer. I couldn’t find the resources I needed, so I created them.”
In her commentary, she expressed thoughts and qualities that businesspeople are often hesitant to reveal. Maybe that’s why audiences find her so relatable. She has an authentic approach to what it means to thrive and share personal stories, and she has empowered millions of people to take care of themselves. All of this together has made her who she is today.
“I coach a lot of aspiring authors and entrepreneurs who are afraid to just be themselves and go after what they want. Coming from the creative world, I knew I had to put myself out there in a way that was authentic to me—and I encourage others to do the same,” Carr says. “Sure, it can be scary. But after my diagnosis, I figured I had nothing to lose. In truth, none of us do. No one will give you permission to live your best life. You just have to go for it.”
One of the areas she started to focus on was helping others create a path to healthy living, like she had to do.
“None of us come with an owner’s manual. If I didn’t know how to become an empowered participant in my health, then there were bound to be a ton of people in the same boat. I wanted to change that,” Carr explains. “My personal wellness journey became the basis for what is now my coaching practice. Instead of shutting down or going into fight-or-flight mode, I decided to fight and help other people who were also up against the ropes like me.”
Defending your cause
Carr quickly learned how to create a way of life that supports longevity—whether you have an illness or not. That’s when her story began to percolate with the masses. She did it for herself first and foremost as a creative outlet. The most important thing was for her to share the information.
“I wrote my first book, sold my first film, Crazy Sexy Cancer, and found myself on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was surreal. The day my Oprah episode aired, my website crashed because my little Blogspot at the time couldn’t handle the traffic. I looked at my husband, who was sitting on the couch beside me, and we both said, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do,’” she says.
It took four years for Carr to make her film. She was the director, and her husband, Brian Fassett, was the editor. “No one believed it would go anywhere,” she says. “We were told that it wasn’t going to work, and we couldn’t call it that [Crazy Sexy Cancer], but I kept whipping out my credit card and saying, ‘Well, I’m going to make this thing because I believe in it, and I don’t care if I’m the only one who watches it.” Her feature-length documentary was picked up by Discovery Channel and eventually OWN Network.
“We submitted our trailer to a film industry night where there were over 200 other films trying to get representation. Only a handful were chosen, and ours was one of them,” Carr says. “I remember carrying around my DVD showing everyone who would watch my seven-minute trailer and knocking on doors. I wasn’t afraid to take a risk and learn from the rejection.”
Passion to purpose
Her hustle has paid off.
Although stage 4 cancer still inhabits her body today, Carr continues to be a light for people with and without the same prognosis. Not only has she turned her illness into a catalyst for change, but she has also built a prominent wellness business boasting a popular line of books, courses, meditations, recipes and coaching opportunities that help people live longer all over the world.
“The truth is that life is a big, scary place sometimes, and so to me, it’s important to develop a deep connection with yourself,” Carr says. “When I got sick, I realized that if there’s one relationship I’ve got to build, it’s the relationship with me so that I can learn how to trust my intuition. I can make the strongest decisions for my well-being. I can recognize when I don’t know the answer and reach out to people who do. I can be willing to take risks and start living my life for me. And no matter what, I can always have my own back.”
Take a risk and keep an open mind
Ultimately, Carr proved that by taking a risk and putting herself out there, she could capture an audience worth capturing.
She has also been recognized by her peers for being a force in the wellness space. Marie Forleo, who is known for her no-holds-barred approach to business mentoring and helping over 80,000 entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, is one of Carr’s biggest supporters.
“When I first met Kris Carr, we instantly became best friends,” Forleo says. “It was like meeting someone that I had known for a long time. She was this incredible wellness warrior, New York Times bestselling author who changed my life with her guidance on healthy living. I remember hanging out with her, and she’s like, ‘Marie, I’m going to make you this beautiful green juice, and here’s these great vitamins,’ and from that point forward, I was on a path to wellness that I never imagined before.”
Carr entered Forleo’s life at a time when Forleo needed a new perspective on eating and living clean. “She’s made a huge imprint on my life ever since. I’m a firm believer that, in order to become successful, you should seek out a diversity of perspectives—and, if you want to become masterful at something, you learn from everyone,” Forleo adds.
“After all, everyone has a story and Kris’ story is one that has helped a lot of people come out of their shells and live the life they deserve. It’s all about connecting and remaining open to new ideas and strategies. At the end of the day, we’re all entrepreneurs, and we’re doing what we love to do. But at the same time, it’s about keeping these connections alive, because that’s how we thrive,” she says.
The importance of a growth mindset
When building a business, a growth mindset and the ability to make decisions under pressure are pertinent. However, you’ve got to be able to accept the good and the bad.
“To be successful, you have to be open to change,” Carr says. “A strong sense of self and a growth mindset can help you become comfortable with a certain amount of risk and a certain amount of uncertainty knowing that you’re always experimenting your way forward. And so, you have to be willing to understand that when things don’t work out quite as you planned, that’s feedback, not failure.”
Carr says you have to be willing to continuously up your skills, do the inner work and ask yourself, “‘Where are there gaps in my business? In my life? In my vision for my future?’ You don’t have to know everything, but you have to be willing to look at the bigger picture and stay focused on the things that really move the needle. Whether you’re starting a business, a new relationship or making any type of major life change, it’s important to immerse yourself in conversations with other people who are going through the same kind of thing. So, if you don’t have a lot of entrepreneur friends or if no one in your peer group is doing this, be willing to put yourself out there and find like-minded people, because we need each other. Don’t think of people as your competition; think of ways you can collaborate together.”
Collaborate with like-minded people
Carr, who is passionate about helping people, wants to see people succeed, reach their goals and wager the transformation side. “It doesn’t matter whether you have a service-based business or a product-based business, it’s all about relationships—and that’s where profitability and impact lives,” she says.
After all, success is interconnected. “Another thing that’s important, especially for younger entrepreneurs, is to understand that it’s so easy to get caught up in hustle culture—to push harder and be hyper-driven. I think when we’re not self-aware, it’s easy to lose sight of how we want to show up for ourselves and our businesses. We say yes to everything instead of the right things,” Carr explains. “There’s also a really good chance that we are going to burn ourselves out. You have to think about how you can fill your energy tank as opposed to constantly bleeding it. Believe it or not, self-awareness will help you. It’s the difference between people who have longevity in business and staying in power decades later.”
Writing her own story
Carr just released her seventh book, I’m Not a Mourning Person, which is a snapshot of her journey leading up to her dad’s passing. “It’s about grief, loss and picking up the pieces when life falls apart—something we all can relate to in our lives at some point or another,” she says. This book took her three years to write and 17 drafts. “Honestly, it’s about experiencing the ‘rupture’ at the time and learning how to embrace the experience and move through it,” Carr says. It’s also evidence of how she recognizes that she, too, needs to do the work herself. “It’s a commitment,” she continues.
Carr is very excited to get back to helping people share their stories. She hosts Thrive Mastermind, a 12-month experience for women in the wellness industry to help grow their business and broaden their impact. Through one of her initiatives, she is working with thought leaders and women running wellness businesses to help them get the support they need to scale. “There was a period of time when I was writing a book every other year and constantly on the road. While I loved growing quickly, I wasn’t scaling my revenue because I could only trade my actual time for money,” she explains. “That’s when I decided to build my online education platform, where I could help serve thousands of people every day, right from my home.
Every story is unique
“And while it’s easy and normal to doubt yourself, don’t talk yourself out of your ideas. So what if other people have done it before? No one has done it like you,” she says. “Whether you know it or not, something you say in only the way you can say it, can change someone’s life in an instant. That’s magic. Bring that to your mission, your message and your marketing.”
Her biggest advice to people who want to start their businesses or follow in her footsteps, or somebody else’s footsteps that they resonate with, is to let your story be the catalyst for your teaching—and to realize that it doesn’t have to be a polished story.
“I was coaching one of my Mastermind members, and we were talking about a book she wanted to write and while she had all the credentials in the world, her pitch was falling flat. So, I was like, this is really interesting, but what made you choose this path? Where’s your story? I want to get to know the real, authentic you. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve and why are you the one to solve it?’ That’s why people will listen,” Carr explains.
Energy is key
At the end of the day, Carr is not backing down now—this is just beginning. She’s curious about everything, always open to try new things and not afraid to laugh at herself. She’s all the things that a successful businessperson needs to be—especially as the world is changing and the business world fluctuates.
She inspires others to embrace a growth mindset and take big leaps into their next chapter; all you have to do is come with the right attitude. Whether she’s helping others improve their well-being, write a book or start a personal coaching practice, her workshops and courses are great examples of how a person’s heart project can connect us back to who we are and where we want to go.
“Self-awareness has been the catalyst for both my creativity and my healing journey,” Carr says. “Through it all, I’ve had to get to know myself, trust myself and care for myself in ways I never imagined. That’s because self-awareness is an extension of self-growth.”
Carr believes our creative spirit is why we’re here in the first place and why we connect with each other on a human level. If we’re not self-aware, we’re not going to be dynamic creators, healthy leaders who create strong team cultures or be good to our customers. We’ll probably take on too much or not realize that somebody has a better answer and a better solution because we’re so caught in our own egos. “It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask first,” she says. “You’ve got to be healthy before you can even think about being wealthy.”
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by Michael D’Avello.
Kerrie Lee Brown is an international journalist, author and women's health advocate. Over the years, she has written for more than 150 publications worldwide and held numerous executive and senior editorial roles across Canada and the U.S. She has interviewed a plethora of Hollywood celebrities and some of the most inspiring thought leaders around the globe. Today, Kerrie Lee is the editor-in-chief of SUCCESS Enterprises' impressive magazine portfolio and an advocate for authentic storytelling as the founder of RedLilyLife.com.