Laura Shook Guzman, founder of Soma Vida, talks wellness, the co-working revolution and work/life balance.
By Lauryn Lax, Photos courtesy of Laura Shook Guzman
Austin is one of the entrepreneurship and freelance capitals of the country, but upheaval of the traditional 9-to-5 job is on the rise nationwide, particularly among women. In fact, today, more than one in four businesses are women-owned and -operated, with approximately 1,000 new women-owned businesses founded every day. And many business analysts predict by 2020, freelancers and entrepreneurs will make up 50 percent of the labor force. So, how did this evolution begin?
Meet Laura Shook Guzman, Austin entrepreneur and founder of co-working community Soma Vida. Shook Guzman is a mover and shaker, one of the pioneers of a steadily growing movement now known as co-working, specifically wellness co-working.
When Shook Guzman, moved to Austin in 2006 to start a new life as a single working mom, the co-working movement was practically nonexistent. Initially, Shook Guzman took a job working as a therapist, but she didn’t last long. With the spirit of entrepreneurship calling her, she ventured out to start her own private practice. However, her entrepreneurial dreams didn’t stop there. She wanted to start a shared workspace in Austin, specifically for others like her who were hungry for community, business growth and a supportive, like-minded culture.
Necessity is the Mother of Innovation
“Like all things entrepreneurs do, the thought of a co-working space emerged from my own need for community and collaboration in my own work life and life as a whole,” Shook Guzman says.
As a single mom, Shook Guzman felt a void in her life.
“I needed a place to go to work, not try to make work work. I was wanting and needing energy and community of other entrepreneurs with similar passions,” she recalls.
Shook Guzman had been initially introduced to the co-working concept before she moved to Austin, while living abroad.
“In Europe, they were doing it, although it wasn’t called co-working at the time,” Shook Guzman says. “That word was far from my radar. As a somatic psychotherapist, I worked out of a shared office space alongside other like-minded individuals who were trying to change the world in our own unique spheres.”
By 2005, early adoption of the co-working movement in the U.S. began in California, and as fate would have it, days before Shook Guzman signed her lease to create her own version of an inclusive space near downtown Austin, she read an article the New York Times about this new idea.
“It came at such a serendipitous moment,” Shook Guzman remembers with delight. “I immediately recognized it as a possible solution to lower the barriers of access for business startups, particularly the barriers that many women face when transitioning into entrepreneurship.”
Come 2008, Soma Vida was born as the first co-working community in Austin, located in a 1940s renovated bungalow on Rosedale Avenue in East Austin, a space for heart-centered entrepreneurs to conduct their daily business duties, meet with clients and start new ventures.
From the start, Soma Vida was known as a community supporting women’s entrepreneurship and one of the first official wellness co-working spaces in the world.
As word spread, many holistic health-care practitioners, healers, therapists, energy workers, nutritionists, yoga teachers and individuals who simply valued health and wellness began flocking to the space to build their businesses, attend yoga classes or join in on moonlight-meditation events.
A Big Idea: Wellness Co-working
By informal definition, wellness co-working is the motivation and value of holistic health within the co-working culture.
While research shows co-working makes a happier and more successful entrepreneur, when coupled with other research confirming healthier workers also are happier, more productive and successful, it’s a home run for both personal and business success within the wellness co-working space.
“My time spent in both Canada and Europe exposed me to a completely different way of living than traditional Western culture: wellness,” Shook Guzman says. “Wellness is simply how they lived, no SoulCycle punch card, FitBit step tracker or dry salads required. Adding yoga, walking, six-hour work days, work/life balance, green juice, real food and the universal belief that if work was not finished, it would be there to work on the net day, these were all concepts Canadians and Europeans lived and breathed.”
Since 2008, Shook Guzman has been on a mission to spread the message to others that in order to help others, we must help ourselves.
Entrepreneurship and self-employment may seem glamorous on the outside. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of starting the workday at 10 a.m., wearing yoga pants to work from a home office and the flexibility to travel at leisure? However, entrepreneurship also comes with its own set of stresses and pressures.
“A big thing I’ve seen many women continue to struggle with over the years is the challenge of trying to have it all in a culture that doesn’t offer supportive societal structures like paid maternity or paternity leave, affordable child care or equal pay for women,” Shook Guzman says.
From the beginning, she found many women entrepreneurs quickly identified with the problems she was trying to help solve.
“They were experiencing isolation, burnout, lack of access to funding, rising rental costs for office space and a gap in the support and resources they needed to launch a wellness business,” she recalls. “I also saw a lack of mental-health and wellness support for those entering the entrepreneurial space.”
Enter wellness co-working.
“Co-working is not about the workspace, Wi-Fi or coffee; it is about the people,” Shook Guzman says. “Co-working is all about bringing us into connection with one another.”
For Soma Vida, now located on East Cesar Chavez Street, this means hosting events and providing resources that breed community, wellness and personal development, from offering warm tea and honey, filtered water and aromatherapy to meditation and even a vegan food truck in the outside courtyard.
Laura Shook Guzman’s Tips for Achieving Work/Life Balance
- “As an entrepreneur, you are your business. And therefore, you are only as successful as you are healthy.”
- “Take time to rest and refuel. Burning at both ends will only burn you out, so it’s important to schedule in breaks and downtime in your workweek.”
- “Practice self-compassion. Your ability to be kind and understanding to yourself lowers stress in the body.”
- “Move your body. Even a five to 10-minute walk can help you reset and reconnect.”
- “Ask for help. We don’t have to do it all alone. Let others know how they can help you and delegate tasks to your team.”
- “Join a community. We are healthier together.”