"Your path can only be your own."
Michael Ventura's work is grounded in empathy. As Founder and CEO of strategy and design practice Sub Rosa, he helps companies and brands become more human. The Applied Empathy speaker series is one of many recent projects he's launched to explore empathy's role in the creative process. Michael's practice also incorporates the teachings of traditional and indigenous medicine. He sees about 15 patients a week and integrates what he's learned into every aspect of his life and work. His home base is a West Village compound that houses Sub Rosa, his wife Caroline's shop Calliope and their gallery, And&And.
Photo: That's me.
What was your pivot point?
There wasn’t really a “pivot” for me per se; I started carving my own path pretty much straight out of university. I’ve always been a lover of ideas and I’m personally pretty good at helping remove the obstacles that stand in the way of others getting to where they need to be. I thought this was something I could build a life around and subsequently, Sub Rosa was born. I was 23 at the time and had no clue what I was doing, but I knew I could help companies and individuals to act more consciously. To be better than they were yesterday. Slowly but surely, our practice grew up and into the beautiful creature it is today.
Photo: Current reading list.
How did you get to where you are now?
Amidst that growth, I wrestled with a lot of growing pains myself. How to be a better leader. How to be a partner to the lady I met along the way who became my wife. Somewhere on that journey, I started to have a really tough time with the stress that all of these ambitions put on my 20-something shoulders. My health started to really deteriorate and my sanity wasn’t far behind.
After a bunch of doctors wanted to medicate me and cut me open to put things in my spine to help me support myself better, I decided that wasn’t my road. I began to explore eastern medicine with the same vigor I put into starting Sub Rosa. Within a couple years the way I managed stress changed considerably and I became much more in control of my mind, body, and spirit.
Photo: Best adventure partner. Ever.
How did you bring it all together?
With that newfound foundation, and an amazing partner by my side, my wife Caroline and I embarked on our next project – to renovate a 150 year old building in the West Village and make it a compound for all our creative, personal, and professional endeavors. We opened a retail shop, Calliope, in the spring of 2015 alongside our gallery, And&And. The building also plays host to Caroline’s fine jewelry business (BRVTVS) and Sub Rosa’s studio, as well as our home.
Photo: Life goals.
What's your advice for someone going through their own life transition?
Your path can only be your own. Take the inputs of as many people as you see fit but remember that they are only inputs. They aren’t a plan. Only you can make the plan that will bring your dreams to reality. Trust yourself. Know that you’ll make mistakes. Some will be big ones. But if you’re not getting into trouble, you’ll never have a chance to think of all the exciting ways you can get out of trouble. Enjoy every risk and be grateful for the wins and the losses. You’ll learn a lot from each if you’re doing them right.
Photo: When you self-publish, you can say whatever you want.
Are you following the path of a trailblazer or being guided by a mentor?
Interestingly, I often think about this question as I don’t have a mentor. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had tons of teachers. Some more powerful and poignant than others, but many, many teachers. And each of them came into my life right when I needed them. Sometimes that wasn’t obvious to me in the moment, but retrospectively it’s absolutely true. We always get the teachers and the lessons we need if we’re present enough to see them.
Photo: Esalen never disappoints.
Where's your soul place?
There are a couple. For me the first places that come to mind are all natural and powerful. One of my favorite places on Earth is Big Sur, California. The terrains of high desert, dank woodlands, and the ocean all feed me in unison out there. It’s truly, as Casteneda would say, a “place of power” for me to recharge and ground myself.
That said, while it’s completely different, New York is my home. I never feel like New York is eating me alive. It excites me. It inspires me. It challenges me in so many difficult ways. One of my teachers used to tell me that it’s easy to be a monk in a monastery – the hard work is trying to be a monk in a city. To be clear, I’m no monk, but I subscribe to this idea for its theoretical point. New York has a lot of distraction. A lot of shiny objects that’ll pull you off your path if you’re not focused. It’s one of the best meditations one can consider.
And finally, I’d say another special place for me is wherever the next flight is going. Both my Mrs. and I love a good adventure. Give us a (slightly overpacked) duffle and a ticket and we’re off. Cities or countrysides, far flung or a couple hours drive, it doesn’t matter. Let’s just get out there and take it all in. Who knows when we’ll be here again.
Photo: The studio is always open.
You also went from patient to practitioner. How did that happen?
Amidst all of this, I also realized there was more work to be done. Work that could help people individually to become more whole. By this point, I had spent over a decade studying and practicing traditional and indigenous medicine. In 2011, I turned that passion into a practice that permeates all I do. In addition to clinically seeing about 15 patients a week, I have brought the intention and understanding of this work into the efforts of Sub Rosa, the gallery, and the shop. Amidst building creative campaigns for companies, hosting shows in the gallery, or selling design objects in the store, I also bring the teachings of my guides to our clients to help build more conscious companies, to the gallery in the form of workshops and lectures for the local community, and to the store in the form of products sourced ethically from indigenous tribes around the world.
This is the strange and magical life that’s emerged from that 23 year old kid who wanted to help people bring ideas to life. Not sure where it’ll go next, but I’m happy to be in service to whatever destiny presents along the way.
All images used with permission of Michael Ventura.