Sarah Wood, BBA ’18: Bringing joy to work and helping others do the same

July 30, 2021

Sarah Wood, BBA ’18, began a journey of discovery her sophomore year at the Ross School of Business, when she founded Oats and Woes, an oatmeal pop-up cafe. This oatmeal company later led to a popular blog about mental health detailing Wood’s journey to a more joyful life by connecting to others and to herself.

Through this evolution, Wood found what she believes to be her life’s purpose: to create joy in the organizations that she is part of — from Goldman Sachs to Upstream, a startup that is redefining professional networking, where she now serves as head of growth and community.

An instrumental part of her growth and transformation occurred during her experiences at the Center for Positive Organizations at Michigan Ross, an organization dedicated to the science and practice of thriving organizations.

Wood says that she still pulls up slides from her positive organizational scholarship classes on relevant topics — like designing incentive structures that support the whole person, creating a flourishing culture, and building a diverse organization. “All the things that I learned in my classes are relevant to my life right now, especially working in a startup where we are building culture from the ground up.”

She also learned valuable lessons from Ross professors, including Shahnaz Broucek and Amy Young, who mentored Wood and introduced her to the Center for Positive Organizations’ work. Broucek also helped Wood find peace through the practice of yoga, as she is a yoga practitioner herself.

Wood was also inspired by other faculty members who helped her as she created Oats and Woes, which won funding from the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Michigan Ross.

“The entrepreneurship program was invaluable. It was an application of all the things I was learning in school. Accounting became more relevant because I was using real money to buy blueberries and bags of oatmeal, and marketing became more relevant because I had to build a brand and tell its story. Building Oats and Woes took the coursework out of a textbook and into my real life,” Wood recalls.

Her learnings in the classroom about positive organizational scholarship and in application during an internship at Goldman motivated Wood to transform Oats and Woes into Joy Soldier.

As Wood describes it, “When I was interning at Goldman, I found so many compassionate people who went out of their way to help me. I saw those people and I wanted to be like them, people who listened deeply and made you feel seen and heard. At a meal with friends I was talking about the person I hoped to become. It popped out of my mouth: ‘I just want to be a Joy Soldier.’ The term stuck. Senior year back in Ann Arbor, I began sharing about this idea and it resonated. I found the Joy Soldiers in Ann Arbor. We made T-shirts, meditated together, shared resources. We also put together a Mental Health Symposium at Ross that still goes on called Head Talks. Similar to TED Talks, but about mental health.”

Now, Joy Soldier is a community and toolkit that shares tools and practical ways people can live a more joyful life.

Pursuing the mission at Upstream

After graduating from Ross, Wood worked full time at Goldman Sachs before joining Upstream, which is a “next-generation professional networking platform” rooted in generosity and helpfulness.

At Goldman, “I learned how to show up at work as my truest version of myself, how to collaborate with compassion, and how to affect change in a large organization. I’m grateful to take those learning to the ground-level of a start-up as employee No. 5. I view each day as an opportunity to help build a flourishing organization, because we are setting the culture of the future with every action we take today,” she says.

Wood’s advice to students and others on a similar path is to ask for help: “It can be so overwhelming. You might feel like an impostor and everyone has it figured out but you, but I assure you that you’re not the only one. The best thing that I ever did was to start asking for help. Once I was able to be vulnerable, the world rushed in to help me. Being able to admit that I did not have it all together transformed everything.”

This story was originally published by Michigan Ross