How Do I Thrive Today? Looking at Well-Being with Charlie Elberson

A Series on Thriving, Part Four

By Lou Solomon

Home / Interact Studio Stories & Articles / How Do I Thrive Today? Looking at Well-Being with Charlie Elberson


Vaccine distribution is progressing and people are beginning to say it: “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!”

At the same time, mental health experts are saying “Easy does it.” They are focused on the emotional exhaustion we’re experiencing from traveling through the tunnel. The year-long stress and worry about finances, job security, upside-down schedules, getting sick, and loved ones getting sick have taken their toll.

In fact, the era of COVID-19 has caused such widespread, collective burnout that the World Health Organization (WHO) is putting together guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace. We are about to have a very public conversation about mental health.

Burnout is now included in the latest Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). It defines burnout as:

Chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.

So how do we begin to address burnout at work?

The first step is making certain that the conversation is underway. Give people the resources they need to learn about mental health. Get some basic mental health training for your leaders and make sure everyone understands the signs and real danger of burnout. Adopt a peer-to-peer outreach program so that people are checking on one another.

At the same time, we should embrace the goal of well-being–which is a sense of moving forward and feeling good about life. It is an indicator of whether or not we are thriving.

Well-being can be described as feeling good about life. Gallup breaks well-being down into these areas of life: strong and supportive relationships; fulfilling work; financial security; physical health and community involvement. When we are struggling or suffering in any of these areas, we are not whole. We are not thriving.

At Interact Studio, we decided to sit down with a few of our favorite people and ask them to share their experience with well-being and staying ahead of burnout.


Meet Charlie Elberson

Those of us who love being with Charlie Elberson can’t say exactly what he does to lift our spirits and inspire us, we just know that he does, every time we’re around him.

It could be his curiosity and deep listening that reveal where we could be braver and bigger. It may have something to do with the fact that he has a bona fide twinkle in his eye, is always amused and about to say something hilarious, followed by something insightful and challenging.

Charlie Elberson Thrive BurnoutOne thing for certain, Charlie is an original. As VP of Insights and Strategies at Wray Ward, he is every bit the adman and brilliant brand builder.

Charlie is also the primary trustee and advisor for the Reemprise Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Foundation for the Carolinas.

Charlie formed Reemprise as an evolution of a fund established by his father. He has proven that taking an entrepreneurial approach to funding and supporting visionary nonprofits will quicken growth and the good that can be done.

To Charlie, community funding is deeply personal. He wants to know the people behind the ideas he funds. Pre-COVID, he scheduled breakfasts with Charlotteans he was funding and folks who just fascinated him, five days a week for years.

That’s a lot of eggs. And, a lot of people who are championed and challenged by Charlie.

He has always been a leader in the Charlotte community, serving on boards including the Afro-American Cultural Center, Council for Children, LIFESPAN, Museum of the New South, Nevins, and United Way of the Central Carolinas.

Something most people don’t know about Charlie: he sings and plays keyboard for Small Time Joe, a classic rock, blues and soul cover band.

Charlie, how does your work fulfill your sense of purpose?

I’m fortunate in having two avocations which both feed my sense of purpose in different ways. My Wray Ward side lets me contribute proficiencies that have been developed, literally, for decades. Not only does this affirm my need to feel of use but I find the chance to work with so many folks that are starting on their career journeys to be especially rewarding. They are all so gracious, and Wray Ward is a very special culture that I feel lucky to have the chance to be a part.

My other avocation, philanthropist by way of Reemprise Fund, is one where I have to learn continually and acquire proficiency – which is a plus. Through this work, I have the chance to engender and foster a wealth of unique relationships with people I otherwise wouldn’t have the chance.

On this front, I get to feel like I’m always growing and taking part in new things, where on my professional side I get to feel like I can draw upon acquired experiences and meaningfully contribute.

Who in your life supports your well-being?

My friends, Lou my wife. But the first person for whom my well-being is an important job is myself. I’m like a lot of accomplished people, especially but by no means exclusively males, in being remarkably inept in identifying areas of need – much less expressing them. I try to get better at it, but the person who is intimately familiar with my well-being is me, for better or worse.

What gives you energy — how do you incorporate physical well-being elements into your day?

I get physical energy from human interaction. I can tell because when I’ve gone too long without some fruitful back-and-forth I rediscover the joys of sitting and brooding (kidding, a little). So, through the past year I never complain with any sincerity about Zoom meetings and the like. The only drawback is I think my backside tries to take root in my desk chair sometimes so I have to find reasons to get up and move and stretch.

The other investment I make is happily devoting significant portions of the budget to support professionals: trainer, yoga, energy work, psychotherapy, chiropractic – you name it, chances are I’ve got someone on the calendar for it. It’s the last line item I’ll cut, too.

In what ways does your work or life connect to the community?

I’m happiest when connecting to communities which is why I’m so glad to have different roles and responsibilities with different groups of people. The idea of just being one thing in life doesn’t fit my personality or nature, although underneath I really just want to be a good man. But the answer to the question is by connecting and contributing to lots of different people and groups.

Charlie thrives because he loves being the champion of people and their ideas.


Action Steps For Moving Away from Burnout

Here are practical ideas and action steps for moving away from burnout and toward thriving.

  1. Start the day with a short check-in with your team. Work together to balance one another’s workloads.
  2. Be flexible with your team. Give the team the flexible hours they need to take care of themselves.
  3. Be gracious with time. If you’re leading the team meeting, let anyone who has a back-to-back call jump off five to 10 minutes early.
  4. Hydrate. Water helps improve your mood. Too much coffee can dry you out.
  5. Surround yourself with the right people. Spend time with positive people and avoid the people who trade in emotional drama.

Do you have insights or experience with burnout at work? Are you thriving? How? We would love to hear from you.


Read Part One: How are Erica Butler of THE JAM: CLT and Pedro Perez of Charlotte Family Housing thriving? Click here to find out.

Read Part Two: How are Alli Celebron-Brown of McColl Center for Art + Innovation and William McNeely of Do Greater Charlotte thriving? Click here to find out.

Read Part Three: How is Molly Grantham of WBTV thriving? Click here to find out.


Next up, we’re excited to share more information on our new workshop, THRIVE: Leading Change in Turbulent Times, based on the Interact Studio Methodology of Empathy, Story, Strengths, and Connections.



Some Closing Thoughts


The normal pressures we put on ourselves combined with the daily strain of COVID have caused burnout in the workplace to be at an all-time high. The more burned out we are, the more our well-being is damaged. But, if we are able to take stock of our passions and purpose, and incorporate them into our personal and professional lives, we can start to avoid burnout and begin to thrive.

Charlie showed us that he thrives because he loves being the champion of people and their ideas. How are you thriving today?