I’m taking you off of our normal track today to introduce you to a woman who was a big help to me in getting this project started. She’s not technically a trained performer or musician, but her love of language and commitment to physical health and well-being inform her daily life…so she’s definitely one of us! Tracy Cherpeski began her education immersed in the study of language, and currently is a certified Life Coach. Here’s her story.
Where did you go to school?
Seattle University -BA French, Minor Spanish, Latin American Studies
University of New Mexico – MBA – International Management, MA – Latin American Studies & Economic Development
Ooh la la – an education with international flair!
I studied French and Spanish in undergrad because I decided to travel to France as an exchange student in my sophomore year of college. I loved the language, felt inspired by it, and loved the mathematical and musical challenge of it. I was intrigued by the history and culture, and originally thought maybe I would go on to study Romance Linguistics and become a professor of languages, or something related to languages. I minored in Spanish because when I returned from 7 months abroad and claimed my major as French, a ton of credits opened up and it made sense to learn another language, considering the path I thought I would take. (Of course, in a Jesuit liberal arts institution, following what I loved was encouraged and supported.) After finishing my bachelors degree, I took a year off to decide whether I would study languages or social sciences in order to advance to a Ph.D to become a professor. In that year, I learned a lot about the process involved, and became keenly interested in culture more than the languages or teaching languages. Upon reflecting, I realized that following my passion to be a helper to others, and use my language and social skills was the direction I wanted to be taking.
A defining moment in my undergrad studies happened in one of my humanities classes when a young man made a very judgmental comment about what people do and do not deserve in terms of getting basic needs met. I remember very clearly having a visceral reaction, even at only 19 years of age, feeling that it was so unfair to the people who didn’t choose the life they were given (as children) to be any less “deserving” of having their basic needs (food, shelter, health care, access to education) covered. Something switched in me and I realized that whatever career I chose, I would be helping people in some say, either thru business, entering the education system or development.
I started looking at advanced degree programs featuring either dual degrees in social sciences and business, or social sciences and law, focused on international affairs, culture and economic development. So, from a number of choices available, I chose the dual MBA-MA program at University of New Mexico, which has an incredible reputation for its Latin American Studies department for Masters and Ph.D-level programs, and was very highly ranked in this area of study. I really wanted to rely on my language skills, travel and make big changes in the world thru economic development.
What happened next?
When I finished grad school and moved to DC from New Mexico, I had a great opportunity as director of research and development for a non-profit organization with international reach. It was the best of both worlds: I got to use my understanding of managing international contracts and manage a team of support staff. I struggled to gel with my boss, however, so I accepted an opportunity that dropped into my lap from the sky to work at an operational level for a large health club company. However, the culture I had become accustomed to in the international business world was not at all the same as in the health club industry, and I felt at sea. A few years later, I met someone who was working on a housing market assessment project in Nigeria, backed in part by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I was asked to join the team as a consultant in research, and acting as a liaison between government officials and the small consulting firm who had landed the contract. I felt like I was finally bringing “it all” together: international travel, research, strategy, working with government officials to bring moderately priced housing to those who really needed affordable housing in a market where there was money, but not enough housing, jobs but high unemployment, etc. I knew this would help create a ripple effect of good change by creating jobs, providing housing, creating a credit market that was culturally sensitive, and so on.
Then my husband got a temporary assignment offer to live in Southern California for a year, and then I got pregnant with our first child, and so it seemed natural and the right decision to phase-out of the project by finishing up what I could state-side, and easing out of the contract since my doctor strongly advised against travel in sub-Saharan Africa while pregnant. Plus, I was happy, life was good, a baby was coming……
I took a few years to be mostly at-home with children (we had a second child 2 1/2 years after) and was content. But then my marriage deteriorated. This was part of the catalyst, as I was starting to see that I had based my adult decisions on something I wasn’t totally convinced I would be able to pull off – changing the world – and very often shifted gears around my husband’s career to support him as the primary bread winner.
I realized that I’d been chasing something without a clear vision of how to get to it. I wanted to make money, but didn’t really worry about how much, yet wanted to be on a high payscale. I wanted a family, but had difficulty balancing career and children. I had wanted to support my husband, but our marriage ended. Now what?
What is your current profession?
I am a coach and wellness expert. I help people make empowered choices to change their lives in ways that are in harmony with their gifts. Some people change their career paths, some start big projects (Ed. – Indeed!) and others simply spruce-up the way they feel about “everything” and start allowing happiness and health to enter or re-enter their lives.
Whoa! Big changes! When did you decide to change career paths?
I made this change in July 2010, right after purchasing a house and quitting a job without setting my business up in advance. It was the second largest leap of faith I have ever taken; the first was when I decided it was time to end my marriage of almost 9 years. While I made the decision, I feel like in a way it was made for me. I had struggled emotionally in my career before because I never felt like the purpose I wanted to serve was working out. I was advancing, making good money, being offered more responsibility, etc., but was still not quite happy and not convinced that I was making a difference in the world.
One day over lunch, a very good friend told me, “Tracy, you are a healer. People come to be near you because of who you are, what you bring, and the light that you help shed on life. When you embrace that, that is when you will find your happiness.” At the time the term ‘healer’ sounded very new-agey, and therefore didn’t work for me in the paradigm I was living under.
I thought, “Who me? A HEALER??? Yeah, right!” and sort of laughed it off…but clearly the message stuck.
As if by magic, a job fell from the sky and landed in my lap (once again, in fitness). After a 6 year hole on my resume of anything I deemed meaningful in terms of career path, I had no idea what else to do… but I also realized that it wasn’t a long-term solution for me or my family. I was reminded of the conversation with my friend about being a healer, that people seek me out for a reason. A different friend suggested I should be a life coach after empowering myself thru the process of my divorce. I balked, as it didn’t fit the idea I had in mind of coaching, and certainly after all of those years of education, why would I “throw it away” to be a coach?
Was there a specific time where the choice became clear to you?
Yes. A client at the health club where I worked, and now a close friend (more on her in a moment), suggested I consider becoming a coach because it seemed people were drawn to speak with me and wanted to soak-up my positive energy and ability to find the learning and gratitude opportunities in every situation. This time I listened. Within the span of one month, I learned I needed to move out of the condo I was leasing, my divorce was finalizing and I was exhausted and totally burned out on working as a manager in the fitness industry. It was as if I had walked into a dark room, turned on the light switch and really noticed the art on the walls for the first time. I knew I was unhappy in my job, but the rest of my life was coming together…. I took a week off from work to move house, closed on the mortgage on a Friday and gave my notice the following Thursday. They asked and begged me to stay on for a while, offering all manner of incentives, but I politely declined, stating that I was going to take a little time to rest and recover with my children, and then pursue other interests. I had not the first clue how to be a coach, how to build a coaching practice or where to even start, so I started a blog and updated my profile on LinkedIn, and began sharing my insights on Facebook as well.
From that, and over the course of the next year, I learned about a fantastic coaching certification that helped me hone my skills and learn a beautiful bounty of new skills, which have helped me help others. I often pinch myself and realize that finally……FINALLY, I am doing what I am meant to be doing. Expansion and exponential growth are next, with my sights set on a larger audience, sharing a message of hope, empowerment and harmony, and helping usher others into this new economy as people who have stepped fully into their power, and who are doing what they love and loving what they do.
Has anything surprised you in your newest professional incarnation?
I was surprised that people would take me seriously and respect me and my new field. I was also surprised that I absolutely love public speaking and shine when in front of a group of people who could very well be more educated and experienced than I am, but they look to me as an expert and trust me to deliver every single time. So, I think I was surprised that I could walk in and OWN my own gifts and success.
Growing my coaching practice was a little slow, so even though I charge a fair and excellent rate (both for me and for clients) the financial picture was a little bleak in the beginning, but every time I thought I should just toss my resume to a consulting firm and “get a job” I felt a calm knowing that everything would work out. My practice took off right after I let go of what I thought I “should” be doing, and embraced what I really want and love to be doing – helping others heal themselves thru unwavering support and guidance, based on their own personal vision.
When I first meet people, I usually open with this: “I help people make powerful choices to change their lives,” which is a real conversation starter.
So, was all of the education worth it? Did your training come in handy in your current profession?
It’s hard to say an MBA is not handy. But, I believe that all of the studies I’ve completed, including certifications for group fitness and my coaching certification, also come in very handy. Understanding economics, business and having a background in languages and consulting helps me understand my clients, many of whom are mid- and C-level executives. But also knowing how to gauge the energy in a room without speaking with every person is a skill not every one is fortunate enough to develop. Teaching group fitness over the past 20 years has taught me proper voice projection, how to meet people where they are and bring them to the level I can see they are capable of and build that momentum for them in a way that is not only comfortable and encouraging, but also healing.
Was there a certain person or group (Professors? Classmates?) who directly or indirectly influenced your decision?
The person who influenced me most was the friend who told me that my outlook and ability to find threads of wisdom in every situation is the person who planted the seed, in my opinion. We had this conversation over margaritas a little over two years before I started my coaching practice, and the business idea started as a cathartic giggle fest about writing a guidebook on how to recover after a complicated divorce. Once we stopped cackling, we realized we were on to something and vowed to re-visit the idea when life settled-in.Today, she (Dr. Kacie Fisher – Clinical Psychologist & Yoga, Pilates & Fitness expert) is my business partner and we are creating coaching and educational programs for people who want to find the passionate, spiritual and happy life they know they deserve, but can’t quite reach.
What advice would you give to a student struggling with this decision?
Follow your heart. Even if it doesn’t make sense and you don’t know “how” to make something come together. Just do what you love. Study what you love, become well-versed in what you love. You can make any life experience into a successful and fulfilling career if you just allow yourself to let go of what you think or have been taught you “ought to” or “should” do. When we do what we love, we have more to give. If we know WHY we love what we do, then there is no stopping us.
What aspects of your current job/profession give you the greatest satisfaction?
It might sound weird, but it’s that moment when a client tells me that they know they have reached the place where they no longer “need” me and would like to phase-out of coaching. I miss them when they are gone, but I am a coach because I believe wholeheartedly that I can help people find out exactly what they want and help them go for it. When the light turns on for them, it inspires me to do more, learn more, SHARE more. How awesome is that?