Follow your heart. While this concept is often celebrated in personal matters, it is rarely encouraged within the professional realm—well in some professions. So when I had the chance to have a chat with Michelle Ward, self-titled “Corporate America escapee,” certified Life Coach, and When I Grow Up Coach, I couldn’t help my curiosity at meeting the woman who claimed to have her “full-time dream career.” When is the last time someone told you that you can do what you love and make a living off of it?
When Michelle and I finally connected after some minor scheduling and Skype issues, it didn’t take long to see why we should all want to be like her when we grow up. Her energy level is contagious and her obvious passion for her career serves as its own elevator pitch. She founded her own company on the concept that you can do what you love, not simply being unhappy learning to love what you do. In her own words found in her landing page, she helps“creative women get out of their soul-sucking, energy-draining jobs and into work that feels like play (while still being a grown-up).” Now that is a dream we should all be chasing.
Now a certified career coach, Michelle was once a theater performer for about four years before taking on a traditional Corporate America job. While she sometimes relives her days as a performer when she plays her pink ukulele, she doesn’t necessarily miss the lifestyle that would take her away from her current priorities: her family—which includes a supportive husband and a newly-dancing one-year old daughter—and her business. However, recently, Michelle did write and star in a one-woman show with The People’s Improv Theater, about being a breast cancer survivor and just generally celebrating her uniquity. Yes. She did make up the word, but it suits her well. But talking to Michelle, it is easy to see how her story translates into her current role. She uses her personal experiences and her positive attitude to teach people how to transition from their unfulfilling jobs to the creative and meaningful careers in which they were meant to flourish.
When I Grow Up was born a little over seven years ago, while Michelle still worked in Corporate America, but she has been a full-time coach for five years. Currently, When I Grow Up is also a one-woman show, with Michelle playing the role of marketer, Intellectual Property paralegal and many other roles you might think necessary to run a successful business. She has a dedicated team of freelancers whom she uses for services on an as-needed basis, but her bookkeeper is the “best money she spends every month,” according to Michelle. As When I Grow Up coach, Michelle works and has worked with people from various walks of life, ranging from scientists to financial professionals. What do her all of clients have in common? At some point in their lives, either felt or been characterized as the “creative type.”
“Michelle observed interestingly that the things that stick with us are the criticism we’ve heard. Yet the compliments we get and the thanks we receive don’t stick nearly as well.”
Although the services of When I Grow Up are suitable for all, most recently, the company’s services have been targeted to female clients. As of today, Michelle has assisted far more women than she has men with career transitions. According to Michelle, the kind of career coach you seek highly depends on your career values, and these tend to be different for men and women.
Most recently, When I Grow Up launched a podcast to better reach its customer base. While the company itself has grown up in the last few years, Michelle’s goals are admirable. In an ideal world, the next couple of years would bring one full-time employee to the company so that Michelle can take on more speaking engagements. More specifically, she would like the opportunity “to work with school systems to guide children in presenting them with the truth about creative careers and entrepreneurship.” Her vision is solid, but she is flexible in her plan to take this next step.
On owning her own style while helping others become bosses, Michelle’s style revelations were not surprising. Personal style matters to her—and she cherishes her comfortable black legging. One of the best parts of her solopreneur life is the ability to display her authentic self to her clients, and truly appreciates the freedom to display her uniquity. Throughout interviews over the years, she has happily admitted to having “Punky Brewster as her fashion icon.” Having admitted to wearing tuxedo pants to work once,it’s not difficult to imagine why Zooey Deschanel is Michelle’s modern day style spirit animal.When we pushed Michelle to choose only three items from her closet to take with her in an apocalyptic world, sentimentality won the coin toss, and she chose her favorite accessories: her wedding ring, a charm bracelet she’s had since the age of 16, and her great aunt’s opal ring. Besides a great style, it can take a few more ingredients to be successfully own your uniquity.
For those of us who feel we lack the uniquity to make a leap from a miserable career, Michelle explains that she has “never worked with a client who found their ‘what’, and then couldn’t find their ‘how.’” There’s always a way to get there once you figure it out. Michelle observed interestingly“that the things that stick with us are the criticism we’ve heard. Yet the compliments we get
and the thanks we receive don’t stick nearly as well.” Michelle helps her clients get past the negativity with a few exercises, one of which includes them reaching out to loved ones and finding out why people invest in them as a person and what makes them unique. She asks of her clients the following questions: 1) What you are complimented for?; 2) What you are you thanked for?; and 3) What are you asked to do?” These questions, while seemingly simple, forces us to confront ourselves in a positive light and embrace our strength. I’m a fan.
While Michelle shared a lot of her wisdom with me during our interview, she wanted to leave our readers with this to think about. “We must detach from the idea that being unique means we have to reinvent the wheel.” This is hard to do in a world where competition can be a deterrent for many of us in pursuing our dreams. She believes in the importance of this exercise, but also realistic that we all have to work at it. “It’s why life coaches need life coaches.”