Warrior Women Interview: Michelle Ward

I'm so excited to be featuring Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach, as this week's Warrior Women Interview. As a life and career coach, e-book author, and co-creator of The Declaration of You workshop and e-book, Michelle works with folks by sharing ideas and inspiration on how to follow your bliss and make your dreams real!

You went from being a full-time musical theater actress to being a life and career coach. Tell us about how you got started on the path to coaching and how it has it had an impact on your journey this far.

Why I became a life and creative career coach….have a few hours to kill? To make a long story short, I decided in my late 20s – after going to NYU for musical theater & chasing my Broadway Baby dreams since the age of 6 – that the business of acting didn’t fit in with my “grown-up” values and priorities. At the time, I was at a “grown-up” job which provided me a livable salary & benefits, but I hated almost every minute of it. As someone who spent my whole life following my passion,  it was absolutely unacceptable to me to stay in a job that I wasn’t passionate about (& had to suffer an emotionally abusive boss to boot!). I went to NYU’s School of Continuing Ed to take a career change workshop, & even though I was set to find a stable job that I could be passionate about, it just confirmed the fact that I wanted to be a life coach. After I got past the fact that I could be a life coach without being hippy dippy, & that someone else paying me doesn’t equal “stability”, I dove in to get certified at the International Coach Academy.

And well, how it’s impacted my journey so far...have another few hours to kill? :) I think I can actually simply state that everything that happened to me while pursuing acting - all of my experiences, all of my life lessons, all the highs and the heartbreak - it what lead me here: to coaching creatives through their career transitions. I’m just so super thankful for it.

Who are your coaching clients? And for whom did you co-create the workshop The Declaration of You?

Well, I work specifically with creative types that are looking for a career change, so it’s fairly specialized. That said, there are a plethora of challenges people come to me with. Some of them are stuck in a job that they hate, but don’t see a way out where they can believe that they can follow a creative passion & make money from it. Some of them are looking to take their creative pursuits & bring them to the next level, whether it’s incorporating a hobby into a too-busy schedule or wanting to bump up their game to sell more goods/make more money. Some of them have an idea as to what the next step is but are scared to make it. Some of them have no idea, but know that the career they’re in presently just ain’t working for them. Some of them come from “traditional” families & believe that their artistic pursuits can’t be “real” jobs. Some of them think there’s a box that they need to fit in, & don’t know how to focus their interests/passions. I work with my clients on discovering their strengths, their interests, their skills, their work values, their personality types, etc to find out what road they want to go down. Along the way, we work on those roadblocks that stop them – the belief that they won’t be able to make a living doing what they love, that nobody will understand them, that they’re not “good enough” – so we can keep working our way to the goal. I’m a firm believer in not taking a leap without a net, but planting the net firmly beneath you & taking baby steps, having it being pulled out little by little, until you’re standing on your own - and that happens whether they’re working for themselves or someone else.

And in that vein, my Declaration of You co-creator Jess Swift & I absolutely tailor-made our e-course for creative types - it’s who we are & who we love helping! We’re all about using creative exercises to help our Declarers figure out their own perspective on Enthusiasm, Uniquity, Intention, Self-Care, Success, Money, Celebration and Trust. Jess illustrated a ton of worksheets for everyone to use during the course (and they’re in our illustrated workbook, too!) and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the last round we had a Declarer do a photo-a-day project that represented the topic we were working on, and others who art journaled their answers or made collages. We love seeing The Declarers making our exercises using their own talents, strengths & skills!

As a coach, what is the most beneficial aspect of your work (for you and/or your clients)?

Getting to witness my client’s a-ha! moments, and the excitement & action steps that come from post-a-ha moment. I'm a relationship-builder more than anything - that's my M.O., that's what drives me, that's my passion. So I love working with my clients, helping them overcome their challenges, having them really clarify what they want to do when they grow up, supporting them in getting there - all that good stuff. I love that life coaches withhold both judgment and advice, allowing the clients to figure out what's best for them. It's so empowering! The tangible results are amazeballs, too - seeing my client’s Etsy shop go live or hearing about the new job they got that fit in with their passions...ooh, I get the chills! And that’s what I love about The Declaration of You, also, since everyone walks away with a different result based on what they discovered about themselves along the way.

Your course, The Declaration of You (co-lead with Jess Swift and Pierre Francois Frederic), is beginning on February 21st. How did this course come about, and why should I sign up for it? Oh, and who is Pierre Francois Frederic?

Jess and I are prime examples of how the Interwebs can lead to awesomely fantabulous friendships & super coolaborations (yes, coolaborations. It started as a typo, but is not anymore). While we’re not sure exactly how we found each other (the blogosphere? the twitterverse?), I know that I found Pecannoot, a wonderful blog focusing on abundance, & became obsessed. Who was this amazingly talented artist with the amazing life design who put out such an amazingly positive message? Of course, the amazing woman was Jess Gonacha (before she became a “Swift”), who I just had to stalk, er, become friendly with. I started commenting on Pecannoot, & then Jess & I were tweeting, & then we were emailing, & then I was coaching Jess, & then Jess was making me commissioned art (so fancy!)  & then I asked Jess to be a part of Spring, & then we emailed a katrillion times a day about everything under the sun, & then Jess became psychic & asked me to collaborate with her on “some sort-of e-workbook…full of your brilliant coaching wisdom and my illustrations, and we can have stories and games and printable feel-good artwork and all kinds of good stuff!” & I cried & responded intelligently, “Duh!”

So...that’s the birth of The Declaration of You :) And Pierre François Frédéric is our co-host, that did not at all come about from a gigglefest between Jess and I.  Pierre François Frédéric is a Frenchman who used The Declaration of You (or, as he calls it, Zee Declaration of You) to discover his love of party hats, using animals for transportation, and brightly-colored attire.

The Declaration of You will absolutely help you hone in on The Big Picture of your life: what you love doing, what your definition of success is, what you value in your life,  what your priorities are, et cetera, et cetera. There are written exercises around Enthusiasm, Uniquity, Intention, Self-Care, Success, Money, Celebration, & Trust, & you have a gaggle of women around ya for support, as we absolutely encourage discussion in the Forums. The excitement comes from what you do with that information once you have it - and that’s different for everyone! We’re getting reports now from our first group of Declarers (this is the second time we’re running the e-course) that one scrapped her blog to build a new one based around her passion (as opposed to what she thought she “should” be writing about), while another put a plan in place as to when to leave her day job, and another left a long-term live-in relationship that she was just, well, tolerating. You can read more about our Declarers results here. What keeps you working as a coach and guide with joy and gratitude?

The discoveries my clients make, the kind (& powerful!) words they have have about the process and the results, the amazeballs people I meet along the way, the relationships I build with my clients and other coaches and creatives, the places it’s been taking me...oh, I can go on all day, really.

If you could suggest one thing women can do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness, what would it be?

The sooner you drop the “shoulds”, the closer you’ll get to The Path that we’re all looking for. If you can’t replace the word “should” with “want” or “need”, it’s time to kick whatever’s around it to the curb! It’s “the s word” in my book!

Anything else you would like to share?

I have so many exciting things in the works (a rhyming career change workbook! a speaking gig at SXSW!) I’d love for ya to sign up for my updates and get a free 21-page downloadable workbook as a treat. And if ya sign up for The Declaration of You updates (it’s in the sidebar), you get a chapter of our illustrated workbook for free, too! So I encourage you to do both of those things, because they’re amazeballs, and so are you (I can tell).