FROM ARTISTS TO ENTREPRENEURS TO MAMMAS TO TEACHERS AND EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN, TRAILBLAZERS ARE THE WOMEN SHOWING UP, STEPPING UP, AND LEVELING UP IN LIFE.
A couple months ago, I received an instagram message from Michelle inviting me out for a girl date. We were in the same circle of friends, but had never crossed paths. We got happy hour wine and chatted about coaching and counseling. We spent hours discussing what led us to our paths and what we hope is ahead of us. Since that night our relationship has grown and I am personally in awe of Michelle. Driven, funny, and real, she captures the heart of what a Trailblazer is.
Michelle is a professional counselor, currently working with an adolescent population in the school setting, and is in the process of setting up a private practice. Michelle has a vision for connecting individuals to their potential through creativity and self-study. Outside of counseling, Michelle is an artist and sells her paintings and drawings both locally and online. She is married to her husband Jeff, who hosts a local late night talk show in Springfield, MO called The Mystery Hour, and is part of the show as a performer and writer. You may recognize her from their recent viral video, Instagram husband. Together, Michelle and Jeff have a three-year-old son, Elias- a happy kid with a massive love of fire trucks.
Tell me about your personal and professional journey:
Its hard to know where to start on that one!! I guess I'll start by saying I've always known that working with individuals on a deeper level is just something I've always been inclined to do. Growing up, I was the advice-giver in my group of friends, and really latched onto Psychology as my chosen field of study as a teenager. I graduated with an undergrad degree in Psychology and gained a good amount of experience working in groups and one-on-one mentoring through different volunteer activities in my early 20's. I've always enjoyed counseling, and it just came naturally as a skill I developed over the years.
I landed my first "professional" job after college working at a mental health agency. I was hired to develop a social skills group for kids diagnosed with multiple mental health disorders. It was a very intense job with a steep learning curve. I had to come up with a sustainability plan, write grants, manage employees, and write curriculum-- all while learning to work with a very difficult and unstable population. I only lasted there a total of five years, but I look back and appreciate that experience because I had to learn quickly how to be confident in my judgement and decisions. A problem arose, I handled it. I didn't have anyone else to rely on.
It was probably my third year there when I decided I wanted to advance my expertise, so I enrolled in a masters program for Counseling and School Counseling (I took classes for both). After graduating I took a job as a middle school counselor, and have been doing that for 7 years now. As a school counselor, I spend the majority of my time working with adolescents who are in crisis or are dealing with some form of mental health concern. What I really love about my work is that I get to counsel kids who just need an invested adult to come along side of them and truly care about their stories. It can be humbling, challenging, and often times exhausting to work with the types of situations I do day in and day out, but the students make it worth it.
To push my career even further, I recently became provisionally licensed as a professional counselor. This means I am licensed to counsel outside of the school setting, but I am working under the supervision of a Psychologist who I meet with every week to talk about my practice. After the new year I will be accepting a limited number of individual counseling clients to work with, and I couldn't be more thrilled about that step.
Outside of the professional side of life, I've been married to my husband, Jeff, for almost 10 years, and together we have a three year old son named Elias. When Jeff and I aren't running around doing toddler-things, going on date nights, or spending time with friends, we work together (along with some of Springfield's finest) on Jeff's strong claim-to-fame-- a late night talk show called The Mystery Hour. I really enjoy offering up a silly side to life, and recently starred in a video that went viral called Instagram Husband. It's been fun getting more and more involved in the world of entertainment and comedy, and I enjoy doing it alongside my love and partner in life.
I am extremely proud of Jeff, our family, and the life we've built together in Springfield. Jeff is takes a huge part of making our town something special, and I look to him as my major source of inspiration on the "go-for-your-dreams" end of things. He has done exactly that, and even though I can't say it's always been easy for us, far-from it in fact, it has grown us a lot and made us who we are.
How do you overcome shame and show up fully every day?
I'm probably just like anyone else; I have a decent amount of shame in my life that, at times, I have to fight off like a hot-blooded warrior. What I think it takes to overcome shame is to be reminded that no one gets out of life without a lot of scars, mistakes made, and lessons learned. That's what it means, at least to me, to live a full life; to experience the high parts and low parts, and to allow it all to mix into the person one is without having to judge any of it as good or bad. I believe that the trials or painful times in our lives can ultimately be good, it just depends on what story we tell ourselves about them; how we rise to meet them.
Honestly, I'm not sure I would want to befriend, let alone be, that person we often strive to portray to the world who never experiences hardship or failure. I think this is something we as women particularly struggle with, a sense of perfectionism, and because of that we lose-out on being vulnerable and messy. That is sad to me because struggling with the mess is where growth comes from. Consistently following paths that bring about the least amount of risk and resistance is unhealthy, and actually kind of boring. I want to live an interesting life; a full life. Part of that requires that I take risks and make mistakes. When I fail or become fearful or shameful, I try to have a curious attitude as to why that happened or why I feel that way, then respond to the fears or shame in a way that is vulnerable and honest, rather than covering up my failures or fear. Sometimes I fail at that- but I at least attempt it. That is how I show up. That is how I take the high road.
What does living a life of vibrancy and confidence look like for you?
Living a life of vibrancy and confidence to me means, again, to take risks instead of avoiding failure or uncertainty. To actually go for the thing you want instead of just talking about it. Is a life well-lived if you never actually live it; you just sit and watch Netflix every free moment you get? (Not that I'm opposed to TV-binge watching, quite the contrary in fact. Love me some GoT). I want poetry in my life. Art. Travel. Good connections. I want to be stretched and to grow. I want to fall down and then get up again. I want to be a part of something larger than myself. These are all things I hold on to when I am faced with anxiety and fear or just pure exhaustion from work and raising a toddler every day-- when I'm making a decision about how to spend my time or energy-- who is it that I want to be?
One thing I recently did to "go for it" in a way was to start owning my identity as an artist. I have been painting as a hobby for years, but never called myself as a legitimate painter because I was self-taught and didn't know if I was any good. I started to have dreams of sharing my work but kept holding back out of fear, until one day I just decided to screw that mentality, and opened up a website in order to sell my work. I am now painting pieces to show in local cafes and coffee shops, and am really proud of myself for taking the leap. I may not have been confident starting out (and I'm still not if I am honest), but I'm taking the risk and it's led to nothing but good things for me.
How have vulnerable friendships shaped the way you see life and work?
Oh goodness, my friendships have shaped me SO MUCH. I have an incredibly sensitive, strong, and encouraging set of friends, some of whom have been close to me since I was wearing Reeboks and Umbro shorts, and some I've been close with for only a short time. I have a twin sister, too, which honestly is a HUGE blessing in this department. Its like having a built-in best friend who gets ALL of your jokes, sees your dirty laundry but loves you in spite of it, and understands what you're thinking before you can even speak it. She's an incredible person as well, which only adds to the awesomeness of the situation. I am truly lucky.
I feel like we draw energy from those we surround ourselves with. My friends are giant sources of inspiration for me of what it means to be wholehearted, creative, and brave. Many of my friends work as creatives in some capacity: Writers, comedians, artists, graphic designers, interior designers, bloggers, crafters, photographers... they all have massive talent! What I appreciate about being around them is that they ooze a sense of pride in their passions, and are generous with their talents. I aspire to have those attributes in my own work as a counselor and in my creative endeavors as an artist. Also, they are just awesome genuine people- it's hard to be around my friends and just not be happy. They are seriously cool human beings.
In what ways do you find that your passions and heart show up in your work?
That one is actually a bit deep and difficult for me to answer, because my current counseling work often involves such sad stories. I counsel a lot of kids who have been abused and neglected, are products of unhealthy relationships, are suffering from anxiety and stress, or are dealing with dysfunctional environments. What gets me is that they are just kids. In most of their situations, they didn't ask for their troubles, they were born with them. It takes a toll when you work day after day with that, bleed your heart out and offer up your complete attention to them, and then they have to go right back to the very dysfunction that brought them to your office in the first place.My heart for teaching resilience shows up a lot in my work for this very reason. I know I can't solve their problems a lot of times, but I can teach them how to at least attempt to handle their worlds in a way that makes them better and stronger. When I feel the most useful is when I can see progress in a student who has been flailing in one way or another. Often they don't come back and thank me for the time I spent trying to figure out ways to help or to just listen, but some do, and that always means the world to me.
What are the three essential self-care habits you need to live at your best?
1. Find time in my week to be creative.It doesn't have to be every day, but it does have to be every week. This can be challenging when my medium of creativity is art, because my three-year-old steals paintbrushes. My husband, however, understands this need for me, so we carve out time weekly so I can paint or take walks or do whatever I need to do for inspiration. If I'm not allowing myself to be creative, the need starts to seep out of me and I end up a terrible mess. I know I need it for my heart to beat and for me to be able to love my family and friends well.2. Taking time to acknowledge my fears, worries, and shame.Currently I do this by attending counseling myself so I have dedicated time to be present with my thoughts and feelings and to own-up to my habits that aren't working. I also attend a girl's group every other week, and make a point to seek out conversations with my husband or close friends who speak into my life on a regular basis. I have learned that shoving my fears, shame, worry, etc. aside because I'm too busy is a recipe for disaster.3. Play.Play with my family, play with my friends, play in my work, whatever. That can mean taking my son out to the park for an unscheduled play date and sliding down slides for an hour, going out for a burger with my family, or making plans with friends to meet for a glass of wine. I also have developed a ritual of taking a solo-vacation in the early spring every year. This came after crashing and burning too many years in a row right around February-- when its cold and gross outside and I just feel burnt out and slightly depressed. I usually try and go someplace that I can relax, feel inspired creatively, and explore. I come back feeling refreshed and ready to take on more challenges after just getting away and seeing new things for a bit.
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