How I Do It: An Interview with Michelle Ward

Today is a special day around here because I’m super stoked (!) to be launching a brand new interview series “How I Do It.”

This series has come about for two reasons:

One // I’m often asked by coaching clients and you, my readers, for insights into the way I do things – whether that’s running my business, tending to this blog, or moving through overwhelm or self-doubt.

The way us humans are wired (me included) is that we seek. We’re curious. We turn to each other for advice-from-the-trenches as a way of connecting and working the world out. We take the insights into how others do their thang, and why, keep the parts that sing to us, discard the rest and go and do it how we want to do it.

So, with ‘How I Do It’ we’re going to take that reasoning and peek behind the curtain a little to see how a range of inspiring sistas rock their thing.

Two // This feature has been created to celebrate brilliant women who are living their lives, on purpose. I’ll be introducing you to a stellar cast from around the globe, some who will be familiar and some who will (perhaps) be new to you.

You’ll meet soulful coaches, my favourite astrologer, best-selling authors, blogger babe extraordinaires, designers and plenty more entrepreneurial supernovas who are boldly, authentically and joyfully working and living from their zone of genius.

It’s going to be a heap of fun.

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And speaking of fun, the first interviewee of the series is someone who undeniably, no question, abso-fricken-lutely epitomises the word.

I first came across Michelle Ward about 18 months ago and knew immediately that I needed to learn more about this effervescent soul who was so lovingly championed by two of my internet faves Alexandra Franzen and Tanya Geisler.

What I found when I scrolled and clicked my way through her site, was not only a vibrant, generous, fun-lovin’ woman on a mission to help creative peeps figure out what they want to be when they grow up, but a woman who’s been through some stuff. You know, some cancer stuff. But does it define her? Oh hell no. 

Meet Michelle Ward, ukelele-playing creative career coach, super-rad human being.

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Let’s kick off with a biggie. Why do you do what you do?

Because I’ve been there and done that and it stunk! In my late 20s I finally came to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to be a musical theater performer any longer (which was a 20 year old dream), and I couldn’t find anyone that I felt knew “get it”.

I went to a social worker who I was told worked on career change stuff for artists, but in our second session she told me to get a nose job! It was just such a punch in the gut after a real tumultuous time for me. It took me a while to come to terms with it, but I couldn’t deny that I was super passionate in thinking that I could be the creative career coach that I needed at that time.

What are three of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt since becoming an entrepreneur?

In no particular order:

1 // Don’t be afraid to wave your uniquity flag! It leads to clients/customers you love working with and a biz that energises you.

2 // You’re your own best business advisor. Do your best to stop the “shoulds” and “have tos” and instead listen to your wants and gut/heart instead.

3 // Delegate delegate delegate. I’ve worked with a Virtual Wizard at least 10 hours/week for almost 2 years and it’s changed things for the better. I’m looking at expanding her hours and/or bringing on at least 1 other freelancer so we can all keep focusing on the tasks/work we love.

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What’s been key for you in building your tribe online?

When I started When I Grow Up Coach in 2008, I was working full-time as an Executive Assistant – so I was really restricted to whatever I could do promotionally in my cubicle.

I started a blog right away, got on Twitter (and took time to learn how to use it effectively!), and took the first incarnation of Holly Becker’s Blogging Your Way. Because I was so active with those platforms and that class, I made connections right away that directly led to clients and referrals and interview requests. Everything grew from there.

I know that there’s rarely a ‘typical’ day in the life of an entrepreneur/ blogger/ lady of the interwebs, but can you talk a bit about how you approach your work? What does a week in your life usually entail?

You’re right that there’s nothing “typical” about my time – it’s so dependent on the projects I have going on! But in general, I have about 30 client sessions/month plus work on 1-2 projects, as well as writing 1 blog post and newsletter each week and doing other Woman of the World stuff (finances, billing, social media, etc).

Right now we’re at the start of the big online Blog Lovin’ Tour for my bookso there’s lots of calls with Jess (my co-author) and our tour organiser, Abby, as well as lots of interviews to do (like this one!) and guest posts to write.

I’m finally re-adjusting my schedule to how I work best, and that’s in batches. I’ve been coaching Monday – Friday since forever, but starting next month I’ll only be coaching Tuesday -Thursday. I’m excited to have Mondays and Fridays for writing, planning, etc. without having it leak over to client days.

I think this’ll be great for my productivity and, um, sanity! (I’m not a big fan of head explosions).

Routines and rituals for the soul: can you tell us about the little – or big – things that keep you feeling grounded, joyful, connected, inspired?

Oh, sure! The things that pop into my head: the collaborations I’ve had and freelancers I work with (love them all!), Judge Judy (I DVR her every afternoon and watch her first thing every weekday morning!), my man (aw!), my Spotify playlists (movin’ and groovin’), dark chocolate (mmmmm….), meals or calls or visits with friends and family (I’m a big-time extrovert), Mondays with my Mom (she has off and I can take off – win-win!), seeing shows (Broadway, improv, comedy, musicals, concerts, etc), bubble baths (wine + She & Him + good book preferable), playing my uke (you can listen to my songs here), performing and singing (I really miss it), working with my clients (such a high!), making people laugh (no feeling like it!)… I’ll stop myself now :)

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You’ve teamed up with Jessica Swift to create a gorgeous new offering, The Declaration of You. Let’s pull back the curtain – how did the book come to form? 

Jess and I met through the Interwebs in 2009 and became quick friends. She became my client, we worked together on a collaborative project, we would email and talk regularly… and in 2010 she read my mind and emailed me to see if I’d wanna work with her on “some sort-of e-workbook… full of brilliant coach-y wisdom and colorful illustrations, and we can have stories and games and printable feel-good artwork and all kinds of good stuff!”

It was the biggest “duh” ever, and we knew we wanted to create a course or book that used silly, fun, creative, colorful exercises to help creative women discover their purpose. Finding what you love didn’t need to be a big-time scary and serious process! It could be full of color and play and laughter, and that was our mission.

Once we decided on the Big Topics we wanted to broach, we shared a Google Doc and gave each other complete permission to write whatever, whenever – and to change anything the other person wrote without it being taken personally. It was a wonderful give-and-take and gave us lots to work with. We make a really great team.

From there, it was obvious that Jess would do our branding and design work, while I’d pick up the writing and tech-y slack on the promotional side. Again, we’d work on drafts of things, run it by the other person, and incorporate comments into the final piece. No hard feelings, ever.

The Declaration of You: How to Uncover It, Own It & Shout It From the Rooftops debuted as an ecourse. We then put the exercises into an ebook for people to download and work through at any time, and ran the ecourse twice more.

By the time we were through, we heard about the abusive relationships they ended up leaving and the passionate projects they decided to start and the ways they began to recognize their own needs, values, and priorities.

And then, in October 2011, Jess got an email from a publisher asking if she’d ever want to write a book. Collaborators first, she responded, “I’d love to, and I have! Here’s the ebook I self-published with my friend.”

Tonia, the acquistions editor, loved it, pitched it, and bought it in January 2012. We’re still pinching ourselves about it!

The not-so-hot days. We all have them. How do you combat overwhelm and self-doubt?

To be honest, I’m all about powering through – so when I feel close to a head explosion or Everyone-Is-Better-Than-Me-itis, I keep my head down and do my work. But it does wonders for me to step away – take a walk, play my uke, go for a run, work at a coffee shop, etc – as does doing a brain dump to get everything out of my head.

I always try to remind myself that everything always gets done – and because of that, I rarely find myself working much past 8 or 9 pm. Having a non-insane quitting time helps a lot!

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RAPID FIRE:

I feel empowered, electric, alive, the most ME when… I’m coaching!

I feel restricted when… someone tells me I “can’t” or “shouldn’t.” Blech!

I’m inspired by… watching my clients achieve their passionate career dreams!

My current mantra/ affirmation is… you’re only one person. 

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To wrap up, imagine you’re sitting in conversation with yourself in 10 years time. What are you doing? What does your life look – and feel – like?

Ooh, whadda nice daydream! I’m definitely with my husband and a kid, and we’re in a house somewhere close to NYC that has a sunroom I work in, a garage that Luke can make things, etc.

I have a handful of people working for me so that the only things I do are coach, speak, and write. I’ve had another book published and have helped thousands of creative women get out of their soul-sucking jobs and into work that feels like play.

We have a summer home and when I travel to speak or do workshops, my family comes with me. I’m also able to do theater and my husband is able to write comedy full-time. It feels so light and relaxing and invigorating all at once – amazeballs!

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Michelle Ward, aka The When I Grow Up Coach, has coached hundreds of creative women to devise the career they think they can’t have – or discover it to begin with. She’s a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation, a musical theater actress with her BFA from NYU/Tisch, and a Corporate America escapee. Her first book (co-written with artist and designer Jessica Swift), The Declaration of You, will be published by North Light Craft Books this summer.

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What do you think of the new series?

Did this interview with Michelle spark something for you? Share below, sweet pea!

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7 Comments to “How I Do It: An Interview with Michelle Ward”

  1. Oh wow Rachel- if you only knew how happy this interview with Michelle makes me! Thank you so, so much for interviewing her. I asked for guidance last night regarding something that’s been bugging me a lot recently and this is the first thing I saw when I woke up this morning- amazing!

    I love the way the universe works! Thank you so, so much beautiful ladies! xxx

  2. Ooooh, awesome interview series! And terrific kick-off interview.

    That sort of wholehearted, open-armed collaboration that Michelle is championing sounds so creatively fulfilling… Leave the ego at the door, embrace another and their ideas, and just PLAY. Love it!

    Can’t wait to see who’s next! xo!

  3. Katie: Ahh, I LOVE that. Thrilled the words you needed to hear found their way to you via Michelle + her loveliness x

    Jess: I know, right? Sounds incredibly dreamy. And woot woot, lots of beauties who I know you’re going to love comin’ up x

  4. I absolutely love this new series! I always find interviews fascinating and this one was so much fun to read. Michelle is so right about sharing our uniquity with the world. I think we could all use that reminder from time to time. :)

  5. LOVE this new series Rach – keep them coming! I am so nosy and I love getting a little peek into the lives of my favourite people (reading and working through the Declaration of You at the moment, it’s great!).

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