Great Escape Podcast episode 33 - Create a life you f'ing love on your terms

great escape Sep 28, 2019

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- And on this episode of the Great Escape podcast, I'm talking to Ellen Chinke, who describes herself as a former biomedical researcher turned lifestyle management and transformation coach. Go on Ellen, I love that intro. Tell us about the life before and then we'll come into the life after.

- Yeah, how did you go from doing biomedical research to coaching? Well, actually, when I tell the story I like to start when I was in high school, because I was that kid who was told, you know, you're so intelligent, you need to do something with that. But, even at that time I was also the kid who I was singing in choir, I was playing soccer, football. I was doing all of these different things, but that was kind of the thing that everybody told me this is your future. This is what's gonna make you successful so you need to do something great with it. And I'd always really enjoyed science as a subject. It actually was probably my worst subject, but I'd always really enjoyed science and all the things I though you could do with science. You know, cure all these diseases, cure cancer, all that jazz. So when I went into school, I knew that I was gonna major in something science related so that I could do what everybody had been telling me and do something that, you know, equaled the intelligence that people had always been telling me that I had. So, I, from the get go went into a microbiology program, which probably seems really freaking random to a lot of people, but there's a movie, a really, really terrible 80s movie called Outbreak. Dustin Hoffman, yeah, I watched that in my ninth grade biology class and I was just like I wanna do that, that is so cool, I want to do that. I don't care how unrealistic this movie is, I want to do that. So, I went into microbiology. I actually started working in research labs right when I started school and I was good at it. Like, I can't say much more than to say I was good at it and I was comfortable in a lab. So for the next six years, I got my degree. I was a double major, actually double degree in microbiology and genetics. I'd worked in labs for six years. I did reproductive biology, I did gene therapy, I worked with viruses, all of this stuff that's really, it's cool. And then I went to my Ph.D. Because that was kind of the logical next step that everybody had been telling me to take, so, I was truly checking boxes. I got my degree. I got my first job out of college. Everybody was telling me now you go to Ph.D., so that's what I did. And I interviewed for all of these Ph.D. programs and I ended up at really what was like my dream Ph.D. program because it was all of these people who, you know I'd been told a lot in my education you're very outgoing for a microbiologist, well, yeah. And all of these people in my Ph.D. program and in that department were equally as outgoing as me, so I felt like I'd found a home and a place that really reflected how I saw scientists being, because there were people who were more like me. And needless to say I landed in this Ph.D. program and every time you start something new, you know, it's like shiny object syndrome, like it's exciting. It's easy to find enthusiasm because everything's new, but with that I also met a lot of imposter syndrome, 'cause I went from being one of the most intelligent people, one of the most successful scientists to come out of my undergrad because I had publications as an undergraduate. So I went from that to an environment where everybody was like that. And I was no longer a standout and I didn't know how to balance that. I didn't know how to find my voice as a scientist, so I really, really struggled my first year with imposter syndrome. And I also really struggled my first year because I felt like every time I tried to do something that brought another facet to my life other than science, I was met with resistance. Whether it was by my, you know, people who I was working with, my peers, my mentors, you know I tried to do this, I wanted to do this dual degree program and I was getting met with resistance about how I was unfocused because I was going to all of these other classes to further my education. I, you know, as happens when you go to school, I'd started to kind of let myself go in my first year, and I was just like, no, I don't want to do this. I want to be fit and academically successful. So I started doing all of these workouts and stuff and again was met with resistance. And I started to very much feel early on in my program that I couldn't do all of these things that I wanted to do and be a successful scientist. So it really, I had these two parts of myself that were just clashing, really, really significantly. And as I progressed in my program, I was kind of like, well, make this work. I'll do what I have to do to it my way. And the resistance eventually turned into bullying in a lot of different forms and we bonded about this before the call. My bullying was actually from peers. It was not from mentors or bosses. It was from a lot of my peers that for one reason or another did not like how I was doing things. And one of them in particular was kind of like the leader of like the friend group that I hung out in and so I felt very ostracized and that I no longer belonged and that really led to me kind of isolating myself. I called it my quarter life crisis, because I had gotten to a point where I no longer felt like I could make it work. And that these two parts of my life were so different. I had the part of me that loved health and fitness and wanted to coach actually. That's when I started coaching as a side hustle. And I no longer felt like they could co-exist and so I kind of stepped back from coaching, I stepped back from science and was just trying to figure my shit out, from a solid like three or four months of kind of being a hermit a little bit. And I eventually came out of that, but through all of this time I was just having a lot of doubts of is this the right place for me. Can I truly have the kind of multi-faceted, multidimensional life that I want to have and do this path. And then in spring 2016, you know how they always say bad things happen in threes, that was my life that summer. My grandpa passed away. He was the first significant family member I lost and that was a huge wake-up call for me because suddenly I was 3,000 miles away from home doing something that I didn't like, that didn't bring me joy, that didn't feel worth it to be so far removed from my family at this time. So, that was like punch in the face number one that summer. A month after my grandpa passed away, while I was home at his funeral, somebody had hit my parked car and caused a few thousands dollars worth of damage, thank you to whoever you are and then like two weeks after that I broke the first bone of my life, crashing my bicycle and was in a sling for the rest of the summer. And then about a month after that, I had the worst professional meeting of my life. And basically sat down after that meeting and was like if I'm in school to learn, and I don't feel like I'm learning, I feel like I'm beating head against the wall and being raked over the coals when things aren't working and it's not my fault, this is pointless, I'm out. And about a few weeks after that when my boss got back from vacation, poor her, my boss got back from vacation and I waked into her office and kind of dropped a bomb and was just like I'm done. I can't do this anymore and so I decided to leave and that began the crazy transition of my life that now has led me into coaching and doing what I do now.

- So that was that point at which you decided that life could no longer be what it is and has to change. But at this point, you didn't have a plan for what it could be.

- I mean I think I had an idea in the back of my head that I knew I wanted to coach or at least try coaching. But, yeah, I was very much at like this is not my path. This is not what I want in my life, this is not making me happy and I've given it long enough to know that it's not gonna change enough to make me happy. But yeah, you're right, I didn't have a clear picture of what the next steps in my life were gonna look like.

- Okay. And although you had said to your boss, this is it, I'm out, did you yet believe that you could create a new life or were you just kind of this has to stop? Or did you know in that moment that actually this could be different?

- I think I knew in that moment because even though it happened in a moment and that moment was kind of when I decided to get out, it was two years, a year and a half in the least in the making of me leading up to that moment and that's kind of why I said like I knew at this point that things weren't gonna change enough for me to feel like this was gonna be the life that would lead me to the place that I wanted to be. So, it really was the moment and when I made the decision to quit, I knew that this isn't what I wanted anymore and that I could have different. I just didn't know what that different was. So yeah, I definitely think I had a clear picture at that moment. It was just a matter of clarifying the how, I guess.

- And I think also you alluded to the stress, that that 2-1/2 year period wasn't just unpleasant, it was actually really causing you mental distress during that period of time. Actually in that period of time, my program director, God bless her, basically told me, she's like you need to go see a therapist. I will make the appointment for you, but you need to go talk to someone. And I broke down crying in that meeting. And it was my first year of my graduate program, like I don't know why it took me until the beginning of my fourth year, I do actually, I do know why it took me, but I was struggling that much in year one that my program director was just like you need to go talk to a therapist my friend. Yeah.

- I'm kind of glad she had that presence of mind.

- I know, I know.

- You then, you've quit. You said to everybody, this is it, I'm out. What happened next? How did you come to decide, okay, this is the new route and how did you begin to execute on that?

- Well, fortunately for me I did have a little bit of a period where I still had a job. My boss was very understanding of the decision I made. In fact, I will never forget that she said you're brave for making this choice and realizing that this isn't the right path for you. She's like, yeah, I want you to stay, but you're brave for understanding yourself well enough to know. So I had a supportive environment in that sense, my mentor. The person who, you know, in my immediate vicinity at work who I was most scared of disappointing was very supportive and she gave me a job in the lab while I wrote out my lease where I was living at the time. So that gave me, it kind of gave me the flexibility to kind of find my next steps. And I kind of slowly moved out of science because releasing the identity of being a scientist was really hard for me. You know at that point, I was only, oh, gosh, when was this? I was only 28, 27 when I decided to leave, but at that point I had been doing research for almost a decade, like it very much was how I defined and identified myself and so releasing that identity was hard, but I kind of starting taking these incremental steps out where I was still doing research, but I also started taking like these little side jobs doing like science editing, so I still a scientist, but I wasn't researching anymore and then when I finally did leave, I was still doing a little bit of science editing, but then starting to move into coaching a bit more. So it was like a year of kind of an overlap of these two identities that I had of scientist and coach and kind of slowly moving into it, so that was, I was very fortunate in that sense, but that was also at the time where we joked about me giving $5,000 to a random company in the internet. That happened in that interim as well.

- So I should explain that before we actually starting recording, we had a lovely conversation, various bits of it I think, I wish I'd recorded, but I didn't. So, yeah, Ellen alluded just there to spending $5,000 with a random company in the internet, so you basically went out and you paid for a program to learn how to become a coach.

- Well, actually it wasn't even learning how to become a coach, it was even more disconnected from my future life than that. Actually, I paid $5,000 as a down payment to a company to travel with them for a year. I had been, in my mind locked in a lab for the last 10 years with really very little location freedom and flexibility and I'd been presented with this opportunity to travel the world for a year. And it was kind of on whim. I think I'd had a few glasses of wine one night and was just like this sounds like a great idea. So I applied and I got into the program and actually as dichotomous as that feels from my life even as a coach now, that was probably the best thing I could have done because I think I was too damn comfortable where I'd been. I could have kept science editing, I could have kept, you know, I maybe would have gone back into research in some capacity, but by doing this thing, by giving this company this money and then traveling with them for a year, it actually ended up being like $27,500 to travel with them for a year. But that removed me from my situation and forced me to get really, really uncomfortable. I was traveling with 50 people I didn't know. But even in that sense, that gave me, I'd always had this kind of adventurous spirit. I love hiking, I love, when I moved from graduate school back to my hometown, I took a 5,000 mile road trip across the U.S., like in this big, all sorts of all over the place in the U.S., it wasn't even logical or a straight line, but we went all over the place and I got to really embrace that and that kind of becomes part of my brand and part of how I coached and something that I encouraged a lot of my clients to do is if you have these crazy things that you want to incorporate into your life, do them, I did, I traveled for 12 months. Am I still doing it, no. But it became a part of my coaching brand and I also through that community, that remote year community and through the people in my community, I started my coaching business. They were my first clients. So, in so many ways, as random as it seemed it was exactly the step I needed to take to get me out of my comfort zone and really show me all that life had to offer as cliche and cheesy as that is because I didn't even know this was a lifestyle that was a realistic thing to cultivate.

- I'm really fascinated with this. You're traveling the world, traveling the U.S., and then from that, you've kind of developed your first customers, but did you have, at what point did the idea of coaching become an idea? Was that while you were traveling or had that existed beforehand? That actually had existed. I always joke that I've been coaching in some capacity since I was in high school. You know, I, if it was not coaching, it was mentoring or it was, you know, teaching. So it's always been a part of my life, but then actually it started in graduate school. I always joke that when I discovered coaching, it was in the first year of my Ph.D. program and I always say it threw a monkey wrench into my life because I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. I started at the time as a source of accountability for myself because it was health and fitness related. But I couldn't shake how much I loved mentoring people and actually I loved the health and fitness side, but I loved the personal growth side more. I loved getting into the nitty gritty with people. What are your values? How are you living your values? What do you truly want in life? Outside of your carer goals. So much of us our focused in terms of our goals around our career. There's more to you than that and that's kind of where the multi-passionate piece came is I realize that all of these people that I was helping and all these people that I was working with, they back burnered all of these passions that they had for the sake of being realistic in their job or maybe as a parent or whatever. And I wanted them to give themselves permission to start to explore and experiment these things, so it was kind of always in the back of my mind and then when I got out of science and started doing this travel thing, it just exploded because all of a sudden I was living all of these things that I'd just been professing to all the people that I was coaching and it felt, it's finally felt like it all started to mesh.

- And that's a common theme that actually often the thing that we end up doing has kind of been within us for such a long period of time. It's just taken whatever journey we've had to get to where we now are. So you've built your coaching business. You talked about that multi-passionate element. So, you're coaching people who aren't just wanting to be internet entrepreneurs or whatever its they're wanting lots. Tell us a bit more about that.

- Yeah, so I, as I hinted at the beginning, I've always been a person who did all the things. Sometimes to my detriment, because sometimes it very stressful wearing that many hats, but I have always been somebody who I, maybe it's because I love to be busy, but I think it's also just 'cause I have a lot of things that I am really interested in. I've always been a musician. I've sang and played the piano since I was small. I've always been an athlete. I played soccer from the time I was five until I had to stop playing in my mid-20s 'cause I broke myself in high school and my knees just don't operate quite like they used to. But I've always been an athlete. I've always loved to write. And oddly it started to become a passion over the years to speak and to do podcast interviews and so all of these, and I'm a book nerd, I love to read, I read like 50 books a year. So, I had all of these passions and these things that I was juggling that when I was in college during graduate school, I didn't make time for because it felt selfish or I felt guilty to be, 'cause you know Ph.D. program, you're paid. You get a stipend to do the work that you're doing and I felt guilty and selfish to be spending my time doing other things as opposed to doing the Ph.D. And so I stifled all of these other passions and all of these other interests and parts of my personality and that, you know, we joked about the quarter life crisis. That really affected me because I no longer felt like I was being myself. It felt inauthentic to stuff all of these other parts of me down and the more I worked with clients, even in the health and fitness capacity, the more I realized all of us are doing this. Some more than others, though, but all of us are doing this, all of us are compartmentalizing our lives into this is my work life and I'm only allowed to be this thing in my work life or this is my family life and I think that's okay to an extent, but my big thing over the course of the years as been do all the things. Like if you want to go out and photograph on a random Saturday morning, do it. If you want to go run a marathon, even if you don't feel like you're a runner, go do it. I feel like we all get so caught up in these labels of the things that we are and we are not that we don't let ourselves dive in and jump into the different passions that we truly do have and the different things that we truly do want to do. And over the course of the years, that's kind of been my big mission and my goal is to have people give themselves permission to start to experiment with these things. I had a great identity conversation with my friend. So like a year and a half ago to the day, it was my first podcast interview experience actually and the conversation we had is at what point do you start to adopt that identity? You know at what point can you start to call yourself a runner. Well, if you open the door and lace up your tennis shoes and go on a run, you're a runner. There's no point at which you start to adopt the label. If you do the thing, that's when you can bring that label into a part of who you are, so that's kind of what the multi-passionate thing became. Just giving people permission to experiment with the things that they're interested in and to adopt the labels as they want. Like who gives a shit about the rest of it.

- And do you feel that you've at least partially been successful in integrating that into yourself, into your own life?

- Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think I feel more like, you know, we all want to grow up from our younger versions of ourselves, but I think one thing that the young version of myself did very, very well at is I never felt like I had to be pigeon holed. I could do all the things and there was no holding me back from doing that. And I feel like I've started to step back into her in a really, really profound way over the last, you know four or five years. I've let myself bring that athlete back out. I've let myself bring, even if I'm a terrible writer, I've let myself be a writer again. I've let myself be a photographer again. You know, I've let myself be a singer again. Even if all I do is sing in the shower or sing to the karaoke app on my phone, I've let myself do these things and I think that give yourself permission factor is the thing that a lot of us are missing and I've given myself permission to be a hiker or a traveler, even if I'm not traveling like I was last year. Like I still am that, even if I'm not currently doing it. And I think that's been a bit of the mindset for me.

- Yeah, yeah. I think that's, we end up in the I should be doing this and I should be doing that, rather than the--

- I hate that word, that's why I made that noise.

- Yeah, no, it's fine. And now, as life unfolds in front of you and just wait till the midlife crisis hits, that's a whole nother thing. In fact, Kevlin, my colleagues and I were talking about this this afternoon. The realization that life isn't endless, that things can get, but hey, this is not about that. But as you move forwards, do you, do you have a plan for how the business should be growing or staying the same size in order to support the rest of your life or are you allowing it to be more organic in the way life moves on?

- Ooh, much more organic, which is very unlike me. I'm very much a planner. I love the five-year, 10-year plans. I mean look at my life when I was in graduate school, but I've kind of come to the realization since I left graduate school that life is something that kind of happens in chapters, especially for people that are millienials and are in my generation, there's a lot less of a, you even talked about it a lot with your experience, there's a lot less of a this is your plan and your path and your trajectory for the next 40, 50 years. There's a lot less of that. It's kind of more a like almost five, 10 years at a time kind of thing. And my first 10 years was science and it was doing research and now I'm in a chapter of coaching, but my first couple of years of that was really just, because there was so much overlap with the science, it was really just a figuring out is this something that I actually want and now that I've answered the question that yes, this is something I actually want, now I'm kind of in the stage of my business of okay, this is what I want, now what's the impact that I want to make. What's the thing that I want to offer to my people to make that impact. So I'm kind of in this weird organic figuring stuff out stage of what is my, I hate the phrase zone of genius, but I'm gonna use it. What is my zone of genius? What's the big thing that I can truly offer people that's gonna really help them impact their lives, 'cause I, for the last few years have been saying take back your life on your terms. That's what I felt like I had to do coming out of graduate school was to take back my life and make it what I wanted to make it, not what my mentors wanted me to make it, or my peers wanted me to make it or even my parents. Like I've been a people pleaser my entire frickin' life. And I'm at the point now where I'm making it what I want to make it, so what does that look like and really giving people the tools and the training and the tricks and the hacks that can help them do the exact same thing. So I'm kind of in this weird flux stage in my business right now, kind of figuring out what my next steps are, but I now this I what I want to do, so I'm definitely committed to that.

- Okay, and you're having fun on a daily basis rather than wanting to just stay under the duvet every day.

- Heck, yeah. Heck, yeah, I rode my first jet ski this weekend. I am constantly going on all these random hikes with my friends and yeah, and I'm creating stuff as I see it, as it comes to me. So I'm really, really excited for a lot of the new things I've got coming up. I'm creating, I'm constantly told by all my friends like your organizational systems are insane, like how do you juggle all the things, 'cause I do have a day job as I'm kind of figuring out what the next steps are for me in my coaching business and one of the biggest the all my friends and my master mind have been telling me is you need to create some sort of time management productivity system and planner, so I'm doing that right now and I'm having a lot of fun with that. And yeah, who knows where things are gonna go. I wanna start like real speaking, like on a stage. I love doing podcasts, so I want to take that to the next level, so we'll see. I applied to TED, but I didn't get them this year.

- I did a TED-EX in 2016.

- I saw that.

- That was a whole different life. But anyway, Ellen, that's been a really interesting conversation. Thank you for being so open and honest and especially this tail end of the conversation where you haven't got it all buttoned up. Life is still becoming what it's becoming and I think that's something listeners will find really encouraging that doesn't have to be this neat ending to the process, that the escape is often an ongoing process. We never stop digging the tunnel.

- Yeah, and related to that real quick, I had someone come on my podcast and she introduced me to her book, so she gets a shameless plug in this I guess. But she talked to me about this. She's a former engineer, former rocket scientist actually, really cool person, and she talked to me about how growth is an iterative process. Like just like in business development and in product development, we go through these cycles where we're kind of analyzing and then implementing and then analyzing and implementing. Growth works the same way, personal and professional development works that same way and you have to give yourself those moments of you know kind of introspection and figuring out what those important next steps are and not constantly be in the implementation stage because at some point you have to ask yourself if what you're implementing is the right thing for you to implement and I've really taken that to heart ever since we had the conversation earlier this summer. And I did an introspection phase and I think sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be in that introspection phase as opposed to just constantly achieving and implementing all the time, so, yeah.

- Cool. Well, that's an amazing ending to the interview. And thank you so much.

- Thank you.

- Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Great Escape podcast. You can find other episodes at all the usual placed on iTunes, Stitch or on Spotify or at the website and if you'd like to contact me to talk about any element of this episode or others I've covered, please go to and you can find all the ways of getting a hold of me there. And if you're stuck in a situation and you can't find a way out, please go there, send me a message and let's see how we can work together to get you unstuck and moving forward with your life again. Please do share this podcast with your friends and family, other people you think might appreciate it and comment on episodes or send me a message. I'd love to keep the conversation going.

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