How do things REALLY turn out when you make the brave decision to relaunch your career? Do things actually end up working out? Or does leaving behind a stable career end up coming back to bite you? In this very special 50th episode of Career Relaunch, I’m excited to welcome back Kelly Cara to the show. Kelly was my very first guest when this podcast launched back in Sept 2016, and she was voted by listeners as the guest they most wanted to hear from again.
We’re going to check in with her to hear how things have actually turned out for her since she made the decision to leave her job behind as an educational researcher in Springfield, Missouri to become a nutrition researcher, educator, and health-supportive chef in Austin, Texas after finishing culinary school. We’ll talk about doing work you love, the impact of money on your choices, and when to move onto the next chapter of your career . . . even if you’ve just recently made a change.
Check out this TED animation of his poem:
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I challenged you to reflect on one of the ideas you’ve been thinking about pursuing and really reflect what sort of benefit it could have on your career, life, and people in your life. Make a list of the potential impact it could realistically have on your physical health, your mental health, your family life, your personal & professional growth, even your friendships.And there may be some negatives.
Kelly Cara is a nutrition researcher, educator, and health-supportive chef passionate about promoting whole-person health and wellness through nutrition and lifestyle habits. She’s currently pursuing a graduate degree at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy where her main research interests involve the impact of food processing – from raw foods to ultra-processed foods – on overall health. Kelly is a contributor to the Friedman Sprout online newspaper where her articles highlight the challenges of accessing and choosing nutritious and health-promoting foods. She is dedicated to environmentally responsible and humane living, sustainability, and generosity.
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Teaser (first ~15s): When an experience is really intrinsically fulfilling, I’m pretty comfortable living a very simple life and enjoying a simple income that is giving me all sorts of other rich, personally fulfilling rewards.
Joseph: Hello, Kelly. Good to talk with you again.
Kelly: Great to talk with you.
Joseph: Welcome back to the show. We recorded our conversation in February 2016, which was over two years ago, I think, right after you moved to Austin. In Episode 40, I asked listeners to vote for who they wanted the most to hear from again, and you got the most votes. Could you just give me a little reminder of the very high level timeline of the major milestones since 2012, when you first had those pangs of wanting to make a change?
Kelly: In 2012, I was working at Missouri State University in an assessment research coordinator position, doing statistical analysis and also teaching a statistics class, but I really wanted to gear my research more in the direction of nutrition and wellness. I had no outlet for that, and I had no foot in the door for that.
I decided to move to Austin, Texas with my husband so that I could attend a health supportive nutrition related culinary school down here at the time. It was called Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts.
Joseph: That was 2014. Is that right?
Kelly: Two thousand and fourteen, we made the move. I attended the school. That was a six-month program. After that, I had a couple of internship opportunities that turned into full-time employment, and we’ve been here ever since. I’ve been doing a variety of things since then, just staying in the nutrition and wellness sector, but not getting to do research so much. I’m trying to come back to that now at this point.
Joseph: You started your journey in 2012. In 2014, you started school. We spoke in 2016. What’s happening right now at this moment in your career and your life?
Kelly: My husband and I created our own business. We created an LLC in December of 2015 just because we thought, really, when we moved down here to Austin, we wanted to educate people about what we had learned with regard to nutrition and wellness and lifestyle changes that can make a big difference in a person’s health.
Right now, what we’re doing is teaching some classes for the public. We are working with medical clinic here, a private practice in Austin. We’re teaching classes for a group of adults that have come and really are interested in improving their health. They either have diseases, they have something in their family history that has made them think, ‘I need to make some changes so that this doesn’t happen to me.’ We’re doing that in the evenings.
On the weekends, I’m teaching some cooking classes, health supportive cooking classes. We’re also gearing up for a big move, because we’ve been in Austin for four years, and now we’re preparing to move to Boston, Massachusetts, for another graduate program for me.
Joseph: It sounds like you actually had a pretty good line here in Austin with doing some of the wellness programs, because I was just listening back to the episode number one which featured you. You were hoping to bring wellness programs to the corporate world and also to individuals and talk about nutrition and wellness, and it sounds like you’ve had the chance to do that there in Austin.
Kelly: It’s been incredible. At the same time, it’s also been nothing like what we were hoping for. We’ve had to move away from the corporate side. We really did want to do wellness programming for the corporate side because we thought that would be a better way to make a living.
The program that we offer is very robust. It’s called the Complete Health Improvement Program. We did not design it, but we are certified as facilitators of this program. It can be as long as 8 to 10 weeks for a program. We’d be going to a corporation one to two times a week, teaching people about the way that nutrition interacts with the bodily processes, how little changes that people can make in their eating habits that can improve their health. We would be doing that for an extended period of time, so it’s pretty intensive actually. It’s therefore a little costly, so we thought a corporate route would be a much more lucrative route for our business.
We were pitching it to insurance companies here in town and to any local business we could, and I was cold calling and doing cold emails. We just weren’t getting anyone on board. People would say, ‘Yeah, that sounds great. Maybe next year we can work that into our programming,’ or, ‘What if you could just come and do a one-day cooking class so we can kind of get a taste of what you do.’ We kind of partnered like that. They liked that, so we started doing that more.
Joseph: Was there a particular reason why you decided to not continue to pursue the corporate route, based on the initial vision you had for what that could look like?
Kelly: The main reason was that, after taking about four months to just really try and get some clientele going or some clients locked in long-term, we were not successful with that. We just kept having these one-off opportunities, and they weren’t paying the rent, so we were eating into our savings.
Both of us had full-time job opportunities open up, so we both took full-time positions. Then we didn’t have time to do the full-time corporate program, so we kind of just had to take the opportunities that came across our path as they came up and curve out a new route based on that.
Joseph: Was there anything in particular that surprised you with the first few months of trying to get your programs off the ground?
Kelly: Yeah. In fact, I started listening back to your podcast again back then, because I think you had talked about depression.
Joseph: We had one of those, yeah.
Kelly: You started your new business.
Right after culinary school, I was doing my internships. Within a year, I came back to the culinary school and started teaching health supportive baking for them, and Devon was teaching nutrition. In the end of October of 2016 then, we got a phone call that said, ‘You don’t have a culinary school job anymore. We’re going to close the doors. The professional program is closing.’
We both lost our jobs at that time. That’s when I really hit the ground running with our business, V-Life. We decided to try to put all of our efforts into that. Within the four months that we really did that, I went through all of those different stages of, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? We don’t have income. Austin’s expensive to live in. Our business isn’t up and running yet.’
I went through a lot of different emotions during that time and struggling to really pinpoint what it was that we were trying to do with our business, because we wanted to sell this Complete Health Improvement Program, people weren’t biting, and it was a time to really evaluate, ‘Am I not good at marketing myself? Do we need to pay someone to market our business? Do we have enough money to do that? Are we willing to put money into doing that?’
Devon and I were sitting in the apartment together, having arguments about the business, never having time away and just reflect and think on our own. We were going through all of that.
Joseph: What’s that like to be working with your partner on a business? I know that in speaking with people who are like co-founders of businesses or startups, that can be tricky. If your co-founder is the person you’re also living with 24/7, can you just give us a glimpse into what that has been like, I guess, both the highs and the lows?
Kelly: In some ways, of course it’s great, because if you want to take a break and have lunch together, you’re right there. You can do that. If you need to do a presentation together, you can sit and talk about it. In the middle of the morning, you’re having a meeting with your partner right on the couch in the living room. It’s very comfortable, and it’s very organic.
At the same time, we realized, in close proximity, we do have different communication styles. We were struggling sometimes to understand each other in terms of, ‘What is it that you’re trying to ask me to do?’ or ‘I need clear directions,’ or ‘I need you to be more direct,’ constantly having that kind of feedback as we developed as business partners and then also trying to be husband and wife. That was very stressful.
Joseph: When we spoke before, you had told be about in your past job, you weren’t necessarily taking the best care of yourself. It was physically, I guess, not the best thing for your own personal wellness. I was just wondering how you would say your self-care has been over that past couple of years.
Kelly: The last two years have been amazing with regard to being able to focus on my goals for myself, with regard to nutrition for the year of 2017 and part of the beginning of 2018. I worked for an organization that was a dietary detox facility. That was the full-time job that I got after we started getting V-Life going.
It was all raw and living foods. I was preparing foods for people that would come in and go through our program. It’s a 21-day program, but they can do one week, two weeks, or three weeks. We had a three-week menu, and I was preparing all these foods. We use no processed foods. Everything was completely from scratch.
As I was working in that environment—everything there was organic, everything was fresh, everything was prepared very lovingly—we took a lot of time to make really healthy and nutritious and beautiful and delicious foods for our guests. Going through that as an organization and working around people that lived that kind of lifestyle really helped me finally get to where I was trying to get with the whole-foods, plant-based diet.
Now, I feel very good about that aspect. It was also a very active job. I was on my feet at least eight hours a day, because I would go for a walk in the morning, I would do a little bit of very minor yoga practice at home, I just do some sun salutations in the morning to get my body warmed up for the day, and then I’d go into work. We had a beautiful facility. I was mostly in the kitchen, but we also had a grow house where we would grow our own sprouts. I was walking up and down the hill and being outside in the sunshine. Really, it was a wonderful experience.
Joseph: It sounds like working at the dietary detox facility allowed to both live out your vision of helping other people live healthier, more well-balanced lives, but also, you yourself were able to benefit from adopting that sort of lifestyle yourself.
Kelly: I looked at it. It didn’t pay very much. It was truly just a kitchen prep job. That was a concern for me at first. I thought, ‘Well, this isn’t going to be a long-term thing. I think this is just going to be get some experience and have some income while we also try to run our business on the side.’ That was truly what it did end up being, but I had to ultimately think about all these other benefits, these personal improvements I was able to make and being able to live the lifestyle I wanted and not having too much responsibility at that time, so that when I came home, I could focus on my classes on the weekends and on my evening classes and teaching people.
I also did get an opportunity to teach people at that facility. We didn’t just feed people, but we also offered classes, so I got to teach classes about menu planning. I got to teach classes about fermenting foods. Those were also good opportunities to just get me back into teaching people as well.
Joseph: You mentioned money there, Kelly. This something that I actually think about a lot myself, how to value money versus the non-monetary benefits of some of those other things you were talking about where you get to do the things you want to do and spend your days doing the things that you are really passionate about.
I went back and listened to the other episode we did together, and you deluded to the fact that you knew you were going to be taking a bit of a financial risk in working on V-Life, and yet you didn’t want to let money stop you. Can you give me a glimpse into how things have been financially for you or at least like how you’ve been thinking about finances the past couple of years?
Kelly: I kind of have two different thoughts about it. One is when an experience is rich and full of either personal development opportunities or just really intrinsically fulfilling, as long as the pay covers the basics of life, I try not to worry too much about the pay. I’m pretty comfortable living a very simple life and enjoying a simple income that is giving me all sorts of other rich, personally fulfilling rewards.
On the other hand, my husband and I have talked a lot about the fact that as we get older, we both certainly want to feel compensated for the amount of skills and learning and education that we currently hold. That piece, I’m still struggling with a little bit.
The reason I left the dietary detox facility was, over time, I thought, ‘I’ve been here for a year. I’ve gained a great experience. I’ve really got my diet and exercise on track. I’m feeling very good about myself, but I really want to be viewed in my career field as a subject matter expert.”
I want to learn more about nutrition. A lot of our guests had really difficult questions. I thought in order for my career to move to a much more professional level, and I’m certainly ready for more responsibility, I need to either have a corporate kind of job or really launch our business in a new direction and go big with that, and/or maybe add another layer of education which is where this move to Boston is going.
I think all of that comes from this concept that we want to be financially compensated for what we know. Maybe within this field of nutrition and wellness, we’re going to have to approach it a little differently, because as a field, it doesn’t necessarily pay.
Joseph: Before we talk about Boston, I did have one more question about your current life, Kelly. One of the others things that I know is when you moved to Austin, that wasn’t just a professional move, it was also a personal move for you. The lot of your family is back in Missouri and moving to Austin was moving to a brand new city, totally different environment. Can you just give me a glimpse into what that’s been like for you, life in Austin, how have you enjoyed it the past couple of years?
Kelly: Austin’s a great place to live. It’s a lot of fun. It’s hot, and people talk about that, but both of us were interested in living in a warmer climate, so that hasn’t been a problem. There’s lots of outdoor activities. There’s fun things to do. The fact that so many people move from other places and come here to either be involved in the IT world or they have startups or for any variety of reasons – they’re in the arts, they’re in the music scene, there are people from all over, that means there are so many people that are looking for friends.
We had a hard time making friend the first couple of years, and I was really homesick, and I kept telling Devon, ‘Maybe we should think about moving back to Springfield. It’s cheaper. Maybe we could do our business there.’ Ultimately, once we finally made a real effort to start making friends, we joined meet-up groups with likeminded people, we met some people there eventually. As we would meet people that we felt like we had something in common with, we would just say, ‘Hey, how about you come over,’ or, ‘How about we meet up for dinner somewhere or some time and continue this conversation?’
Being able to practice that skill of just socializing and putting yourself out there and being very open to developing new relationships whether it’s professionally or socially. That has made all the difference, and I don’t think I would have become so comfortable doing that had I stayed in Springfield. I think moving to Austin and forcing myself into a new realm where I didn’t know anyone, that really stretched me. That’s been very, very rewarding. We have some great friends here now, and that really helped us settle in and help us feel like Boston was home.
Joseph: That’s fantastic. Now that you have settled in, it sounds like you’re getting ready to move away now. Let’s talk about Boston. What’s happening in Boston?
Kelly: After working at the dietary detox facility and getting all these great questions from guests that I couldn’t answer, I was like, ‘You know what? I really want to know the answers to these questions.’ I’m the kind of person who learn very well in a school setting. Some people can just read online and educate themselves that way. I can, but I feel like if I’m going to do the learning anyway, I might as well get the credentials. I don’t think that ever hurt.
I applied to PhD programs just October and November of last year, and I happened to get in to a couple.
Kelly: Thank you.
I was admitted to two different programs or accepted to two different programs. We visited the schools, and the one in Boston, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, ended up really impressing both Devon and me. We decided I feel a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we’re going to go.
Though we have friends in Austin, and we really feel like we’re comfortable here and it’s home, I also know that these skills and the things I just mentioned about, social interactions, they’re very transferrable, and I no longer fear moving to a new place and wondering whether I can make a happy home there. I think we can do that anywhere now.
Joseph: That is very exciting. I think what you’re saying about having developed the muscle of moving, I think that’s so true because I moved around quite a bit myself. I know what you mean about making friends. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but once you’ve moved a couple of times and you know that you can do it, then it starts to be a little bit less frightening to make a another move. That’s very exciting.
I know in our email exchange, before we got on the phone, you’ve mentioned that you had to make a couple of big decisions related to your move to Boston. I know at the time, you were also offered a position as a director of operations at a bakery there in Austin. Is that right?
Joseph: How did you walk through that decision in your mind of either taking that role which sounds really exciting or going back to school?
Kelly: As I started making this emotional, mental plan for moving away from Austin, I started contacting some friends and people I’ve worked with in my four years here that I hadn’t seen for a while. I just thought, ‘Let’s make some lunch dates and meet with people and just let them know what’s going on in my life.’
I like to keep those relationships warm, as a friend from an exchange program recommended. Keep those relationships warm, because you never know when you’re going to need to call on your network or when you’re going to need a reference letter from that person, or when you might just be able to keep a really strong friendship after you move away.
I met with one of the directors of the bakery that I had been a manager in. We’re sitting there having lunch, and she just kind of casually mentions, ‘Oh by the way, we’re looking for a director of operations. I know you’re planning this move to Boston, but if you’ve thought about getting back into the food manufacturing, just let me know. We’d love to put you back.’ I thought, ‘What? I wasn’t looking for that in this meeting at all. We were just having a social lunch.’
She had told me what the pay was. She told me the situation, and it sounded really great. This is a startup company that’s going national. They’re hoping to sell for $100 million dollars within the next three to five years, probably less than that with the momentum that they’re going through.
As Devon and I talked about it, we were thinking, ‘Gosh, there could be a big payout. This could be a great opportunity.’ At the same time, I knew that food manufacturing is actually not the direction that I really want to go. I could see myself working as a nutrition director or adviser or consultant for big manufacturing businesses, and I do think that that’s a job that I would be very interested in in the future.
I also know the nature of the work, and I also know that, when I’m motivated to do something with regard to education, it’s often important to take that opportunity when it comes, because a year from now, I might not have the same level of motivation. Two years from now, if I’ve been doing the director of ops position and making good money, I might not want to stop in the middle of that and go back to school.
Education, to me, is very important. It is something that I want. It’s something I’ve wanted for well over 10 years now. I have the opportunity now, so ultimately I decided I better seize it, just for fear of not knowing. Robert Frost’s poem, ‘Two Roads Diverged in Yellow Wood,’ comes to mind. He says, ‘I looked down one as far as I could, and I realized if I took this one, I might never come back, and it’s likely I’ll never come back to this crossroads.’
Joseph: That’s a great segue, Kelly, into the last thing I was hoping to talk about with you before we wrap up, which is to just revisit some of the perspectives you shared with me a couple of years ago. One of those was to err on the side of action. I think you were talking about giving yourself permission to go off and do the thing that you wanted to do just to see what happens, knowing that it’s going to be okay on the other end.
I’m just wondering, how did erring on the side of just ‘going for it’ ended up turning out for you now that you’ve got a little bit of that 20/20 vision.
Kelly: I say this with a huge smile on my face. I am so thankful that we made this move. It has been a constant winding path even while we’ve been here in Austin, but I recently tallied all of the different adventures and opportunities and the people and the places that we’ve experienced. It’s a long, long list. In four short years, we’ve accomplished a whole lot.
We haven’t made a whole lot of money, but we’ve had a really rich life. We’ve had a lot of rich experiences. We’ve had enough money to be able to take vacations. We’ve developed personally. We’ve developed professionally. We’ve been able to educate ourselves and educate others. I feel very good about where we are today, even knowing that we’re about to again embark on the unknown.
Every day is kind of an unknown, and I think that four years’ worth of an adventure and excitement, along with the frustrations and upsets that have come along the way. It’s all been worth it, certainly worth it. I can say that with a hundred percent certainty.
Joseph: Now, that’s fantastic to hear. I think that you’re making a really good point in pointing out the importance of the richness of your experiences beyond just the money side of things, which I think is what people so often tend to focus on. They sort of forget about the actual value of experiences that you’re having.
Sounds like it’s really gone well for you, and you feel like this has been worth it. Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you think you would have done differently or that you might approach differently as you are getting for the next big change in your life?
Kelly: I have a little bit of a struggle spending that money that we earn, because we don’t make a whole lot of money. Sometimes, I look at opportunities and I think, ‘Gee, could I do this myself and it would cost less? I’ll still be effective, maybe not as effective as paying someone else to do it for me, but it’ll work out.’
I think I would loosen my purse strings a little bit. It goes back to that concept of marketing our business. I think we probably could have been much more successful with launching V-Life and actually acquiring some corporate clients had we invested some money in a marketing company or paying someone to help us market ourselves, because that wasn’t a strong suite, and it took so much time. I think if we had someone doing those things for us, it would have been worth it. It would have been worth the investment.
Moving forward, I’m trying to think about my decisions that way. I have certain strengths. I also have certain weaknesses. My goal in life is not to be good at everything or great at everything. I really want to capitalize on my strengths and recognize when there’s an opportunity to pay someone else because they’re better at doing something, and it’s really going to move us forward more quickly.
I’m trying to find that balance and learn how to identify good resources and be willing to spend a little money on help, because we haven’t done that in the past.
Joseph: The last question I have for you, Kelly, before I let you go is when you think about the past few years there in Austin and the fact that you made this really brave leap to go there, is there anything that you’ve learned about yourself along the way?
Kelly: I think I’ve learned that I’m not really that interested in being my own boss, which surprised me. I thought having freedom of time and ability to make decisions for myself is very important. I think a lot of times we look at the opportunity of creating one’s own business as ultimate freedom. While that may be true in certain areas, it’s not necessarily true in every area.
Doing a business where I can educate others about wellness, I have to find all my own students. Working at the culinary school and being able to teach health supportive baking was fantastic because they brought the students to me. All I had to do was focus on what I was going to be teaching. The stress was gone. I loved that opportunity. That was one of my favorites, one of my highlights from being in Austin, teaching at the culinary school.
I think it’s important to try to be one’s own boss but to also recognize, if that’s not for you, then it’s not for you, and that’s okay. For me, I would rather let someone else do the tough lifting or the heavy lifting, and I can just come in and do what I do best, which is educate people and talk about the things that I really love, which is health supportive cooking and nutrition and wellness.
That surprised me. I didn’t know that that was going to be an outcome of starting our own business. I thought I was going to be a lot easier. I was a little over-optimistic, ‘Oh yeah, people want to do this. Of course they would want to do this. Why wouldn’t they?’ They do. They just want to do it in a different way that we anticipated, and it’s a lot of work to do these businesses on your own when you’re starting from the ground floor.
Joseph: I completely understand that, Kelly. I think that’s a really honest and refreshing view. I think that so often, the world of the self-employed entrepreneur or solopreneur is very much glamorized, but it is a lot of hard work, and it can get really tiring sometimes.
I experienced it myself. Some days, I just think, ‘Wow, this is really tiring.’ There’s definitely a benefit to letting somebody else do the marketing or letting somebody else go out and source clients or opportunities or gigs. I totally get it. That’s really interesting.
Thank you so much, Kelly, for giving us a glimpse into the past couple of years. It has been really interesting how things turned out for you, and I just want to wish you the best of luck with your PhD at Tufts. That sounds super exciting. I’m just really excited to hear how it all turns out for you when we check in again.
Kelly: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, and I would just encourage all of your listeners to keep listening to the podcast. I’ve been re-listening throughout the four years anytime I needed some encouragement. It really has been encouraging to hear other people’s stories, so thank you for your good work and for including me.
Joseph: Thank you, Kelly. All right. Take care.