Katie Kurtz | Soul Connect
Katie is one of my social media obsessions and someone I have had the pleasure of being acquainted with over the past year. Although we had met a few times in person before this interview, I knew nothing more about her than what she has chosen to share on social media. When Katie agreed to meet with me, I was overly-excited to get to know her on a more personal level. As we sat down and started conversing, I was thrilled to discover that she was just as comfortable opening up about her life in person as she is online.
So, we started from the beginning. Katie jokes, but I could tell by her body language that she was actually very serious, that the only thing she could remember wanting to be growing up was an ice cream scooper.
“I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to college. You know, I would watch movies and day dream about working at a magazine or becoming a CEO, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, when I went to college, I ended up in psychology classes and thought that I was really good at it. I was really intuitive and had compassion and was caring, so that’s the path I chose.”
Katie graduated from The University of Dayton in 2007, when the United States was in a financial crisis. Finding an entry level job was nearly impossible, so, she decided to go to grad school. After two years in a rigorous program, Katie went on to earn a dual Master’s degree in Social Work and Non-Profit Management from Case Western Reserve University. However, even with two advanced degrees, the weight of the financial crisis remained on her shoulders.
“I came out of grad school with $100,000 in student loans and landed a job that paid me $23,000 a year to work with extremely aggressive youth. I was exhausted and beat up. At one-point I even remember thinking, like ‘Is this it? Is this what life is? This is it, huh?’”
Katie grew up a single-child in a family full of hard workers. Watching her parents work so hard, she figured that growing up meant that you pick a field, you work hard in that field, and it all works out in the end; That is what Katie set out to do. Even though she was unhappy and feeling burnt out so early into her career, Katie put her head down and trudged along, never letting go of the fact that she knew deep down that she was meant to be of service to people. However, she was having a difficult time discovering her true calling. It was around this time that Katie went to her first yoga class.
“I didn’t want to go. I remember the whole time thinking, ‘This is terrible. I hate it. Everyone is sweating. We’re so close together. Where is my personal space?’ But, it was also the first time in my life that I had ever felt a mind-body connection and it was definitely the first time that I had really felt connected to myself; so I leaned into it. Since then, yoga has sort of been my gateway drug into personal development. It turned into this outlet for me.”
After experiencing her first yoga class, Katie continued to learn how to connect with herself and with the world around her. Through research and reading self-help books, Katie began to realize that there were other people like her; her eyes became open to a whole new world.
“When you’re in your 20’s, looking at the life that lies ahead, it’s hard to see anything but the amount of debt that you are in and difficult to think about anything but paying that back for the rest of your life. And then to be in a career, in a position where you aren’t happy? That’s a lot! Cue shame. Cue guilt. And cue what the fuck am I doing with my life? It’s like a tumultuous tornado of ‘What the hell!’ I felt unsettled and stuck, but this vortex of ‘the personal growth world’ I was discovering felt like a little sliver of light.
This new vortex Katie speaks of guided her to exploring new avenues within Cleveland. Discovering her true path forced her to step out of her comfort zone, go to events alone, and begin networking with strangers.
“This was also around the time that we started to see the Renaissance of Cleveland. People were just starting to quit their jobs and focus on their creative energy, and I wanted to be a part of that; I didn’t want to be left out of that scene. So, I started a blog called Clever Cleveland. I had no idea what I was doing and I am pretty sure that only 1 or 2 people read it. I’ve always struggled with being seen and heard but, like yoga, the blog became an outlet for me. It allowed me to be vulnerable and put myself out there. It felt really freeing.”
Through her blog, Katie began to connect with a lot of other Clevelanders who were in the same boat as her. She met a lot of side-hustlers, a lot of people who just wanted to create, and she was sitting there, listening to their stories and nodding “Me, too!” Katie would spend 8 hours of her day at a job that drained her and every other moment trying to make up for the energy she had lost. But, a few tragic events caused her to hit pause on the blog and concentrate on family.
“In 2015, I was driving home from brunch and I got a call from my Mom who was in terrible pain. I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. Within 14 hours, she was septic and in emergency surgery. I was literally having conversations with the doctors who were telling me that she wouldn’t live. She survived, thank god. But, the day after getting her home, my dad was in critical condition and I was having another conversation with doctors who were certain that he would not survive. In a matter of days, my entire world was turned upside down.”
Katie began a new full-time job within a few days of having her dad home from the hospital. But, just like clockwork, two months into her new position she was unsettled again. Thankfully, this time, Katie received the advice she needed to hear in order to move forward with her life and in her career.
“I was on the phone with my cousin and I literally remember asking him, ‘Is this what life is? Is this what adulthood is? Do we just go to these jobs that we hate and spend life that way? Am I being too sensitive? Is it me? Maybe I’m just not being grateful.’ And he was like ‘No, this career is not making you happy. This isn’t what you are meant to do. Just because you are good at it doesn’t mean that you have to spend your life doing it. You need to get out of your own way, give yourself permission, and just do it. You need to show up and give yourself permission today and every day because nobody is going to give that to you but yourself.”
From that moment on, Katie set out on a journey to change her life. She began saying “fuck it” to things that had once given her anxiety, or that she may not have felt confident trying. Within days, Katie had signed up for the coaching program she had been considering, putting her fears aside.
Before participating in the coaching program, Katie was missing the connection that she had with her college friends and was craving a similar connection in Cleveland. In an old journal, she had written down the simple idea of hosting gatherings for women to connect with one another in a meaningful way.
“I am a naturally awkward, introverted human. I just wanted people around me who were normal, fun, and who got me. I met people that I felt I would really connect with through yoga but then, after class, they would get up and leave! I was like, “But wait, can you stay and talk?” *laughs* So I thought, I need to create this for myself. I needed to bring like-hearted women together.”
Katie remembers telling one of her teachers her idea for the gatherings and the response was straightforward: Just do it; Set a date and just do it. So, she did. In February, 2016, Katie held her first women’s gathering in a friend’s living room.
“All of these women showed up to say, ‘Me, too!’ Everyone in the room was craving connection. We didn’t talk about work, we didn’t small talk about the weather, and we didn’t talk about the Kardashians; We just all talked about how we felt stuck. That night, we all left feeling a hell of a lot lighter, lifted, and inspired. I remember thinking ‘This is really something!’
Katie hasn’t stopped cultivating space for women to connect since that first meeting. In fact, she loved the feeling of connection so much that, upon graduating from life-coaching school in October 2016, she started Soul Connect.
“I have always resonated with the word ‘soul’. Not so much in a spiritual sense, but that it’s the truth within all of us; our authentic being. And connection, in my mind, is ‘how can I show up true to myself and in an authentic way.’ So that’s kind of how I came up with it [the idea for Soul Connect]. I believe that soul connection is a daily practice where we have to intentionally show up as our true self, whatever that may look like. It’s all about redefining how we connect to ourselves and ultimately with each other. Personally, I think that there is so much power in being able to share your feelings with someone. It really makes you feel like you aren’t alone. So, I started this movement to be able to help women connect with themselves but also connect to like-hearted women at the same time.”
When the Soul Connect gatherings began to out-grow her friends’ living rooms, Katie moved to hosting the monthly meetings at local, female-owned bars and businesses; this year, Katie partnered with She Collective, a body education, yoga, and community space in Lakewood, Ohio. Moving the gatherings around allowed her to build relationships with other female entrepreneurs in the area and connect with them on the business level.
“The moment that I gave myself permission to seek out my meaning, I released this creative energy that I could not contain. I spent all day dreaming, writing notes, and scribbling down ideas. Then, I would come home from a full-time job and just create until I fell asleep. I could not turn it off. Over the last few years I have just been completely immersed in launching this dream. After 8-9 years of trying to find this hole that I was missing in my life, I had finally found the missing pieces.”
2017 was a year for growth. Not only did Katie learn so much about being an entrepreneur, but she truly became a community connector. Through this work, she became a completely different person than she was when she started her creative journey. But, because her work mirrors her own life on a deeply personal level, Katie is continuing to take off layers and unravel herself to align with her business.
“My first year was all about meeting with whoever would talk to me. It was meeting after meeting, day after day. I was working crazy hours, I wasn’t dating, I wasn’t doing anything. I was just working. This year has looked a little different!” *laughs*
While reflecting on this year, Katie notes that 2018 has been less growth centered and more about removing her own mental blocks so that she can continue to up-level her business. In order to work on herself, she has learned to say no to a lot of things that she would have once said yes to, and she has continued to share her vulnerabilities with the world in person and on social media.
“When I began this movement, I committed to showing up as authentically as possible and really embrace the human side of all of this. It is not shared enough and when I do share the things that are difficult to not only share out loud, but to read, I actually find that people tend to respect what I have to say. Because nobody is talking about those things, and they need to be talked about.”
While Katie still has not taken her dream of owning an ice cream shop off the table, she is really trying to figure out how to grow her business from here. Katie’s new-found willingness to say no has allowed her the opportunity to do some rebranding, grow her business, launch a group coaching program, and start a podcast (Shameless plug: It’s called the Human Hour Podcast and it is super raw, real, and amazing. You should go listen.)
“I see this journey called life as one shot to do what we actually want to do. Even if this business doesn’t work out for me, in the last few years I have not only learned so much about myself, I have had the opportunity to connect with so many amazing people. I am in a completely different headspace and heartspace; I feel courageous and super alive. This year has felt a bit rocky because I am going through a big shift. When you grow its uncomfortable and I am going through a major growth spurt. Currently, it feels tight and painful, but I know that it will take me to the next level.”
One of my favorite things about Katie’s story is that it didn’t happen overnight. Next year will be 10 years since she graduated and started on her journey to finding her and living her soulwork.
“I am in such a different space now. I couldn’t have done this overnight; It wasn’t even an idea back then! I have to remind myself to be grateful for the journey. You know, I have always had an innate desire to be of service and now I can be of service on my own terms. I gave so much of my energy to fear, and doubt, and shame, and guilt that I gave all of my power away and was left for nothing. Now, I have to work to gain my power back and reclaim my energy. For the first time, I am able to stand and say ‘This is my life and I am going to live it on my own terms!’”
Katie’s advice for those of you, like myself, who are at the beginning stages of their creative journey? Figure out your gifts. Don’t get stuck in an analysis paralysis and hoard your skills. People need you and what you have to give. So, don’t be selfish and hoard it, share it with the world.
Click here for more information on Katie and Soul Connect