Cathy Christen is the author of Life As a Masterpiece and a peak performance strategist. She helps entrepreneurs create masterpieces of their lives.
In this conversation, she shares her story on how she got started down this path: she actually almost lost her life.
After coming out of this frightening situation, she was able to not only design and live a life that she loves, but she’s helped countless people do the same. If you felt stuck or if you felt adrift or lost in life, like you’re not totally aligned with yourself and the direction you want to be going, this is the episode that you need to listen to.
Cathy Christen: Back when I was 19, my dad took us on a lot of service, mission trips, soup kitchens…We grew up very middle-low income. I’ve spoken to him now in later years, it was to really appreciate what we did have, versus focus on what we didn’t have. So that was instilled early on.
But I definitely went through a time where I was partying a lot, taking things for granted and feeling like I’ve got all the time in the world.
I’ll do great things later, I’m going to just party and have fun for now since I have no responsibility.
It was summer between freshman and sophomore year of college that I was looking at a summer camp and just having a great time partying a lot that summer but I remember one day on my way home from the program that I was teaching at, I was driving home and I got into this accident. I really should have been in the hospital.
“It was a pretty nasty accident, and I just got out of the car.”
It’s kind of a miraculous, like super natural type intervention where we have no idea what happened and the officers and paramedics were just all just so shocked.
They looked at me and they’re like, “We have no idea what just happened, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what just happened, but something kept you here. Do something with it.”
I just remembered those words.
The paramedic was just like wait, what? How were you in that car? How? They were getting the jaws of life to cut the door open and get the driver, and I literally opened the door and walked across the street.
I had no marks on me.
All the air bags were out, nothing made sense, just doesn’t align. I just remember that resonating and it was that call of like hey, look, your days are limited.
You are not promised tomorrow and you need to do everything you can the time you’ve been given now. It really called for urgency to start to take action now versus continuing to wait. I think that’s really what started my journey and my life.
It was a bit scary, and first I was like, am I alive, is everything perfect because I’m not here anymore and I’m going to see them carry my body out of this vehicle?
I really had those thoughts. I remember just sitting there, okay, let’s see what happens, let’s see how this unfolds. Not knowing if I was there or not, people could see me or not—nothing made sense in that moment.
Once I did figure everything out, I was like okay, I’m here. I have a call to action on my life, and things that I wanted to do.
What Do I Want to Do?
Charlie Hoehn: How did that change you?
Cathy Christen: I remember thinking, what do I really want to do? I really want to leave an imprint of some sort. I’m not sure how long I’ll have, and I really want to do what I can with the time I have.
That became a very big focus with things, and that next summer, as fate has it, I ran into this an incredible company that I’ve had the opportunity to work with for over a decade and a half.
When I picked up this card and checked it out, it was something that really gave me a space to exercise a lot of my strengths. Since I was younger, my dad always said you’re so good at business, you’re so good with people. Interacting with all different types of people.
I loved working in teams, played sports since I could walk, was on traveling teams, play collegiate volleyball as well. I really enjoyed team settings, and I always loved working with youth. Even in high school, I helped a lot with the middle schoolers. When I was in college, I helped with the high school youth group.
I really enjoyed working with youth, that age group of those mid-teens to mid-20s and just how much transformation all those years are in our life can be. You’re really finding yourself. You’re growing up, you’re becoming an adult.
As you go into high school and then to college and then post college, there’s a lot of change that happens. They’re very significant chapters of our lives. I found myself called to speak life to people in that age group of being like hey, there’s so much out there, there’s so much to be done, to be created, there’s so much for your life.
“Don’t limit yourself.”
I found that growing up in the communities I grew up in, it was very much like, “be grateful for what you have.”
Don’t ask for more, do the best with what you have.
That was something that people around me, people I grew up with, that was very much a vibe of our community. Just be thankful, which is great, right? Don’t ask for more, don’t think bigger, just do as much as you can of what you have.
If you were thinking bigger, you were in some way being like kind of selfish and not being grateful.
Charlie Hoehn: Do you remember a point where you were thinking bigger and feeling like “I wish I wasn’t held down by the rules of all the people around me”?
Cathy Christen: It wasn’t until I started working with Vector Marketing that all of a sudden, my eyes were open. Just thinking about hey, what do you want? What are you working towards?
I knew what I didn’t want, and I didn’t want to be poor. I didn’t want to have bad relationships. I knew things I didn’t want, but I’d never taken time to really think about what I did want and clearly, clearly identify what it looked like in my life.
When I started doing that, at first, I did feel bad. This might have been my perspective, but I felt they kind of looked at me like all you care about is success, all you care about is making money.
“I felt really bad for wanting more.”
There was definitely a season, and I would say that season lasted for many years. Maybe close to a decade from 2002 to probably 2010, 2011. There were times where I didn’t want to share successes or do too much or show I have this amount of money saved.
I even sabotaged myself at times in my success because I didn’t want to not fit in with my family or friends. I didn’t want them to look at me, a different way. I definitely sabotaged things that could have even be greater.
Because it was just a different way of looking at things, a different way of thinking. I don’t know how it was received, but it didn’t feel good on my end. Certain people that I spoke to, how people acted…so I kind of pulled back. I saw myself do that at first.
What is Your Vision
Charlie Hoehn: This is what you talk about in the first part of the book—figuring out your vision, right? Not only what’s possible but what do you want and why do you want it? Talk me through this part of the book.
Cathy Christen: Yes. This was absolutely a game changer in my life, back in 2006. It was the first time where I sat down and really wrote down so many goals in different areas and different categories. It wasn’t just “what are you working for this summer.” Starting to work with this sales company from when I was 19 when I started in 2002, they were like, “Okay, what are you excited about this summer? What do you want to save?”
I set goals for that summer, short term, a little bit longer. But I never really sat down to go through everything I want in my life. That didn’t happen until 2006.
I remember the power of that, of being able to identify everything that I did want. It was way more exciting to work towards things that I did want than to run away from things that I didn’t want.
I felt like a lot of my early work, my early 20s, there was a lot of anxiety and stress out of not wanting to be a screw up, not wanting to mess things up, not wanting to end up how I’d seen so many in bad relationships, financial trouble, fighting.
I just didn’t want those things. It wasn’t that exciting. It was scary and anxious, working away from those things, versus having this beautiful vision of what I did want and waking up and going, “Yes. This is what I’m working towards, I’m so excited about this.”
Then, it was saying, “Well why is this important to me? What is it tied in to this deeper?”
By going through all those things, my day to day actions, all the activities that I did, that could really become repetitive and mundane had so much more life to them, right? Because it was attached to something bigger.
Making those sales calls or going on that appointment or whatever I was doing and work that can sometimes again be monotonous, I was like, no, this is taking my family on that dream vacation. This is putting away my hundred grand. Making these calls means getting to go on that dream trip to Egypt. It had much more meaningful connections and it made the little daily tasks so much more exciting because they were connected to something way bigger.
I’d never been exposed to it prior. I think about the thousands, millions of people who never really been exposed to that. All you know is your little world, your bubble, whatever you grow up with, your family, whatever’s happening.
People have just never taken time to really think like, “Wow, I can create all that.”
I feel like people are just kind of making it by, especially in middle-lower class and people who might not have the connections, the opportunities. So there’s that feeling, “Well, that’s great for them but I’ll probably never be able to do that,” you know? “I wish I was where they were.”
It was a really neat process of saying, “Well, what do I want? What is possible in my life? What do I want?” Coaching so many people over the past 17 years of attaching, what is it that you’re working towards. It’s not just a job. It can be just a job, but it’s really the meaning you give to that job.
What is it getting you towards?
“It’s really a vehicle to help you go out and live your best life.”
But do you know what that best life looks like? Do you know the things you want to be doing? Do you know who you want to be? Do you know what you want to have, whatever’s important to you?
Really having a deep why as to why those things are important to you and clarity as to what it is that you’re wanting to work towards, whether it be financial, adventure, professional, legacy, goals, whatever it is that you’re working towards.
Urgency of Change
Charlie Hoehn: How do you create that urgency?
Cathy Christen: People go all the time to these great events and conferences. I’ve seen it for years. They get really excited about a concept, an idea, changes they want to make, but it’s all theoretical.
It’s exciting, it’s a feeling, it’s emotional, and in theory it all sounds great. But there’s no actionable plan as to how they’re going to get there.
That in itself is a really big difference.
Here is what you want—how do you get there? What is it going to actually take? How many years would it take to reach this? Maybe you have a certain amount of money you want to have saved, or a net worth. Maybe it’s a certain home you want to buy, maybe it’s certain things, just in your lifetime. But really looking at things and giving them timeframes, right?
Giving them timeframes, giving them life through those actionable steps. Whenever I speak, I really like to give a space where we can actually identify, your top five—not like it would be nice to do this in my life, but this is happening.
All right, cool. By when?
“You have to give yourself a deadline.”
Let’s look at the action steps, because some things might take more work so you’re going to have to put more time into it if you want it sooner. Or have more discipline.
I had a client who really wanted to start a gym and training facility, and it was going to cost him over $10,000 to do that. It was something where he’s like, “It just seems so far off.”
We sat down and I said here’s what it would take you saving monthly, if you do that in three years, if you do it here…He ended up doing it so quickly once we had that down.
I’d said, “Hey, you know that you want to save 150 bucks a week, well then, we need to cut back on those random happy hours.”
Tell your friends, here’s what I’m working towards, and instead, maybe you host happy hour once a week at your house.
You say, “Hey, everyone, BYOB, bring something over, let’s all hang out.”
What they pay for one drink at happy hour, they could buy a six pack and come over and just hang out, put on good music…it might be a little pain for a lot of gain, for some people.
Once you have that plan, it just made it real really fast.
You keep that one day, then all of a sudden, it’s 30, 40, 50 years later and you go, “Shit, what just happened to my life? How did all these years go by? How did it get here so quick?”
Intention is one of the big words I use constantly.
You can design any life you want, you just have to be intentional about it. Really define and then create a plan and then be committed to that plan. There has to be something that really excites you about it, because there will be hiccups in the road.
Charlie Hoehn: It sounds like you’re a big believer that we’re all trying to protect ourselves and we have to lean in to the fear so much that it moves us. I guess that wasn’t a question as much as just an acknowledgement.
Cathy Christen: I think it’s so big. I’m talking to groups and teaching, educating, or even when I’ve had more smaller settings or retreats, you really have to think about, if there’s changes, this must happen.
Well, how about if it didn’t happen? How about if nothing changed, how about if you never took action? What would your life look like 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now?
Are you okay with that? Are you happy with that life?
Because in most cases, I don’t know that I found somebody who is like “Yeah, I’m perfect.”
Even some of the highest achievers, the most type A—if they didn’t make some simple changes in their personal life, they’re going to be burnt out. They’re going to be miserable. They’re going to have some resentment. They’re not going to have the quality of connections that they always wanted to have, because they never made time for those things.
A lot of people that are big achievers also want to have big impact. They also do love that connection. But it’s like crap, all of a sudden, if I don’t make certain changes in my life, 30, 40, 50 years from now, I’m by myself, I’m alone. No one wants to be around me because I was a workaholic and I did this and that.
“What would life look like if nothing changes?”
Obviously there’s some positives that are going to be there, but look at the worst case scenarios. If things just kept spiraling. If you didn’t change anything, would you be okay with that?
I don’t know that there was anything super negative. But one of the things for me is I didn’t want to stand in front of our creator one day, whatever you believe in, whatever that afterlife looks like and have to be like, “Man, you gave me all these tools and resources and I just never used them.” That pull.
We have so much power within us. I love the seed analogy where I really do feel like we’re all the seed of possibilities.
If you have this seed and leave it on the counter space, It is going to stay there and be a seed and it will never be anything more. Maybe it will wither away.
But that same seed in the right environment when nourished properly can grow into something so incredible. And we each have that possibility.
“I didn’t want to just be a seed.”
I want to see how big and grand this thing can actually be and how beautiful I can create my life.
Does that mean everything’s perfect? Absolutely not.? There’s hurting people in this world and hurting people hurt others and there is a lot of negativity and there is a lot of things that are out there. Sometimes we get the bad end of that. We’re the victims of whether it is sexual assault, verbal, physical abuse, whatever it might be.
We can get angry at the world, or we can say, “You know what? I am going to push through this and be a light for other people and be stronger.”
It is part of my life, and I am still choosing to make my life this beautiful masterpiece.
There might be a piece in it where you didn’t know where it fit for a long time. It was like a weird color or a weird shape, it didn’t fit in there. But in the end they are all pieces of our life, and we can choose to make it as beautiful as we want it to be.
Creating a Beautiful Environment
Charlie Hoehn: How do you create those right conditions? How do you even know if they are the right conditions?
Cathy Christen: Once you have identified what it is you want, be around people who are going towards those similar things. Have a great circle of influence, have great accountability, put yourself in a place where you are setting yourself up, even if you are by yourself. Your mind is focused on the right things.
The fact is, as humans we have more negative thoughts than positive thoughts. We know that. If you are listening to this, I hope you’ve heard that before.
It is just important to set ourselves up to win every day. Hal Elrod, who wrote the forward for the book, has his miracle morning community, and I love what he’s created through that, really designing a space where it is just a very simple practice that takes strong discipline.
I’ve coached ego forever—“It’s not hard work, but you have to work hard towards some things.”
He has this beautiful acronym with SAVERS that really does set you up for the day. Every day, how can you set yourself up to win?
Are you fueling your mind with the right things? Are we at our highest state of energy to create the results that we want to create?
Well there are different components that go into that. Making sure that you are fueling yourself emotionally—it can be a great song in the morning that you dance to and that just fires you up in the day. It could be with the food that you are eating. It could be an incredible yoga session. It could be prayer, journaling, just literally walking through your day and telling your mind, “Let’s do this.”
We are going to influence and amp up everyone we come in contact with.
“My goal is that someone’s day is better because they met me.”
Whatever intentions you want to set for the day, but when you start doing that, it is so beautiful the doors that open.
How are you able to bring smiles to other people and see them light up? Just by us choosing to put ourselves in a place ,even if you are just at home, where your mind is really focused on the right things for the day and emotionally you are feeling good.
Those conditions allow you to nurture what is happening inside and more greatness comes out of you.
Blooming in the Right Environment
Charlie Hoehn: Walk me through what your environment is where you feel like you are really blossoming – your ideal environment, your right conditions.
Cathy Christen: I think first having those morning rituals, whatever that is for you, even if you literally just take five to seven minutes in the morning for a little gratitude. Visualizing your day. When I just pause for five minutes in the morning and walk through my day.
There is just so much stress and anxiety that I found on days that I haven’t or I rushed out the door or I over slept.
Where I am like, “Okay, what do we do?” I am way more reactive throughout the day versus knowing exactly what needs to get done.
I am much better at interrupting interruptions when my mind knows what’s supposed to happen.
So some things I’m like, “Hey we’ll deal with this later,” you know? When I haven’t really done that and set myself up to win, I can be very reactive. At the end of the day, I’d be like, “Crap! I’ve got nothing done that I wanted to get done today.”
When I think about creating conditions for me to thrive, for me to win at the highest level and go after things, I know I need to be in a great headspace, I need to be in an emotional space.
So prayer in the morning, journaling. I love movement, whether it’s dancing around, yoga, zumba, boxing.
Another thing for me is making sure that I have great people to speak to, that I am being very intentional with who I am spending more time with.
There are people that kind of suck energy out of you, so I am very intentional to spend more time with people that give me more energy. If I am feeling low energy, I will call somebody that absolutely lights me up.
And that is something that Jon Vroman, we had actually talked about years ago. I wrote about it in the book. One of the most powerful things for setting up my environment was protecting my energy and knowing that some people were just going to suck the life out of me like time vampires.
I created a great place to thrive in—and that doesn’t mean that I am not going to give time to other people, but limiting time with certain people. Being around the people that encourage growth and who challenge me to think bigger.
“I love being around people who think at a higher level.”
If I am the person thinking biggest in a room, I am not in the right room. Creating a space for yourself and conditions where you’re constantly leveling up your peer group and saying.
Joining different master minder groups if people that are operating at that higher level, who are thinking bigger, who are going after more, that can really lock arms with you and go in that same journey.
People who have done it before that you can really learn from.
I think having a combination with those is really powerful.
Never Give Up
Charlie Hoehn: What do you say to people about not giving up who maybe are going through something like I just went through, where I didn’t even realize why I felt so down and less on life than I normally am?
Cathy Christen: Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with this with my sister’s passing and my cousin’s passing, who was my best friend. Young, unexpected loss. I just felt totally out of it and totally in a funk.
Something that really brought me back, and that as I have worked with a lot of people that have gone through it, is remembering you are still here. When it comes to loss for me, it’s like, “Man I’m still blessed to be here.”
I think it is important to grieve, to love, but then can you do something in honor of them? How can you keep their legacy going? What were the things they loved? What were the things that were positive? What can you do to still constantly feel them around you even though they’re gone? Really celebrate their life when it comes to loss—and it is hard at first.
I think it is important to take time for that grieving process, and then say, “Okay, how am I going to celebrate their life?”
I think in most things, that’s what it is—looking at it from a different angle, a different perspective.
People can get stuck, like, “Why me and why did I have to lose this person?”
If they can feel it and could let go and say, “Okay, well you know what? I was still kept here, why and what am I supposed to be doing? How can I keep their legacy alive?”
In terms of not giving up, it is important to see different angles. How can I grow from that, how can I be stronger from this, what can I learn from this?
How can I even be more beautiful and carry some of their beauty and pour it into my life as well?
But there are so many things that happen to people. I have been through things that I hope people never go through and I have seen so many people who have gone through things that I am just blown away at the strength and the resilience that they grew through.
I feel like again, it’s a choice. We choose to give meaning to things.
They only have a meaning we give them.
“There is what is, and then there is your interpretation of what is.”
Be careful with the words that you speak, because anything you really focus on becomes your reality.
When someone is dealing with something traumatic, I think it is really important to have someone that can coach you through that. Like having an incredible therapist or psychologist or whatever it is that you are working through and would be able to talk it out.
I think a lot of people ignore things and hold them in. I did that for many years. I’d just tuck them away. But what I found is that when there’s pain, when there is depression, anything that is unsettled, you could only hide it for so long.
I feel like those are bad seeds that grow in you and you don’t even know they’re growing like weeds. They are growing in you and they come out in different places, in different areas. Sometimes they come out when you least expect it, and you’re like, “Where the hell did this come from
It was this pain or resentment or frustration or anger that you held onto from something that happened in the past.
So my biggest thing for anyone who has gotten through anything and is struggling with something is talk it out. Don’t let it stay inside.
“You’ve got to let it come out.”
So whether it’s crying it out, talking it out and being able to really move past it not ignoring it, not tucking it away and saying, “No it’s okay,” but really facing it and being able to own it. Be thankful for whatever role it played in your life or whatever lessons.
I can be stronger now. How can I use this to help others? That is the only positive twist that I got from it, and it’s been really incredible over the years and the women that I have spoken to, how that’s popped back up. Being able to help in such a high level.
I don’t know that I am fully like, “Oh everything happens for a reason.” No. I think you can learn from everything. I think you can learn from everything. I think everything can have a place that can strengthen you and make you stronger. That is a choice that you make.
But I do love the quote by Mother Theresa where she says, “I know God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
There are things that are there that you can be a light for other people.
I really feel as human kind, we are supposed to be one and moving along and helping each other move forward in our lives.
Really looking at the world as a family and as one—as humans, not all these separations that are out there.
How beautiful it is when you look at it like that and go, “Okay, how can I help my fellow humans? How can I help my fellow community through what I have been through? How can I help strengthen them or give them someone stronger to lean on or whatever they might need?”
Charlie Hoehn: What kind of speaking do you do? What kind of groups do you talk to and what have been some of your favorite events that you’ve done?
Cathy Christen: I’ve done a lot with sales companies and direct sales just because that is what I’ve been connected to since I was younger. Then other realtors and other people in sales.
I love the sales community, because a lot of what we do is such a mental game. Emotional and mental. We deal with so much rejection. You’ve got so much real life thrown at you. Any insecurities that you have personally, I feel like sales brings them out no matter what kind of sales you do.
I’ve spoken a lot at schools, youth groups, really empowering younger people and college students that, regardless of what has happened in their life so far, regardless of what their home life was, regardless of anything that happened good or bad, it can even be better.
You have this blank canvas that you can draw up and create something just absolutely extraordinary, or you can keep looking at the past and looking at all of these ugly things.
Take them and rework it. Rebuild it.
Some of the most extraordinary art pieces that I have seen are old things that are broken and remade. In our lives, we can take the junk and choose to start fresh. Rearrange it, add some color and go, “Wow! Now this is awesome.”
Connect with Cathy Christen
Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for people to get in touch with you and follow you?
Cathy Christen: Facebook is where I am most active, Facebook and Instagram—@cathyvchristen is where people can find me on Facebook or Instagram, and then also cathychristen.com.
Charlie Hoehn: Perfect and the final question is give our listeners a challenge, what is the one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?
Cathy Christen: Sit down and have a dream session. That would be my number one thing. Sit down, go outside in nature or sit in the comfy couch that you love, put on some great music, maybe light some candles, whatever your thing is, but just go sit somewhere and just dream.
Go through the different categories of what do I want as far as physical goals, adventure goals, financial goals, professional goals. Be as specific as possible, like every little thing.
“I want to go to U2 and be in the front row. I want to see The Nutcracker.
I wanted to go and ride an elephant in Thailand. I wanted to ride a camel around the pyramids in Egypt.
The more specific you can be, it is just fun and makes it exciting.
There are no limits, time, money, no limitations you could do anything—what would it look like? What would you be doing? What would you have? What do you want to leave behind? What emotional and psychological goals do you have for yourself?
Maybe it is being able to push past depression, being free of past thought patterns.
Take time to sit and write down, and don’t stop until you get over a hundred.
It was a challenge that was given to me years ago, and it was really hard at first. Now I want to keep writing and writing and just write every little thing.
If you could identify everything that would be so cool to do, to have, to be in your life, what does that all look like?
Take an hour for yourself. It’s one of the most powerful hours you could ever have. Then from there, you can then identify, what in here is happening now, and then there’s the would be nice—and they change. Some of those get crossed off because they don’t matter anymore and some of those would be nice become, “Oh no this is happening.”
Take time to have a little dream session. What could your life be filled with, what could you have, what could you do, what can you leave behind that would really excite you?
If someone was talking about you and the life that you’ve lived and how grand it was and what a beautiful person you were and what you did for the community and how you gave value, what would you want them saying?
What would you want to leave behind?