Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Seijas.
Hi Michelle, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I’ve been on a lifelong journey to purpose. Societal expectations to assimilate to succeed and a passion to make my parents and ancestors proud took me on many detours until I eventually evolved into an authentic version of myself who has built a life and business centered on purpose. I will jump to the beginning of my professional career. What was seen by some as a culmination of “success” as a first-generation college student, graduating and becoming a teacher, was actually the beginnings of learning who I truly was and what was possible for me.
I started my career as a bilingual education teacher. I assumed my whole career would be as a teacher. When I went back to school for my master’s, the program I chose also offered an administrative credential add-on. I decided to get that as well, though I never thought I would use it. As I was selecting my thesis topic, I decided to reach out to my District Director of English Language Learners to see if there were any district-wide projects I could support and use for my research. That journey opened me up to a wide array of opportunities to coach other teachers and assist principals with their ELL strategies. When I finished my program I immediately had an offer to become a vice principal. I hesitated at first to accept, but eventually, I did when I was assured of the support I would receive to succeed. This began a journey of other leaders seeing in me what I was not ready to see in myself.
I was recruited to new roles and encouraged to stretch myself in a variety of leadership roles. Eventually, I completed my doctorate and became a high school principal with aspirations to become a superintendent. By my 5th year, I was burnt out and wondering how the hell I was going to continue down this road another 20 years until retirement. I wrapped up that school year and took a leap of faith. I mapped out a sabbatical for myself. I had no idea where my career was going next, but I trusted that my passions and strengths would guide me to where I belonged.
For months I met with mentors, reached out to leaders I admired, read books, journaled, meditated, napped, traveled, spent time with friends and family and envisioned my dream life. I was told by multiple people that what I was envisioning was not realistic and I needed to return to school district work. I trusted these dreams were not frivolous. They were a calling. My friend circle kept cheering me on, and I reemerged launching a nonprofit in Oakland that was connected to a larger national movement to increase Black and Latinx leaders in education to reimagine and transform education. That opportunity moved me closer to what I saw as my purpose, mentoring and coaching people of the global majority into their greatness.
After four years as the Executive Director, my purpose was refining itself and the next leg of my professional journey was clear. I wanted to create spaces for Latinas to find their purpose. I created the Thriving Chingonas Community in 2020 with the dream of bringing together Latinas who were exploring healing, joy, owning their brilliance, and seeking to live a life of purpose. I also launched a group coaching program called The Chingona’s Sabbatical. The gift I gave myself to get curious and explore for 6 months changed the trajectory of my life and what I thought was possible. I know it is unlikely that many Latinas will be able to also gift themselves protected time to that extent, so this program was created to have a curriculum to guide and a community to support their exploration and curiosity on the path to living a purposeful life.
Over the past two years, 150 Latinas have been served in the Thriving Chingonas Community through group coaching, workshops, one-on-one coaching and even more are part of the weekly email, Carta para mis amigas (free coaching in their inbox). I continue to take breaks to dream about what is possible for myself and other Latinas. I believe the world would be a better place if every Latina had dedicated time for rest, reflection, and clarity of how they are meant to move their life forward, It is my purpose in life to create safe spaces for Latinas to do so.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I had a clear vision when I started building this of what was needed and possible. That has driven me to navigate the messy to get to what will best serve Latinas. Bringing people together and building community is a strength of mine. That part of building Thriving Chingonas has been smooth. Figuring out the logistical pieces of business ownership has taken more time and intentional support. Setting up accounting, learning online software, trademarking, etc have all required me to run uphill quickly. Though it has not been as smooth as the programmatic end of the business, I have called in a variety of Latinas and Black women as my business partners. Their expertise coupled with mine is ultimately making this road smoother than it would be alone.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am a Latina living in purpose, which means I mentor and coach others to connect with their joys and strengths to find clarity about the life they are meant to live. How I carry this out has looked different over the years. Currently, that means offering one-on-one coaching to Latinx and Black folks to support their leadership development and their vision of who they want to be as a leader.
I have created The Chingona’s Sabbatical, a group coaching program for Latinas, to create a safe space for them to find their purpose and craft a life that will support them in living in purpose.
I also speak regularly for universities, nonprofits, and Latina-focused events on topics that include: transformational leadership, claiming your identity, finding and living in purpose, limitless dreaming, staff exploration of personal purpose and how it connects to the mission of their organization and other personalized topics crafted alongside those who invite me to speak.
Over the past few months, I have been learning and exploring how to bring a trauma-informed lens to all of my work. Later this fall I will release new offerings with this added focus. My doctoral work focused on the systemic devaluation of Latinx students. I believe that to support Latinas, and other people of the global majority, there must be an acknowledgment of the harms that have occurred throughout our lives that have separated us from our purpose. Those experiences have informed who we are and what we believe is possible in the future. To ignore the feelings of fear, unworthiness, frustration, perfectionism, hopelessness, etc that can arise on the journey to purpose is to ignore the realities that our ancestors and we have experienced. Those experiences are alive within us and have informed who we are today, consciously and subconsciously, every day those experiences still inform how we show up in the world. I want to serve all the parts of people’s experiences as they focus on finding their purpose, and not just the parts of people that are ready to dream.
My mission will continue to be creating safe spaces for Latinas, and other people, to explore their purpose. This is evolving to also embed trauma-informed strategies and exercises along with the safety created through coaching and intentional community building.
Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
About 5 years ago I had a season of significant transition that was full of risk-taking. I walked away from a 15-year career in K-12 education without a plan for where my career would go next. What I did know was that I was burnt out, I had enough savings to take care of myself for 6 months, and trusted time for rest and reflection would produce the vision for where I was meant to take my life next.
Throughout those 6 months, I reached out to people I knew and those who I admired from afar to spend time learning from their career journeys. I said yes to every introduction they offered and every project they asked me to support. I gave myself permission to move each day in the ways that felt right that day. I was living a very unconventional life without a clear plan forward. I was confident that it was all going to work out. People were concerned for me and kept sending me job descriptions and offered to make introductions with headhunters. I kept saying, “Thank you for thinking of me. This is no longer the direction I see my life going.”
By taking risks that removed the old me and allowed my vision to keep forming of the future me, I manifested my current life. I said, “No,” repeatedly to be able to say, “Yes,” enthusiastically when the opportunities aligned with my purpose started to show up.