#Goals: Laura Lea, Certified Holistic Chef
Life has a funny way of steering us in new directions. One day we’re v-lining for the coast, and the next, we’re planning our escape back to the countryside. In life, change is inevitable, and while change can be exciting– for many of us, it’s also frightening. (And rightfully so!) But, what we seem to forget is that change is necessary for growth! In order for us to live truly vibrant and fulfilling lives, we’ve got to fully embrace change and take control of our destinies. Easier said than done, right?
Well, that’s why the fearless Laura Lea is next up on our #Goals series!
From an NYC corporate job to a Nashville holistic chef, Laura Lea gives us a deeper look at what it’s like to ditch the safety net of a career in law, to take a chance and chase her dreams to work in healthy food. (We know, right?! Serious #Goals)
Join us, as Laura Lea tells us what it takes, emotionally and financially, to pursue your dreams!
NB: Looking at your success (and your beautiful Instagram feed), people would never know that you explored a career outside of food and healthy living. But according to your story, you have also worked in jobs you hated, and lived a lifestyle that was, maybe, not exactly what you wanted for yourself. Can you tell us more about this time in your life, and what lessons you learned during this period of uncertainty or self-discovery?
LL: I graduated from the University of Virginia dead-set on becoming a lawyer. That had been my trajectory since high school: Mock Trial President, English Lit Major. After graduation, I moved up to NYC to begin a “short stint” as a paralegal at a renowned corporate firm in midtown. I imagined I’d learn the ropes for a year while applying to law school, then get my degree somewhere near the city.
Well, my precise plan fell apart about three weeks into my paralegal gig, when I realized, without a shadow of doubt, that I had ZERO desire to be a lawyer. Everything about it felt wrong for me, but I had no other job prospects at the time, plus an NYC rent, so I stuck it out. Very quickly, I became anxious and depressed, and I tried to bury myself in cocktails and restaurants and take-out. PSA: this only makes things worse.
Two years into this pattern, I decided that enough was enough, and I had to take my happiness into my own hands. I stopped going out on the weekends and instead, found myself wandering farmers markets on cool, quiet mornings, taking fresh produce home and cooking colorful meals. I also gravitated towards bookstores, and I began devouring the few nutrition-focused books that existed (thanks, Kimberly Snyder!). Six months later, my anxiety had plummeted and my depression had disappeared. I was sold on the power of food and self-care to impact not just our physical health, but our mental and emotional health. I wanted to share that message with whomever would listen, and when I discovered the Natural Gourmet Institute, I knew it was my future.
In one week--the scariest and most exciting week of my life--I quit my corporate job, serendipitously got a freelance job with a health food company, enrolled at NGI and began the most incredible year of my life. When I graduated, I moved back home to Nashville to start LL Balanced, and here I am almost five years later!
I have learned countless lessons from this experience, but the one that sticks with me daily is to make choices out of love and not fear. If you let that be a guiding principle behind your decisions, it’s difficult to go wrong.
NB: You mention that your decision to “opt out” of the late night, boozy-brunch lifestyle was sort of a lonely and challenging time– from managing a tight budget while living and working in New York City, to pursuing your dreams on the weekends and and evening hours– that’s a lot to manage! Were there any people, products, or resources that helped you stay on course?
LL: Not really, ha! I had to create my own resources. Utilizing local bookstores was hugely helpful--I couldn’t afford to buy the books, but I could buy a $2 cup of tea and read them, take notes and snap pictures of recipes (don’t judge me; I’d never do that now!). And I didn’t waste time. I could have spent the weekends in bed watching TV and feeling sorry for myself, but that’s not my nature. I’ve always found great pleasure in productivity, even during the most difficult times, so I made sure to utilize my free hours to move towards my goals. I also must give a shout-out to my best friends, who were there for me during the good, the really bad and the even uglier. I had an amazing support network in them.
NB: What advice do you have for those who are stuck in a corporate job that they hate, or, perhaps living a lifestyle that’s no longer satisfying them?
LL: You might think that my advice would be to immediately quit their jobs and start pursuing their dreams, because it seems like that’s what I did, but it really wasn’t. I read, researched and cooked for almost an entire year before deciding to quit my job and go to culinary school. Even though it was still a terrifying decision, I was armed with confidence I had built up over that year.
As such, I might first suggest creating a “side hustle” (read Side Hustle School by Chris Guillebeau): something that you pursue alongside your day job that gives you a sense of passion and purpose. Get to know it and think practically about what your dream future might look like i.e. what are the steps necessary to get there? You don’t have to have all the answers, but this will give you the self-assurance you need to take leaps of faith. Eventually, when you have conviction, a little experience and an idea of the “how”, start looking into leaving your current gig.
NB: If anyone knows what it means to hustle, it’s you! You had to “hustle and finagle” your work situation to accommodate Natural Gourmet’s part-time school program– and despite a tight budget, you frequented local farmers’ markets for the freshest ingredients for all of your recipes. What kind of budgeting or money management techniques helped you pull this off?!
LL: I grew up with parents that taught me to live below my means, so I was pretty comfortable turning down invitations to expensive dinners and avoiding the endless shopping available in the city. Really, for me, the money part was simple. It’s so important to remember that no matter how appealing or special a “thing” seems, there will always be another “thing”, and thus, you’ll never be truly satisfied pursuing “things”. I find exponentially more pleasure in the feeling of financial security than I do in buying the latest trendy item or attending an expensive event.
If you feel like you’ll be isolated by saying “no” to money-based experiences, you just need to take control of the situation! There are countless free experiences available to help you connect with those you care about, as well as meet new people. I start inviting friends to hike, grab juice, sunbathe on the West Side Highway and attend free lectures. I also met people through volunteering in a hospice center at a local hospital. Volunteering is one of the most powerful things anyone can do to feel happier, more purposeful and connected to humanity.
NB: What other financial tips do you have for the other hustler’s out there– those working a job by day, and pursuing their passions at night?
Cook! Seriously, making your own food is probably the quickest and easiest way to save a lot of money FAST. If you’re eating lunch or or grabbing Starbucks every day, you are cumulatively spending thousands of dollars per year that you could put towards your future. Focus mostly on whole, plant-based foods--fruits, veggies, beans, grains, nuts and seeds--and then buy small amounts of high quality meat/poultry/seafood. Eggs are also a great money-saver, just make sure they are from free-range chickens. Always have flavorful condiments/sauces/spices in your fridge like mustard, hot sauce, a good salad dressing, pesto etc. so that you can actually enjoy eating leftovers! Do a little due diligence on sales and local markets. I always checked the sales flyers at my local D’agostino grocery, and I discovered a Wednesday farmers market that I could hit on the way to work. I’d plan my meals around what was available and on sale.
NB: It’s obvious that you are completely at home in the kitchen, but not only are you an incredibly talented chef, you also host cooking classes, manage all of your own social media, and are an amazing writer! (Check out Laura Lea’s cookbook, here!) What drives you and keeps you going? And what’s next on your to-do list?
Thank you!!! 100% hands down, my readers drive me. Originally, I began this career because of a deep-seated feeling in my gut...a strong message from my intuition. And while that is still (always and forever) there, its primacy has been usurped by the value that I seem to be adding to others’ lives. Whether it’s 5 or 50,000 people paying attention to what I’m doing, I am humbled, grateful and motivated by every single one to continue.
Next on the to-do list...my second cookbook!!! I am still working on the concept, but I already have some incredible recipes lined up that I cannot wait to share. I am also teaching a series of cooking classes in my new workspace, which were created around the most-requested topics, such as Make Once, Eat all Week. I am so excited to get those started!
NB: What’s the single most important message about cooking and healthy living that you want readers to take away from you?
LL: It is critical, and it is doable, but you must be willing to make an investment in your mental, emotional and physical health in order to successfully take control of your kitchen and life.
NB: 3 recipes of yours that we must try?
LL: The hardest question yet! I would say my Holy Fudge Black Bean Brownies, Tarragon Almond Chicken Salad and Lentil Pecan Veggie Burgers--all in my cookbook!
NB: 3 Podcasts we should listen to and why?
1. Wine and Crime: humor/entertainment
2. The School of Greatness: Career inspiration
3. Critical Conversations: holistic nutrition
NB: What final piece of advice would you share to others looking to get their dreams off the ground?
LL: Do it anyway. When you don’t want to, when you’re ready to give up, when you’re too scared. Those are just feelings; they have nothing to do with the actions you take. Just do it anyway.
Awesome! Thanks so much, Laura Lea, you inspire us!
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