When Vanessa Feils (‘08) discovered the Inter-College Program (ICP) at the end of her freshman year at the University of Minnesota, she breathed a sigh of relief and began designing her own degree through this individualized program. Prior to finding ICP, Feils had been on the track of pre-chiropractic medicine. It was what her mother and older sister had done, but that prescribed route didn’t feel like the right fit for her.
“I was never a traditional anything,” Feils says. “There was no box you could check that described me. Creating my own course of study through ICP was exactly my style. I needed that model of degree where I could piece together my interests.”
She chose three concentrations for her ICP degree: business, marketing, and mass communications. After graduating in the fall of 2008, Feils launched herself into the uncertain economic climate we now refer to as the Great Recession, searching for a job that would put her self-designed degree to use.
Reimagining “The Real World”
“I had a six-month job search,” Feils remembers. “When people asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to be on the marketing side of alternative health care.”
At the end of a grueling search, that’s what Feils got. Well, sort of.
“I was hired as an administrative assistant for Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington. They teach chiropractic, massage therapy, and acupuncture. So there I was at this job that didn’t use any of the skills I’d just learned. All day long I sat at a desk behind a computer. I was thinking, ‘There’s no way this is what I went to college for. To sit here.’ I felt duped.”
But instead of quitting or soldiering on through the mundane trenches of her admin job, Feils turned her situation into another opportunity to self-design something that fit her unique interests and strengths. It was the ICP model all over again.
“ICP was the first thing shown to me that existed within a structured environment allowing you to design your own approach. And that set the tone for my entire life.”
Feils made herself available for new tasks, large and small, and gradually fresh responsibilities found her at the company. She ended up moving between six different positions, from fundraising to business development, over the course of her five years at the company.
At the end of those years, she had learned a lot about herself and about how a business operates. She was ready to begin another challenge in individualizing her circumstances: starting her own business.
On Being a Small Business Owner
“I always knew I wanted to have my own business,” Feils says. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs; it’s bred in me.”
She found office space in the North Loop in Minneapolis, hired a website designer, and wrote a business plan and manifesto. In May 2014 she was officially open for business as a Life Stylist, working with clients through therapeutic conversation, guided meditation, and healing work in small groups. Through referrals from her clients, Feils got busier and busier.
“As a Life Stylist my mission is to make self-help work feel more sexy,” Feils says. “I wanted to create something really modern and fresh that allows people to connect deeply to themselves.”
Today, Feils’s business is constantly growing and evolving. She offers session packages to meet with clients one-on-one to work through any number of life challenges, from finding a new job to coping with emotional roadblocks. She also leads monthly and weekly classes and meditations that clients can attend or stream live from their homes. Feils continues to dream up ways to stretch her business, such as leading retreats.
“I think our world has woken up enough to know that feeling a sense of purpose in your work is available to everyone,” Feils says. “We just need examples to see that it’s possible. Going against what’s comfortable, going off the beaten track, isn’t always easy, but it is always worthwhile.”