Karen Ozeri: The Purpose-Driven Entrepreneur Interview Series
Career and life coach, Karen Ozeri, uses her purpose to help guide others along the path to trying something new and more fulfilling in their lives and work. We discuss letting ideas die, lightbulb moments, and leaning in.
The next guest in my Purpose-Driven Entrepreneur Interview Series is career and life coach, Karen Ozeri. Karen’s decision to leave her “successful” corporate career in New York City is what ultimately led her to become the purpose-driven career and life coach she is today. And she uses her purpose to help guide others along the path to creating and discovering theirs as well.
Our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Hello, everybody! Today, I’m going to be chatting with Karen Ozeri. She is a professional career and life coach. We just actually finished a project together where we completed her new branding and web design. So, I’m so excited to chat with her about how she’s infused purpose into her business and the work that she does with her clients.
Tell everyone little bit about you, your story, where you came from professionally, and how you ended up becoming this purpose-driven entrepreneur that you are today?
Like everyone, I think my journey had lots of windy turns, but my journey into what I do now really started in college. I had no sense of what I wanted to do with my life, and really felt like I had to pick at that time. I went with a communications and a political science major. And I ended up in a radio ad sales job right out of college.
The very first day I started in that job, I realized I had made a mistake, it was not for me. And that stayed with me for almost 15 years to follow. I was always just taking the next step but with no real clear reason for it, following along with what “I should do” more than anything.
In 2014, I was the top global salesperson for a mobile technology company. I had the first rough quarter that I had ever had and I decided I was going to look for a new job. I ended up taking a job, and I could feel inside of my own body that I wasn’t psyched about it.
I was just doing it because I felt like I needed to be something new and I was leaving the other job because I just didn’t want to be there anymore. Three weeks after accepting that new job, I was sprinting uphill on a treadmill, and I tore my groin muscle, fractured my pelvis, and tore my hamstring all in one swoop while sprinting. And, the interesting thing is I just kept going.
My leg was dangling and I continued to try and run because I was so conditioned to avoid what was real for me and to avoid my own pain and discomfort. I didn’t ask anyone for help. And, in that moment, it was just representative of everything that I had gone through up until that point. In hindsight I came to understand that this was the universe’s way of asking me to literally and figuratively stop running from my problems.
Despite this traumatic injury, I didn’t slow down at all. I just kept doing what I had been doing. And over the course of the year, I had all of these situations occur, everything from bed bugs, to carbon monoxide poisoning, to slicing my foot open in the cab on a piece of metal, to herniating a disc in my back. It was literally like the universe was like, “Just stop, just stop,” and I kept going.
I had felt really stuck because everything was good on paper. I had a great job. I was making half a million dollars a year. I lived in New York City. I had lots of friends. I traveled all the time. I had this “good life.” I was at a healing retreat and I had this awakening of understanding like, “This is all great, but it’s still not good enough for me.”
I had no plan, but I decided, in that moment, that I had had enough, and that I was more scared of things staying the same than I was with them changing. And so, I returned from that trip and I left my career.
I had a coach for over a year, prior. And I was talking with my coach one day about how all of these people had reached out to me and asked me about what had happened and why had I left this “successful career?” And I was sharing with my coach that they didn’t actually care about my story, what I was learning is that they just wanted to know how to do this themselves. And, she said to me in that moment, because she knew I was curious about coaching, she said, “Karen, those are your clients.” And, it was this huge light bulb moment.
My passion and my purpose now is really about supporting people with trusting this instinct they have, that they want to do something different, and that there’s more to their life, and that they want to do something more meaningful and fulfilling.
My training is in spiritual psychology, so a lot of it has to do with learning to see that things happen for you and not to you. I can now look at that injury, which felt like the worst thing ever at the time and can see it now as a pivotal moment that had a lot of meaning for me. My purpose is really rooted in that confusion and that desire to wanting to be doing something that was really giving back to the world in a more meaningful way.
You know, I resonate so much with your story personally, especially when you paint that awful picture of the moment on a treadmill where your body knew what to do to stop you in order to wake you up. Even though it took a while after that to finally get to that true epiphany that built the clarity, I think, I resonated so much with that because I had a very similar situation where I had ended up in the hospital, but even that didn’t wake me up.
It was a little moment, maybe a year later, when I was biking, and I fell, hit my knee really hard, blood everywhere, but I didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t feel adrenaline. I didn’t feel emotion. I just suddenly knew that I was empty, and that was not how I wanted to live. So, I often think it’s interesting that our body seems to know that before our mind knows it, and it seems like what you’re really good at, and what I’d love to hear more about is connecting those dots, is looking at those little clues that our life brings us or that we create in our life.
And how do you do that with your clients? How do you work with them to identify and clear up the confusion what’s the after result for them? What do you help them do? Do you help them get a new job, or do you help them transition an existing career? What’s your process like working with your clients within your specific and unique purpose?
My process is really deeply individualized to the person, and it’s really just about supporting people with taking the next step. The thing that I really work on with my clients is not waiting until you have the answers before you take action. It’s about supporting them with taking small steps over time, which will create massive change.
And, in terms of connecting the dots, the thing that’s so interesting with all of my clients is that, as much as they think that they don’t, they’re all drawn to something. It’s just the degree in which how buried it is in their consciousness.
Some people will come to me and say, “I have no idea what I want to do next.” And, when I approach it from a different angle and ask the question slightly differently, all of a sudden there’s this thing that they’ve always been curious about, but they’ve put it in a box over in a trunk in their garage where they can’t see it. And then it’s sometimes just about inviting that in and reconnecting them to what it is that inspired them. Reconnecting them with that energy before necessarily reconnecting them even with that idea.
When you look at life through, particularly what I look through, which is a spiritual lens, and when you start to see that things have happened for you and not to you, oftentimes your greatest challenges are linked with the purpose that you can create for yourself. One of my coaches often talks about this idea that your blocks are not in the way, they are the way, and that can be true of challenges too and any perceived blocks that you might have.
I see this common trait in purpose-driven entrepreneurs of having the capacity to look backwards at key experiences, be positive or negative, and learn from that, and use that as a way to gain clarity on the next steps. For me, I had that awful experience back in L.A. where I was in the hospital.
But that has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in the long run because it has informed now what I do with my purpose to help people not go to that place, to help people bring their ideas to life so that they feel fulfilled and empowered. So, it sounds like that’s almost what you do is you facilitate. You know, you help people look at that. And, I love that you say it’s more about your curiosity.
What have you always been curious about, and can that inform what your next steps are?
Yeah, following your curiosity and following what’s fun is a huge principle of my work versus following what you think you “should do.” Those are key because, again it’s inside your body. When you really slow down and learn to check in with, “Am I curious about this? Am I willing to take the next step?” your body will know immediately if you’re willing to lean in on something or if you pull back because it’s not something of interest.
For example, before I thought I might go into coaching, I was exploring things like rehabilitative pilates, and assisted stretching, and yoga. As I explored each of those and learned more about what each of those would entail in terms of the training and the profession itself, when I realized that I would have to study anatomy and go into cadaver labs, I was immediately like, “No.” It was a hard, “No.” It was a hard, “Stop.”
Your body will literally lean in or lean out when there’s something that you’re curious or completely averse to.
A lot of my work, because I work with typically very high achievers, very driven, very motivated people who’ve had lots of success in their life, it’s about supporting them with slowing down, and starting to see that we use busyness often as a way to distract ourselves, especially when we don’t feel connected to something more deeply.
And, you mentioned this idea of what we “should do,” and I know you always use the air quotes with it because it’s like a belief that is often instilled in us in a young age. And as you shared in your story, the “should” really drove a lot of your decisions for a decade or longer, and I know the “should” has taken me many places. And so, I, kind of, wanted to explore that with you because I know in my recent new email series, I’ve been doing postcards on purpose.
My very first topic actually was about letting ideas die. And, having an idea that might come up that might be so exciting for you for a brief time, and then understanding after a while that either it was a “should” or it was a “could”. There was a lot of potential, there was a lot of possibility, and you were almost excited about that more than the idea itself.
And you had responded to that first email saying, “Oh my gosh, I resonate with this so much.” Could you share about the idea you talked to me about that you had been so excited about for so long, but inevitably, you learned that you had to let it go?
One of my favorite sayings is just, “Stop ‘should-ing’ all over yourself.” I don’t remember who said that to me the first time, but I started to notice how much “should” comes up in our day-to-day vernacular, like, “should” and “need” versus “choose” and “want.”
Yeah. I sure can. As I started noticing that a lot of my clients were really interested in the spiritual teachings and context of what we would be talking about in sessions, I started to get really into this idea of creating a community for people who identified as spiritual but not religious. There are churches and synagogues and mosques and places like that, and then there is yoga, and coaching, and there’s nothing really in the middle. So, I started getting really amped up about creating that community.
When this idea came forward, I already had a full coaching practice. So, the very first part of the process was carving out time in my schedule so that I could dedicate time towards exploring this. I was really feeling like, “I need time for this. I can’t explore any of this if there’s no time.”
In making space for this idea, the more I shared it with people, the more people reflected to me, “Yes, this is something that’s really needed.” One day I was talking to my coach about this and he goes, “Karen, I don’t really think that you’re meant to do that. I just think what you’re doing is creating space in your life for you to explore these things that interest you. This is part of you creating what you want in the world and your own lifestyle.” And, I was relieved.
So it wasn’t much about the idea, it was about you and you exploring these general concepts, not about turning it into something.
What I hear from a lot of clients is that when you’re an entrepreneur, you want to make every single idea a business. You want every single thing you think about profitable, and somehow encourage your bottom line to grow.
And, it sounds like you reflected on that after a while, especially with feedback from your coach, and said, “Oh, it’s actually not about making the community, it’s about making more time for me to explore these ideas?”
Well, and it was still funny too because he wasn’t the first person that suggested that. It was interesting because people who could have been involved in the community or benefited from the community, were the people that were saying, “Do this, do this, do this.” But, all of the spiritual mentors, and teachers, and my coaches, many of whom have spiritual psychology background were saying, “You don’t need to create a community, this is a function of your coaching.”
I thought I needed to go off and create this whole separate business, and really it was about leaning into this idea that my spirituality or the stuff that I wanted to communicate to people through this community-centered idea, it lives either way. It’s not dead if I let go of this idea. And, it was interesting, similarly to what we were talking about before, I started to feel that constriction of, “I’m not sure that that is what I really want to do. What I really just want to experience is greater freedom in my own life, and greater learning about these topics, and feel more connected to other humans.” So, one of the teachings that Rich Litvin, who’s an amazing coach, talks about this idea of, “The goal is the place to come from, not to get too.” Which, I think when I read your postcard. I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what you were talking about.”
You show up with the intention of creating from this place to create this thing. And when you do that, you release attachment from the form, and it doesn’t matter whether you create that thing or not it’s all about the journey, ultimately.
That is so well put. And I think for entrepreneurs, oftentimes, we do need to go through the full process. We do need to ideate and create the form first in order to then see what the intention is and the purpose is behind it. Would you agree?
Totally. And, it’s so funny in hindsight now. Shortly after I let that idea go, my husband and I started planning to travel full time for a year-ish and everything that I had done to create space for that community has served me in creating space in my life as we move into this journey.
And, I still think candidly about the community thing from time to time, and I wonder, “Will this come back when have children, and is this really important to me?” I just know that I’m so grateful to have pursued how to create my schedule with more space in it because as you go out and travel in the world, I certainly don’t want to sit behind a computer or on my phone the whole time during that experience.
Yeah, and one of the things that you mentioned was that idea of the community coming back into your life in different forms, and I think that’s interesting, especially with where you are in your business and brand building. You and I just completed a design project to create a new logo, brand identity, and website.
And, I know you were doing that in order to really put your message out there strategically with more purpose in order to attract the kind of people that you really want that to be part of your client base and your audience. And, I think the natural next evolution in a lot of what you’re doing is building the audience, cultivating the relationships, but then you have a perfect opportunity to then build a community out of those people. But until you had that foundation, until you had that message that was conveyed in the way that’s beautifully done through what we did together, I’m not sure you were ready for it even, but maybe, that could be the next evolution.
Yeah, it’s a great reflection. And I’m sure that if I had really wanted to, I could have forced it, right? We can force things to happen, or we can go with the flow and trust that our path is more like a meandering creek.
I find that the people that I work with are feeling really constricted and confined by that way of being, so giving yourself the grace of letting it be more fluid and seeing where it takes you and still set goals because that will support you in making the progress that you want to make.
You brought up the fact that you’re about to set off on a year-long journey with your husband while also running a business. So, could you speak a little to that decision and also what you did to get ready for that.
I mean, honestly, why we decided to do it was because it was something that we had both always thought about. And, you know how people often ask you, what would you do if you knew you only had six months left to live? My answer for my whole life has always been, in addition to some other things, to see the world.
When my husband and I were engaged and determining what we wanted to do for our wedding, one day I turned to him, and I said, “What if we use the money for our wedding and travel with it rather than have some big wedding?” And, it was the first time I saw his whole self just light up with total excitement.
I have really had to learn how to be okay with that level of self-permission. In the past, I really looked for permission outside of me to do things which led me down this path of doing things that were very logical rather than really checking in on, “Is this something I really want to do?”
So, when we started to explore that it was a process. It was so many small steps taken over time. At first, we tried to create this huge list of all the things we needed to do, and that wasn’t very fun. It wasn’t very motivating for either of us. And, as a result of that, we procrastinated.
We originally said we were going to leave in October, and that came so quickly, and we were like, “We’re not ready to do this yet mentally, spiritually, physically, on all levels.” So, we extended our lease for a couple months into December.
December came and that too felt like a freight train was coming, and we were not prepared. And as it had turned out, we had been required to give 60-day notice for the end of our lease, regardless of the fact that the lease was ending.
And it really felt like a gift from above of someone just saying like, “Just slow down here. You don’t need to meet some arbitrary deadline. You don’t need to rush into this.” So, we ended up pushing it back another three months. And really, every week, we just consciously sat down together and talked about what was the most immediate thing that needed to be done and started to take the steps as they were necessary rather than take steps because we thought we should.
During that whole time, you were working together to create that foundation for you digitally. I mean, was that a big piece, too?
Yes, creating a website and getting that part of my business settled, particularly because I wanted to be writing and sharing about this journey and this experience, and I didn’t want to continue doing that on social media. I wanted it to be a little bit more cohesive, and have everything in one place, and easy to access. And, I was also at a place in my business where I was getting a ton of word-of-mouth referrals, and they were also increasingly unqualified.
So, as I was thinking about, how am I going to use my time when I’m traveling abroad, it became really clear that I didn’t want to spend all of my time on calls with people that seemed largely like they were not a fit. Creating the website was a huge step in terms of starting to put myself out there and claim who it was that I worked with, and really just claiming my time back to start to have more of a filter so that we could really enjoy that time abroad versus me feeling like I had to be on a call with everyone who reached out.
Yeah, and I really appreciate the process that you’ve been going through, both on your own in your business and as a couple is you’re setting the vision, you’re setting the broad goals, but you’re not getting caught up too much in the exact details of how it’s going to happen. But, you do prioritize the large chunks that you need to facilitate before you can take the jump. And, it feels very healthy, and it feels very strategic in a way and purposeful because you are running a business, and you are doing it with purpose and intention. So, you want to make sure that the environment you’re going to be in for the next year is set up to succeed for you.
Yeah, and my husband and I separately wrote out what our vision was for this year abroad. We did it separately, and then we came together, and we read them to one another and they were almost identical.
And that was really powerful because it showed us that we were on the same page, and that we were in this together. And, had our vision’s been slightly different, it also would have given us the opportunity to adjust and create greater alignment between the two of us before embarking on something that is this big.
You know, one of the things that you did so beautifully in your process in developing my branding and website was you supported me in what’s the broader vision for this? What are your goals with this? Why is this important to you? Why does this matter to you versus just, “I need a website.” It was so much more depth, thought, and conscious attention put on the broader purpose of it.
Yeah, and I think, well, that’s because of the type of people I work with like you. You’re purpose-driven, and so it can’t just be a slap together because it should really last you for many years. And secondly, it needs to have that depth, and it’s why I don’t do 30-day websites or 30-day brands. And you’ve told me many of these stories, I’ve read many of these stories before, and it’s taking all of that and infusing that into a purposeful brand and a foundation that you can then build on.
You talked about being able to write about your stories, and travels, and all of that. Now you have the technical setup to do that. And, I think a lot of entrepreneurs get stuck at that point where either they don’t know their message, they don’t know their purpose, or they don’t have the building blocks to communicate it like you do. So, I think that’s why I’ve been so grateful to see what you’ve been doing and proud of it, too, in a way because you’ve done all the work to then set you up for this big goal of yours to travel the world.
Yeah, yeah. There is value in having clarity with what you want at a broad level, but once you have that, the small steps will show themselves to you. And, it’s so much easier to keep taking those steps even when it’s uncomfortable.
There’s this willingness to keep going when you are clear on the broader purpose of something and why you are doing it.
Absolutely. As we wrap up here, do you have any insights or advice for any purpose-driven entrepreneurs, or aspiring purpose-driven entrepreneurs listening in on how they can really find or create their purpose and gain that clarity? Like, what would you tell a client in that situation?
Oh, that’s a great question. I think for me in my own journey and what I see true for clients, and peers, and colleagues, and all of those things is having support, and having people, or a person who can reflect things back to you. That is, oftentimes, the greatest way to get clarity because when we live in our heads, we don’t see things clearly. We don’t hear things clearly. Our thoughts are a mess sometimes.
And, the number one piece of “advice,” is really to have support, whether it’s in the form of a coach, or a therapist, or a mentor, and particularly a community. A community can be the fastest way to accelerate your growth because you’re not only experiencing your own process and you’re supported by people in that, but you’re learning from everyone else going through similar things in their own way. When I have been engaged in communities and supported by that, my growth has been exponential relative to just the one-on-one work.
That is such an insightful gem because I know for me personally, it’s been something I have struggled with. I have been an entrepreneur, a solopreneur, for eight years. I am on my own 80% of the time. I’ll get to a Friday night and sometimes forget how to have a conversation with people. And then, the biggest thing I’ve learned in the past two years or so is I can’t do it all alone. You cannot do that without getting insights and reflection, as you said, from someone that can be objective.
I recently hired a coach/consultant to help me shift my business model. So, I’ll do less one-on-one, a little bit more group coaching, scaled programs, and all of that. And it has been so enlightening to have someone talking about my business to me objectively, and that has helped me grow immensely as well. And then, at one point, I even had two people on a zoom call where they were talking about my business to each other, and I was sitting there listening. And, I was like, “This is an absolute revolution,” and I learned so much from it. So, I think that is a great piece of advice to end with because we often, as entrepreneurs, get stuck in our heads, get stuck in our lonely little home offices, and we don’t reach out for help. So, thank you.
Yeah. I mean, it’s just about getting support to get out of your own way, and just to have someone who’s cheering you on. Like, I vastly underestimated that at various points, particularly in my past career. But just allowing yourself to receive that and allow yourself to just get out of your own way, I mean, it’s just profound. It’s uncomfortable at times hearing how you are winning in your own way, and then you have to take responsibility for that, but that’s the point. That’s part of the journey.
Yeah, but you can’t get out of your own way until you know you’re in your way. And, often times, a third party is the person who can tell you that.
Yeah, it’s so true. So true.
Well, thank you so much. I think there are so many gems in here. Could you share how people can find you online? You know, do you prefer Instagram, website, anywhere online we can find you?
Yeah, there’s a couple of different ways. I mean, obviously, my beautiful website. It’s a place to visit. So, it’s karenozeri.com. People can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if they’re interested just in learning more about working together. And, yes, I’m on Instagram and Facebook under Karen Ozeri, so I can be found there too.
Awesome. I can’t wait to follow along with your wanderings. So, thank you for coming, and thanks to everyone who tuned in. And, hopefully, you enjoyed this talk, and many more to come.