Michele Risa Life Is A Rollercoaster


Michele Risa did not have to go to the hospital from the age of 16 to the age of 70. When she was diagnosed with cancer which she beat, she was diagnosed with cancer again at 71 that she beat again. Michele describes her journey from working in the corporate world to quitting her job and starting her own business Collaborative Solutions Inc, helping companies change their company culture to retain employees. She reminds us that life is a mixture of bricks and whispers, often simultaneously. Her story reminds us that even the bricks that can seem awful at first can be an opportunity.

Show notes:


Episode Transcription


Intro Plays



Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Barry Sherman. I’m your host. My guest today is Michelle Risa. She is CEO and founder of collaborative Solutions, Inc. Working with executive leaders during these demanding pandemic times to shift from one P meaning profit to four P’s meaning profit, people planet and purpose, creating sustainable evolutionary change. Due to the pandemic and the hemorrhaging of talent. We turn the great resignation into the great retention, decreasing the huge financial expense while increasing engagement and loyalty. A worldwide executive speaker Michelle has presented at the World Economic Forum, Viacom, Forbes Barclays, TEDx in Manhattan, including a six month program at the New York Stock Exchange. She is an award winning co author of conscious entrepreneurs a radical new approach to purpose, passion and profit, and a TV producer since 1998. Bringing positivity to an otherwise negative news environment. Michelle holds a Master’s from Columbia University and certifications as a conscious business change agent in breath walk and PTSD. Having kicked cancer amid the pandemic. Michelle Risa created three 360 Health to use science and your heart to transform illness into prevention. Navigate dark moments of life with ease and grace and create a stunning elegant life however you define it. Post COVID Michelle addresses our polarization and isolation with free workshops, healing conversations to shift from contention to connection and build more meaningful relationships. She is passionate about authenticity spreading the truth about the glory of aging as a two time marathon runner and creating belonging within the human family. Please help me welcome Michelle Risa.

Michele: Thank you. I don’t There’s nothing else I have to say now.


Ari: Oh, there is there is plenty. How are you? How are you doing?



Michele: I’m good. Thank you. Good. Thank you for sharing all of that. I wasn’t thinking you were going to,


Ari: uh, well, you know what I wanted to I wanted to cut it down, but I couldn’t find where to cut it. So I just used it. Well,

Michele: if we’re still here, nice to have everybody.


Ari: Okay, so now, let me start off with this. You know, I have a niece whose name is Michelle. And I have a cousin whose name is Risa. So I’m curious. What’s it like growing up with two first names and no last name?



Michele: Well, I’ll give you the real the real short answer to it. I was born Michelle, Risa gurtner. And after getting married, and changing, that was the tradition back then I wouldn’t have done it now. After changing my last name to his. Okay. I then said, As I looked at all the paperwork to change everything back. I just said, You know what, no matter how many times I get married, I’m just going to stay Michelle, Risa and forget adding, subtracting, multiplying. So that’s the simple answer. Wow,

Ari: that’s really interesting. First, first time I’ve ever heard that. That’s great. That’s really great. So, Michelle Risa, I’ll just call I’ll just call you, Michelle. Thank you. As you know, the name of this podcast is whispers and bricks. Now the whispers of those voices telling us what is the right thing to do they represent the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things that we go through in life and let’s be real, all right. Everybody has a brick thrown at them at some point in time or another in this world, some more, some less. And, you know, it’s just that’s that’s the way life is. Now prior to this record, prior, excuse me, prior to this recording, you and I had a chance to talk and get to know each other a little bit. I learned that growing up life was pretty good for you from the age of 16. Until the age of 50. You never had to see a doctor man how many people are envious of that? You know most would consider you one lucky lady. Now during that time you were you were leaving a very, very busy life. Can you give us a little tell us a little bit more about that what was going on?


Michele: So again, from the timeline, tonsils, tonsil was taken out. I think tonsils taken out at 16 Yes, I’ve been extremely healthy. And yes, by 70 never had to see a doctor and didn’t get colds flu, just very strong and took a great deal of pride in that already enjoyed, you know really being able to run and have fun and have no physical limitations. And then let me just say before I answer your question, you know, boom, two diagnoses of cancer. So if I can just before I answer how that time was, whispers in bricks Ra, I just now know, life has always both for me, in fact, they come together, right? Where there’s if maybe another way of saying it is the light and dark are the things I want and the things I don’t want. And, you know, for me, it’s finally seeing life isn’t that? You know, simple, if you will, you know, the right and wrong, the black and white. And once I believe I and others can just trust or see or test that both are there? We’ll find both, we’ll find Yes, it may be a challenge. I appreciate that. Not diminishing that at all. And recognizing the gifts that may be there, but maybe not apparent. So I just want to punctuate your beautiful name, which offers that beautiful message whispers and bricks.



Ari: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. But why don’t you tell us I’d like to hear a little bit about, you know, what your life was like, prior to getting hit with that brick, so to speak. You’re a TV producer. I think we read. Tony, tell us about that. What was going on? You know, how many people how many people would be jealous of that? Wow, a TV produced right love to produce TV?

Michele: Everybody can. We’re more powerful than we really give ourselves credit for we just and I didn’t for most of my life. So yes, I went to it was Manhattan cable. So it wasn’t, you know, NBC for sure, you know, were CBS or one of the major networks. But it was it was an opportunity to get out there and get my message out there at that time. And I wasn’t, you know, social media wasn’t then what it is now, you know, as a means of of dialoguing with people and getting your message out. So I decided if that’s what I needed to do, because someone had invited me on to their show. And, and then I said, Oh, wow, that’s really, voila, when they did that, they said, You can be a producer as well. And so initially, it was a yoga show already. Because that back in the 90s. That was my focus. So if I go back a little bit before that, I was in the corporate world in Ogilvy and Mather, which was a major advertising agency. In May there. Okay, so Dave, I met David many times, he would come in from France. And when I joined when he separated mass media from direct response. And so we were his little baby on 42nd Street. And anyway, stayed in the corporate world, whether it be on the account side, or the client side, when I moved to Seattle, I lived there for a little while, but was that Seattle First National Bank? So banking, and finance kind of became an area that I was in. And that was, I guess, you when you say busy, I’ll just say, Yeah, I worked at Citibank from easily eight in the morning, till 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night. And that was what you had to do that then I’m maybe I think, at Goldman Sachs, that still is kind of sorta, but

Ari: that, I think, I think in the financial world, you know, investment banking is always going to be like that, you know, they run you ragged, and you know, and and then only the strong survive and they make a bazillion dollars, and then they get divorced, and they have all kinds of issues at home, and it’s the trade off just is it worth it, but I’m not even gonna go there.

Michele: So, then just punctuate I left saying, sensing, this is not my destiny. I was miserable. And we don’t need to

Ari: go here. I hear I hear. I’m just gonna stop. I’m just gonna stop me for a minute. Because it’s really funny. Because you talk about Ogilvy and Mather. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I wound up in a in an employment agency. And Ogilvy and Mather was one of my accounts. Ah, which is really that’s what that’s why I knew about them and what they did and everything else was fascinating. And from there, from that, after that, I wound up on Wall Street in the financial world. So it’s just funny how our two lives you know, Oh seem to have been parallel.



Michele: Yeah, yeah. So just so just to let people know, I want to help your audience side from new. I left Citibank with no plan. I literally just quit. I was going to, it’s a silly story won’t even bore your viewers with it, maybe you and I another time. But anyway, I quit with no, no plan. And I just trusted, I just trusted that the next step was going to be become a parent. And, of course, as you can imagine, you know, I financially was fine. So I didn’t, that wasn’t my worry. But nevertheless, you know, just leaving without a plan to courage and so I just want to punctuate at this time. For people that though it may also take courage to quit a comfortable position with good remuneration, that, I would say that’s the best thing I ever did. And not only did it lead me down the yogic inner path, which I can talk about more, if you like, but it also showed me airy that I had courage. You know, just to do that was not a common north north. Everybody said, What are you crazy? But I’m just saying, doing that leap enabled me to see for the rest of my life girl, you’ve got courage, you can do this.


Ari: You know? Absolutely. And I think it’s very poignant at this particular time. In our lives, you know, going through the pandemic, how many people had made decisions where they said, you know, what, life’s too short, I’m not going to do the, you know, the, the rat race anymore, I’m, you know, I’m going to quit, and I’m going to do something else do something that I really want to do. So I think it’s very, very, and you didn’t have that. I mean, you just, you know, you just, you know, a leap of faith, blind faith, okay, you weren’t being pushed. I mean, you weren’t happy what you were doing, but you weren’t really being pushed, as opposed to people during the pandemic, who are literally being pushed, where they could no longer go out and work because of the pandemic and the like. And many people did go out and did go out on their own and, you know, started a new career a new life. So you were, I guess, a pioneer in that respect, because you did it. Without the pandemic, you did it because you felt this is what the right thing to do for you was, and, and I think you were following your own whispers. I think that’s what it boiled down to.


Michele: Yeah. And again, let me just say please, everyone that’s listening. I appreciate it requires courage. I no doubt I’m not diminishing the challenge. However, more than ever, I’ll just say there’s our A There’s me, there are people who are happy to help you having gone through many similar things, starting a new and entrepreneurship is not for everyone, either. But there’s a lot of us out there who can help. So please don’t do it alone. You know, we were never meant to do at this journey alone.

Ari: Right. So I think, did we talk about are you married? Currently? No. I think you said you’re divorced. Correct. Okay. Do you have any children? I’ve got children. You have got children. Okay. That’s wonderful. They live in? They live near you at all or?

Michele: No, but you know, it’s okay. And all our other technology, we stay connected.

Ari: 100% That’s great. So, you know, world’s going around, you’re doing your thing. You’re happy and you turn 50 on top of the world, and then you get hit with that major brick the kids

Michele: need to make I need to make me older. I got hit with it when I was 70.

Ari: You can’t you could not have gotten hit with it when you were 70 Because you are not 70 now.



Michele: That’s correct. I’m 71

Ari: You know what? When I turned 71 I should look so good.

Michele: I wouldn’t even ever have guessed my 70th birthday present. I was doing chemo and radiation and so that I won’t be jealous when I was 71 I was just coming out of major surgery when when it was my 71st birthday. So yeah, I understand.

Ari: Oh, wow. That’s just like, that’s crazy. You know, reminds me It reminds me in a similar way but different. When my wife turns 49 She was sitting Shiva for her mother. So she said Mom, thanks for the birthday present.

Michele: And so we’re coming back to if we really again I want people to get value from what my share. I appreciate so deeply that it looks it could look ominous and terrible and negative and a death sentence when he quite frankly, say it like that. And it doesn’t have to be a physical cancer. Now it can be a divorce, it can be losing a job, right? It can be losing your home and a fire or a flood. You know, there’s many choices here. And so I’m putting cancer in quotes. So we all have it. And I just want to really underscore the message that if we can just hold, hold it in a way that as I said earlier, we I can do this if it was given to me. And I’m gonna say, who gave it me, I’m gonna say me, I created this challenge for me. And I’m some energy force, I call it soul. You can call it whatever works for you something that’s keeping my heart beating, I don’t pay attention to my heart, it kind of does it all by itself along with breathing. So if we can all agree something is breathing us, or pumping our heart, you know, I’ll just offer if we can just hold that trust for a little bit. I promise, I promise you, we’ll see more than what appears to be apparent. And I’ll just say how many people have said, Oh, when I lost that job, that was awful. And yet it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Absolutely. I would say that about my cancer. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Ari: Wow, that’s a powerful statement. But let me ask you something. Okay, I get I get where you’re coming from. But at any point in time, alright. Did you ever get to a point where you said to yourself, you know what, I can’t do this. I’m just, I’m just given up. I can’t deal with it. I can’t, you know, forget about my dreams. Forget about I’m just gonna, you know, and you reach a point so low, where you like, I’m never gonna get out of this. Do you ever did that ever happen to you? And if it did, okay, what did you do to to get out of it? You know, how did you overcome that?

Michele: Okay, so let me again, say I never, I don’t, in my experience, all right. It’s never all good. And all bad from in my life. It’s kind of like a roller coaster, you know? Absolutely. It’s not, you know, these separated realities. So, there are many moments where I’m up and okay, and then boom, I It’s like trying to go from crawling to walking. I’m almost there. Almost there. Balancing, balancing, boom, falling. Right. Okay, so I don’t want and I think that’s an important image to keep, you know, we keep thinking it’s one or the other. My favorite three letter word in the English language is and AMD right, it’s always both, it’s always the good and the bad. And they’re kind of coming in and out like that. So yes, I’ve hit rock bottom, and I’ll give you during the cancer when I when I really was in the it’s called the dark night of the soul. I don’t know, if you’ve ever heard that term, but it’s a it’s really a down the dark night of the Soul is really a downplays, and so I’m in the hospital, have beds coming out of my body, because, you know, everything’s kind of, I’m not doing very much and I’m kind of locked into the bed, and in a lot of pain, and my call button isn’t working, even though they’ve come to fix it, as they said they did. And so right, you know, you’re buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, and obviously, no one’s coming. And in that moment of pain and discomfort and feeling lost, I would say yes. You know, just really lost. I would, I would say that’s kind of answering your question about a dark place. I can’t take this. And the beauty. I’ll just tell you what occurred. So I did have a roommate to which I finally yelled out to her and said, Hi, you know, my call buttons not working? Can you please call someone to help me? You know, and someone ultimately came. And when the nurse showed up, I just Well, before she showed up area use breath, I was trying to talk to my soul. I was just hanging in there. And when she finally showed up, she said, Well, you know, how can I help you? And I just looked at her and said, I know you’re helping me physically. And that is, you know, your responsibility to help me physically get right now. I’m in the depths of a deep, painful emotional and mental place. And she said, Well, how can I help you? And I said, could you give me a hug? And we did. And we both cried. Wow. Wow,



Ari: I’m about to break down. Stop doing this.

Michele: So yes, we do reach bottoms.



Ari: Wow. But you but you overcame, I overcame You overcame. And then as they say that no good deed goes unpunished. You gotta hit with it again. Yes. What was what was going through your mind?



Ari: I’m going to be transparent. I just said, apparently, Michelle, there’s more for you to learn.

Michele:  I’m just going to be honest with you. And that’s my trust. All right. So I went a different route. Instead of chemo and radiation. We did surgery that time was just last October 1, by the way. Wow. Which it’s now February. So not that long. Three months ago. Yeah. Around four


Michele: months ago. Yeah. October, November, just around the corner. Yeah. I mean,

yeah. And I never stopped believing that I was going to rise above it and heal. And please, no, I’m not passive. You know, again, I, as I did the first year, had healers working with me. I took responsibility not only for my physical health, but my mental emotional and spiritual health, because that’s what my belief is. So instead of only killing what was the cancer, I was strengthening my immune system, my lymphatic system, you know, my nervous system, I mean, I as well as my, what am I emotional needs? Right? Yeah, what is my mental, so and my spiritual needs. So, I, I offer a holistic approach. I mean, get back to my company. You know, at the end of the day, this is what I offer. I don’t believe there’s a silver bullet, you know, chemo and radiation will do it. I’m not negating it creates a lot of miracles. But for me, instead of healing in six months, is they prognosticated I did it in six weeks.

Ari: Wow. So are you are you cancer free right now? Yeah. Congratulations. That’s so wonderful to hear. So So what are you doing now.

Michele: So what I’m doing now is, and part of what you read, is coming from the corporate world, it’s a wonderful opportunity to, there’s still, despite the changes and the demands, new employees are making on climate, on wages, on benefits on having a purpose. I mean, this is all that CEOs are talking about it and are aware of it adding more diversity to their board, to their staff, et cetera. Now, this has all been happening over these past few years. However, now more than ever, after 38 million have left in 2021. You know, we know there’s a shortage and employees are in a place to make demands. And I just see it as a wonderful time to truly change the culture, to finally help all of us recognize how to discover our human potential. And that’s the greatest asset we corporations of all of us really have. And no fault of their own, it’s easier to measure dollars than human potential. So I’m not saying this is easy. Like, again, don’t get me wrong, but we know relationships and connection, and, and creativity and, you know, your belonging and feeling heard and having a voice. And, you know, taking responsibility and having a sense of commitment. All of that is what excites us to get up and create. So that’s what we’re doing inside of company. So that’s a program I’m launching in the neck, I’ll probably launch that in the next three months.


Ari: Wow, it must be really exciting. You must be excited. Let me ask you this. Before we go a couple of more questions, like who is the one person that you would point to that you would say had the most influence in your life and why?

Michele: So the person was my, the master of Kundalini Yoga, his name was Yogi Bhajan. I met him in the 90s. It was shortly after I left city. I left there and I was on my search. And he, the first class I heard that this methodology can offer peace, you know, to stay calm amid the chaos. He didn’t quite say it that way. But he’s offered peace. And I was like, really worried really? And I then studied with him for as long as he was on the planet for the for the next 10 or 11 years. Wow. Yeah. And both here in the United States. And in India, of course, he was from outside of Delhi in Amritsar, which is where it he was a Sikh people with turbans. Golden Temple is in Amritsar. And so, yeah, that discipline Ra, that connection to my is energy, my my literal energy? My connection to my heart? My ability to listen there’s a mantra the word in Gurmukhi is Sonia. And Sonia means listen. And I remember just hearing this song, Sunita, Sunita, and I was really liking it and all. And then finally, it’s like, you know, what does that mean? Right? And then when I heard that word means listen, and I knew it was obviously listening to my own heart, right? So I can now listen to you. I can’t if I don’t listen to it. If I don’t know how to listen to me, I certainly don’t know how to listen to you. That’s another tip for all those listening. Starts with ourselves. So yes, this was a man truly impacted.

Ari: Oh, awesome. So before we go, I know you’ve said a lot. And you’ve you’ve certainly, you know, instilled inspiration into me, I can tell you that I’m sure my audience as well. But do you have any, like word parting words of wisdom for my audience?


Michele: parting words of wisdom? I mean, I. It, I feel like I’ve shared it, which is why I’m not that I don’t know. But I mean, for quality of life that I live and the quality and I try to offer to others at least do I offer a smorgasbord board, of course. But I’ll I’ll say it this way, you know, I’ve looked at what are my values, getting to know who I am? You know, what are my accomplishments? Right? And I can share some of that, what are my contributions? And what are my lessons learned? And I think if I could just leave people with to investigate those four areas about and what’s not working again, well, let’s go back to the end. So what’s really working and what’s not and be honest with yourself? And not I’ll actually give a quote that I love. And her name is Rhea Beck, I believe. And the quote is, knowledge is a love affair with answers. Wisdom is a love affair with questions.

Ari: Right? Wow. Wow. Can you repeat that? You repeat that? Sure.

Michele: So knowledge is a love affair with answers. Wisdom is a love affair with questions.


Ari: Those are powerful words. Very powerful words. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. Now, if people want to get in touch with you, you know, they want to schmooze. They want advice. They want help. What’s the best way for them to do that? You have like a website or an email, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?

Michele: And let me say we do healing conversations. I spoke about that what you said in the bio. It’s a way to learn how to speak from contentiousness to connection. We haven’t every month, so I’ll just say you can email me that’s a simple way or go to LinkedIn. Maybe I’ll give those two links. Sure. Okay. So the, the LinkedIn, I if you go to Michelle Reese, I don’t believe there’s more than one. But okay, so it is as everyone knows, it’s you know, ww.linkedin.com/you know, in i n slash and then Michelle, Risa mi CH, le ri sa right. So

Ari: wait before you go on. All right. Michelle is only one L. You should know that mi ch e l e. Okay. And resize ri S A, like so with an AR Reese Elisa with an AR Yes, Reese. Okay. Yes.

Michele: So that’s my LinkedIn. And he’s email me initial M. And my last name, r i s a 11. At Gmail, which is also very easy. M r i s a 11. At Gmail. So if if you contact me, I’d love to invite you to this free gathering where we all practice addressing very, sometimes challenging subjects. But I just tell you, when we support each other and do it together, we get better at it right? We become masters of being human. And communication is one of our human traits. So just an opportunity to come and practice.