On the surface, Laura Coe is the archetype of a successful entrepreneur. She was just 24 when she joined forces with her brother to co-found Litholink Corporation, a healthcare company that grew to serve over 350,000 patients per year nationally. When Litholink sold to a Fortune 500 company, Laura stayed on to serve as vice president of this multimillion-dollar business. At the end of each day, she went home to a beautiful house in Chicago where she was greeted by a loving partner and their young son. To many of us, it sounds like Laura’s life was perfect.
Yet, fifteen years into her career as a healthcare entrepreneur, she found herself in tears at 30,000 feet in the air, confiding in her brother that she wanted out of the company. For years, she had been trying to ignore the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Although everything in her life seemed to be as it should, that frustrating feeling got louder and louder.
“I had all of this success, and I kept looking around asking myself, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you happier?’ I kept thinking there had to be something more,” Laura recalls. “It didn’t feel authentic. Ultimately, I left to figure out what that meant for me.”
While she had finally made the decision to go, she had no idea to where she was going. The only job Laura ever had was at Litholink. After fifteen years as a company leader, she had honed an approach to leadership that was accessible, transparent, and kind. As a young entrepreneur learning on the fly, she had first attempted to model her brother’s style of leadership, quickly realizing it didn’t suit her.
She felt uncomfortable and unhappy when she tried to play the role of someone else. She recalls a time when she nearly blacked out during an employee review, crushed by the feeling of fumbling her way through and pretending to be somebody she wasn’t. Laura realized she could only be successful if she did things her own way. She instead found her strengths in mentorship and creating a culture where people loved to show up for work every day.
“You might get more out of employees if you pound down for six months, but they’ll be unhappy and the work product will reflect that,” Laura says. “It was really important to me to work in an environment where I could be happy. I could’ve walked in, ruled with an iron fist and probably gotten 20% more out of everybody. But what kind of environment is that?”
Despite having built a great business with great results, she hadn’t yet found her life’s calling. Laura successfully exited her company, and she went into search mode. Facing an unknown future, she was ready to figure out what she wanted out of life, find it and be done. Laura relied on what she knew about herself to find her next steps. As opportunities came along, she would envision how she could fit into each venture. She took the time to consider which choices made sense for her life and where she could be most successful.
Over the next two years, she experienced several false starts. One minute she would be following her passion for entrepreneurship and closing in on starting a new business, the next she’d be making plans to open a yoga studio with a close friend. She almost took a job running an integrated health care system, despite her lack of interest in the healthcare space. Looking for guidance, she turned to her lifelong passion for philosophy, a discipline she studied in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Throughout college and in her career, she had always specialized in making complex concepts easy to digest, understand and apply.
“I was basically chasing my tail,” says Laura. “After two years of banging my head against the wall, nearly opening several different businesses but backpedaling and driving people crazy, I dove back into philosophy and ancient wisdom. I started studying what it means to have a purpose-driven life and find fulfillment.”
Laura became her own guinea pig. After she left Litholink, she had tried to find her authentic next steps but kept running into that familiar sinking feeling that something was off. Later, Laura realized that there were a few crucial questions she had been skipping over. She didn’t ask herself what would make her happy. She didn’t examine which opportunities would bring her fulfillment.
“When you haven’t asked yourself those questions in a very long time, they can be very frustrating to confront,” Laura says. “I realized that the process was what I call ‘inside out’ — you’re working with the external world to try and figure out how to make it work for you, instead of starting with yourself.”
After spending years distanced from her authentic self, Laura had a narrow view of herself, her skills, and how she functions in the world. There was this whole other self that she wasn’t aware of anymore. After two years of attempting to reconnect, she finally started making progress when she learned to focus on answering the micro questions instead of macro questions. Instead of asking the daunting question, ‘What makes me happy in life?’ Laura decided to ask, ‘What can I find that makes me happy today?’ Each day, she tried to find something low stakes that moved her closer to what she wanted to do. People tend to white-knuckle the macro questions in life, and that can scare you into stagnation.
“I started doing these micro-experiments to find out what I want. I’ve always thought that it’s maybe writing, so I just sat down and stared at a blank piece of paper,” recalls Laura. “Quite frankly, I stared at it all day. After three hours of total frustration, I just typed down, ‘I hate this blank piece of paper staring at me, I just have to type something or I’m going to go insane.’ And then I just started typing. I thought, ‘Okay, I think I’m onto something.’”
Now she channels her unique skill set and experiences into translating philosophy and ancient wisdom, breaking down centuries-old ideas in a way that everyone can apply to their lives. She wrote her first book, Emotional Obesity: A Philosophical Guide to Lighten Your Life. She hosts the popular podcast “The Art of Authenticity,” where she has in-depth, thoughtful conversations with successful individuals about what it means to lead an authentic life. She’s also a life coach, working with a wide range of people who have that same desire for authenticity that nagged at Laura for so long.
“I talk with people every day who are trying to get back in touch with their authentic selves. Some know what they want but fear and approval get in their way. Others don’t know what they want and they’re trying to answer that question,” says Laura. “I’ve helped people leave the corporate world, start new businesses, decide to stay at home and focus on motherhood…I’ve even worked with people who simply forgot why they loved their current role.”
Now that Laura has made a successful transition to fulfill her purpose in life, she is committed to helping others do the same. All of her work is driven by a desire to help people find fulfillment and master the art of living an authentic life because, as Laura puts it, “Authenticity is not a destination, it’s an endless navigation.”
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi.