Did you know that there are philosophical coaches?
I had no idea until I met Danielle LaSusa. Once I knew I needed to learn more about her and what that actually meant.
At our first coffee meeting she opened up to me about her experience with postpartum psychosis after the birth of her daughter. Her vulnerability and honesty impressed me. I admire how she uses that experience to guide her towards helping others — especially new moms.
I watched her teach at her ‘Meaninghood of Motherhood’ classes (photos below). I loved seeing her in action. Guiding the discussion and listening so intently and compassionately to her students’ stories and opinions.
It’s been a delight getting to know Danielle and I’m excited to introduce her to you. You can read more about Danielle below along with some photographs that we took in my photography studio and photos of her teaching the ‘Meaning of Motherhood.’ It’s a fascinating class — check it out! Enrollment for the next class is in October!
Get to Know Danielle
Tell me a little bit more about yourself? Where are you from? Tell me about your family?
Danielle: I’m from the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, IL. It is Suburbia, with a capital “S.” Bix box stores and Starbucks as far as the eye can see. My parents were loving, supportive, if not a bit anxious. My dad was a salesman, first selling office supplies and then phone service, and my mom worked at a local grocery chain, stocking produce, and when I got older, as the pricing manager. They came to all of my gymnastics meets and cheered me on, but stopped being able to help me with my homework in about eighth grade. They always advised me to do well in school so that I could have a career that I loved, because neither of them loved their jobs. I definitely took that to heart, excelled greatly and school, and have always felt like I wanted to have a career that felt more like a passion, a calling, a vocation.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Portland?
Danielle: Hmm. I love that I have access to all this great food and culture, and that I can still be in a forest within a 20 minute drive of my house. So, while I don’t go as much as I’d like, hiking is always such a welcome and wonderful activity.
Your Philosophical Coaching Journey
When did you first know you wanted to become a philosopher?
Danielle: My freshman year of college. Philosophy is not really part of the curriculum in public high schools, but I was really interested in the little bits of Plato we read in my AP English class. My first semester of college I took a course in Ethics, and it changed my life. I grew up with an Evangelical Christian faith, but once I started to really critically challenge that belief system, it fell apart. I started questioning so many of my previous assumptions about the world, and I discovered that I could still engage with questions about ethics, goodness, and the right way to behave, without that conversation being grounded in a dogmatic religion. I started to think for myself, to take ownership and responsibility for my beliefs. It was one of the most exciting times of my life. I knew then I wanted to teach philosophy so I could help other people learn to think for themselves.
Where did you get your degree/do your training?
Danielle: BAs in Philosophy and Spanish from Millikin University in Decatur, IL
PhD and Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies from Temple University in Philadelphia
Certification in Philosophical Counseling from the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, based in NYC
Philosophical Life Coach
When did you first start your philosophical coaching business?
Danielle: My first “guinea pig” clients were in the summer of 2017, but I really opened for business in January of 2018.
What are the different services/packages you offer?
Danielle: My philosophical life coaching is essentially the process of uncovering the stories and beliefs you have about yourself and the world. Existentialist philosophy says that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control the story you tell about what happens to you. When you become aware that your story is disempowering or not working for you, it’s time to ask yourself if it’s true, if there’s good reason to believe it, what the impact of the story is, and who you might be if you didn’t tell this story. Then you can develop new stories—ones that are both supportive and true—and start to shift your habits of thought toward these new stories. I offer a big toolbox of strategies for making that shift: meditations, writing exercises, daily routines, etc. that can help change your mental habits.
I offer individual philosophical life coaching and group coaching. I have an office here in Portland, OR, for in-person meetings, and I also work with clients remotely by phone and video chat all over the country.
I also teach a course called The Meaning of Motherhood, which is a philosophical exploration of motherhood. We look at the cultural construction of “good moms” and “bad moms”, talk about the vulnerability and grief of motherhood, the confrontation with mortality and meaning, and the wisdom that mothers have within and about this patriarchal, capitalist society. The course is open to folks all along the motherhood journey. It’s so cool to watch someone who is considering motherhood or who is pregnant with a first child, have conversations with someone who has an infant, or a five-year-old, or even grown teenagers, about what it means to be a mom. It creates such a special and rare community, and it is an honor to be a part of it.
The next offering of the Meaning of Motherhood will be in Portland, OR in October. I’m also working on an online version to make the course available to more people.
If you could give me a quick synopsis of your business in five sentences or less, how would you describe it?
Danielle: I’m a Philosophical Coach. I use my Ph.D. in philosophy to help people think clearly, choose wisely, and live purposefully. I specialize in helping moms grapple with what it means to make a human being.
Going into business for myself has taught me a tremendous amount about myself as a person. What have you learned about yourself as a business woman, since starting your business?
Danielle: Even making the decision to actually try and have my own business required a radical shift in thinking for me. I had always thought of myself as too risk averse, too psychologically reliant on a predictable paycheck and benefits, and not nearly good enough at hustling to have a business. Plus, many philosophers do not historically have a charitable view of business folks, or at least I didn’t.
I always thought that anyone in business must have their values deeply misplaced in material wealth blah de blah. But, given that opening this practice was the only thing I could think to do that didn’t make me want to cry all the time, I decided to go for it, in spite of how scary it felt. The fear of not doing it and losing my connection to philosophy was greater than the fear of doing it.
It was an exercise of courage: the thing that has been required of me in almost every step of this process. I have to do something that scares me almost every day. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but I sort of love that feeling of stretching beyond the limits of my comfort zone. It lets me know I’m growing.
If self-employment was easy, everyone would do it. Can you tell me about the obstacles you have faced being in business for yourself? And what accomplishments are you most proud of?
Danielle: Oh jeez. When I started this, I had zero business training. I didn’t know the first thing about making a website, or keeping books, or creating invoices, or marketing. I think I’d published like one blog post on Medium, ever, and that combined with my only rarely-used Facebook profile and never-used Linked In profile was the extent of my online presence. Luckily, one thing that all those years in school taught me is how to learn. I can’t even tell you how many business books I’ve read in the last two years. I took a basic business class at PCC, and I’ve had many conversations with people whose business expertise is much greater than mine.
There’s lots that I’m proud of. In the two years since I started this business, I’ve given a TEDx talk, which I’d wanted to do pretty much since the first time I heard of TED talks like 10 years ago. Right now, I’m most proud of my Meaning of Motherhood course, which has sold out twice now. I’ve always loved teaching. It has been the best part of my career in philosophy, but the stable teaching jobs in academia are disappearing and being replaced with adjunct positions that are grossly underpaid and offer absolutely no job security. I feel really proud that I’ve created something where I can teach about exactly the thing I am passionate about, I can help serve people in my community, and do so in a way that feels sustainable.
I enjoy reading and love sharing new book ideas with others. What is the best book you’ve read that you would recommend to new or expecting parents out there?
Danielle: Well, I have two cheeky answers and one sincere one. The first cheeky answer is that I haven’t really found a book that I absolutely love about parenting. Nothing I’ve read seems to capture what I see as the profound philosophical experience of creating and raising a new human consciousness. That’s why I’m in the process of writing my own book on the subject.
The second cheeky answer is that, in all honesty, I think my favorite parenting book is the wickedly funny Let’s Panic About Babies: How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant Who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain, and Finally Turn You into a Worthwhile Human Being by Alice Bradley and Eden M. Kennedy. It was the only book I wanted to read when I was pregnant because it made me laugh and also seemed to have some good, down-to-earth wisdom hidden between the jokes.
The sincere answer is that my favorite non-joke book on mothering that I’ve read so far is Like a Mother by Angela Garbes. It’s thoughtful, well researched, and discusses so many of the unspoken experiences of motherhood.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Danielle: Yeah, I will say that I never would have started this career, and I absolutely never would be working on motherhood, had I not experienced postpartum psychosis after the birth of my daughter. I was hospitalized for four days and spent a good year and a half after that trying to come back to myself. While it was a horrific experience that I would not wish on anyone, I am incredibly grateful for it now because it has given my life a deep richness. I have more courage, more empathy, more compassion for myself and others, and more wisdom because of that experience. I feel like I live bigger now, and I am so thankful for that. So, for all those out there going through it right now, remember that this moment can be your greatest gift. You get to tell the story.
Where to find Danielle:
Also check out her podcast: Think Hard Podcast
Want to read about more Women Warriors in our community?