Welcome to Madam Ambition Christine, thank you so much for joining me! Do you want to talk to me a little bit about who you are and where you are from?
My name is Christine Marie, I live in Freiburg im Breisgau, a small city in Germany. It’s a really beautiful place surrounded by mountains. I am thirty-nine years old, and I am the middle of five and the oldest of three. I am part of a blended family. I have a half- sister and a half-brother, who I was raised with, and two full sisters. We are all from Raleigh, North Carolina in the US.
My parent’s met while skiing in Aspen with the National Brotherhood of Skiers. In fear of not seeing my mom again, my dad asked her out for a date every day of the week, and their relationship started then. Eventually, she moved across the country from California to North Carolina.
One thing I remember from early on is that my mother did not want us to have a Southern accent, and constantly corrected us. That correcting impulse was strong with me from birth. I really wanted to get things right. I was a “type A” perfectionist.
My mother was a 1980’s/1990’s woman; she was looking after the house, working two jobs, working out and the head of community groups. Plus, she’s doing it all with perfect makeup and hair. I think that is a tough standard to be raised against and she did a really good job because she wanted us so desperately to have a joyful childhood. She tried to keep us ignorant of how much work she was doing. Despite that, I promised myself that I would never have a job that required me to get up before the sun, because that was so hard to watch my mother repeatedly do every morning.
My mother was an attorney. She had a career for 35 years and I would say that, 20 years in, she started teaching step aerobics and that blended into Pilates and then yoga and spin. To this day she teaches spin and yoga. She is the one who certified me for my 200- hour Yoga Teacher Training. I appreciated her program, Serenity Secret’s, process because I learned a lot from her, but was able to
teach my way rather than her way. I found my own voice in her style. It was a wonderful experience because she was so thorough.
In your childhood, how did your mother give you space to have a childhood?
We had a housekeeper, so we had someone running us around. I was in swim team in the summer until I was nine and then I was in the year-round swim team for one year. I was doing ballet since I was three, and started aggressively training when I was ten. I quit swim because my body wasn’t suited to racing, they put me on a diet to get me to gain weight for swim, but it was so much effort when my body was proportionately built for ballet. I loved ballet and I also loved swim team.
At ten when I went into ballet in a serious way, I had been watching it for years. From five to eight years old, I would put on videos and learn ballet variations whenever I could. So that definitely contributed to my having time for myself on my own.
We were also in Nursery school starting at age six months. That gave us resilience—none of us got sick often as kids. Unless we had the flu, we were in school, because we didn’t catch stuff easily. The three of us were sixteen months apart, and my mother had us in law school so we were never really homebodies.
My father was a general surgeon. When we were little, he was mostly working in the emergency room, so even if he may have wanted more time to be in full-time Dad energy, his work limited him.
There was unrest between my parents, and my father was deep in his alcoholism, which he has now recovered from. If you were to ever meet him in person, he would tell you this first. I am fourteen years recovered but I don’t wear it the way that he does. I think it’s dangerous to be the poster child, even when I admit my sobriety I
do it with reserve because I am the face of millions. I’m just someone who recovered.
So, you wanted to get out of the house because your family was unhappy with each other and there was stress in the household?
No, it was because we were living with this facade of perfectionism. It bears mentioning because that contributed to how I navigated my childhood and because it becomes a strongly influential factor of my life later on.
So, I got myself out of the house. Ballet, cheerleading, swimming. We went to a private school until I was in sixth grade where we were also very sheltered. I was prone to temper tantrums and would get into trouble for a variety of random reasons like bringing my own books to school because I couldn’t stand what we were reading. The trouble continued through all of the years of elementary school, which was interesting because I was intelligent, but I also failed sixth grade.
I had to leave the school because they would not graduate me to the next year. My mother didn’t agree that I wasn’t ready for seventh grade, so she had me take an IQ test which proved that I was intelligent and qualified me to get into a very competitive academic program in the public school system, without repeating sixth grade—so I went into seventh grade.
At the new program, the, in my mind, “super smart”, kids took chances confidently. They threw every noodle against the wall. I thought that I got in on a technicality, that I didn’t belong there. From that moment on, I knew I was smart but could never believe it.
Were you in a school that was similar to you ethnically or racially or even socioeconomically?
The private school was more ethnically diverse in terms of my proximity to diversity. Because it was a Catholic school, they were
not all wealthy. Families would use all their money to make sure their children attended a Catholic school. One of the bullies who I befriended, in private school, lived in a trailer park, for instance.
In the public school, there were teams, my team was 99 kids and we were considered “full” gifted and talented, as opposed to “half”. On my team, there were three people of color, two Black women and one Black man. There were maybe 20% Asians and the rest were White.
In the neighborhood where you lived, were they all people who were associated with the University?
No, university professors and that kind of thing were in a different neighborhood. Our neighborhood had retired professionals, working professionals, and we even had a newscaster for a neighbor! The next-door neighbors were hard-core republicans.
At that time, everything we had was tenuous, we had it but we didn’t; we were rich but we weren’t. For example, I would really want to do something and my dad would say, “no way”, but my mom would say, “of course”, and she would get another job to make it happen. I got a full scholarship for ballet, which enabled me to get out the house—without straining my mother. I worked hard academically and got good grades, but I always understood my intelligence as luck. I was always tutoring others to learn what I couldn’t understand because I never believed that I knew anything, and my mother had always told me to “teach what I don’t know”. I was teaching my sisters and neighborhood kids my homework because I needed to understand. After ballet class, while waiting for my mother to finish her ballet class at the ballet studio, while doing chem homework, I remember making whoever was around me learn the chemical compounds with me. That same year, we took a state exam and I got a really high score on it and I couldn’t believe it. It was so weird—I was terrified of my intelligence, which is probably why I ended up with the career I have.
So, I went to school, stayed in these very competitive programs, and by junior year I was taking four AP’s and dancing as much as I could at the ballet studio. I was up at five, on the bus to school by six, finished school at two-thirty, at the ballet studio at three forty- five, doing homework until five thirty, dancing until nine, doing homework from nine-thirty until twelve, practicing piano, if I could remember to, or just passing out. And at five am it started all over again. Popping chocolate-covered espresso beans was my jam, and I was drinking black coffee since eighth grade. I was getting my stuff done so I could dance because dancing meant staying out of the house, and it also meant achievement at something I thought I was suited for because I really did not think that I was smart.
I was doing well with ballet. One summer, I was awarded a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York City, which was my dream school. I was granted that scholarship by the prima ballerina of the New York City ballet, who’s poster was on my wall, Darci Kistler. She pulled me out of the line and asked me to do a triple pirouette to the right, and I said, “I cannot do that, I’ve never done it in my life”, and she said, “just do it”. And I did it. Then she said, “now do a triple pirouette on the left”, and I reply, “I’ve never done that”, and she says, “just do it”. And I did it. Her calm response, “okay thank you”, and then she had me step back in line.
I was always surprised that I could do these things—achieve at school and in ballet. What was missing in my life was the foundation of confidence in me. I was always proving and achieving someone else’s agenda, when they challenged me to do it, not because I really genuinely believed that I could.
So, I do this summer at SAB and I want to stay, and they want me to stay, but my mom did not want me to stay…so, the happy medium was that I go to boarding school at NC School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
NCSA was an excellent school for ballet and they churned out professionals regularly, so it was a good place to be. It was an hour and a half from my parents in Raleigh. They were divorced by then, and so they would each come visit me once or twice a month. It was great! I was so happy to be out of the house and “on my own”.
I had come from classrooms of twenty-seven, as a member of a senior class that was going to easily be eight hundred people. And at NCSA was in classrooms of four to twelve students.
My middle school and high school were magnet schools, located in not-so-great neighborhoods. Both schools were also passively separated by academic ability: one building had “state of the art” everything for the “smart” kids and the other building was just deteriorating. Later, in high school, we “magnet students” even had access to courses that weren’t listed in the school’s course catalogue because you were only qualified for those courses if you went to one of three magnet middle schools in the county. There was a remarkable racial and social divide.
Let’s go back to your senior year, when you were in the School of the Arts, did you apply for college or did you think you were going there for college?
I knew I wasn’t going there because I was on the ballet track. Because ballet is so youth-focused you need to be a pro by the time you’re a senior in high school. So, you could be a college student, but in ballet, but it was very rare, more likely college students who danced were majoring in modern dance or a non-ballet aspect of movement.
I entered School of the Arts expecting to go pro for ballet, but after a year of living the life of a professional ballerina, I realized that I really loved acting and I didn’t like my livelihood depending on my body.
I loved being on stage and the effort that went into acting, so the deal I made with my parents was that I would go to one year of regular four-year college and then I would audition during that year to return to NCSA for their drama program.
I applied to university, including a bunch of giant universities—my goal my entire life had been to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). And I did get accepted to Carolina and Smith College.
Over the year at NCSA, I also did start to actually care a little bit more about learning beyond just getting the grade I needed to keep dancing. One pivotal experience was when my AP English teacher gave me back a graded essay that I had submitted, and the essay had a score of 5 out of 5, which was great to me! But she said, “could you be bothered to read a book sometime?”. She had caught me getting the grade by doing as little work as possible—people pleasing to get what I wanted. The book was Jane Eyre, and I ended up reading the book, and I loved it—even though reading it now makes me very aware of Bronte’s racism (whoops).
Because of Becky Brown, that English teacher, I chose Smith. I fell in love with it. I promised myself that I would be who I was, no pretending just to fit in—something that I had been doing every year of school until I switched to NCSA; there’s that perfectionism I mentioned earlier…At Smith I felt very empowered and for the first time started to believe in my intelligence. My major was Art, with a concentration in Architecture and a minor in Theatre. I chose not to go back to NCSA because I really enjoyed Smith, and I wanted to stay for all four years.
Was there something you remember about your time at Smith?
I lived in Ziskind House the first and second years and then I did Junior Year Away (JYA). I did a program at the Columbia University School of Architecture (GSAPP) focusing on Architecture, and it took me to New York for one semester and Paris for the second semester. I stayed the summer in Paris with the PRAXIS Grant and returned to the US a week before school started—was home for two days, and then went back to Smith.
My senior year, I was a Housing Resident for Baldwin House. I was just trying my best to keep it together, but it wasn’t so easy. The culture of heavy drinking on the weekends wasn’t a fit for my First Years, but it relaxed as the school year went on and the big adjustment to life away from home set in for the First Years.
Most of us returned to Smith from JYA ready to be adults and to get out in the world, which I think was really important for Senior Year, because then you’re not melancholy when you graduate.
Overall, Smith was great. At Ziskind, we had family dinner, and we had a kitchen staff solely devoted to our house and the two houses who shared our dining room (just three core groups of students). The staff was awesome, I was a very heavy drinker, and the kitchen would concoct a headache and nausea remedy for me.
It bears mentioning, that we did have incidents with race during my senior year, and I do very much attribute the racial and socioeconomic tear that happened between students of different races and classes to the dissolution of in-home dining for all meals. Returning to that new world that was phasing in to centralized dining after having only ever experienced in-home dining was very difficult for me and others my Senior year.
Years later, I remember returning to Smith for an alumnae event and being told that the kitchen jobs were now only limited to those on financial aid. I heard a horror story from one student who, opened the door to the hallway in her house (dorm) to find a pile of dirty dishes with a note that said, “you can bring these back to the kitchen for us”. Her housemates had found out that she worked in the kitchen and was on financial aid and this was their way of bullying her for her lack of money (I guess?). I worked in the kitchen my first and second year with people on and off of financial aid—we had so much fun! With in-home dining, there was respect for putting your trash away and rinsing your plate after using it because you identified with the people you lived and ate with—they weren’t “staff” or “help”.
In your senior year at Smith, did you start applying to jobs? Did you have a clear goal of what you wanted to do?
First, I wanted to get into small press publishing because I wanted to want a 9-to-5 and have always loved books. I want to give a shoutout to Martin Antonetti: he runs the rare book room, and he is a great professor in his own right. He inspired me to get into small- press publishing. I also earned money, as part of my work study, by working in the rare books room. Professor Antonetti helped me make connections in New York City, but when I went on the interviews, I did not enjoy them. I realized that I didn’t want to work in an office and that I should pursue my passion for acting.
So, I set myself up for being a waitress because I knew that’s what you did when you wanted time to attend auditions. To do this, right before I graduated, I spent a lot of money on official invitation letters with the sole purpose of getting that bank. I made $5000 on graduation announcements, and so I took that money and a grant that I applied for at Smith, and used it to do a summer acting program at Vassar. I worked at Spaghetti Freddy’s for a month, and I slept on the floor of a fellow Smith alum’s apartment. After that, I moved to New York City.
On the very first day of living in New York City, I went to an Apple store with my new credit card because I was in love with all things Apple. I remember just seeing the store and hugging the wall of the building in Soho. I had spent the whole summer using my friend’s MacBook computer, and my Sony Vaio (now four years old) was on its last legs, so seeing the latest laptop up close was heaven to me. We walked in to the Apple Store and it was really weird: my friend is Korean and I’m Black and so I took it personally when we walked in to the showroom and everyone went silent and stared at us in the entryway. And then, suddenly, this guy yells, “let’s do it” and the whole store erupts in applause and balloons fall and this guy comes up to me and says: “You’re the two-millionth customer of the Apple Store Soho!” I got the latest MacBook and the iPad mini. I also received a mount of other things, and I was in the newspaper, which recorded my saying something along the lines of: “It’s my first day in New York City, I have an apartment in Brooklyn, and I’m going to be an actress!” Ha. Ha. Ha.
A year and a half later, I had worked in about fifteen restaurants, and I kept getting hired because they would say: “Wow! You’re such a good waitress, you work all the tables by memory. You’re amazing!” and then roughly three weeks later I would get fired. They would say: “You’re the worst waitress. Why can’t you focus, what’s wrong?” I would just get acutely bored, to the point that I couldn’t be paid to care.
After the fifteenth restaurant, my friend suggested that I tutor. So, I got a job tutoring, and I was really good at it because I’ve been doing it since I was 12-years-old. I was doing alright with acting; I was getting agents and booking commercials and tv stuff—tiny things. My agent suggested that I get into doing television in LA because I wanted to do the whole Summer Stock-to-Broadway thing, and TV would give me some clout in the theatre world—we hoped. The problem was that I wasn’t that good of an actress. I was really good at class and working hard, but the actual performance part—not so much.
After almost ten years I was offered a really big opportunity with CBS, but I thought about all the work that I did to get there—I had spent three years in New York and ten years in LA to finally get to do consistent acting work…And I was like “no”, I can’t do it.
Just prior to this opportunity coming up I had had a harrowing experience in Mexico, where a production company had attempted to bully me into doing porn. That was an absolutely horrific experience and I of course left Mexico, but it also helped me just realize overall that I just wasn’t suited for acting.
When I got close to making it, I realized that you have to live what you are playing. If you are not living it, then it’s not going to read on camera and you’re not going to get cast. Acting means playing conflict and that penetrates deeply; it goes through your entire being. My body was too sensitive, it couldn’t handle that and bounce back after a role. I didn’t want to allow my body to be put through that anymore, so I quit Acting.
Speaking of quitting, back to my time in LA at the beginning. Nine months into being in LA, I got sober. I have kept my sobriety since then. So as a sober person, I was “kicking butt and taking names” in terms of really going after my acting career. I was in every class and workshop. I was tutoring for a bunch of agents who all worked at the elite CAA and so over the ten years of pursuing acting, I always felt so close to making it, but as they say, “close but no cigar”.
Ironically, as soon as I quit everyone suddenly wanted to give me acting jobs, but it was over for me. I still loved LA and wanted to stay in LA, so instead, I pursued tutoring with just as much energy as I had given to acting. It had, up to then, always been my side job, but when I quite Acting I put full focus on it. I was always holistically tutoring; my goal was to teach students to teach themselves and to figure out the cues of the room and the teacher to essentially hack and win the classroom. I was getting kids from D’s to A’s. I would even go into the classrooms and scope out the place for my students to figure out how they could use their environment to help themselves. I was really good at teaching my students to give themselves what they needed.
Even while tutoring was still a side job, I had a student challenge me to teach her the SAT. I felt that I had failed teaching test prep earlier when I worked for Kaplan Test Prep (a very short-term position). But, the student refused to work with anyone else. She wanted me to hack the test in the same way that I hacked her academic subjects.
So I sat down and I actually figured it out. Then I sat down with her…we tried my new process and it worked. I tried it with my other students and my kids were going from 20 on the ACT to 32 and 1150 to 1400. I was so happy and what I was doing was just working with them holistically. I was looking for ways to bring them into alignment with their goals by looking at all the aspects of their lives. I took parents fully out of it, we kept their process super private until the students got their score, after that they could shout their process to the hills, and that is how my reputation spread as a Test-Prep Tutor. I got so busy. I looked at what I was repeating and made that into an online course, instead of just teaching students the same thing over and over again and wasting time in repetition. It was just a matter of “habiting” the students into what they needed to be for the test, and once adjusted, the test would, in this magical way, reveal itself to them.
What time did you quit acting, and when did you start doing test prep?
Tutoring was always happening. Acting was what I wanted to be doing, but tutoring was how I was earning. I stopped acting in 2017, I started doing Test Prep in 2016, and I also started a dress company because I hate shopping and I wanted to feel good in everything I wore.
Here is what happened: I lost an ovary in high school because of a cyst. And then, I developed Low Ovarian Syndrome, an issue that happens to some women who lose an ovary during their adolescent years. What it means is that your hormone count is low for one hormone and high for the other hormone—read: not good. I was told that I would be menopausal in the next two years, and so I had to harvest my eggs stat. I was thirty-three at the time, and I thought that I was healthy. When I approached egg harvesting by holistically preparing my body, I had to change my whole life, and that is part of what compelled me to stop acting and get rid of toxic clients. I also had to gain weight for my eggs because my body mass index was too low.
What ended up happening is that I had to gain weight, and I had this one dress that I wore all the time that, even with the weight gain, made me feel good. So, I went to a seamstress and asked for the dress in many different fabrics and also ended up redesigning the dress for that short run. Then I made more dresses, and people started stopping me on the street and asking where I got the dress. I started collecting names, did a Kickstarter Campaign, and started my dress company: grâce à toi, which means “thanks to you”. Eventually, I changed the name to Whitman Grace and the über-talented designer, Cynthia Vincent, became, in a way, my fashion mentor.
She did her best to guide me, but really you need $200,000 startup to start a fashion brand, and I successfully raised $10,000 for my dresses. The dresses were all about amplifying your shine. I was so excited about them and loved writing copy for my website and for advertisements.
The dresses were also the motivation that propelled me into feminine energy. The dresses were for those who didn’t want to shop, who just wanted something to feel good and that fit all contexts of their lives. I had clients who would buy one dress and then they would buy one of every design I had. It was choiceless, feel-good fashion!
Feeling good! That brings us to the big shift in my life: I had had cramps since I was fifteen (which was when I started my period), and from then on, I had to walk around with a heating pad, pop a ton of NSAIDs, had terrifying PMS to the point that I even had a boyfriend in New York who I would break up with every time I was PMS-ing.
I had gotten used to menstrual suffering for myself, but after all the 1:1 work I had done academically and all the interventions I had created with female clients through the dresses, I would see my students suffering from cramps and wonder if there was a way to hack cramps and PMS. Because of studying acting, feminine- energy, yoga, and Ayurveda, I started to experiment with interventions to get rid of cramps and PMS.
My clients started doing these things, and I started coaching them. My work started orienting in that direction, and I started learning more about feminine energy in alignment with the menstrual cycle. I pursued working holistically with both feminine and masculine energy but struggled with how I could bridge my Test-Prep Process with feminine energy—I saw that there was a connection between them but couldn’t exactly catch it.
By now, we were in 2020. Covid came, and Standardized exams pretty much disappeared for the next year.
The Test-Prep startup I had been developing was stopped, the dress company, Whitman Grace, was not going to happen any longer because the factories had to close, and there was no money coming for the business’ next-level development. And so, I chose to leave LA. I drove cross country, with my little dog, Whitman, to North Carolina, my home state.
I wanted to go to Europe, either France or Germany, and spend three months there. I moved to Germany on a 90-day visa. I continued to coach and do a little bit of tutoring. I lived in Munich, and then I moved to Hanover, where my boyfriend lived. I spent a year there, and it ended up being one of the most terrible years of my life. I was thirty-eight, and I wanted so desperately to be the woman who could be a wife and a mother. I was so scared that year that I was “broken”. In LA, I had had many relationships, one serious, but falling in love was quite difficult. LA was filled with a lot of feminine-energy-biased men and masculine-energy-biased women, so it works, but it just didn’t work for me. I really loved the idea of being in a serious relationship, and I really wanted that relationship in Hannover to work, but I was in hell.
That’s the thing about tutoring, you teach what you don’t know, right? My life fell apart completely. I had this inner flame that would not allow itself to be suffocated by this person (the perfectionist me) who wanted to be what my ex needed me to be in order for us to have the family that he had in mind. I tried so hard to be that, but I couldn’t do it. I wanted so many things for myself that I had suffocated and put them on hold in service to our relationship. I thought that I would eventually be okay and that I would find a way to allow all of me to show up later—after we fell in love and got married. Instead, it all fell apart and I left Hannover. I traveled all around Germany and lived in Tenerife in the Canaries for six weeks; I hated the Canaries (whoops!). But really, the Canaries were just me, there was nothing that would be satisfying to me at that point in my life. Interestingly though, I was tutoring and coaching through all of this. I was partnering with clients to get them to where they wanted to be and believing and seeing the results of their process while I was in experiencing one of the most massive shifts in my life.
Were you able to get local clients or was your reputation completely online by now?
I stopped working in person because of the need for time efficiency years prior to coaching. The commute in LA was generally an hour between locations, which was why I created the online course because I just couldn’t get to everybody during after-school hours and weekends. When I went into coaching, I kept the online interface, and it truly serves our process.
The work we do is so impactful that my clients need time before and after to recollect themselves. Working online becomes more powerful than in person when you can’t create the container from the outside. I host retreats in person, which is in a controlled environment, in an effective outside container.
So, you decided to live where you wanted to live based on the fact that anything was possible?
Yeah, now I live exactly where I want to live. Most of my clients are in the US, England, and then Germany. Germany empowers me. I think that we all have different resonances, and I resonate with this town. I am empowered to do my work all over the world from this place.
In terms of career and all of it coming together, I was born to understand habits in order to find out how to leverage them in our favor. I find a way for people to hack their lives to get what they really want. Tutoring empowered me because I always thought that I was stupid. Hacking Academics and then hacking the SAT, the ACT, and the GRE made me feel good, but it didn’t light my fire.
But doing this work and channeling through what is needed to get women in alignment with their menstrual cycle while getting rid of menstrual pain and PMS truly uses all of me and all that life prepared me to be.
Most of my work happens from the neck down. I work in a chair that supports my whole body. I often have my clients sit against a wall to ensure that they work from a place of complete chakra support. Feminine energy power lies in the heart, the Fourth Chakra, and when we have our brain, our Sixth Chakra jutting out in front of us all the time, we can’t hear what’s actually happing, and so we do this work in alignment with ourselves.
Often when my clients start a session, and their head is all in the camera, then I’ll have them bend into one of my favorite power poses to get their breath into their root chakra and then have them roll up through the spine and into a pose for full breath support, and then they will speak from that unified space, and that’s when the work really starts. Then they’ll speak about the problem that is really happening in their life, not a symptom of the core problem.
So, if you think back through all that’s happened, if you were to give your young self one piece of advice, what would you tell young Christine Marie?
I would tell her: you are about to live a life where you will experience the lowest lows, with the lowest of the lowest, and you’ll be fully protected, so enjoy it. You’re going to experience the highest of the highs, and you are going to stand with the lions, and you will have to roar back at people who you saw on the silver screen and wanted to be; you will have to stand up for yourself there, and you will have to be your own protector. But just know that when you live and go through these motions, know that it’s all in preparation for your path because once you get on it, you will light it up because of all these experiences. All of your insecurities are so gorgeous because it makes it possible for you to see, be and empathize with where other people are, and you’ll get to do what you’ve wanted the whole time, what you wanted when you were three years old and just wanted to help. You’ll get to be of service in a way that is healing. I love you so, so much, and I’m proud of you, and I’m so grateful to you for being willing to take this journey so that I get to be here to say, “thank you”.