Summit Profiles: Courtney Kirschbaum discovered herself, and a new life path, in Summit County
Ryan Summerlin October 24, 2013
When Courtney Kirschbaum moved to Summit County in 2008, she had never been to Colorado before. However, it didn’t take long before she realized that this was a place she could see herself staying. It was an unusual realization for Kirschbaum, who had spent her entire career after college living all over the world, including Amsterdam, Australia and Japan. As an employee for corporate America infected with the travel bug, Kirschbaum never would have guessed that she would find the place — and career — she was looking for in Colorado.
“For as long as I can remember, I just wanted to be someone who traveled the world,” Kirschbaum said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be doing, I just wanted to see the world.”
Her father, a pilot, and her mother, played a big part in her desire to travel. Both encouraged her to fulfill her dreams to visit the far corners of the globe. In high school, she took her first trip abroad, to Belgium with her father, and she was hooked.
“I became a different person when I got here.”
“It made me feel alive,” she said, smiling at the memory.
During college, she spent summers in England, teaching English at a summer camp and making plans for future travel after graduation. With a degree in information systems, she eventually landed a job with an international company. Within two years, the company had set her up with an apartment, car and job in Holland.
“I found myself living in the heart of Amsterdam, thinking, ‘Oh my god, I should have aimed higher,’” Kirschbaum said. Although she had pursued her traveling goal single-mindedly for years, she was almost surprised at her success. And it wasn’t over.
Over the next few years, she left Amsterdam to live and work in Australia, Japan and Paris, successively.
“I really was living that dream,” she said.
But while she enjoyed life abroad, she eventually found that the vehicle that took her there, her career, was not fulfilling enough.
“I wanted to travel, and I was there for the travel, but the job was not my passion, and when something’s not your passion, it’s harder,” she said. “When you’re doing what you love to do, you’re just energized by it. I don’t have any regret about that experience, … (but) you know you’ve found your passion when you will do what you do for free, and I have since found that, but in those years I didn’t have anything to compare it to.
“It definitely wasn’t bad, but having gotten to the place where I’ve found my passion, I look back on it somewhat wistfully. I’m glad I had the experience, but I’m also glad I left it behind.”
A new start
After Paris, Kirschbaum returned to her home state of Virginia to take a break and re-evaluate her position. She had a feeling that she wanted to change her job, but wasn’t sure about acting on it just yet. That’s when the new ideas started to hit.
“I woke up one day and I just decided, ‘I want to learn how to snowboard,’” she said. “It was an inspired voice in (my) head. And I did. It took me a season and a half (to do it).”
During this time, Kirschbaum sensed she was coming to an end with her corporate career, but didn’t know what to do next. Then, “I literally woke up the Monday after I learned to snowboard and I was like, I knew that I wanted to see mountains. When I got up in the morning, I wanted to look out my window and see mountains,” she said. “I just knew it then, and I set a deadline to be in Colorado by the first of November.”
Kirschbaum made the decision in April, and took the intervening months to sell of the majority of her possessions, except for what she could fit into her car. On Oct. 17, she rolled into Summit County, ready to start a new chapter.
Coming to Colorado at a personal turning point affected Kirschbaum more than she expected.
“I became a different person when I got here,” she said.
She took a wilderness survival course at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge and learned about camping, something she’d never done before.
“A few days after I finished it, I ordered a stove and a tent and I bought a sleeping bag and I went on a two-week camping trip that took me form here up to Glacier National Park,” she said. “Literally, the first night I camped, I had to take the tent out of the box it came in. But I felt very prepared because I took that course, and I woke up the next morning happier than I could ever remember being, and I was like, yeah, this was the right decision.”
The trip was her indoctrination into the Colorado lifestyle, which took hold and has yet to let go. Now, she’s an avid hiker and camper and said she can’t imagine leaving anytime soon.
Finding her path
With new hobbies and a new home base, Kirschbaum’s thoughts turned back to her career. She knew now that the “corporate America” life was no longer for her, but what to do next?
Her turning point came when she attended a weeklong Jack Canfield seminar in Arizona. Canfield is a popular motivational speaker and co-creator of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series. His seminar galvanized Kirschbaum to discover her passion and act on it.
Now Kirschbaum herself works as a motivational speaker, with the intention of teaching people how to achieve their dreams and live the life they’ve always wanted. It takes hard work, some soul-searching and, most important, a positive mind-set.
”Having the life you want is just learning skills and adapting a positive mind-set and it’s available to anyone who’s willing to take that leap of faith,” she said.
This past year, Kirschbaum took a leap of faith of her own and entered the North America’s Next Greatest Speaker Contest. While she’d enjoyed public speaking in college, she hadn’t done it for years, but she decided to give it another try.
“It was just scary, but I was so proud of myself,” she said. “It’s like what they say — get out of your comfort zone. Everything you want is outside of your comfort zone.”
The gamble paid off and Kirschbaum ended up placing in the top five out of hundreds, and traveling to the E-Network Women’s Conference in Texas to deliver her speech.
Her message was, “Don’t give up on your dream,” and it’s the same message she takes to her motivational audiences today.
“Every day I feel good about getting up and helping people to be happy at work, find what they want to do, feel better about themselves,” she said. “And who wouldn’t want to do that?”
Kirschbaum’s energy and passion for the subject of attaining one’s dreams comes across in her body language and the way she speaks. Listening to her describe the steps to success, as well as the story of her own journey, it’s easy to start thinking about one’s own personal goals and desires. And that’s exactly what she means to do.
Kirschbaum has recently begun teaching a free monthly workshop on success for the public. The next session takes place Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Lord of the Mountains Church in Dillon. She started it because she wanted her message to reach more people, even those who may not be able to afford a personal consultation.
“(Canfield’s seminar) literally changed my life,” she said, “and I thought, if I can do that for one person, if I can give skills and inspiration to one person so they can get what they want out of life, I think that’s one of the best things you can do for somebody.”