“Women who are growing businesses and making more money make the world a better place.” — Carolyn Stine, @carolynbstine
Carolyn Stine doesn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs. Growing up in Connecticut with a stay-at-home mom and breadwinner dad conditioned her to think that’s what she had in store for herself as well.
“I thought I was going to be married at 27, have three kids, and move to the suburbs,” said Carolyn. “That’s what I thought my life was going to be.”
Life had other plans for this Brooklyn-based 34-year-old, who recently launched her own business as a brand, messaging, and storytelling coach after almost a decade in the corporate fashion world.
“I am certainly walking a path I haven’t seen modeled before.”
We caught up with Carolyn to learn more about how she approaches change, the reason she prefers working with women, how she sets boundaries around social media, and the best piece of advice she’d give to someone considering a career change.
Tell me more about what convinced you to transition away from the corporate world, where you spent years working in the fashion industry.
When I graduated from college, I started working in the fashion world. I thought it was interesting and was attracted to this idea of working in fashion in New York City. It felt so glamorous! My first job was at the Camuto Group, which owns Tory Burch footwear, Jessica Simpson…all these huge brands. From there, I spent time at Hugo Boss, then Club Monaco. But I never really felt synced up and connected to what I was doing. It was always a friction point for me, because externally I got so much praise and validation. People would say…Oh, you work in fashion? That’s fabulous! Do you get to go to fashion week? Do you get free samples? And all of those things were true, which made me feel like I was on the right path. I’m getting promoted, I’m doing something right. Because this is what you do, right? You follow the rungs on the ladder, and you proceed in a linear way. But I never felt incredibly fulfilled.
I kept telling myself… Well, I guess that’s just the way it is. Everyone must feel this way, right? So I kept doing it. I kept getting the promotions, buying the expensive Chloé bags. I was with my ex (my boyfriend from college for six years) from the town next to me who grew up exactly how I did. And I was like…We’re going to get married, then I’ll quit my job and be a mom. This is it. I was laying out my life as I had experienced it growing up. And while I’d get these nagging feelings, I wasn’t super in touch with my intuition then, because I feel like we were never given this emotional, reflective toolbox that we have now.
So you ended up leaving fashion?
I did. But first, in 2016, I started a food and travel blog on the side, Caro’s City. I also started my Instagram then too because it felt like a fun, creative outlet. After four years at Club Monaco running digital operations, I was like…Okay, I figured it out. The issue is that I don’t love fashion. I love food! So I’m going to do the same thing, but in the food industry. So I jumped over to Chobani, and within a few months it was clear that it’s the same thing, just repackaged in a different way.
At the time, I was in a bi-coastal relationship between San Francisco and New York, and I was planning on moving out West. In all areas of my life, I was continuing to externalize…When this happens, I’ll be happy. And when that happens, I’ll feel a sense of fulfillment, which obviously we know is bullshit. At the end of that year, I realized that I wasn’t happy in my relationship. I wasn’t happy with my career. And I needed to figure out who the F I am and what I really wanted, stripped away of all the external “shoulds” and timelines. I was looking at the path that was handed to me, thinking…I don’t know if I actually want this. Is there another way?
So I quit my corporate job, broke up with my ex who I was supposed to move to San Francisco for, and moved out of my Chelsea apartment. I essentially burned my entire life to the ground and was like…We’re going to figure this out. You’re the only one who can do it. Let’s start from scratch.
What did “starting from scratch” look like for you at the time?
I started consulting and doing the same type of things I had been doing in my corporate job — marketing, websites, email, social media. Some strategy work, some operations. I built that business and ended up focusing on smaller brands within the food, health, wellness, and sustainability spaces, because that’s what I really care about.
I was thinking…Okay, this feels like I’m on a better track. I’m figuring out how I want to structure my days around what I really care about and getting in touch with myself.
How did your consulting business eventually transition into a coaching business?
As I built my business as a strategist, I was joining a lot of different female networking groups and communities. As I began getting to know my peers, what I kept hearing was how much of a struggle content creation and messaging was for them, particularly on Instagram. And I found it fascinating because, coming from a writing background, it’s been easy for me, and I couldn’t help but think that it doesn’t have to be that hard. As I kept hearing it and hearing it, I had a lightbulb moment where I thought…I actually don’t want to be working with brands behind the scenes. I want to be working with women who are entrepreneurs, who are business owners, who are the brands themselves. To really help lift them up, to create a cohesive authentic foundation for their messaging so they can grow their businesses. Because women who are growing businesses and making more money make the world a better place.
I started my coaching business at the end of last year and had my first client in January. It feels like the full union of: right thing, right people, right mission…all of it coming together.
The coaching service that you’re offering could presumably be for men or women. What draws you to working with women in particular?
As a woman and having spent so much time observing women in relationship with themselves and with others, I think that we have historically had so many challenges expressing ourselves authentically. So much of our history has been about feeling responsible for the emotional experiences of everyone around us. Think about a woman, even in a group of girlfriends or in a relationship with a guy…whatever it is…you don’t want to shine too brightly because maybe you feel like you’re bragging. You don’t want to really let someone in on something sad that’s going on because you don’t want to feel like a Debbie downer. In so many relationships and in so many spaces, we’re dimming our lights and not sharing our truth.
I see this carried over into how women are speaking to the incredible things that they’re doing in their business. There’s this watering down, this being scared to say the thing, to not come off as being likeable, to not come off as being humble…this is SO baked into SO much of our conditioning. But our people can’t find us if we’re not being totally and unabashedly ourselves and speaking our truths. When you’re able to do that, the quality of all your relationships is better, whether that’s a client who is able to really see you or a personal relationship. And internally, too. Because letting that shield down and letting yourself be truly seen is essentially freedom. It’s self-love in its purest form.
You write on your website that “Instagram is not optional” in our day and age — a necessary evil, so to speak. How, then, would you advise someone who understands the need for a social media presence but also finds social media to be detrimental to their mental health. Or just wants to live a more private life offline.
Social media gets so much crap, and I totally get it. But like anything in our lives, it can be healthy or it can be toxic depending on what our relationship to it is. And I truly believe that social media is inherently neutral. It’s what we bring to it, or how we use it and approach it, that can shift it either way. It is our work to cultivate a relationship with it that feels healthy for us, and that’s going to be different for everyone.
What are some specific, concrete ways those boundaries can come to life?
Personally, I unplug completely on the weekends, but I recognize that some people may love sharing their Saturdays and Sundays.
Also, if you’re thinking about what to share or not share on Instagram, my rule of thumb is this: if any of your emotions or healing is contingent upon other people’s reaction to what you’re sharing, or validating what you’re sharing, then it’s not wise to post. It’s really important that we’re sharing on social media from a place of neutrality and not for a certain response, or validation, or attention. Think about it this way: are you sharing about a scab or an open wound?
I imagine this has been an evolution for you as well?
Oh my gosh, 100%. And it still is. Everything always is. In fact, I remember this one instance a couple of years ago when I was full-on blogging. I was in Charleston for a wedding, and a friend and I were out and about exploring. I was posting two or three times a day at that point in order to build up my following. I was so engrossed in it. One afternoon, we were sitting at this little beachfront cafe on Sullivan’s Island, and I didn’t get service. I lost my shit. I was like…Oh my gosh, okay, I have to go. So I literally left the restaurant and left my friend so I could walk down the street to get service and post something.
In the moment, I justified it as something I needed to do for my business in order to grow it. But looking back, I have so much compassion and empathy for that girl because I had no boundaries and no separation around social media. It was all consuming, and I don’t see that as being a healthy relationship.
Shifting gears a bit, I’m curious how your sense of style has impacted your sense of self, especially after working in the fashion industry.
For so long, what I thought I was able to wear was influenced by what I felt my body looked like. I thought…I need to be a certain size in order to wear this, or that. It was also a way for me to “fit in with the tribe” and identify with others. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed more confidence to wear whatever I want, knowing that it’s just about how I feel in my body. That’s all that matters.
My ethos now is that clothes, like anything else, can be such an act of self-love. I’m choosing to see it as a way to love myself, to express myself, to be with myself. Also — and this is something new for me — I’m hoping to be more thoughtful about who I’m supporting and where I’m sending my dollars to support female-owned businesses and sustainable businesses that focus on vintage. That would be an ideal for me. I’m so not there yet, but I’m hoping to get there as an extension of expressing myself, my brand, and my values.
What advice would you give to someone who may be feeling unfulfilled with where they are at the moment but isn’t sure how to take that next step — or even what a next step could look like?
Going inwards is such a great starting point. Just really getting curious and paying attention to things that bring you pleasure, things you desire. Where are those moments in your days or weeks — or even thinking back to your childhood — where you felt lit up? Where you felt like you were in flow? What were those moments when time stopped or went really quickly for you? Things that felt joyful or effortless, things that made you feel silly, and playful, and present? Doing that detective work to identify those things is such a great starting point. Because we can be so fundamentally disconnected from that.
Trust is such a powerful word too, because change requires trusting yourself, trusting that you have the answers, and that abundance is your birthright and flows as a by-product of being in touch with yourself.
[Interview edited for clarity]
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