Ali Van Putten I Founder of Createapreneur I Yoga Instructor
"The trick was on me because authenticity is not a stake you put in the ground, and if we do that, then we just become miserable trying to live up to our own ideals."
Where did you grow up?
The mitten. It’s what us locals call Michigan, because the state looks just like a hand. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and lived there until I was 14. I loved that place. But doesn’t everyone like where they’re born? Just the idea of being born in a single spot, and how that one event creates the stage for this whole open road of possibility in front of you, there’s this innocence and potential to the places we call home.
Describe that place and its people…
That’s a great segue. Ann Arbor is the perfect size. A city, with a college town vibe, a bustling downtown and lots of interesting, liberal people but not without plenty of outlets to nature like lakes, rivers and streams nearby.
I lived there until I was 14 and remember the people the most. My dad taught at the University and my parents had the most interesting groups of friends. They would have dinner parties almost every weekend where my mom would cook (she’s amazing in the kitchen) and the adults would sip wine, play records and talk about books, politics and culture. We lived in a two bedroom house (there were five of us) and after they put me to bed I would sneak back and sit to eavesdrop on their conversations. I thought it was all so fancy and intoxicating.
What were you like as a child? What did you want to do when you grew up?
I was full of fire, extremely curious and social but also very shy. I loved to read, play make believe and dress up and be outside. My older brother, Jacob, was my hero, and I wanted to do anything he did.
I wanted to be a writer or a teacher. My stuffed animals were the best educated in all of Michigan, I was always teaching, learning and writing. For a long time I wanted to be a mystery writer like John Grisham and would carry my dad’s old work notebook around with me full of loose leaf papers that held different pages I’d written for my book.
When did you first leave home? Where did you go?
I’d say when I was 14. My dad got a job in Washington, D.C. and my family moved cross country to Northern Virginia. That was the first time I remember really losing ground. That’s what leaving home is right? There is the adventure of new possibility and the awe of seeing how vast and diverse this world is but its always accompanied by a pang, a sort of panic, because our identity is often built on where we are geographically and the people who surround us and reaffirm the various versions of ourselves.
I felt lost when we left home for a very, very long time It was one of the most powerful and painful experiences in my life. Whenever I come across change or a new setting, I can taste that same feeling and trace it back to the way I felt at 14 when the plane took off and I watched “the mitten” fade in the horizon as we headed East.
When did you come NYC? Was there a particular reason you wanted to come here?
I came in 2006 and stepped off Amtrak with one red rolling suitcase and a room in an apartment on the East End, I was drunk on New York City. I had come up on and off for work the year before, and the energy and audacity of the city won me over. I remember standing in midtown, on 5th Ave. a month before my move was final and my best friend, Jessie, said to me, “This city is either going to save you or destroy.” And ironically, it did both.
Is there something about NYC that is especially inspiring to you?
It’s the only city large enough to simultaneously hold the space for all my joy and all my suffering. In certain ways you can’t hide in New York City, these avenues remember it all, but they don’t judge and that’s why I’ve been able to stay so long.
What led you to leave your corporate marketing career, launch Createapreneur and become a yoga teacher?
I wanted to take a risk. I wanted to be one of those stories that began with woman finding ‘herself’ at 30, leaving her day job behind, traveling east, coming back and pursuing her passion and living happily ever after.
So I did three yoga teacher trainings, studied nutrition, started a corporate yoga and wellness business, started Createapreneur, a blog and started teaching yoga regularly. A lot of starting right? I wonder when it all stops or when all the pieces connect and come together, maybe I don’t want it to stop because then that would be the end of the story.
For people who don’t know what Createapreneur is, can you explain?
See the thing is, I wish I had one good solid answer for what my site is, or what my path, purpose or mission is, but it keeps evolving. It began with the idea to be a resource for any creative looking to follow their passions, I was deeply inspired by The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, it’s a bible for any creative. I wanted the site to be a place to continue that dialogue for the amazing writers, health coaches, yoga teachers, juice creators and other entrepreneurs who are high on their own inspiration and looking for tips on how to thrive and live off your work.
Then it became more about being an entrepreneur day-to-day, which morphed into a content hub to focus on mindfulness through yoga, meditation and nutrition and then recently, in version 2.0, it became a home of stories for creatives, hustlers and dreamers. Though I’ll admit I haven’t written in a couple weeks.
Have you ever created something and then turned around and doubted every last word? It’s like that. Having a passion and an outlet is the most beautiful and terrifying experience.
Was there a particular moment when you knew it was what you wanted to pursue?
I had my first yoga class a year out of college in 2005 with a woman named Odissa. She was teaching at a fitness sports club, and I took her class. I don’t know what happened in that hour but I was transformed and knew I’d follow that 72” by 24” inch rubber mat anywhere. And I have. I knew at some point I would have to align my work with this passion, if only for the simple fact that my coworkers at Aol and Johnson & Johnson probably couldn’t stand me talking about yoga, green juices or health hacks for another quarter.
It’s funny, I have a real hard time staying committed, it’s a creative disorder, like shiny object syndrome, but yoga is the outlier, that I always come back to and even more than Michigan, it’s become my home.
Practicing yoga regularly has then created this clarity around how I want my life to feel, which has inspired me to write, to build a blog and put my work out there, to teach classes and tell stories. It’s an ongoing pursuit.
What were you doing before you started Createapreneur? What skills did you already have to throw at this idea?
I worked in marketing and advertising in NYC for seven years before I went out and did my own thing. Working for large companies is an amazing experience and privilege, I really mean it. You learn from the best, have access to resources and get to form really important relationships with people. Of course at the time I was working in my 20s I was just hyped on being really successful and proving I could do it in NYC, so I didn’t see the foundation I was building for the future.
When I started the first yoga and wellness business, it was my colleagues and friends that supported me and gave me a shot by becoming my first clients, they’re also the people that read my newsletters and blogs, them and my grandma, Mimi. Though she told me on my last visit that my stories were “getting kinda long” so she’s just going to skim them from now on. Fair enough.
I’m still working in the marketing world, for a variety of reasons. Right now I find that it makes me a more relatable teacher and writer because i’m living both sides of the story everyday. In that way I don’t have a perfect ‘how to make it’ story to share but I’m on the same journey with everyone who is curious and questioning their purpose on a daily basis.
Who would make the best use of Createapreneur services? Do you have a particular client in mind?
For awhile I was offering health coaching, then marketing services and business coaching, but I’ll be honest with you, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I think if you have a hard time figuring out what to “sell” or what you offer, maybe you have quite figured it out yet.
That’s where I’m at. Waking up each day and working with what’s in front of me, laying down the gratitude stick everytime I hear myself complaining about a situation and hoping I have the attention and space to look for clues as to how all the pieces will connect at some point. Or maybe they won’t and I’ll have to be ok with that too.
I would say though, that for yoga, everyone should be a client in some way shape or form. Any practice, be it meditating, the physical asana practice of yoga, writing, drawing, cooking, singing, weaving, acting, and on and on that takes you away from having to be in your thinking mind, even for a split second, is a big deal. These practices have the power to wake us up, allow us to actually like or even love ourselves and then maybe have a chance at having meaningful relationships with other beings. That’s worth a shot.
How do you incorporate yoga into Createapreneur work? Or is this something you keep separate?
I wish! Actually I don’t wish, I guess I just worry that I’ll start to bother people because I’m really that into yoga, mindfulness, these teachings from the East and the whole mind body/connection that people will think I’ve totally lost my mind. It’s important to me, especially as a yoga teacher, to speak about everyday experiences and keep it real, as they say, I want to be relatable because that’s the only place to really connect with people from. You have to stand on the same level as someone to really see them.
What inspires this work the most?
I live to be inspired, it’s almost an addiction. But if I had to be straight forward, I would say pain. I’m inspired because of my mistakes, shortcomings and failures. These experiences force me to look deeper at myself and from that place I can create words, stories, playlists, yoga sequences, even marketing proposals for brands, that help me to work through and stomach all the questions that being a human creates.
I love to be the one to open up the door for someone to say, “Oh yeah, that happened to me once too..” The only way I ever been able to understand, comprehend or heal is by sharing.
What are your ultimate goals for work and for Createapreneur?
Selfishly, I want it to all make sense. I want my love for yoga, my writing, this heavy burden of desperately wanting to do work that adds value to the world, to fit nicely into a job description that pays me enough to live in a city, take trips to the beach and shop at Whole Foods. Case closed.
My fear is that it all stays as pieces and that I’m the strand that threads it all together and makes it work and not work, in a variety of shapes and forms throughout my life but that my ‘work’ and my life will never fit into a nicely organized box or planner. Like the kind of thing you’d buy at The Container Store.
What’s your favorite part about doing what you do?
When I get to sit in front of a yoga class, especially at the Jivamukti Yoga School here in NYC, the place where I used to be in class and dream of teaching, there’s this moment before I start the chant on the harmonium, where I literally feel like I’ve won the life lottery. It’s the internal buzz that I would imagine happens when you accept your first Academy Award or Nobel Prize, the “holy shit, this is actually happening to me.” moment.
Then it all becomes life again and I start worrying about the guy who didn’t text me back, if I should file for an extension on my taxes or if my hair looks better when i teach with it up or down, but I’ll tell ya, for that one second up in front of class, I’m free.
What are your biggest challenges? Do you have an achilles heel?
Oh boy. My favorite Hindu God is Ganesha. He is an elephant, sort of like the HIndu Santa Claus. I can just picture kids lining up to sit on his lap. He is well known for his ability, when you call upon him, to remove obstacles from your path, so people often make offerings to him when they embark on a new venture.
But here’s the thing that we forget. He often places obstacles in our paths, like giant boulders, to guide us back on course, as frustrating as it might feel to have a plan and then run straight into a wall made of rock, that’s his job.
I’d say my biggest challenge is finding the humility to accept when I’ve hit that wall and release the demand for life to show up on my terms and on my timetable. Ganesha probably shakes his head at me a lot wondering why I’m so stubborn.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
I’m not sure we have enough time for that. I can say, without a doubt, that we never stop learning lessons, quite often the same ones, over and over.
What does a typical day look like for you?
That’s hard to say. For awhile I when i first started Createapreneur I was writing every morning, for almost three hours, it was heaven and then it wasn’t. It became isolating, it’s like too much of anything and we start to want the opposite right?
From that I did create rituals that stay with me everywhere I go and can have a huge impact on how I show up in the world, I’m borderline militant about keeping them up. Each morning I start my day with a hot water with lemon, 16 ounces of fresh filtered H2O and then write three pages in a journal, which I got from Julia Cameron’s morning pages exercise. It’s brilliant.
I also meditate for 15-20 (ok fine, sometimes 10) in the morning and at night and do the Jivamukti Magic 10 Yoga Sequence every morning before I eat breakfast. And I do eat breakfast. Sometimes it’s hard to be on time for work with this whole routine, but I’ll tell ya, starting your day this way makes all the difference. It’s worth the 6:30am wake up call.
What are the things that you want to fill your days with? What are the things that are most important to you?
Numero uno is staying connected. When I lose perspective, my choices are all over the place and I find myself chasing after people and opportunities that I don’t even want and obsessively comparing myself to everyone around me and on social media, and somehow, I seem to lose that battle every time.
It’s hard working full-time in NYC, life moves so fast and there are days when I’m not able to sit or practice, write or play for as long as my little creative soul needs but I then I wake up the next day and vow to try again. The days when it does happen, feel like home runs, but it’s always about allowing yourself to start fresh without all the judgement and pressure.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do what you do? Or for anyone who wants to live a more creative life?
Yes! Forget about the big moments and focus on the small tasks you can do, especially in the beginning. If you’re a writer, you got to write, everyday, even if it never gets published or posted anywhere. Same with teaching, acting, cooking, blogging, coding, decorating, weaving and on and on.
My personal experience has shown me that what we desire in life, even love, comes through creation. And not just once, but over and over and over. Even when we’re tired, or don’t feel like it, or aren’t good enough and can name 10,000 people who can do it better, we just got to show up and do. I won’t say miracles happen, but something shifts, and that’s enough for me right now.
And trust. Trust that what might feel awful or misaligned right now might be teaching you a skill or lesson that you’re going to need down the road.
Do you have a mentor?
I’m fortunate enough to have three.
My mother, whose more angel than human, my former boss, Marisa and my heart teacher, Rima. It’s funny when i think about what they have all in common, it’s that they’ve allowed me to be myself and stood by me through all the complications that doing so creates. When I triumph and more often, when I fall, they just let it be and through their consistency and unconditional support, I grow. That to me is empowering.
What does the word authentic mean to you? How does your work allow you to live authentically?
Oh I love this one. About a year and a half ago I went on an authenticity crusade. I think I had just read a bunch of Brené Brown books and decided that I’d been living too closeted my whole life and was going to show up only as my authentic self and end being a fraud once and for all.
The trick was on me because authenticity is not a stake you put in the ground, and if we do that, then we just become miserable trying to live up to our own ideals.
What I’m trying to say is that some days, I take the elevator one floor up to the yoga studio, it’s absurd, but I just need it. Then the next day I’ll go to bootcamp to have someone force me to do high interval training at a 14% incline for fifteen minutes, life just contradicts itself over and over. I think authenticity is making room for it all and trying to be conscious of why we do what we do without hiding it all from the world, dressing it up to look good or becoming a harsh critic and dictator towards ourselves in the process.
Any badass women you love, dead or alive?
My teacher Rima turned me onto Anandamayi Ma, a gorgeous and powerful saint from India. It sounds silly but I have her picture on my altar and when I look at her, I can see her fierce but compassionate nature coming through. She lived in India, refused to be referred to as a guru, but had millions of followers, her teachings are based on the idea that “The supreme calling of every human being is to aspire to self realization. All other obligations are secondary.”
Kind of helps solve the “what’s my purpose?” dilemma that keeps me up at night.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you do?
I really really wanted to be an olympic figure skater or a lawyer, like one of those ones from the tv shows that finds the evidence and manages to prove the case in the end, every time.