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Lucire 2011A life less ordinary Sophie Chiche is doing her part to bring people together, and to see past their differences

Sophie’s choices

While a career in life coaching can be lucrative, Sophie Chiche finds true enrichment in making a literal world of success stories and advice available to all
by Elyse Glickman
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY KRAVETZ PR

 

ALTHOUGH SOPHIE CHICHE was raised in an affluent Jewish–Parisian home, and has carved out a successful niche as a career and life coach, she knows from experience the best advice and insights are meant to be shared selflessly with the entire world at large.

While some regular visitors to her visionary website, LifeByMe.com, have asked her how she sustains her new (launched September 2010) but already encyclopædic website without funding, she assures them she is more concerned about spreading the positive messages put out there by her international coterie of contributors. She’s confident that she is going about it the right way, and sure enough, she is now getting voluntary donations as well as proposals from prospective sponsors and advertisers.

On the other hand, when your contributors include Arianna Huffington, Kenny Loggins, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Norman Lear, Gary Zukav, Laura Day, Mariel Hemmingway, Blake Mycoskie (Tom’s Shoes), Liz Phair and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), it is no wonder the site’s fans see the life lessons put out there as utterly priceless. She is also proud this impressive group includes many successful Jewish authors and entrepreneurs (many of whom are US East Coast-based): Rory Freedman, Tal Ronnen, Heide Banks, Marc Gafni, Laurie Grossman, Jane Grossman, David Cohen, Ronit Herzfeld, Tommy Rosen, Richard Rosenblatt, Margalit Ward and Larry Zucker.

The way Chiche greets you in person for the first time is right in line with the welcoming tone and user-riendliness of her website. She hugs you rather than shakes your hand. Though our interview is at the exclusive Los Angeles branch of the SoHo House, she prefers to chat in the tranquil garden rooftop restaurant rather than the main lounge amid all the schmoozing between the House’s well-heeled members and guests. She already knows she’s not only got access to some of the most inspirational people on earth, but their hearts and minds as well.

‘I have always been fascinated by meaningful conversations,’ affirms Chiche over mint tea and a yogurt–granola parfait. ‘I don’t like to be in spaces with big crowds where it is impossible to get to know the other guests. It is important for me to know somebody’s individual story. Though coaching has allowed me to do this, I came up with this website because it not only allowed me to hear a given story, but post it and share it in the hopes that other people could benefit from it.’

The catalyst that prompted the creation of the site was extended conversations she had with Archbishop Tutu a few years back. He hired her during a four-day conference to translate some of his speeches and writings into Spanish when his existing translator was a no show. Tutu spontaneously shared ideas with Chiche, which in turn she knew had to be shared with as many people as possible. Two years later, she felt an information-packed website that made other people feel the same way would provide a service that transcended marketing herself and her services.

‘The concept is built around successful people from all backgrounds and professions who found balance by living a life that is truly meaningful to them, with the coaching convention suggesting one conversation can actually change the listener’s life,’ Chiche explains. ‘In my coaching, I start with a moment where (a client) feels he or she has become “stuck”. However, instead of having him figure out what he did wrong, it is more productive to offer stories from people who experienced similar life-defining moments and discuss what they learned from them.’

Chiche believes that today’s turbulent times call for a site that puts the viewer in touch with the notion life should have deeper meaning beyond possessions, careers and other external things. ‘When times get tough, people start to consider building deeper, more meaningful relationships within their families, social circle and even co-workers,’ she observes. People who’ve contributed to LifeByMe.com are great role models for this.’

After a few bites of breakfast, Chiche looks back into events from her childhood, which even on a subconscious level prompted her into such a connective, people driven adulthood.

‘My father and I were discussing this recently, and he reminded me of a conversation we had when I was seven or eight. At the time, my father was a shrewd businessman (working in logoed marketing items with factories in China). Back then, he saw people like lemons, explaining success in business was about “squeezing out all the juice and discarding what’s left”. I remember feeling he was missing the point completely (and that) people bring value to businesses and to life itself, and relationships are what matter.’

Delving in a little deeper, Chiche recognizes that the challenges coming from a Jewish family in France makes for greater empathy and desire to make sense of people’s motives and beliefs through their stories.

‘One of my best friends from childhood is a lawyer (who is) active in Paris’s Jewish community,’ she recalls. ‘Her speciality is helping Jewish families and individuals find places they can relocate to if circumstances necessity a move from France, especially given its changing population and political climate. Also, on my last birthday, I heard from a [Gentile] childhood friend who ended our relationship when I was about 12 because I was Jewish, even though the issue was simply something related to adolescent jealousy. I would go to parties where other guests would speak ill of Jewish people, not realizing I was Jewish. On the other hand, I also had wonderful moments where people shared a beautiful story about a situation when a Jew had done something nice for them.’

Chiche recalls how her grandmother survived severe injuries sustained in a Nazi bombing of her synagogue during World War II. She then mentions that she was struck by what her Jewish–American husband said in jest when he and his 20 friends were greeted by the other 400 guests at their Paris wedding: ‘Every Jew in Paris must be here.’ She also acknowledges that everyday events in her youth prompted her to look beyond herself, to look for answers to life’s mysteries beyond her comfortable life.

‘Being Jewish in Paris helped me see there were strengths and weaknesses on all sides,’ she affirms. ‘I have memories of being in the kitchen during preparation for my parents’ dinner parties. As I spoke Spanish from the summers my family spent in Spain, I struck up conversations with the people working for us to know their stories. My school was on the border of the affluent 8th and working-class 17th arrondissements. Though there were cliques on each side, I was known as the “bridge”, because I wanted to understand classmates of all colours, economic levels and beliefs.’

Although LifeByMe.com is designed so users can pick and choose their virtual mentors—famous or otherwise—in order to face their personal issues, Chiche notes the virtues of tolerance and forgiveness runs through the entire site.

‘I recently had a conversation with Russell Simmons, who expounded on how joyful his life was,’ she adds. ‘This led me to dig deeper and ask about how he coped when circumstances were not so joyful. He started to tell me about the impact his mother, who had passed, made on him and the ways he keeps her memory alive. By the end of that conversation, my associates and I were in tears.

‘On the other end of the spectrum [a public speaker from the Midwest], we interviewed recalled the harrowing experience of witnessing the rape of his 12 year-old daughter and being in a position where he could not do anything about it as there was a gun to his head. As it was happening, he had awareness that he could kill this man, but all it would do would make the assailant feel justified in what he was doing, and perhaps make his mother turn around and hurt somebody else, leading to a long chain of hurt. After the daughter grew up, they moved on to speak in prisons about the power of forgiveness and breaking the cycle of violence.’

Just as she wants her site’s visitors to learn by example, she often follows her own advice to learn from how individuals can look beyond themselves for the greater good of the world. She likens that dynamic to witnessing South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation panels, which brought together parents of victims and assailants of different races to find a common ground of forgiveness and healing, and apply those lessons to the country South Africa would become. Over a decade later, she and a cousin are in the process of developing a cooking school in Tel Aviv where Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of other backgrounds can learn and create together.

While Chiche continues her paid practice and lays the groundwork for her site and other endeavours to be financially solvent, she lives in a constant state of awareness that a balanced and sharing mindset in life which one gains meaning from, is the best recipe for genuine happiness. •

‘Being Jewish in Paris helped me see there were strengths and weaknesses on all sides,’ she affirms. ‘I have memories of being in the kitchen during preparation for my parents’ dinner parties. As I spoke Spanish from the summers my family spent in Spain, I struck up conversations with the people working for us to know their stories. My school was on the border of the affluent 8th and working-class 17th arrondissements. Though there were cliques on each side, I was known as the “bridge”, because I wanted to understand classmates of all colours, economic levels and beliefs’

 

 


Above Sophie Chiche. Below A screen shot of her LifebyMe.com website.

 

 

 


Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.

 

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