An Interview with Kat Mische Elle
Terri Levine is one of the world’s foremost experts on how to market a coaching business. She has built and sold several multi-million dollar companies. She is a best-selling author of over 40 books, and a highly requested keynote speaker at events and conventions throughout the world.
Terri, when did you begin to notice the differences in status?
I grew up in Yonkers, New York in an apartment; we were very poor. I thought everybody lived the way we did. In fourth grade, we moved to Westfield, New Jersey – an upper-class town. I was uncomfortable and felt like I didn’t fit in. I had never seen a house or green areas, I wore hand-me-down clothes and had a New York accent that people made fun of. The other families where I lived had maids, butlers, drivers, and horses. But despite our improved circumstances, my parents didn’t change our way of living. I will always remember my mother telling me when I was eleven, “It doesn’t matter where we live or how much money we have, it is all about being kind and friendly to people that you meet.”
How did you find your place in this new and different environment?
As I started my teen years, I didn’t fit into the cliques at school, so I started to find some things to do in the community. I found a new circle of friends, and joined several associations, and organizations. I found my tribe – people with my vibe from all incomes, who were dedicated to giving to the community. I learned that you must seek out the people in the circle you want to form. And once I did that everything changed. My grades, my desire to go to school, my self-confidence, and my self-worth. I felt spectacular. The lesson for me was to not try to fit in, just be me, and surround myself with like-minded people.
With that mindset, what was it like going forward?
Here’s a little backstory. When I was growing up, I kept saying to my mother, “I’m not going to change my name. I am Terri Levine. I will always be Terri Levine.” When I was 16, I was invited to a snowball fight. A car full of guys I hadn’t met yet showed up. I got out of the car, and the driver of the next car got out. She said, “Terri Levine, meet Mark Levine.” I walked up to this poor guy and said, “I’m going to have to marry you because I’m not changing my name.” He backed up like a hundred feet! When I was 17, I started dating Mark Levine – we’ve now been married for almost 43 years.
After Mark and I got married, we moved to a very small town in Indiana. We worked while I went to school, and eventually graduated college with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.
I formed my speech clinic knowing nothing about business sales or marketing, it was persistence that helped me get referrals. I sat in a doctor’s office one day for six hours until the doctor asked, “Young lady, what do you want?”
“I want to work with some of your patients. I want to help them.” He referred three patients to me, and then I could go to every doctor in town and say, “Dr. Elghammer is now referring, why don’t you?”
I grew a tremendous business in speech pathology. Then I started an art business with my husband and a rehabilitation company. I realized I had a formula for starting a business. And then, I made a really big mistake, I took a job as CEO of a national healthcare company. The company loved me. But, I was miserable.
When did you start to see your strength and momentum building?
When I was CEO of this company in 1996, my mother, my best friend on the planet, was dying of emphysema. I was at her side for weeks around the clock. At the same time, my girlfriend, Marni, was dying at the age of 40 from breast cancer. I couldn’t see her in hospice because I was with my mom. I had a conversation with Marni a few days before she died, and what she said has always stayed with me. “Terri, don’t make your life about work. Don’t make your life about to-dos. Make your life important.”
Marni and my mom died within days of each other. In the aftermath of this loss, I knew there was something more for me to do. I realized I wasn’t happy at work; I wanted to quit my job and hired a life coach and decided I no longer wanted the CEO position. I wrote a resignation letter and carried it around for weeks until one day my coach said, “I know someone made a painting of your Mom. Are you in your office where you can see it?” I said “Yes.”
My coach then said, “Please turn and face it.” So I did.
“Ask your Mom this question, Mom, do you want me to be happy or do you want me to be miserable?”
That was the day I found the strength to quit my job and said I would spend the rest of my life paying it forward; the business world had been so good to me. I then started my coaching business successfully, and happily.
My coaching and consulting business was originally called Comprehensive Coaching.
At the age of 47 everything was great until the day I was working out with my trainer, and I tore my Achilles tendon and contracted a neurological disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). On the McGill Pain Scale it is the highest, most painful disease, called the disease of fire burning or hell. I couldn’t wear clothes or lay in bed. It was constant round-the-clock screaming. I was on 29 medications, morphine pumps, ketamine infusions, an elephant tranquilizer.
What causes RSD?
It comes from any orthopedic injury. No one knows why, it’s an orphan disease and isn’t studied, and there is no cure. For 18 months I was in a wheelchair, wanting to die every day.
One day, I sent my husband out with some friends, had someone take my dad to dinner, and asked my day nurse to leave my medications on my night table so I could reach them. I planned to commit suicide. Before taking the medication, I wrote my husband a note. I knew he would understand. And then, a couple of weird things happened. First, my dog, who never came up on the bed, hopped up on to it with me and laid her head on my heart and was staring into my eyes. I remember thinking, she knows what’s going on. I also remember typing what I thought was a suicide note and when I read it – I had written a book about magnetizing.
At this moment, I thought, “Why am I not magnetizing what I want? I studied this disease, and I found that there were millions of children affected by it, and I am a pretty strong person mentally, physically, emotionally and this disease is breaking me down. I have this disease because it’s a gift to me. I can be a spokesperson for it.”
When my husband came home, I said, “I need to get well so we can start a foundation for kids with RSD. They need treatment, help, and moral support.” I became determined to work with my personal trainer to get me on my feet, the pity party stopped. The pain didn’t, I’m in pain all the time. I deal with it mentally and I don’t focus on it.
We started the Terri Levine Foundation for Children with RSD. For the last 17 years, my husband and I have given 90% of our income to the foundation. We also do reverse tithing. We live off of the remaining 10%.
About 12 years ago, I was writing a book for my publisher to support my business. He threw the manuscript on the floor and said, “I don’t want this book…Terri, for 11 years I’ve watched you do business, heart-to-heart. No one does it with more integrity, transparency, and authenticity. I want that book.” I went back to Pennsylvania and had one of those moments where everything became very clear in my life.
I wrote the book about turbocharging your business as a Heart Entrepreneur, called Heart-repreneur® then changed the name of my company. And pretty quickly, 8,000 people joined the Heart-repreneur® movement. I have worked with over 6,000 clients in 19 countries over the past 34 years. I am doing what I love and love and what I do.
Let me know what your approach is for business with this inspired creation.
I teach businesses to do business by creating heart-to-heart connections. It’s not doing ads, funnels, or DMing people. We provided content, value, and education. I wear this little bracelet that says Serve and Create. Every day, I wake up and ask, what can I do today to serve and create? When I feel that I’ve done that, I know I’m done for the day. I teach my clients to help people, teach them, train them, advise them, consult with them, and give them everything they have. And then they extend their hand and say, “Would you like some additional help? If you’re interested, I’d be happy to tell you how that works.” It’s that simple.
In 2023, what are your next inspired ambitions?
I’m on a mission this year to impact a thousand people and ensure each of those people is committed to impacting a thousand people, so we can change the world.
I’m looking for a thousand like-minded people who want to share the Heart-repreneur® message. We’ve begun that journey in our Facebook group already.
Who are the people that have provided a major inspirational influence in your life?
Eileen Seed inspired me the most when I started my art business, and she became my mentor. She would spend hours with me on phone calls. She gave me everything; her time, shared her life experiences, invited me into her home and took me on trips. She showed me how someone who was way wealthier than I was could live life as a simple person, and be gentle, and generous.
My very first mentor was Zig Ziglar. I took out a small business loan to hire him. He not only changed my life; he was my first exposure to coaching. I became a Born-to-Win trainer for him. I still go back to the stories, lessons, and philosophy that I learned from Zig.
Another inspirational mentor was Joe Vitale. Joe has been a wonderful force in my life in terms of spirituality and beliefs and of doing good and serving the world.
And then Jack Canfield, the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, did a foreward for one of my books. I have never found anyone with more integrity. Those four mentors have been huge in my life, and I’m very, very grateful to all of them.
Do you have a favorite quote for motivation?
One thing I defer to repeatedly is, “What is working?”
Nothing else really matters if you go through life focused on what is working. When I first had RSD, all I focused on was, “Why me?” Once I started asking, “What is working?” Everything changed. The only thing you need to remember is, if you keep focusing on what is working, you’ll always feel happy. That changed my life.
And what is the best way for people to find and follow you?
My website, www.Heartrepreneur.com. There are plenty of free resources there, and tons of freebies.