Cheryl’s Story: What Would You Attempt to Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”, a few words imprinted onto a paperweight in Cheryl Viirand’s (@Cviirand) office were the impetus for her new life. The former litigator turned social change agent knows first hand what it takes to find and embrace your true self.

Cheryl is the founder and CEO of Freedible, an online guide and community for people with food allergies and other eating restrictions to find and share recipes, tips and more. Her cause revealed itself when she adopted her second child who had severe diet constraints. Little did she know that a drastic change in diet for the sake of her son would not only make him feel better but her, too. Her son’s reactions to gluten, dairy, peanuts, soy, shellfish and chocolate prompted her to not only remove these items from his diet, but also from hers. Following the process of an elimination diet, within a short amount of time she was able to put her finger on her own food allergies and intolerances. As a result, she stopped feeling hungry all the time, lost 35 pounds, and her on-going battles with asthma and GI constraints came to an end.

For the record, I’m not suggesting that everyone should say goodbye to these food groups—you may or may not find the need to do so—, but I do hope to encourage raising awareness of how food is affecting your body and mind…and then doing something about it.

What was the journey Cheryl took that led her to Freedible?

1. Identify what your passion is and isn’t

Cheryl had a successful career as a litigator. Her job made good use of her skills but not of her passion despite the fact that she enjoyed her cases. She looked at her mentors at work who were thoroughly enamored of this field – the ones who were just lit on fire by the practice – and saw that something was missing for her. She didn’t dislike the job; it just didn’t quite fit her.

2. Give yourself the permission to pursue it

There are only a few things worse in life than living with regret. Allowing yourself to take time out to figure out what skin fits you requires courage and a great level of comfort with the unknown. “I spent 6 months soul searching and just trying to understand myself. The outcome of this process helped me define the components of “core me” – the processes and problems that really restore me – and then I was able to grow my business out of that.”

What did this process entail? She applied known and unconventional tactics to get to the answer. “What color is your parachute?” was one of the popular tools she used during discovery. What captivated me though was her idea of paying attention to what the books she had picked out were telling her.

For the first few months after “taking the plunge”, Cheryl gave herself an assignment. Each day, she would go to the bookstore and stay there until she found a book worth bringing home. But she would read it only as long as she found it interesting. Then she would put it down and go back to the bookstore. No guilt allowed. After a few trips like this, she looked at the stack of books she’d tossed aside and the ones she’d read all the way through. They were all on the revolutionary war – specifically on lessons learned about the art of leadership and about social movements during that period.

Bingo! Social movement. That was the core piece she had been missing – the “playground” where she most liked to play.

“I felt like a social change agent without a portfolio. I knew I wanted to impact social change on a large scale, I just didn’t know how.” It wasn’t until the adoption of her second child that she connected creating social change to helping people with eating restrictions.

3. Let go of what’s holding you back

Cheryl asked the hard questions and confronted her demons: “Why am I not pursuing my passion yet? What is holding me back? Do I care about this change enough to try?” She realized that she needed to reprogram her thinking. She was a 40-something-year old mom living in the burb with 2 kids: “who would believe I could do this?”, she thought. Her husband reminded her of her past as a single girl living in Ukraine right after college. The memories of herself as a recent grad successfully selling advertising to small business owners in Kiev after the collapse of the USSR gave her the push she needed to tap into her entrepreneurial spirit that was hiding underneath the layers of being a mom, wife and former litigator – and give herself permission to give it a try.

While her husband’s support was a great confidence booster for Cheryl, she received a lot of encouragement from unexpected people and places. “I was a litigator so 50% of the people in the room wanted me to fail because litigations are a zero sum game. I expected something similar in my new adventure but quite the opposite! I’ve met people from all over the world from all walks of life in conjunction with starting my business. And they went out of their way to help. They did so because they were excited about my passion and wanted to help someone who was working to change something in the world. This experience has given me a new lease on how I feel about the universe.”

4. Do it

“Check in with your gut at every juncture and see what feels most organic to you, feel what fits like the right skin, and just do it”, she advises. “You’ll figure out how the pieces fit together later.”

Thank you Cheryl for giving us such great food for thought (pun intended) and helping people and their families around the world manage their allergies and other diet restrictions. As you so eloquently put it: “food restrictions can make you feel like you’ve been kicked out of the human eating tribe. In reality, you haven’t been kicked out, you’ve just been invited into a more exclusive eating club.” Keep on spreading the word!

Header image: the paperweight that inspired Cheryl’s new life and this blog post. 

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