Mary Cecchini - World Traveler/Owner of Living Big

Mary Cecchini is a world traveler and owner of Living Big, an adventure company for women who don’t want to travel alone. She’s an inspiration to anyone who dreams of owning their own business AND traveling the world , but she’s also the most down-to-earth and friendly person you will ever meet. With a background in Marketing, Mary has launched her business in a way that really connects with people – offering packages that are accessible (yoga in Forest Park) and stretching her clients to dream beyond their comfort zone (trekking in Thailand with a bunch of strangers, anyone?)

I asked Mary a couple of questions below about her business and what it feels like to be living the dream:

Describe what you do for a living.

I essentially have two facets of my professional world. I'm a freelance marketing consultant: I work project-to-project doing everything from brand management, project management, event production, and basically get brought in by brands or agencies that need some short-term bandwidth added to their teams. That takes up about 60% of my time. The other part of my world is in the travel industry. I own a business called Living Big and I take small groups of women on a variety of adventures and international trips. They are two very different worlds, but I feel like I'm at my best when I can have one foot in marketing and one foot in travel.

How did you discover YOUR DREAM CAREER?

I grew up professionally through the marketing world. I've always been really stimulated by the creative challenge of solving company or brand issues through creative marketing. So that’s always been part of my world, but I discovered an interest and need to expand into the travel sector 4 or 5 years ago. I'd always been a big traveler but I think what I realized was that I needed more in my life - more than just the satisfaction of climbing the corporate ladder and working for big brands. There was more to me that needed to be fulfilled that wasn’t being met through my work in the marketing industry.

I actually took a sabbatical from the Marketing industry and spent about 5 months traveling solo to soak up some inspiration and evaluate what that world would look like if I switched industries. I also thought about how travel could be part of my world. And what my legacy would be or how I wanted to affect my community. It was a time of transition (which often felt like a swirl) of figuring out what was at the intersection of travel, creative marketing, and wanderlust. The way that eventually manifested is through the business I run today - Living Big, where I get to connect with women and help build their communities while I'm building my own. And the marketer and producer in me gives me the tools to bring these cool experiences to life.

What were some lessons along the way to starting Living Big?

I think the first hurdle was figuring out what I wanted in life. A lot of that discovery started through a program called heartspark. Step one was figuring out who I am, how I want to show up in the world and what the components are that I want to have in my life that will make me feel fulfilled and valued. When I completed that exercise, I had ownership over what I wanted the framework of my life to look like. Now I just needed to lay the foundation. 

The second hurdle was that I had to find peace with the unknown, which is really hard for a Type A planner and producer like me. I didn't know what this new foundation was going to look like and I had to be open to it evolving and changing. I had to be comfortable calibrating along the way or admitting that something didn't turn out the way I expected. Finding peace with all those insecure moments was a big hurdle for me that I'm still working through on a daily basis.

The third hurdle was being okay doing something that (some) people in my community thought was pretty radical at the time. The idea of telling my community that I was quitting my very comfortable job, selling a lot of my things, and traveling by myself in Europe was a little nerve-wracking. Getting to a place where I was at peace and not impacted by how people perceived what I was doing took some time.

What advice would you give someone who was trying to find their purpose and get unstuck?

I think you have to really commit to the process. For me, it meant that I needed to take time and create space in my world because I couldn't go through that process while I was working 60 hours a week. You have to commit to taking action and setting some goals for yourself even if they're just timeframes to first do the thoughtful internal work that's going to set you up for making some changes. If you just keep these big life questions and thoughts in your mind for a month, a year... it turns into 5 or 10 years and you can easily get distracted by the activities that fill your days. You can easily never really do anything about it. There are a lot of different actions that you could take, but step one is to commit to want to work through these questions.

How did if feel inside when you found out what your purpose is?

There's a quote on the wall at the heartspark office that says, “You will recognize your own path when you come upon it, because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need.” In my world there's so much truth to that quote because it takes a lot of work to go against the norm. If you're going to switch something up in your life; start in a new industry or start a new business, it takes so much work. There's so much attraction and appeal to what's familiar and comfortable. But if that's not fulfilling and making you happy, you have to commit to what's going to take you away from feeling stuck.

Starting Living Big was hard. I'm a business owner of one and have had to learn about the finances, liability, insurance, building a website, etc. Planning trips and booking hotels was the easy part, but running a business requires more then the easy parts. If it wasn't my true passion and what I was meant to do, there is no way I'd have my feet on the ground at 4:30AM most mornings to bring this business to life, but I have all this energy to do it because it's what I'm meant to do. The telltale sign is that I'm motivated to do things that I never in a million years thought I would do. I’m pushing myself to learn new things every day if it's necessary to bring this vision to life.

What are your plans with Living Big for the future?

This year and early into next year, I'm focusing on cementing the brand. It's really ironing out the vision for this company, what I want it to be, and who I want to serve. Tightening up processes, making things more efficient, enhancing the experience. I have a handful of international trips this year and I've also started adding a new Pacific Northwest based program with trips that are 2-3 nights away. I also offer a handful of single day adventures, so there's snowshoeing or hiking trips.

The goal is to offer adventures and travel experiences that are at a sliding scale. For a lot of my clients, the idea of doing an adventure with a group of women that they don't know is a huge stretch of their comfort zone, so they might want to start with just a single-day trip on Mt. Hood, rather than a 9-day trip in Croatia. It gives people a chance to engage with Living Big at whatever level feels most comfortable.

In 2016, I'm hosting international trips for small groups of women to Iceland and Croatia. In 2017, I'm hosting 3 international trips: to Switzerland in June, Italy in September, and Thailand in November. Also in 2017, I'll continue the Pacific Northwest program with 2 long weekends trips and a handful of single day adventures in the Greater Portland area. 

Find out more information about Living Big travel tours at www.livingbig.org.

Mary Blalock