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Third Chapter Curious, Vol. 4: Traverse City, Michigan

Updated: 3 days ago

“Stay curious, keep learning, and keep growing. And always strive to be more interested than interesting.” - Jane Fonda 


May 2, 2024

Responsibility for matters outside of our own needs is an invariable reality. We’re consistently in service to our careers, families, and friends, not to mention the causes we believe in; which undoubtedly leads to worthwhile conclusions and the tapestry of life itself, yet it cannot be ignored that it takes a toll. 

Ultimately with some self-advocacy, there will be a season to flip the script and focus on your purpose. This is not an act of selfishness, but an earned function of self-love.

Rare is the person who melds those worlds with such fluency, and Kristina Schnepf is indeed rare. She has worn many hats in communications, brand strategy, and public relations—just to list a few of her hats—within companies including Dow Chemical and Goodyear. She is also artistically creative, which is uncommon for corporate executives. 

After settling Up North, her third chapter was set in motion by opening a franchise location of Peace Love and Little Donuts of Traverse City, a lighthearted departure from big industry that launched a new phase accompanied by purposeful labors of love.

Through changes in scenery and old routine, she found a meaningful way of adding to our community’s inventive verve. 


It’s inspiring to hear about people drastically changing their careers to embrace a softer side of life. Considering the scope of your career experiences, what has shifted for you to stage what you're doing now? 


[*sic] “I don't know if there was a conscious shift into what I'm doing now—I've always been able to take the next right step to leave a certain position, company, place, whatever the case may be. I'm not saying that I haven't struggled mightily over some of those decisions, but on occasions when I listened to my heart, I knew when it was time to make a change. I've tried to manage my career that way, and it's proven to work for me. Compared to a corporate structure, what I do now feels more like community involvement and gives me a little revenue for my version of retirement.” 


You have a long history of high-powered executive roles—what incited your departure from that world and how did you arrive at the decision to move to Traverse City? 


[*sic] “About 8 years ago I was already reframing my career options, having spent decades in the corporate world. I had decided that I wasn't going to continue in those kinds of roles for much longer. My last job was with a mid-sized, private equity-held company and when I started, I made a deal with myself that when the company sold, I was getting out of corporate work

I was determined to have something wildly different to put energy into, which brought my husband and I to plan where we wanted to spend our later years, and we decided to open a donut shop in Traverse City – Peace Love & Little Donuts. I know it’s not entirely logical, but it is precisely what happened.

We had reasons to live here [in Traverse City] on a more permanent basis—my brother and parents lived here, we had already owned a house in the area for a while, so we were familiar with the community, and wanted to begin enjoying all of the elements of what it meant to be part of Grand Traverse County and northern Michigan. But even when I left my job, we weren’t necessarily ready to commit to moving here full-time. I still had corporate clients and was traveling for work, as was my husband. We had also recently moved from Ohio to Ann Arbor and were near an airport, only a three-hour drive from Traverse City so our situation was fine at the time, close enough to family and in a place with great amenities and culture. 

We literally closed on our house in Ann Arbor the week COVID-19 shut the world down so we only lived there for 18 months, and the best parts of living there were no longer viable, so we found ourselves contemplating a move north knowing that we could have some of the same advantages and diverse offerings up there while while really embedding ourselves in this amazing community.

There's something about the energy of this town that delivers inspiration, or passion, I can’t define what the word is, but there is a general attitude that things can be done, and people here have done some impressive stuff. The community is accessible and the ecosystem is easily managed. That’s cool and unique and I think it’s because of the nature of the people—they’re welcoming and willing to help support each other in action, and it's genuine support. 

We truly were “COVID Migrants” and probably wouldn't have been here at this time if it weren’t for the pandemic. We were headed here eventually, but our plan was accelerated. 

We found [in Traverse City] what we loved in Ann Arbor and then some—living in a vibrant town with intellectuals, a lot of activity, and innovation.” 


Honing in on our namesake third-chapter concept, what is meaningful and important to you now? How has your mindset changed? 


[*sic] “When you're an executive woman with a family, you work hard professionally to excel in your career while also working hard at being a good mother, so you end up sacrificing yourself for others. I feel like for the majority of my adult life I have been in service to other people—other people's agendas and other people's needs, so this time [in my life] is really about me, and I'm taking it very seriously. I’m calling it ‘Phase Me.’ I’m encouraging myself and giving myself permission to invest my time in what I want to do. This is not to say that I’m being self-centered or that I’m focusing only on myself, but I’m prioritizing my passions for perhaps the first time in decades and it’s refreshing. 

What has to be said is that I am in a very privileged position to have been well-rewarded in my career. I have the luxury of being 56 years old and not having to work a full-time job anymore. Not everyone gets this opportunity and I’m very well aware of that and have gratitude for my situation. I’ve had a fulfilling career and worked very hard which enabled me to live the life that I'm living now which translates to the ability to [be a part of] projects I care about, like being on the board of HomeStretch Non-Profit Housing, a local affordable housing organization and working with Venture North helping to consult with small businesses, and leading our young staff at Peace Love & Little Donuts, so I’m now able to do new things that are also meaningful and rewarding, just in a different way.” 


Are you pursuing any passions you had when you were younger before corporate life? 


[*sic] “I've had a hard time identifying who I was in my pre-corporate life, but I would say if they're not historical passions, they're at least new passions. I’ve been doing woodworking, I made this piece behind me… 

Interviewer: [she gestures to a stunning armoire that is expertly crafted]

…my husband and I are hiking frequently and taking day trips to different spots around [northern Michigan], I have a group of friends that I see award show nominated films with or go to shows or whatever we want that’s experiential. I don’t have to expend as much energy on a work schedule and family schedule, which I wasn’t able to do when I was younger. What's funny is that I want to say travel is part of my plan but I haven't done that much at all lately because I can't get over the exhaustion from all the traveling I did when I was working—so it just doesn't feel fun to me right now. I want to be more present and find joy in what’s around me now. 


What would you tell your younger self if you could, and are there parts of life you wish you would have done differently? Are there notions you don't care about as much now that used to seem important? 


[*sic] “You know, I honestly have a hard time with that question. I feel like you are what you are at each stage and you do what’s needed, influenced by your past and your present environment so it's hard for me to say, ‘You should have done this better or you could have made a different choice,’ in whatever the situation was.  

Trust yourself and know that you're doing enough, you're making decisions that are as ‘right’ as the moment can allow. I didn't know that [when I was younger]. I didn't have the basis and grounding to understand that, so I can't be disappointed in myself for what I didn't know. 

Sure, maybe I could have tried harder in specific instances or learned a lesson faster. But at every age, you have to figure out how to trust that you'll find a way to do better when you know better. Don’t beat yourself up worrying about hypothetical ‘what-ifs.’” 



With any hope, this decade and ones to follow will be spent focusing on the emotional side of life without the same rigidity needed in the hustle mindset used in the past. Though still working, do you feel that you’re able to continue to play to your strengths but put less pressure on yourself? Do you foresee a day when you will be fully retired? 


[*sic] “No, I don’t really have a formal exit strategy—I do plan to keep doing the things I enjoy in ways that give me the flexibility to have free time, travel [for pleasure not work], and for me, retirement is filling my life with what I love in a way that's flexible enough to create joy. I’m not going to become a workaholic again and I have healthier practices right now for work-life balance. 

A new project I’ve been working on for our community and want to announce is, The Living Folk School. I’ve been working on it behind the scenes and gathering information and data for the announcement. There are around 90 folk schools in the U.S., so creating a folk school in northern Michigan is building on that tradition to create educational resources for traditional and contemporary skills that help with personal growth as well as sustainable living. I'm aiming to launch courses in the fall and there will be more fleshed-out information to come, but I felt it was important to include this as a part of my current chapter. I’m excited to be able to speak on this project more as it develops.” 

©️Urbaneer Living Communities


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