If you were to meet Michelle Marsh—soft-spoken, petite, works with kids, a friendly and inviting smile—you may not guess ‘stubborn’ as one of the main traits that’s defined her life.

But as she talks about important, life altering decisions—the ones that made her grow, that determined her character, that gave her the life she’s living today—her stubbornness, paired with a desire to focus on feeling happy and fulfilled, consistently shines through.

Michelle, the owner and founder of French for Life, an afterschool French immersion program, never wanted to be a teacher. In fact, with two parents who taught, Michelle adamantly refused that teaching would be her life, even though it was the path people expected of her. Stubborn.

As a young girl, Michelle struggled with an eating disorder. Her treatment involved hospital visits and therapists. However, at the age of twelve, she told her parents she didn’t want to keep going. Although she acknowledges therapy may be the correct choice for some, for her, it wasn’t the right fit.

“They kept telling me I was sick,” says Michelle. “I knew I wasn’t going to get better if people kept telling me I was sick.”

The disorder, she realized, was holding her back, defining how people saw her and taking away her power to define herself. So, rather than focus on treatment, or reaching a particular weight, Michelle resolved to move past any reminders that something was wrong. She focused instead on what she wanted to achieve in life and set a vision for her future. Her stubbornness helped her find healing.

As mentioned earlier, Michelle’s vision for her life didn’t include teaching. In university, she majored in Kinesiology, following, she says with a laugh, in her brother’s footsteps rather than her parents’.

However, when the opportunity arose to work as a French monitor in the school system she fell in love—both with teaching French and working with kids. She dropped kinesiology and started studying French and education.

After several years teaching in the school system, where she had to give number grades to five year olds—a system that didn’t make sense to her— and where the confines of a 9-5 job coupled with the rigid rules of the school system were stealing her joy, Michelle realized her first instincts were correct. Being a school teacher was not for her.

She craved the freedom and flexibility to pursue her passions, both within and outside of work, and wanted her life to focus on a pursuit that would let her set and realize her own goals.

But she did love to teach.

Michelle let that stubborn streak direct her path once more.

While in university, Michelle worked part-time as a French tutor. The demand was so great that she ended up hiring other university students to work out of her parents’ basement.

After realizing teaching wasn’t for her, she quit to put her all into the tutoring business, which, in 2012, had expanded into the first French immersion after school program in Newfoundland.

Owning and running a business presented new constraints. Michelle was only twenty-three when she incorporated. She had no capital, no business degree, and a hard time figuring things out. Where would/could/should the program run? How would she afford busses that may not even get used? Would anyone grant her a mortgage?

Without all the answers, and without proper market research, she jumped in anyway.

“I was totally green to the business world,” says Michelle. “It could have been a total flop.”

But she believes the reason it worked is because she was doing what she was meant to do, something that lit her up and got her excited every day. It ended up being the right community, and the right time.

In a few short years the program has grown from eight initial signups to fifty nine children at their original location in Paradise, Newfoundland. In addition, they have eighteen students in private tutoring, and an additional fifteen children at the new location they’ve recently opened.

Michelle’s parents have been a huge help, guiding her on programming and planning. Her husband, brother, and sister (who are also entrepreneurs) are her ‘go-to’s’ when she can’t figure something out or needs someone to bounce ideas off of. And the gym is where she goes to clear her head, enabling her to refocus and figure out whatever problem or issue is coming next.

Linked to her stubbornness, another thing you probably wouldn’t guess about Michelle is that she’s been a competitive powerlifter. In her own words, she’s a ‘very little person,’ and powerlifting has been a huge part in shaping who she is.

“It gave me a crazy sense of empowerment,” says Michelle, “changing the way I viewed myself.”

She tells the story of qualifying for nationals ‘by the skin of her teeth’. She had to squat, deadlift, and bench. She messed up, missing two squats she shouldn’t have. So to qualify, she needed to lift a weight she’d never attempted. She hit a moment, got in the zone, and even before lifting, knew she could do it, through tapping into an inner strength she’d never realized.

A strength that’s served her well.

Michelle sees these defining moments as all interconnected—overcoming the eating disorder, powerlifting, starting her own business—all representative of a stubborn desire to do the best she can do, creating a vision of her life and future that’s full of passion.

Working with kids, she says, is something you can’t fake. And she doesn’t have to.

Daily, Michelle gets to help children with the problems their teachers can’t address—because class sizes are too big or curriculum demands focus on specific areas, such as grammar, or there isn’t enough time in the day.

She searches out answers to problems, uses her creative energy, and then stands back to see whether these new ideas soar or flop. “With kids,” she says, “you never know how things will go. The suspense is part of the fun.”


To learn more about French for Life, visit frenchforlife.com or check them out on Facebook.

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