A year after starting with no business foundation, no social platform, and no brand, Edmonds had a book, was an in-demand speaker, and $15K revenue months had become common.
Corporative executive Tracy Edmonds was used to having a clear plan and getting results. Leaving her thirty-year career at Anthem with no idea what would come next took her out of her comfort zone … but not for long. A year of smart strategy combined with hard work took her career in a direction she’d never have predicted two years prior—and she hit the ground running.
When Tracy Edmonds retired from her position of chief diversity officer with Anthem, Inc., she wasn’t quite ready to “retire” completely. “I left because I had reached my full growth potential there,” she said. “I thought I would find a position somewhere else—maybe as head of HR.”
However, she found she wasn’t in any hurry. “I left in August 2019 and actually went through the interview process for a position as head of HR for a large company that summer,” she recalled. “I didn’t get the job. The amazing thing was that I was relieved, and I didn’t know why.” During that time, Edmonds dealt with mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety. “I was taking lots of walks, doing a lot of thinking, and getting the sense that there was something else I was supposed to do in my career,” she said.
Time for herself was a new luxury. “I started at Anthem in my early 20s and moved up through the years from a front-line role to an executive,” she said. “I literally grew up with this company, got married, and had children.” Early on, Edmonds and her husband decided that he would be the stay-at-home parent of their five children, and she would be the breadwinner for the family.“ So, it had been a big focus of mine to provide for the family so we could achieve our financial goals,” she explained.
With her priorities shifting, Edmonds was open to new things and now had time to do them. When an entrepreneur friend mentioned she was writing a book with Niche Pressworks, Edmonds was intrigued.
“During my early 20s and 30s, I loved journaling,” Edmonds says. “I had this internal sense that I’d write a book one day. But I barely had time to do any writing after my career took off,” she recalled ruefully. “I was always so busy. And if I sat still for any length of time, I fell asleep.”
Edmonds knew a book wasn’t the only thing she needed—she wanted a whole new career. She started planning her business and publishing strategy with Niche Pressworks in early 2020, still somewhat unsure how to achieve her goals.
Niche brought in mindset coach Dena Patton to help Edmonds develop her personal mission, vision, and values. “We truly started from the groundwork of, ‘What is your purpose in this world?’” Edmonds recalled. “As we worked, this voice in the back of my head was saying, ‘Do only the things you love, Tracy.’ The two things I loved were leadership development coaching and being the Chief Diversity Officer at Anthem.” Her plan crystallized, and TJE Coaching & Consulting LLC was born, positioning her as an executive coach and diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant.
Next came writing the book. Creating a 30-40K word Signature Book might have been a daunting task for some, but Edmonds’ goal-driven mindset quickly took over. “The Niche team is very process-driven, and I loved that,” she explained. Based on the business and publishing strategy, Edmonds and Niche Pressworks founder/marketing strategist Nicole Gebhardt developed a book plan and outline that spoke to Edmonds’ target market. Edmonds was also setting up her business operations and website, so she used the outline to break out her writing goals into more manageable weekly chunks to get everything done.
The entire process pushed Edmonds to achieve some challenging personal and professional growth in a short amount of time. First off, starting a business would not have appealed to her younger self. “If you were to ask people who knew me well if I would ever be an entrepreneur, they would probably say, ‘No, not Tracy! She’s risk-averse,’” she said.
She also had to get inside her own head. “I had never really thought about my process before—how I coach someone, how I translate the story into meaningful takeaways and lessons,” she said. “Dena likes to say that our gifts are like water to us, but they’re gold to others.” We often don’t realize what we have to offer, Edmonds explained. Introspection was crucial.
“To be authentic about your business goals, you have to map out what you know and do, and how those things impact your customer and audience,” she said. “You can’t sell, write about, or deliver something you can’t clearly define.”
In addition to knowing herself well, she also had to know her customer. “I had to give my ideal reader/customer a name, a face, personal characteristics, qualities, and experiences, and see the problems they’re trying to solve,” she said. Along those lines, one of the biggest challenges was tailoring her writing for her readers’ true needs. “I had to learn not to get carried away with conveying everything I knew or every experience I’d ever had,” she said. “Instead, I had to ask, ‘What does my audience need to hear? How should they experience my knowledge or skills?’ It was about what they needed to hear, not what I wanted to say.”
Through the process, her self-confidence grew rapidly. She signed with her first client before the book was even finished and has never looked back.
“When I got my first contract, I didn’t even have a billing system yet,” she said, laughing. “So, I was working on that while I was working on their project—and my book.”
That first client was just the beginning. A mere year after starting with no business foundation, no social platform, and no brand, Edmonds now had a finished book in hand, was in demand as a keynote speaker and workshop leader, had already signed on nine executive coaching clients and two corporate diversity clients, and $15K revenue months had become common.
Yet to her, it’s not just about money.
“I am valued and paid for doing something I love,” she said. “And everything I do is aligned with my true purpose. It’s amazing. It’s hard sometimes to believe it’s real.”
As a coach who encourages professional women to achieve new things, Edmonds sets a clear example herself, and her book, Wild Hair, conveys an empowering message.
Edmonds said her main goal for the book was to bring some of her own experience and lessons to help and inspire others—particularly the Black female community. “I wanted to write a book that would be of value to people. I’m a believer that our journeys become our testimonies and that when we share those with others, we never know who we’re helping,” she said.
The book’s title episode reflects an “aha” moment, in which she realized she really wanted to wear her hair in a natural, curly style rather than continue having it relaxed/straightened to conform to narrow corporate expectations. The new, “wild” style embraced her Black heritage and expressed who she really was.
It was a bold move. “Everything I’d learned in the corporate world said straight, relaxed hair was best,” she wrote. “How could I return to work with my natural hair? What signal would that send ...?” Her hair became a symbol of her refusal to surrender her authenticity for a stereotype. “Over the years ... so many women, especially Black women, have asked me how I did it,” she wrote. “As I’ve talked with them, I’ve learned that they really want to know how I managed to be true to myself, garner the respect of my colleagues, and be influential and successful at work.” Her hair was the most visible of many such career-transforming choices.
True to her own experience, Edmonds advised her readers to “trust what makes you unique, powerful, and resilient” and gain strength from those things, using them to create an equally unique brand. Daring to be authentic—thus, different—can be frightening, she acknowledged, yet ultimately, it brings the greatest reward. And it isn’t about being fearless, but about having confidence springing from true self-appreciation. In fact, fear is part of the process.
“Courage is not the absence of fear,” she wrote. “Courage is fear in action.”
Melanie A. Hahn is a writer, editor, and content strategist with Niche Pressworks. She is based out of Lafayette, Ind.
Find Tracy at tracyjedmonds.com and check out her book, Wild Hair: A Courageous Woman's Guide to a Bold and Authentic Career (2021).