A little bit about me

My Story

A Kansas farm girl, Michelle still journeys back to the family farm a few times a year for wheat harvest, where everyone, regardless of age or formal training, has an important job – or three – to do. Technology has definitely come a long way since she was growing up in Norton with her five brothers and sisters, and Michelle has been “discovered” participating in corporate video conferences, with her laptop or tablet resting on the dashboard in the cab of the 70,000 pound fully loaded semi she’d been maneuvering through the fields all morning. Driving large trucks and other agricultural vehicles is old hat for Michelle, since like most “farm kids” in Kansas, Michelle was legally allowed to drive at age 14. In reality, she started driving when she was nine and could handle a stick-shift at age 10. As lucky as that might make her sound, Michelle and her siblings weren’t out joy riding on Saturday nights. Starting at about age four, before school and on weekends, farm kids like Michelle had a list of chores that would make most of us exhausted just reading about. Her family lived on a 2800-acre self-sufficient farm that included pigs, chickens, beef cattle, a one-acre vegetable garden, and a milk cow named Bessie, of course. As Michelle explains it, they felt like they only went in to “town” for church and toilet paper.

One might think that growing up in such a small town, on a farm no less, would have limited Michelle’s experiences, but one would be mistaken. In addition to having an incredible sense of direction (ask her day or night which way is North, and she’ll tell you) and knowing that vanilla extract is a highly effective, natural mosquito repellent, Michelle also played the piano and the flute, was a starter on her high school basketball and volleyball team, and was a very accomplished fire baton twirler (she still has her baton, but it doesn’t get lit very often).

Since a very young age, Michelle has been making up games. And through these games and activities, she has been discovering and creating inspiring experiences that often lead to profound moments of self-discovery, for herself and for others. For 18 months, after graduating (early) with a degree in psychology from Kansas State, Michelle worked in what she calls her “peace corps job.” She lived in a tent, in the woods, with a group of emotionally disturbed teenage girls – the toughest, and most rewarding, job she’s ever had. To this day, Michelle still travels with a deck of cards at all times, which started when she was 21 years old and living in this Texas wilderness camp. One day, a young girl was very upset and took off into the woods, followed by Michelle, who only had time to grab her backpack. After hours of walking, sitting, waiting, and playing solitaire, Michelle invented a card game on the spot that gave the girl the space and the means to finally talk about what she needed to talk about (despite her initial resistance). Years later, that “game” and 51 others which only require a standard deck of cards, were published in one of Michelle’s team development books, Playing with a Full Deck.

Adventure and discovery are core elements of who Michelle is, so it won’t surprise too many people to find out that she has a life-long goal to visit (not just pass through) all 50 states. So far, she’s up to 48, with only Maine and Rhode Island still on the list. With her very good friend and travel buddy, Charles, who came to visit her in grad school in wow-this-is-REALLY-cold-in-winter Mankato, Minnesota, Michelle was able to cross off 12 of those states. The two decided, prior to their first road trip together – and long before smart phones and GPS navigation – that they would just “spin a map three times and point.” During one of a number of very memorable trips, Michelle and Charles found themselves dealing with car trouble in the middle of Nowhere, South Dakota. Luckily, a very helpful Park Ranger came to their rescue, and not only did she assist them with their car, but she also let Michelle turn the lights on at Mount Rushmore!

Even in her “work,” Michelle manages to find adventure and opportunity, seemingly at every turn. For example, during her very first day in Colorado, she met a guy named Paul, someone who has remained a very important part of her life, despite the fact that two months after meeting him, she took his job. Apparently, that didn’t bother Paul too much, especially since 18 months later, she took his name. And speaking of names, with their two sons, Dawson and Dylan, Paul and Michelle decided to continue her family’s tradition of giving their children names that begin with the letter “D.” Michelle, legally Dawn Michelle, has been called by her middle name for most of her life, because not long after she was born, people realized that when they called for her dad, Don, everyone was confused.

Most people who know Michelle think of her as someone who is not afraid to try anything – including jumping out of perfectly good airplanes (on purpose)! However, those same people know that Michelle does admit to being afraid of one thing. Michelle, who grew up on a farm, in the middle of the United States. Michelle, who has never lived within 100 miles of the ocean. Michelle, who knows with 100% certainty, that salt-water creatures do not live in the S. Arkansas River in Colorado. Yes, that same Michelle – and you can ask anyone who was with her on the Jaws! Ride at Universal Studios in 1993 – is deathly afraid of sharks! She blames her two older brothers (and of course, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss).

After the summer, and her job, ended in Colorado, Michelle left the shores of the (not) shark-infested waters of the river and found herself without a job or any viable prospects. She really wanted to stay in Colorado (remember, she had recently met her future husband), so like most people (or not), she started her own company. With one product, the Body Part Debrief™, Training Wheels was born! 17 years and over 400 products and programs later, Michelle and her company are going strong. In addition to the items available to teachers and trainers all over the world via the online store, Michelle continues to follow her passion of creating powerful experiences of self-discovery, inviting individuals and teams to step outside their comfort zones and learning something new about themselves. It was during one of these team and leadership development endeavors that Michelle and her business partner, Angela Sebaly started their first conversations that, a few years later, led to their decision to create and launch Personify Leadership!

In her “free time,” Michelle is likely to be found with a fly rod in her hands. A passionate fly fisher, she hosts an annual women-only fly fishing weekend in Colorado, which is attended by many members of the very active group, Sisters on the Fly, who not only camp and fish, but travel around the country in their vintage travel trailers. Michelle calls her trailer Fly Girl, and she is currently working on her first fiction novel, The Reel Sisters. If she ever retires, Michelle imagines herself as a full-time farmer, while continuing to fly fish and refurbish vintage travel trailers.

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Connect with Michelle Cummings Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Personify Leadership.