I have spent the last 20 years passionately pursuing philanthropy. It is in my DNA. If I could give everything up and never worry about money, I would dedicate my life to doing good in the world. When I was tasked with creating global philanthropic initiatives for the various companies I worked for, I became so intensely involved in the causes. To be able to touch peoples’ lives and hearts, often helping them change their journeys is what drives me. There is nothing more fulfilling and empowering than knowing you have made an impact, however great or small. If I could start a movement, it would be about kindness. There isn’t enough of it. People are so absorbed in their insanely crazy lives, that they forget to be kind and compassionate. To help others. Be there…and not only when someone asks you. Find ways to be kind in every part of your life.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Pushkine of The Vow Whisperer. Tanya began her career as a Juilliard-trained actress starring on Broadway and television in leading dramatic roles. After a successful 10-year run, she transitioned to the corporate sector and has had an illustrious career heading Public Relations and Corporate Philanthropy departments for luxury brands. Tanya recently founded The Vow Whisperer, a wedding vows, public speaking and officiant service.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had to make the difficult choice to end my acting career in my mid 30s. Having two small babies at home and in an unstable financial situation, I had to figure out my next step. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts and no education in anything but acting, (I do recommend having another degree), I started out working for a small event agency. Eventually, I joined the launch team at Sephora, then onto L’Oréal, Barnes & Noble, followed by 8+ years at Clarins. Following a corporate career, I made the leap to go out on my own as a consultant doing PR and Philanthropy for various companies.
This past April, I got re-married and it was literally the day after, that I had a huge ‘A-Ha’ moment. Apparently, our ceremony with our own written vows, blew our guests away to the point that so many were saying that they had never witnessed a more beautiful, poignant, funny wedding in their lives. Over many years, I have helped friends with their vows and speeches as a gift to the couple. It was a week after our wedding, having lunch with a friend, he suggested that I become The Vow Whisperer. Brilliant idea! I left that lunch having no idea what I was getting into, but it felt right. As if it were a calling. I found myself more and more excited and determined I could do this. I created a business that in the end is more than helping couples write their vows (in their own words). What is equally important is how they say them, so we work on body language, projection, intonations, when to pause and much more. And to round things off, I’m now ordained as an officiant…one stop shopping! What is amazing with all this is that I’m using my acting skills to coach. I love it!
This was not a hard decision, but what I found challenging was the big step I needed to do to feel good about leaving my “other life” behind. It took a lot in to make the change. I’ve had an amazing career running PR and Corporate Philanthropy departments at major beauty and fashion brands. I’ve worked with Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Naomi Watts, and other celebrities. I’ve created huge philanthropic global programs, which were some of my proudest achievements. The results I garnered by creating innovative ways to get press were really well received. To get acknowledged by my peers was huge. To walk away from this life took real courage. The moment I actually changed my career on LinkedIn was monumental and frightening for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
What is utterly fascinating and interesting about doing this is that in working with a couple (I work with each one separately…no vows should be heard in advance), we delve so deeply into their relationship, that there is inevitably a sense of doing therapy. In spending time with each one, I get them to talk about their memories, their dreams, their highs, as well as lows, the meaning of marriage, what they want to promise, etc. What comes out of these sessions is cathartic and profound. We dig into their lives and often, it feels like I’m doing pre-marital counseling. I’m told I am very calming…I guess I get people to open up really easily!
When I work with someone from the wedding party who wants to give a speech or a toast, it’s a different process. We’re telling a story about the couple, not divulging their own most inner thoughts.
I did work with an uncle who turned out too drunk to say the speech. I was there to witness this. The bride was upset and knew I had the speech in my pocket. She asked me to get up there and help him read the speech. I think I spent most of the time keeping him upright!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This might not be funny, but I certainly learned a lesson…I was flown to a destination wedding to rehearse with a couple for four days before the wedding and again to rehearse an hour before the ceremony. (I get people to breathe and relax and work through their nerves) Lesson learned: Don’t go away for an entire week (I wanted a little vacation) and get stuck at a really lousy resort with terrible food and not a decent glass of wine in sight. And in the middle of July when the heat and humidity are unbearable. I should have flown down for just a couple of days. However, I will not turn down a destination wedding! But I will be more scrutinizing on where it is and how long I want to be there.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve been asked to create a ceremony for a Pakistani Muslim born in Guyana, marrying a devout Christian from the Philippines. This one is definitely interesting in that I am researching their cultures, religions, values, and philosophies that I am not familiar with. I’m working closely with the couple in crafting the words which will assimilate the best of their worlds.
I also work virtually with couples who are not in New York City. I have a couple in Paris and one in Lyons. I love working in different languages. (I’m a native French speaker born in Brussels.)
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
What is wonderful about doing this work is that each person is so uniquely different. Every couple is has their stories, their personalities, their dreams. I’m meeting all kinds of people.
I do have some crazy stories from my past life/career, which could fill a novel, but not here.
There is, however, a couple I’m working with now, who have some pretty dark backgrounds which have surfaced much too intensely in their vows. It’s my job to ensure that their words are not going to have guests asking “And why are they getting married?”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
What I’m learning about the wedding industry is that everyone is incredibly stressed and exhausted during wedding season. I’m not sure what these people should do to combat this..perhaps take less on? Increase their staff? Encourage people to get married in the middle of winter instead of summer?
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have spent the last 20 years passionately pursuing philanthropy. It is in my DNA. If I could give everything up and never worry about money, I would dedicate my life to doing good in the world. When I was tasked with creating global philanthropic initiatives for the various companies I worked for, I became so intensely involved in the causes. To be able to touch peoples’ lives and hearts, often helping them change their journeys is what drives me. There is nothing more fulfilling and empowering than knowing you have made an impact, however great or small.
If I could start a movement, it would be about kindness. There isn’t enough of it. People are so absorbed in their insanely crazy lives, that they forget to be kind and compassionate. To help others. Be there…and not only when someone asks you. Find ways to be kind in every part of your life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
The wedding industry is gargantuan! Are you nuts? There must be 1000s of wedding planners just in the New York area.
Trying to reach them is incredibly challenging. I do have a steadfast rule for myself. I never, ever, ever don’t respond to an email. I don’t understand how most people don’t. It takes 10 seconds to write back. When people reach out to me on LinkedIn, for example looking for advice or to pick my brain, I answer. I met a lovely woman last week who wanted to hear about my experiences in corporate social responsibility. I ended up having coffee with her and now she’s helping me!
You have such a niche business…is anyone going to understand what you do?
I did think I had a slam dunk and everyone would be clamoring to hire me. I spend most of my time explaining what I do. People don’t know they need me…yet! It’s a constant hustle, but I know I’ll get there.
Be ready for a lot of rejection. I guess the last time I felt rejected was during my acting days when I didn’t get a part. This time around, it’s different. Perhaps because I am older, wiser and more confident, I’m not taking a ‘no’ for answer. I’m so motivated and driven to make this a very successful endeavor. Just think: I could have vow whisperers all over the world one day!
Starting an entirely new business is not easy. Duh. What was I thinking?
I must tell you though, I am on a high every day. I’ve joined a happy industry. It’s about happiness and getting people to talk about love. Coming from corporate life, this is a totally new world for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Find your passion. I know that phrase is overused and mundane, but it’s so true. People are on a hamster wheel (especially in New York City), and overworked in jobs they hate. We’re married to our paychecks and terrified of making changes. You don’t want to regret not doing what you loved at the end of your life. Let your passion grow and blossom within you. Maybe one day, you’ll have your a-ha moment. I have been lucky in that I’ve always incorporated my passion for philanthropy in all the roles I’ve had. But now…I’m actually following my childhood passion and using my acting skills to help people with their most important performance in life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
So, this is a very interesting question. And I’m not sure I can make sense of all this, but here goes:
Throughout my life, I have helped others, maybe to a fault. I give of myself in ways that are sometimes pathetically over the top. I have had many challenges in my life. Many mountains to climb. I raised two children on my own when my ex left. They were 10 and 12. I was laid off twice due to mergers and was out of work for long periods of time. I felt very alone and helpless. It was an enormous struggle to keep my kids living a certain lifestyle when the only incoming money was an unemployment check. Those times were rough. And what is extraordinary is that in launching this new business, I have so many people supporting and encouraging me. I have friends who have created my logo, built a marketing strategy, helped me with the behemoth task of handling Instagram for business — and that is without me asking for anything! Maybe it’s because I am now in a happy world? Everyone loves weddings. Everyone loves love. Does it make people feel good to help me in such a positive little universe I joined?
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Apparently, Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank invests quite a bit in the wedding industry. I would love to be introduced to the people in his circle. It’s all about relationships.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@thevowwhisperer on Instagram. I’m still building my social media on other platforms.