Alise Cortez Education

1971 - 1983: Early Foundational Education

When I was in the first grade in Yakima, Washington, my teacher announced to me in front of the class that I was “the dumbest kid” she had ever taught in all her years of teaching. That statement did not deflate me (though it was stated in front of Lonnie, who I had a terrible crush on, and that was a little horrifying). I did, however, believe her. After all, she was in a position to evaluate my intelligence, with all her years in the classroom.

So, from then on, I took on a whole new approach to school. When my teachers assigned our homework, I would lay it out in front of me and tell myself, “Okay, now, I am stupid. So, I’m going to need to work harder than the other kids to do this.” And then, I set about this over-the-top system of tackling the subject and studying. And guess what happened? Over the course of my elementary, middle, and high school years, I earned mostly As. And I learned to love to study and think.

1983: My Ticket Out of Small-Town Life

It was probably somewhere toward the end of high school when I’d developed my self-esteem and confidence working for my parents in their restaurant that I finally realized I probably wasn’t actually “stupid.” I had likely been daydreaming back in first grade, and my teacher was exasperated in trying to reach me and spoke out her frustration to me. Or, maybe my abilities were just awakened that day in class. Either way, I’m grateful for the journey my pursuit of education has taken me on. And for teacher’s likely absent-minded utterance. (Can I get an amen for consciousness here??)

As I had spent my teenage years growing up in Hermiston, an eastern Oregon town of 4,800 people at the time, I had one singular goal in my high school years: Get out of dodge! I got a co-op job as a receptionist at a local pumping company my senior year of high school and met the owner, Roland Haertl, who lived in the faraway, “exotic” city of Portland, Oregon. He was impressed with my organizational and people skills and on a call early in my tenure there uttered a phrase that would change my life: “If you ever find yourself in Portland, you’ve got a job here with me.” That was it. My ticket out of small-town life.

1984-1985: My Learning Catalyst - Getting Fired

So, I graduated high school in May 1983 and enrolled in business college to study accounting and bookkeeping for a few months. And then, I went to work for Roland in his commercial real estate development business. I absolutely LOVED working for this bright, cheerful, bigger-than-life personality of a man as his administrative assistant. Until one day, 18 months on the job, he sauntered past me seated at my desk in front of my typewriter on the way out to grab lunch,  and exclaimed, with something approaching jubilance, “You have to get out of here, get an education, see the world, DO something with yourself.”

And bam. The door shut behind him. I sat there, frozen, wringing my hands over the question, “Did he just fire me??”

And this is where the power of caring leadership was instilled in me. Before Roland uttered that oh-so-fateful statement, I did not know I could go to college. My parents were entrepreneurs and did not have a college education. We never talked about college. Let’s see. As of now, I have a bachelor’s degree, three masters, and a PhD. I guess I can check the “education” box.

1989 -1993: College Years - Distance Education Life

I didn’t officially enroll in college until age 24, and when I did, I just devoured it. Halfway through my bachelor’s at age 26, I joined my then boyfriend on what would be a 3-year voyage living in Madrid (and going all over Western Europe) and then Rio de Janeiro (and traveling over South America). I learned and still speak Spanish and Portuguese comfortably today. Roland had told me after all to go “see the world.”

During those years, I found the path of “distance education” and ended up earning my Bachelor of Liberal Studies with the University of Iowa. I visited the campus, met with my professors, and took all my books back to Madrid to do the coursework. I often took the Eurail train throughout Europe, studying and writing my papers long hand. Then, I’d get off the train and find, get this, a fax machine, to send my papers back to Iowa City where my professors wondered just who this crazy Alise student was, gallivanting across Europe. It was 1991. Next came a Masters in Liberal Studies focusing in International Relations with South America at the University of Oklahoma.

1999-2005: My Early Onset Mid-Life Crisis

By my early 30s, I had a good career in sales and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. There was just one problem: It felt empty and meaningless. I had a car, two homes, a boyfriend, a nice life. But wasn’t there something else? Yep, the proverbial mid-life crisis questions. Except, mine was pretty early. No, I didn’t buy an expensive sports car. Didn’t have an affair. Didn’t trek off to the Himalayas. Nope, my response to that existential crisis? To pursue a PhD.

And I’m glad that’s the route life took me. I enrolled in 1999 at age 34, got married at age 35, had my daughter Gabi at age 38, and graduated with a PhD in Human Development from Fielding Graduate University in 2005 at age 40. I was in part driven to graduate school because I didn’t want to sell someone else’s product or service anymore. I wanted to be the product to serve others. And that’s how I ultimately became a consultant in human capital matters and have enjoyed a career doing so ever since.

2014-2015: Researching Meaning in Work & Identity

Heeding the divining rod of life, also called “one’s purpose” I answered the summons of curiosity that drove me to investigate why some people found work wildly fulfilling while others found it dismally draining. I researched countless articles and other subject matter experts on the matter and conducted the research that ultimately led to the discovery of the 15 Modes of Engagement.

Just as I was about to go to India to present my results at a business conference and had just finished presenting my first workshop on the matter, my cell phone rang and it was Voice America calling to ask if I would like to host my own podcast. Kizmet!

2015-Present: Working on Purpose

After I began hosting the Working on Purpose podcast, I found my way back to Viktor Frankl’s work and earned the third master’s level degree (a Diplomate) in Logophilosophy in 2022. This education informs my practice of activating meaning in leaders and organizational culture.

Today, I continue my studies by hosting the Working on Purpose podcast. I host authors, read their books cover to cover in preparation for the weekly program, and continue folding in this learning to my own speaking, writing, and consulting. Education will always be a life-long pursuit for me, and I am grateful I get to steward it in others through my work developing leaders and companies.

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