Two complete opposites team up for a Northern Michigan event that lights up a community. We go behind the scenes with the Traverse City storytelling show that melds work- and life-purpose. This is Fulfillament.

A vegetarian butcher, a cherry entrepreneur and a beatboxer walk into a bar.

It’s not a joke. It’s Fulfillament, a storytelling event at The Workshop Brewing Company in Traverse City. And those are just three of the storytellers for the night. There are a total of five (one is always a musician who performs), and each have 15 minutes to share their journey toward fulfillment and meaning through vocation—their inside story.

But—and this is where the name of the event comes in—there is a focus on the filament, the glow of a light bulb, the WHY that makes a person come alive. It’s not a business profile. It’s not an outrageous story with a punchline. It’s deeper. It’s about that inside thread of light. Filament + fulfillment = Fulfillament.

And it’s the brainchild of two Traverse City women, Chelsea Bay Dennis and Shea Petaja.


Chelsea is a graphic designer and creative consultant who focuses on working with socially and environmentally conscious businesses. She’s married and mother to two-year-old daughter, Midori. Shea is a radio co-host for New Retirement Radio, the CXO (Chief Experience Officer) at Prout Financial Design, and has started a story coach business. “I’m launching a brand new process to help people find their story and using my life coaching experience to inform it,” she says.

Today, we are seated in Shea’s backyard just a few blocks from Grand Traverse Bay under a warm July sun. The daylilies are in full bloom and there are outdoor lights strung over a tiny dog pen for her tiny Pomeranian—known for embarking on long-distance adventures if she gets loose—named Poppy. Shea’s feet are bare and propped up on the patio chair next to her. Poppy has been given instructions to let us talk in peace.

Here, my conversation with the co-creators of Fulfillament as they talk about what fulfillment looks like, both for others and themselves:

How did you two connect?

C: We knew each other back in high school. We reconnected years later in Traverse City and realized we had a similar heart. And we are both passionate about living out our truths, and helping others live more fully, inside and out.

S: On the outside, we are opposites. I’m a night owl/she’s an early bird, I wear black/she wears color, I drive/she walks, I’m an intrapreneur/she’s an entrepreneur, I have a Pomeranian/she has a toddler. Our two coaching styles are also completely opposite. I do a lot of the psychology behind a dream, the internal work. Chelsea is more of a small business coach, helping people make stuff happen. We work well together. She shows them how to pull the trigger, I tell them they can!


How does life coaching turn into storytelling?

C: I wanted to do something bigger than one-on-one coaching. I wanted to inspire a lot of people to love what they do. Rather than “teaching” through a workshop or conference, we decided we could “show not tell” through stories. I had always helped companies tell their stories through branding, so it was natural to do this. At Fulfillament, hearing stories from community leaders and entrepreneurs takes away the mystery, the thought that others have something that we do not. We all have failures, ah-ha moments, joys and tragedies that make us who we are, and we are all capable of starting something, changing something, loving what we do and making a difference.

S: I was going to be a pastor. I ended up with a Communications degree with an emphasis in theater. Essentially, I wanted to help people understand themselves through their story. I have always been curious about people and their lives. Even when I sold furniture, one of my many careers, I couldn’t help but ask someone testing out a mattress, “So, what is it that you do for a living?” I just couldn’t help myself! I had to know! Chelsea’s husband said to me one night, “You should be a life coach too.” I said, “I don’t think so.” Three months later I began my own certification alongside Chels.

What does a storytelling event look like?

C: You’ll hear their life story; their ups, downs, clarity … and you’ll think, whoa, that’s totally me! It’s like one big permission slip to ask yourself what makes you come alive and challenge yourself to do something about it. You see yourself in the storytellers.

S: And it’s not just the audience that changes from hearing their story. The speaker changes from having to write and tell their story. They realize how much they’ve done and gotten through. It’s radical. They learn how to own their own story.

Tell me how a speaker changed after their story.

C: Stephanie Wiitala is a perfect example. She told her story about doing all this awesome passion work as a chef for Black Star Farms. She finished speaking and realized she was doing this for someone else, but she wanted to do it for herself. So she opened her own business, Sugar 2 Salt, which has become a respected and loved part of our foodie community.

S: Julie Green, a hospice nurse, told her story. She never talked about her career because people found it too depressing. But her story was so compelling and humorous, that she got a standing ovation, our first at any event. Her story changed me.

C: And there’s Chuck Korson, owner of BLK MRKT. He used to work at bars in college—at the dark end of the day. Chuck intentionally switched to coffee to be the light in the morning that can positively affect people for the rest of their day. He runs a coffee shop full of people and he didn’t realize what a big part of the community he was until he told that story.


How does Fulfillament go beyond that night?

C: We are big on making a difference with your work, so we try to positively impact the attendees, sponsors, suppliers, environment, community, etc. A few things we do is give a discount to those who walk or bike and give out a $500 grant at each event to one person who has a good idea that needs help to get moving.

Why $500?

C: Ten years ago, I had a friend who was unhappy being a counselor and dreamed about becoming a photographer. All she needed was a computer. I believed in her and gave her $500, no strings attached. Now she is a full-time independent photographer! As a thank you, she photographed my wedding. That’s how the “good idea grant” got started.

S: The grant comes with a coaching session with each of us. An idea is great, but what are you going to do about it? We empower them to make it real and chart a path to make it happen.

What has been your best grant story yet?

S: Our craziest grant ever given went to Casey Petz who wanted to find a cheap sailboat to get people out on the lake. He ended up getting a 43-foot sailboat donated to the community to get veterans out on the water (Great Lakes Warrior Sailing). Casey had a hard time spending the grant money; he tried to give it back to us because everyone donated everything.

What’s the story about you that no one hears?

C: Our chronic pain, on a daily basis.

S: My friend says, “To be a whole person, you really have to struggle.” Our struggle is our chronic pain. For me, it’s my head. For her, it’s her gut.

C: Pain can be lonely. It separates you from the rest of the world. Sharing the experience with each other helps.

S: Pain cuts the B.S. out. You don’t have the bandwidth to handle setbacks. The sicker I got, the more serious I got—I can thank my illness for that. The more limited I became, the harder I pushed. I’m sick, cool, I’m going to become a Life Coach. I’m getting sicker—I’ll take on clients! You’re not going to take me down. We don’t look sick because no one knows about or sees the pain. We feel 90 inside!

C: But it’s part of our story.

The next Fulfillament event is October 11 at Workshop Brewing Company. Tickets are $12 online at or $15 at the door. 

Visit for more information and podcasts of previous speakers including Ty Schmidt (Norté), Jerry Dennis (writer), Rich Brauer (filmmaker), Jettie Rae (musician), Tim Young (Food for Thought), Eric Patterson (Cooks’ House), May Erlewine (musician), brotha James and more.

Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and co-publisher of Grand Traverse Woman Magazine. You can find her at // Michael Poehlman is a Traverse City-based commercial, portrait and fine art photographer. Check out some highlights at

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Photo(s) by Michael Poehlman