For much of her adult life, Jackie (Fetter) Stiles has searched for work that feeds her soul.
The Cedar Rapids woman has worked as a health coach, owned a catering business, planned an annual event to empower women and worked for a social media company. She has volunteered to work with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and chaired a committee for an initiative in Cedar Rapids aimed at helping people live longer and better lives. She has given healthy food demonstrations, nutritional assessments and personal coaching at a local cancer clinic.
After finding solace in a float tank after her father committed suicide in 2013, Stiles bought a tank and started Honest Floating in Cedar Rapids. In February, she returned to school, this time to study massage. She’ll finish her training this month.
The common denominator in all of her pursuits, she says, has been to “connect with people and have them be heard.”
Her work as a massage therapist will allow her to do that in a quieter way than some of her past careers.
“When someone is speaking to me, I want to be able to honor them and listen to their truths,” says Stiles, who turned 34 last month. “I really want to focus on being present with people, listening and letting their moment be the center of attention.”
Stiles grew up in Cedar Rapids, and attended a Christian school until eighth grade. Her family was active in church and volunteering.
After her parents divorced, Stiles lived with her mother and attended Benton Community High School. She got involved in volleyball, show choir and choir but began developing unhealthy habits. At 17, she moved out and went to work at a sandwich shop to support herself. In 2002, she graduated early and married her high school sweetheart at age 18. They soon divorced.
In 2003, wanting a career where she could help people to feel better, she decided to go to cosmetology school. Two weeks in, she switched to barber school. During that time, she got into an abusive relationship.
“You don’t even recognize yourself, really,” she says. “Even though the relationship ended, the negative impact on my life and the unhealthy patterns were still there. It was like the relationship was done, but the healing needed to begin.”
A turning point came at age 25, when she found out she had high cholesterol after a wellness check. The doctor told her it was hereditary and gave her a prescription. Concerned about the cost and long-term effect of the drug, she talked to herbalists, studied nutrition, changed her diet and started to exercise. At her next checkup, her cholesterol was in the normal range.
“That was very exciting to me,” she says.
Stiles began running 5Ks and, because of that, was surrounded by healthy and positive people. “I began to heal,” she says.
“The path that I have been on is literally just a dialogue with myself so I can be most present, most giving and still be able to be myself,” she says. “It’s been a tiptoe into learning about myself.”
She acknowledges her career changes have confused some, but it doesn't concern her.
“I’ve been searching, but I personally don’t think that’s a negative,” she says. “You hear people who are doing a job they don’t enjoy. I would rather change careers a hundred times than not like my life. I think about the massive number of people who get four-year degrees and then don’t like what they’re doing. I would rather experience it hands-on and live it and say, ‘You know what? This isn’t a fit for me.’ I’ve probably saved much more time and money than going full-bore at school.
“If somebody said, ‘Just pick one thing,’ I’d say, ‘Well, why?’ I am literally living my days how my heart and soul is intended to live, and I’m making a living and setting my own schedule. That’s kind of ideal.”
Many of the healthy shifts in her life have come from surviving hardships, such as her father’s suicide. His tragic death, she says, was another moment to ask, “Am I doing what I want to do? Am I living to the best of what I can do for others?”
Her new career as a massage therapist feels sustainable, she says — as if she’s found her true calling.
"It’s really been a way for me to take out the words, take out the emotions and just be present with people to provide soothing and comfort.”