Phil Cerdorian: Cigarette Sales to Psychotherapy
Phil left university with what many graduates dream of - a good paying job. He was wearing suits, driving a company car, and enjoying an expense account. But something wasn't right.
Phil ditched the job, headed to Mardi Gras, bounced to Florida, then to a beach in Jamaica. In his search to find who he really was, he joined a Yoga Ashram. Decades later, Phil's life is dedicated to helping others.
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Shea Oliver: Welcome to The Priority Paradigm. I'm Shea Oliver. These are the stories of people who have taken a look at their lives and said something's more important and then made a radical change. Today I'm with a friend of mine, Phil, Cerdorian, who is a counselor, therapist, and life coach in Longmont, Colorado. Somebody who's helped me when I've had some significant issues in life and wanted to make some changes. I talked to him when I launched The Priority Paradigm because I thought, wouldn't it be cool if he would give me somebody to talk to, because he talks to people who are making changes all the time, and I was absolutely thrilled when Phil said, I'd like to tell you my story. So without further ado, Phil, let's go back in time and talk a little bit about how you took a look at your life and then made a radical change.
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah, you bet. Well, I grew up in, well there's an old a Bob Dylan Song says, you know, my name means nothing. My age means less. the country. I come from what's called the Midwest. I grew up in suburban Chicago, a big Catholic family. A pretty normal childhood. Catholic schools went to college got a business degree that was like, oh no, what do I do now? Aren't there a few more classes? You know, college is pretty good. Someone told my teacher, taught me how to just practice interviewing. So I got a practice interview and I got a job offer my first, you know, interview.
Shea Oliver: So you did what a lot of people dream about doing when they're ending college.
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah. And so I went back to the teachers and get some experience you know, take it. So I got a job as a sales rep for Philip Morris tobacco. They can me a brand new car and expense account and wearing a suit and the whole world's telling me you made it dude. But inside I felt kind of crappy so I did it for like a year and a half trying to get that practical experience, and I thought maybe I'd go sell something that we believed in more. But then at that point I was really fed up and disgusted. I felt like I was following other people's advice most of my life. And I said, ah, I'm gonna. Start doing things that I want to do what, you know. Right. So went to Mardi gras with some friends, had a really good time. Went to Jamaica for a couple of weeks and you know, smoked some weed, but it was also doing yoga on the beach. Well, that's not a bad thing. And Yoga, and God I was feeling so good. The stress was peeling off some kind of blissful experiences and um, I decided there at the beach in Jamaica, I'm going to go study yoga. So went home, moved back to my parents and I'm like 22, maybe 23 at this point. And I started doing yoga and meditating everyday, reading books and I'm working two jobs. My friends are morning me as if I died. And um, I applied to this Ashram in Pennsylvania and they accept me and you know, pretty serious student at this point and my friends think I'm joined by hare krishnas. Think, do we need to do an intervention here?
Shea Oliver: Sure.
Phil Cerdorian: But I go off for like a three month residential program and um, you know, it's great. I'm doing yoga twice a day and chanting. And the people I like, the people, there's a swami, they're from India and he's funny and radiant says pretty amazing energy and um, he says don't believe anything but this change in past and you know, if you follow what you haven't experience, if you're serious couple months now, so serious, six months, less serious a year, if you don't have something to year, forget about it. Go back in the world. So, you know, long story short, I woke up one day and had a experience with my true nature, you might say, Or what the Yogis call samadhi. And it lasted for three days. I felt completely present. My mind was calm and I felt like I, my questions have been answered.
Shea Oliver: So what did you discover?
Phil Cerdorian: It's hard to put into words. It was more of like a knowingness about who I was. Not in words, but kind of a deep place in myself. So they wanted me to stay, you know, I was kind of a serious student and I was like, I got it. You realize the later. That was the beginning, you know?
Shea Oliver: Right
Phil Cerdorian: Anyway, the point is, my whole life shifted after that, I moved to Seattle, new friends, I became a social worker. I started hiking, camping my whole life shifted. So, and you know, it's a lot of these traditions, if you have this experience with your true nature, then you get on track with who you are, you know. And so I worked some other jobs too, but then I, you know, got into a graduate program, came to boulder and studied psychology, and been doing that ever since. And it feels more right. My conditioning the Midwest was basically um, you know, get a good job, make a lot of money, work hard, be a good person and will work out. So I was following that script and until it was like, you know, this needs a little further tweaking here.
Shea Oliver: So what didn't feel right while you were selling cigarettes?
Phil Cerdorian: Well you know, I was into health, you know, so it didn't feel right to be selling cigarettes and you know, I think sales would be fine if you believe in the product and you know something wrong with it. But I think actually the, one of the best ways to find out who you are is to be something you're not
Shea Oliver: Say more.
Phil Cerdorian: Well, if you go into being something you're, you're not. I did a 180 from there. You know, it catapulted me into something much more who I was - social work, psychology, Yoga. So there's no, there's no wrong choices. There's only learning. Hopefully it's not illegal or dangerous.
Shea Oliver: Right. Sure. So, as you were working, what did you do to try to find yourself while you were still, before you took off to Mardi gras and before you took off to the beach in Jamaica? I mean, you had a sense that you weren't in the right place.
Phil Cerdorian: Yes.
Shea Oliver: What were you doing during that time to try to figure out what direction do I need to go or were you. Or were you just rolling going, I'm miserable. I'm just going to sit here.
Phil Cerdorian: No, no. Well the thing that got me was when I was working for Philip Morris, I was going to the rec center playing basketball, and lifting weights and on a whim, I took a yoga class and I was like, wow, this is great and I could lift more weight, and my basketball, got better, I got a little more integrated and coordinated. So I became fascinated and I had tea with this yoga teacher a couple times and all of a sudden became fascinated with yoga, but I pretty much, you know, when I quit my job and went to Mardi gras pretty much right after that. And then Florida and the Jamaica and, also, you know, I'd been drinking, smoking weed and that was like losing its appeal to me. Like it was Kinda like the same old thing. And so I knew there was something more and then. So Yoga was a vehicle for that.
Shea Oliver: Cool. So as you went through the process and made that, quit your job and began to explore who you really were and trying to find out who am I going to be and what am I going to do with my life. You said you lost a lot of friends.
Phil Cerdorian: I did.
Shea Oliver: Who was supporting you during this time? Were there people in your life that were actually saying, hey, dive in. Figure this out?
Phil Cerdorian: Yes, there were. Great question. My parents were pretty open, you know, they're Catholic, they're uh yoga, a little bit wary of that, and I'm like, well, we've seen some good changes happening here. Just go with it. They were supportive and my oldest sister who had read some books on Yoga and Buddhism and she was very supportive and, there were a couple of friends who understood, but I'd say most of them didn't.
Shea Oliver: And how did that feel having them disconnected from you?
Phil Cerdorian: It was a little disconcerting, but I was, I was determined. Like I said, you know, I was like, I'm not listening to anybody. I am not. I'm trying to be inner directed rather than influenced by my peers, which I had been very much so in the high school and college.
Shea Oliver: Sure. A lot of us are that way
Phil Cerdorian: And so I got really focused on what I wanted to know.
Shea Oliver: Very cool. So how much of a role did your, your family play in making any of the decisions? You said you're getting focused and these were the people supporting you, were they influencing you at all or were they just very open to whatever direction you needed to go?
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah. I'd say they were open to what direction I want them to go, you know.
Shea Oliver: And how important do you think it is to have people around you that are like that?
Phil Cerdorian: Oh, totally, totally important. You know, as a parent, I know if I get really controlling, the kids are going to resist me. There's, there's nothing wrong with guiding and giving your opinion and sharing what, you know, your own wisdom, but, but not getting too forceful with that, is pretty wise.
Shea Oliver: I totally, totally agree. All right, so let's go back in time and puts you back as a cigarette salesperson and let's not find yoga. Where would you be today?
Phil Cerdorian: Well, that's a good question. I think I still would've to quit. I probably would have followed a sales track, you know, like a date I had was to sell music or records or something. At that time.
Shea Oliver: Do you think you'd be as happy?
Phil Cerdorian: No, I don't think so.
Shea Oliver: So today, when you look at what was important in your life then and what's important in your life now, what are the differences?
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah. At that time selling cigarettes, I was kind of into health, but I was also somewhat of a hedonist, you know, I thought, you know, you just make money and pleasure, you know, that's the way to go. But then that runs its course after awhile you doesn't feel so great, you know. You know, you got hangovers, then
Shea Oliver: And they hurt more as every year goes by.
Phil Cerdorian: So I would say that I went for the deeper meaning, you know, which is for me - service. I felt called to service, call to call to, helping others, transformation, tools for, you know, coping for awareness for, getting clear on a direction in life, you know.
Shea Oliver: Sure. Outside of Yoga, how do you get clear on the direction in life?
Phil Cerdorian: Well, I think there's a lot of ways and I think people have to ask themselves the right questions, you know, and then also try a lot of things out and we find out what would be like by trying things out and experiencing things and how this feeling and, and also our heroes, I think our big indication of where we need to go or want to go. People we admire.
Shea Oliver: Right. So as you went through this transformation part one, and then today, who are your heroes?
Phil Cerdorian: Who were my heroes? Wow. I think I think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. There's certainly some therapists, Carl Young. I think the great mystics, Jesus, the Buddha, Paramahansa Yogananda, a great Yogi. Yeah, I think people who made a difference on a deep level, socially, politically, spiritually, but people who were, helping the community are my heroes. So, you know, it's, we have to raise our awareness or consciousness. It's not just about, I think we reached that level in America or materialism doesn't, doesn't make you happy. There's nothing wrong with money, but that's your only goal. I think it's a dead end
Shea Oliver: That's going to be hollow.
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah. Yeah. I mean money's fine, but you know, the pursuit of it only or to the exclusion of everything else I think is a path of ruin, you know, at the desperation and narrowness.
Shea Oliver: So you see a lot of people that are probably sitting in that boat. They come to you for advice. What do you tell them? I mean, how do you get people who are unhappy in life? I mean they've made one step. How do you get them to go to the next steps? The first step being come to see somebody, talk to somebody. What did we do next?
Phil Cerdorian: Well, my job is to ask questions, you know? And to inquire and, you know, what are your passions, what are dreams that have you given up, what gives your life meaning? And then usually people would come up those things and then I helped them with the obstacles, well I can't do that or you know, this is impractical. Or uh, you know, I can't, I don't know if I can... self esteem issues. I don't know if I could ever do that, but it's my job to help, you know, help them find a course or at least take the next step or if nothing else, to develop these things on the side. You know, some people work a job and it's fine just to make a living and then you cultivate your inserts on the side and there's nothing wrong with that. But if we don't end up depressed or anxious.
Shea Oliver: So, how often do you see people who have a dream that they've put on a shelf and then follow that dream and find themselves in a significantly better place?
Phil Cerdorian: That's a good question. I would say a small amount of people. Most people are interested in getting out of their pain and get a little more functional and some coping skills.
Shea Oliver: So do you see that a lot of people just try to get to a point of, okay, now I can move through life rather than live it to its fullest?
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah.
Shea Oliver: I mean, does that, would you think that's just part of our culture now that we're comfortable being miserable and as long as we're not too miserable, we push forward?
Phil Cerdorian: Yeah, I think that's, that's accurate. However, I just had, I just have a client who, you know, I can't say his name of course, but he was just slugging through his job and I helped them make some decisions that he wanted to make and now the opportunities have opened up in a huge way about things he is excited about. A dream that he kind of gave up on and these things are coming in again. That's exciting!
Shea Oliver: So when people get. So when you get to see people say, okay, I'm going to go past an okay level of misery that I can handle and pursue their dreams. What's the experience that you see people have? I mean, is that a common experience that they have.
Phil Cerdorian: In this guy's particular case just to bring it to earth, you know, I mean, you know, once he made the decision to leave his job that he was barely functioning, that the world opened up again and he always to deal with juggling and the transition and then the anxiety about the shifts. Financial concerns. But I think it's really exciting to.
Shea Oliver: Is it worth it?
Phil Cerdorian: And he's excited about.
Shea Oliver: So he probably would say it say it's worth.
Phil Cerdorian: I think he would say it's worth it. Totally. Totally.
Shea Oliver: Very cool. That's very cool. So if you were to be able to go out and just show up someplace where somebody was stuck, which you get to do a lot and you could only tell them one thing to do to try to move from where they are, what would that one thing be?
Phil Cerdorian: Well, you know, we live in our heads in this culture. I would ask him to ask himself what he really, really wants and checking into his gut and check into his heart. These days, I see my heart is more intelligent than the mind
Shea Oliver: Why's that?
Phil Cerdorian: I think there's a knowingness. I think our soul lives in the heart. I think there's a knowingness in the heart. A divine director that helps us if we ask the question, if we willing to discover, if we're open to discovering. And then those things get revealed.
Shea Oliver: How hard is it to get to that point where you can ask yourself those question?
Phil Cerdorian: I think it's about intention and focus. You know, if, if you have an intention, do you really want to get there? You will. And there's a million different avenues for different people. I mean, there's no one way, but life will open up if you have an intention and you're paying attention, life will open up, very show you these things.
Shea Oliver: So obviously, you've reached that point to some degree. It's an ongoing forever ongoing process. I would, of course, I know some of this from talking with you many times. Where's Phil going from what you can see today,
Phil Cerdorian: Well, again, I'm called to service, so I'm always working on myself, but it really, these days is becoming more simple as is it really about being present. You can be present in your life and in the moment. The divine lives in the moment. It doesn't live in the past or the future. You can't experience the divine in the future or the past and the mind when you go into it, often you're in the past to the future. So you can function in the present moment, you know, much better. And there's a knowingness that happens from that. It's not knowledge, if you turned the knowledge, you're back in the mind, but it's trusting moment and trusting that you know what to do next.
Shea Oliver: So how do you get there?
Phil Cerdorian: I think sitting still helps. I think meditation helps. There's lots of things that help. Creativity helps some sort of a mind body thing helps. But again, it's your intention to be present and then checking in several times a day. Am I present my really present or am I just off in my mind thinking about this? Does that make sense?
Shea Oliver: Yeah, it totally makes sense. I think. I think a lot of us get very stuck in the, "okay, here's where it didn't go right yesterday. Here's why it's not going to go right here in the next few hours." Rather than being what's going right now where I am.
Phil Cerdorian: We try to figure it out. We trying to strategize to avoid pain. We all have regrets about the past and anxiety about the future, but those things rob us. The more time we spend there, the less we are in the present moment, so the point is it takes some trust and faith, I guess, to do that, but the more you crowd those things out and focus on the now all kinds of opportunities and gifts will come.
Shea Oliver: So it's interesting. I don't have a degree in psychology, but I did study psychology in college for some time. How variant are you from a traditional psychologist, do you think? Or is psychology moving in the direction where you are?
Phil Cerdorian: I hope it's moving in the direction i am. I don't know, the therapists I know are into like mindfulness and presence, but I, I really don't know how many, how many psychologists across the country is becoming more widespread. I suppose there's definitely a movement towards that direction, but I don't know actually.
Shea Oliver: Fair enough. Cool. So, iif people wanted to learn a little bit more about you, do you have a website they could go?
Phil Cerdorian: Yes, I do. CerdorianCounseling.com.
Shea Oliver: Okay. Very cool. Phil, I really appreciate you taking some time. Are there any last thoughts you'd like to leave our viewers with? So a lot of the people that are going to be coming are going to be people who are probably stuck and who are looking for inspiration, motivation to go from where they are today to where you, and so many other people who have gotten to, in essence, live their dreams, figure out who they are. What would you like to tell them?
Phil Cerdorian: Well, there's always a way. There's always, you always have choices. There's always opportunities, but you have to set your intention that you want to do something meaningful or something more true to your own self and and so go for the truth. Go for the truth about who you are and what you, what role or what thing you're going to play in life, and if you have that intention, things will be revealed to you.
Shea Oliver: Very cool. Thank you Phil. I appreciate it.
Phil Cerdorian: Thank you.