How a Pantone color-of-the-year inspired Coral Thede, a cultivator of arts & experiences in Des Moines, Iowa, to live a life of purpose and passion.

I remember the first time I truly felt different was when I was 13 years old. I’d always been out of the ordinary with my red hair, freckled skin and spirited demeanor. I realized, however, I was unique, outgoing and weird in the way we’re all weird in middle school —just a bit extra. I stood out and I stood out strong. Especially in my new surroundings.

Coral ThedeMy family and I had just moved to the Des Moines area and, at first, being the new kid was tough for me. During that time, I learned a valuable lesson that still rings true today, even at 30.

I quickly realized that people will like you or not, no matter what you do. So, you may as well be yourself. Such a simple, tried and true way of life. Even in realizing this early, it’s a constant practice over time. I took it with me into high school, college and beyond. In recent years, I’ve truly begun to tap into not only what makes me unique and different, but also what lights and lifts me up. In recognizing these qualities within myself, it’s my hope I can recognize these individualistic qualities in others and lift them up, too.

The main way I got through the awkwardness of my teen years was to be funny. This would go on to be my preferred coping and defense mechanism during my parents’ divorce, adult relationships and any form of conflict. Humor was once a personality trait that served as an escape for me. Now it’s serving as both a passion and a profession.

I believe my superpower is lighting up a room with laughter. I share my authentic self in a way that is both heartfelt and humorous. I have an ability to mix sincerity with sarcasm and connect with people through finding lightheartedness in the dark. I’ve learned it’s less about trying to continually balance the two and more about finding harmony in blending them together. Our range of emotions knows no one path. We are ever-feeling, ever-evolving and ever-becoming.

In 2019, Pantone declared the color of the year as “Living Coral”. After losing my dad in 2018, I took this as a sign of renewed life. I even took it literally, dying my hair to match the color swatch. I flew to India, got rid of many belongings and travelled solo for three months throughout Europe. I came home and attended a powerful women’s retreat with Camp Climb, where I found a supportive community that reminded me of the many gifts and talents I had within me and reignited a passion to pursue them. I even manifested the house I’m currently sitting in (and own) following this year of adventures in literally “Living Coral”.

This color—and the meaning I gave it—took me on an experience that created a new outlook on life for me. It was a remarkably timed recharge in how I approach each day and how I choose to live. It’s all about combining vibrancy and spirit with warmth and authentic connection. “Living Coral” became a life motto and a lifestyle that I carry with me today. It’s developed into a brand for me, both personally and professionally.

One of the greatest takeaways from my solo travels abroad, and the many hours and days I spent alone, was that I had to give myself permission. Repeatedly. Permission to feel grief alongside gratitude. Permission to let myself focus and have fun. Permission to feel all the feelings as they came, rather than trying to avoid them. Permission to acknowledge those feelings, process and move onward.

After the devastating loss of my father, it took me a while to find the light in the darkness. And some days, many days, it’s still a struggle. Through a lot of ongoing self-reflection, abundant gratitude and evolving permission, I’ve gotten to a place of contentment within my purpose. I’ve learned to find what’s serving me and to pursue it—fully. I’ve learned to lean into the things that light me up. We are all embodied with a special set of gifts, talents and light. The universe has your back in all of it. And if you feel it winking at you, wink back.

Whatever you feel called to create or embark on is a sign. For years, I downplayed my abilities. I half-assed my talents as a writer, singer and performer. I didn’t take it seriously, so nobody else would either. As I’ve gotten older and grown through my experiences, I’ve realized that life is not something to play small.

I continue to root myself in these gifts and talents, and I continue to watch the magic unfold. I am a natural born writer and storyteller with a flare for comedy and music. I also exude positivity and light in a way that aligns with that of a motivational speaker. I spent so much time trying to pick a lane or path in what to pursue, when I really should’ve just been focusing on what was serving me most at that time. When I focus on what makes me feel good and what serves my purpose, I get to live that out more and give others that same light.

This year has taught us more than ever, collectively, that there is no plan. There is no guarantee. There is no rule book, agenda or hidden secret to life. So, I choose to lean into it. To lean into what lights me up and what makes me feel alive. I’ve reassessed my boundaries and am better about communicating the expectations that go along with that. I’ve embarked on a new journey of empowerment and entertainment that allows me to do the things I love.

Whether you’re 13 or 30 or 57 or 92, I believe we are always growing. We are constantly learning and re-learning how we can live out our most divine purpose and serve others. How we can create a life of authenticity and fulfillment. Find what feels good, follow what feels right and live your best life. I know mine will be in “Living Coral”.

Coral Thede is a writer, performer and comedian. She has an extensive background in hospitality, tourism, events and non-profit work. She is most known for her lengthy Instagram stories, positive outlook on life and can often be found with a coffee and guitar in hand, quite possibly from anywhere in the world.

TAGS: Mental Health, Purpose

Erin Drinnin

About The Author: Erin Drinnin

Erin Drinnin is United Way's Community Impact Officer for Health.