When Tami Hackbarth headed down a career path in politics, she believed that her ideals would keep her grounded. She wanted to help people, and working on issues she felt strongly about with those who could make significant change in the world was, in her mind, the best course of action.
She graduated from UC Davis in 1993 with a degree in political science, spent time working in Washington D.C. at the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, organized grassroots election campaigns, served constituents on the behalf of the Speaker’s office during Willie Brown’s term and advocated for issues she felt were important. But then she realized she was not especially happy doing political work.
Hackbarth’s life in politics and advocacy was the right course of action for her, until it wasn’t. So she did something about it — returning to school and experimenting with different jobs until she landed on the new career that best suits her as a wellness coach.
“I was working on physician aid-in-dying, compassionate care at the end of life, treatment rather than incarceration for drug offenders, environmental causes of breast cancer, and funding breast cancer treatment and screening for low-income women,” she recalls. “And what I found through that job was that I really felt like I could help people, but opposition to those things was really strong and it broke my heart. It came down to the fact that I’m too tenderhearted for this.”
Meanwhile, her husband was working as an elementary school teacher and regularly shared his experiences in the classroom — experiences that helped young people, one person at a time, in profound ways. Hackbarth, who was physically and emotionally stressed from her job, also noticed a disconnect in the way their conflicting schedules affected their life at home.
“When he was gearing up for his school year, that’s when the legislative session was going out,” she says. “During his summer break, when he’s literally saying, ‘I’m going to Costa Rica this summer,’ and I’m saying, ‘I’m going into the budget committee this summer,’ I thought, yeah, one of us is totally doing this wrong.”
In 2002, Hackbarth decided she would become a teacher and would start with substitute teaching to make sure she understood what the job involved. She took on a consulting role with an organization doing constituent management and also began substitute teaching in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood on a regular basis.
“Do you remember in school when you had a substitute teacher, how everybody was a little bit naughty and then the kids who were always naughty turned it up to 11?” she asks. “It was like that, except you’re the one with 20 to 35 children whose names you don’t even know and they are all sort of being naughty.”
Even with the difficulties, she enjoyed the work and was soon accepted into an accelerated credential program run jointly by UC Davis and Sacramento State. She graduated in 2004. Hackbarth quickly realized that being a teacher has a lot to do with building trust with the students.
All the kids are asking with their naughtiness is: ‘Are you in charge for real? Am I safe with you? Is it OK to relax? Is it OK to learn? Is it OK to take risks with you?’” she says, adding that asserting yourself as the person in charge is crucial. “And you don’t have to be mean about it, you just have to be like, ‘Dude, I’ve got this one. I have the key to the room. I drove myself here. I am being paid to be here. You can relax, but I may need to ask you where the bathroom is because I’ve never been to this school before.’”
Hackbarth taught at Evergreen and Stonegate elementary schools in West Sacramento until 2011, as several big life events took shape outside of the classroom. In 2008, Hackbarth and her husband signed adoption papers that signaled the beginning of the international adoption process. In 2009, she also became a certified yoga instructor and began teaching restorative yoga in Midtown Sacramento.
“I was a school teacher, I was becoming a mom the longest way possible, and I was becoming a yoga teacher at the same time. And really through that process, I was also finding out how much I loved working for myself and working with a different population — motivated grownups,” she says.
Hackbarth and her husband flew to Taiwan to pick up their daughter in October 2011, and then she took a two-year leave of absence from teaching to focus on being a mother. During that time, she tried to figure out a way to balance all the work she wanted to do. She proposed a part-time role with the school district, which didn’t pan out.
Hackbarth decided to let school teaching go to focus on her family and dive deeper into work as a yoga instructor (which is around the time she and I became friends). “I love being a teacher. Teaching will always be there if I want to return, but what I wanted to really explore is whether I could work on my own terms,” she says.
She has since completed a life-coaching certification through UC Davis, has been collaborating on a series of women’s wellness retreats with local intuitive eating coach Nikki Stern and launched a project last year for which she spoke with 100 women about their perceptions around self-care.
“[Hackbarth] has so much practice thinking on her feet and when she infuses her specific brand of humor into things, it’s a perfect storm of genius,” Stern says. “She brings so much of her career path into this work. We’re still teaching at our retreats, even though the content is different, and she has a way of talking about the politics of being a woman that many people don’t consider. She just weaves everything together really beautifully.”
She’s also grown her practice to help women who are struggling to understand the benefits of a more holistic self-care practice. In her work, Hackbarth focuses on four quadrants of health — physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health — and she’s noticed that many of the women she’s worked with feel stuck in one or more of those areas, which, in turn, affects other facets of their lives.
“I want to change how women view their place in the world,” she says. “We have every right to be equal parts of society and therefore, we have every right to take care of ourselves.” The recent political climate has compelled her to also incorporate a focus on politics, as more and more of her client base and business colleagues try to become more politically active without letting their well-being suffer.
“People ask how politics, school and coaching mix and I’m like, ‘How does it not?’” she says. “The whole intention was to help people. One of the things I’m doing is I am devoting part of my weekly communication with my community to deliver resources about civics education and, again, it all comes from that place of service.”
Follow our writer Jennifer Snyder every month as she speaks with people in the Capital Region who have taken unconventional career paths to get to where they are today.
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