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Life and Work with Elsa Tharp

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elsa Tharp.

Elsa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have no idea how I got here. It’s a little like falling in love with the right person; you want, desire, hope, and grind, and sometimes when you let go of looking for “the one,” you allow for the right thing to manifest. Same in love as in your job. Who hasn’t had those jobs where it’s an abusive relationship? We want it to work out, we love the mission, or the people, or the location, but ultimately we are taken advantage of and we don’t know how to leave. It’s only once we leave that we allow ourselves to be found.

Anyone’s story should start with their family. My journey has ultimately taken me back to my family. My parents ran their own architectural business together (my grandfather was also a Colorado architect) and I was constantly asked if I was going to follow in the family business. I was not. I wanted to be a million things from Supreme Court Justice to speed boat racer to international spy to camp director. I went to DC to get into international politics but ultimately found myself drawn back to the land of Colorado. For 12 years, I worked in the outdoor education industry. I had found my path, my calling, my desire! But taking people mountaineering or making sculptures out of cow patties are still jobs, and I left those workplaces for one reason or another. I wound up raising a family in Leadville, working for a woman-owned wilderness medicine school (Desert Mountain Medicine), successfully campaigning to be City Treasurer, and serving on the board of the local domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy group. It was patched together, it was diverse, it was right. At least almost. I still wasn’t doing something that tapped into my innate strengths and also made me grow.

I was on a walk with my parents and kids around Leadville one day when we came upon a 130-year-old freight depot that had been used by a 5-generation lumber company. It was for sale. My mother got the itch. We had a two-day meeting where the family came to the table with ideas and numbers for what would work in the space. At the end, we asked who was in and who wasn’t, and from then on, I went back into the “family business.” I wasn’t an architect (which was needed), but I did have other skills to bring to the table that others in the family didn’t have. And so I became Party Priestess. I work almost every day with my parents and I absolutely love it. They have so many incredible skills and talents that I have been honored to get to learn from. My father was a carpenter and my mother a welder turned talented businesswoman! What a joy to get to collaborate with such talented people and then go share dinner together, or a cocktail on the deck while we watch the sunset and dream about what FREIGHT could be.

Has it been a smooth road?
Of course not! Well, I don’t know why I said that, but are anyone’s roads always smooth? There was a lot of heartbreak to get here. So many times, I got in my own way and enough times something got in my way I had no control over. The hardest things I did to get myself here were leaving jobs I loved, but that was no longer good for me. It takes such trust in oneself to leave the security of a job. I didn’t always believe in myself at the time, but I definitely believed in Future Elsa. The moments that have propelled me forward have been split personality moments. I try to make good decisions for Future Elsa. I believe in her. I don’t know what she’ll be doing from year to year, but I know what she’s capable of. It allows me to find greater love in myself when I can look back and be super grateful for Past Elsa. She’s set me up for a lot of success.

Girl, you started this the moment you were born. Every choice we make and moment we live through builds us into who we are today. There’s no beginning. There’s certainly nothing I can say that a woman doesn’t already know for herself. What is most important is that at the end of the day we have conversations with ourselves and really sift through all of the bullshit and lies and negative stories that can overwhelm our days. What matters is the story we tell ourselves, the love we give ourselves, and the trust we offer our Future Selves.

One of the most important lessons I had to learn was to pay attention to who is trustworthy. Every business or venture consists of a team. It is so important to make good decisions about whose team to join, or who should be on your own team. I don’t mean who is smart or who agrees with you, I mean who is trustworthy. It’s so hard to move forward or in healthy directions when we can’t trust the people around us or the information they are giving us. I’ve gone through so many team building activities, workshops, conventions, I’ve taught leadership styles and team management, but none of that matters without trustworthy people.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with FREIGHT – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am the Party Priestess of FREIGHT and S.L.umber Yard. I now manage a gathering hall (a renovated train freight depot) and 13 private cabins in downtown Leadville, highest incorporated city in North America. We are the “yes” place. What sets us apart from others is Leadville. Have you ever been?

I’m sure most people are taking stock of their lives right now. At least the folks who aren’t working “essential” jobs have time to reflect on what are the best and worst parts of their lives because everything is in such stark contrast. Leadville is a community of strong neighbor ties, fierce independence, respect for history and each other. FREIGHT is a community gathering space for dances, debates, weddings, film festivals, workshops, zumba, etc. We are a reflection of our community. Set this historic building in a different community and it just wouldn’t be the same. We honestly care about each person who sets foot in our space, and at the same time we don’t believe the customer is always right. Sometimes people are ass holes and we throw them out. But if you don’t suck, you can stay.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
Government. Women are the largest voting block in America. There are plenty of women who vote against our own best interest, but really, we are the leaders of any community whether we’ve been elected into office or not. In Lake County we have: 2 of 3 county commissioners, three city council members, the sheriff, the police chief, the newspaper editor, the county clerk and recorder, city finance director, city administrator, city treasurer, the heads of foundations, non-profits, food access agencies, public health, office of emergency management, and countless other public servants and business owners are women. I could guess and conjecture all day about why we are, but I think it’s our turn.

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Image Credit:
Spencer Stanek, Justin Talbot, Elsa Tharp, Kris Ugarriza

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