Dear Self: Having an Oh Sh*t moment? Read this first.

This morning I went to Creative Mornings – which you probably know is consistently one of my favourite events in Toronto. The speaker, Shannon Lee Simmons of New School of Finance wondered: What does it mean to be a boss?  So she did a bit of research in preparation for her talk.

Of course any serious research begins with an instagram hashtag search. Simmons was puzzled by her findings: is working #likeaboss about having fancy pants? Working from the beach? Shenanigans with cool coworkers? Joking aside, she determined that the sweet spot of bossdom lies at the intersection of enjoyment, purpose, financial stability, and a sustainable future. Basic enough formula…right? Sure. but Shannon also admitted that she has been in the #likeaboss zone for about 4 hours of her entire career.

If a successful entrepreneur like Shannon’s bossdom is so fleeting, where does that leave the rest of us? It leaves us exactly where Shannon has spent most of her career: taking risks, facing the fear (or as she called it the ‘Oh Shit moment’) that arises every time she takes a leap, and then struggling onward and upward until the next ‘Oh Shit moment.’

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Acknowledging this pattern, she wrote a letter to her future self, to break out at the next ‘Oh Shit moment.’ (Her letter is here, and it’s great). I left Creative Mornings and headed straight to my coworking space (a.k.a. not the beach), where I pulled out the laptop and started writing a letter to my future self. I asked myself, what does my future scared, stressed, depleted, anxious, paralyzed self need to hear?

And I came up with this formula to help you write your own letter:

  1. Reassurance: Remind yourself how awesome you are. That it’s not the first time you’ve felt like this and you’ve always survived. That you are your own best teacher and problem solver.
  1. Reframing: Look squarely at the fear, shame, or whatever negative emotion you are experiencing and reframe it as a positive thing, something that will lead to growth.
  1.  Recommitment: A call to action. Encourage yourself to go for it and commit to moving through the fear.
  1. Relax & Recharge: Bring it back to wellness – encourage your future self to get out of her head and into her breath or body. Literally move through the fear.

And of course, sign off with love.

Here’s my letter. I know I will bust this out over and over again as I take risk after risk to grow SheCoSystem. Because it’s huge. And scary. And will lead to lots of awesomeness if I just keep staring down the Oh Shit moments and moving through the fear.

Dear Future Emily,

You’re doing it again: jumping off yet another cliff into the wild unknown. First of all, remember: you’ve done this before and you survived. And not only did you survive, you grew. And if you act in alignment with your soul in this moment, just as you did before, you can feel confident that this unknown leap will land you somewhere good. Remember how it feels to act from your inner Wild Woman. Remember that you have an incredible support system including the people around you, the natural environment, the healthy habits and creative practices that nourish you, and the whole damn universe itself. Look at how much you have accomplished and how many people you have touched – you’re a resilient, amazing being! 

You might be scared shitless at the moment, but listen to that fear. What is it telling you? Are you legitimately afraid, or are you letting fear keep you too small and too safe? Remember the motto you’ve relied on before: fear means go. You weren’t content with the status quo and it’s better to feel afraid, anxious, or overwhelmed than to feel depleted and dead inside. Remember what you’ve told your students for years: discomfort leads to transformative growth. I know it’s hard to take your own advice, but you know these things are true. Acknowledging your fear and vulnerability is a courageous act, and the growing pains you feel as your comfort zone expands are totally natural. Your authenticity and Just F’ing Do It attitude attracts supporters, mentors, helpers, and collaborators. Don’t be afraid to let them in, and don’t hesitate to draw on these resources – they WANT to help.

So go for it. Leap with two feet. Commit to growing, to challenging yourself, knowing that when something feels not good enough, you must do something about it.  The status quo was draining you, and you’re already on your way to fixing that leak and refuelling yourself. Stick with it.

Now: pause and take ten deep breaths. Inhale abundance, exhale gratitude. Seriously, DO IT – let’s do it together, even if ten breaths feels like it takes an eternity and you don’t have time. Fuck it – make time. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Roll your shoulders back. Stand up and shake. Get up and grab a glass of water. You’ve got this.

Love you up to the sky, down to the ground.

xo

Present Emily

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How can I trust in the unknown?

We were walking along a trail in Rouge Park in early May. The park was buzzing with spring’s eagerness to emerge – ferns unfurling their fibonacci curves, trilliums driving home some Ontario pride, little green fingers stretching up through the soil. I spotted a tree growing sideways up the edge of a ravine, and I couldn’t help leaving the path to run along its trunk, balancing in the tangle of horizontal branches.

I was a month out of a relationship and a career, and I was as fragile as the spring buds. But something else was starting to emerge. Something that expanded my chest and sharpened my inner vision. I climbed down from the tree and said to my friends:

TypicThere is so much WILDNESS in me that’s busting to get out…

I didn’t really know what I meant at the time, but that word would not go away.  Wildness. 

It was more than climbing trees and foraging for fiddleheads (but that was part of it). When the word wildness popped into my head and wouldn’t leave, I decided to work with what it represented. As I read and thought and talked and wrote and meditated and danced with the idea of wildness, I began to realize that wildness is the ability to courageously express my authentic, soulful self.

I also realized that too many of us women are out of touch with our wild selves. Occasionally we get a taste of our wildness or feel a longing to rediscover our inner Wild Woman. More often we drown out the cries and cravings of our wildness with air conditioning, makeup, mind numbing routines, cycle controlling hormones, processed food, codependency, distraction…we slouch politely through our lives behind the socially constructed barriers that keep us from hearing the longing of the wild soul.

I decided to play with an idea: what if I created a retreat where the intention is to try to hear our wild voices again?

In order to do that, I had to really step back as a facilitator and make space for each participant’s’ unique Wild Woman to emerge. I set out to design a retreat based on a feminine paradigm that values co-creation, creative collaboration, and an open hearted trust in the mysterious unknown.

With a background in formal education, I am used to working with specific learning objectives and detailed lesson plans, so learning to let go was a challenge. But a knowledge that is deeper than my degrees kept reminding me that the greatest lessons arise from the white spaces.  

Rediscovering my wild soul

required me to surrender control,

to move beyond predictability. 

My mission was to create a container that would encourage people to open up and contribute creatively, take the lead, and expand their personal boundaries. My responsibility was to hold space that was stimulating enough to spark new ideas, yet safe enough to allow women to take risks. I also wanted to bring participants to the edge of discomfort, allowing each woman to question whether her comfort zone serves her or whether it blocks her wild soul from expressing itself. Finally, I had to be open and vulnerable in order to allow these women to reveal their own vulnerability.

The most creative things in the world

happen in the spaces between the

heads and hearts of women who just get it

I sensed that these wise women would find their way to my retreat. And they did.

SaraElisabethPhotography-WildnessWeekend-4704When the ten Wild Women who took part in the retreat first arrived on Friday evening, we  first took time to drop into our breath and our bodies, giving ourselves permission to leave behind the highway and the busy week of work and urban living.

We then started with an exercise around setting intentions, because intention is what separates sacred retreat time from our mindless everyday flow. It was a provocative activity, where rather than simply meditating on her own intention, each person was asked to look at a list of words that another woman generated through a free-writing exercise, and then create an intention for someone else – without even knowing whose words she was reading – and read it aloud to the circle.

The intention that each woman received was surprisingly resonant: testimony to the common emotional ground shared by everyone in this sisterhood. This opening exercise reinforced the appropriateness of my own intention:

How can I trust in the unknown?

As the co-created retreat unfolded over the next two days, I asked myself this question countless times, both to comfort and to inspire me.

I called on it each morning at breakfast, when we set an unconference style agenda for the day.

I leaned heavily on it on Saturday, when I stepped back to allow the participants to lead their own programs – some planned, and others completely spontaneous.

I repeated this question all the way to the closing circle, where I chose not to tie everything up in a neat, pre-packaged closing, but to open the circle again to whatever each woman felt she needed to share or facilitate in order to bring sacred retreat space to a close.

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It feels strange to reflect and evaluate my facilitation of this program. The metrics of success are less clear, because my role was so amorphous.

Do I measure it by the elated exhaustion I felt on Monday after holding space for nine others all weekend?

By the honest and gracious feedback that is trickling in from the participants?

By the fact that I was vulnerable enough to facilitate a tie dying activity in the midst of a full on ugly-tears breakdown (as promised: I’ll cry or your money back)?

By the sheer feat of turning a vague idea into a concrete experience in 3 months?

I still have a lot to process, but on the whole I think I did OK.

Ahem, we did OK!

So in the spirit of co-creation, I’d love to know what you kinds of events you would like to take part in in the coming months. 

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