Currently, I’m living in Vancouver, building my coaching practice and learning to live with presence and balance. Several years ago, the above introduction would never have applied to me. This is my story:
I was convinced I could grow up to be anything I wanted. My parents teased me for being a dreamer; my imagination had no boundaries and I let it roam freely. In day to day life I rejected limits and grew up in constant conflict with my family, who, though loving, were religious and strict. The day I turned sixteen, I dropped out of school, left home, and did everything I had been raised not to. I partied, I couch surfed, I worked odd jobs, I briefly lived on the streets. I ran into some cold nights and hot messes but for the first time I felt free.
Freedom had its consequences. I was pregnant at seventeen and, choosing to keep the baby, I also decided to conform. With some help, I landed a decent job and for the first time I took working seriously. I married the baby’s father, and went headfirst into family mode by having two more children before I turned 20. My husband and I were in love, but we were unrehearsed kids thrust into adult roles, and our drama had some grit to it. We struggled for money, he struggled with addiction and depression, and neither of us had a clue how to cope.
Life took a tragic twist when my husband’s sudden death left me a 24 year old widow with three children. I felt trapped in a nightmare that I couldn’t wake from. I navigated this by acting out each day as though I were watching myself perform. Whenever any depth of emotion started to bubble up I was so terrified to face it that I pulled back out to an external view. I developed an outer shell of strength that helped me exist but, in detaching from my feelings, I struggled to genuinely express the deep love and affection that I felt for my children. I felt disconnected and hollow, and weighed down by guilt and responsibility. I again began searching for freedom and fulfillment.
My pursuit took some radical turns. For a while, I returned to my childhood religion and tried to be a stay at home mom. I was hardly a domestic goddess, and before long, my religious life and my free spirit clashed. I looked again to a career to satisfy me and move our family forward. I studied accounting and landed a role in that field, where I quickly progressed to a managerial position. After a few years of long work and study hours, I decided the sacrifice was too much for a career that didn’t fulfil me. My imagination needed more creativity than crunching numbers. A friend of mine owned an agency in the fashion industry and I took a chance on a junior role there and was soon infatuated with this sparkly new world. The fashion industry is teeming with parties where I took advantage of many an open bar. The fast pace and long hours provided an exciting escape for me. I became a poster child for the work-hard-play-hard cliché; bookmarking many days with coffee and vodka.
At home, life was chaos! My kids were teenagers and, with little in the way of boundaries or attention, they acted out. Being at home brought up emotions and feelings of failure that I was afraid of, so I threw myself harder into my career. I worked with dozens of photographers and artists to help them achieve their career goals and identified my fulfillment with their achievements. Over time I advanced to Agency Director and helped create, and grow, a couple of divisions within the company. I still wanted more. I started working weekends to help friends that had just opened a hotel and became engrossed with that project. I travelled a lot too, for work and for fun. I was burning out, but I was addicted to the idea of “something else”. And every time I would find something different, I craved “something else“ more.
Then, suddenly, the sky opened up for me. My parents, who I would have thought the least likely to move to a foreign country, decided to sell the family home and move to Mexico. They gave the family an early inheritance, and for the first time in my life I was in a strong financial position. My children were in their twenties, and had grown into responsible and self-sufficient humans. I felt like I could finally embark on the adventure I had dreamed of since childhood. Within months, I quit my job, gave away most of my possessions, and moved to Nicaragua with a good friend. We created a tourism business in a fun little beach town of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, that quickly started booming.
Insert happy ending here, right? That’s what I thought too! Bold move, beach town, simpler life, successful business, happy and healthy children. I was only lacking a love interest to complete the cinematic ending. But life isn’t as tidy as that. Even though I had chosen to be surrounded by a culture that didn’t impose the same stress on career and materialism, I ended up manufacturing that for myself. Seeing the returns in our business, I poured money into it wanting it to be bigger. The more I invested the more obsessed I became with “what if it fails?”. Returning to old habits, I threw everything into my work life. Family and friends came to visit and I limited my time with them because I had a business to run. My dearest childhood friend went into cancer treatment and, though I went to visit, I couldn’t drop everything to move back and be there for her the way I wanted to be. I moved away to be free, but trapped myself in my old habits.
Again change hit in an unexpected but devastating way. My friend died, and weeks later a terrible political crisis hit Nicaragua. It was eye opening. Because at that moment, the success of the business, which in days went from booming to flat-lining, didn’t matter. The money I had invested, didn’t matter. I was jolted into perspective by my bereavement for my friend, the human rights tragedies taking place just hours away, and the real fear and despair that the Nicaraguan people, that I had come to know and love, were dealing with. Returning to Canada to work for the summer, I kept the Nicaraguan business going remotely. Not with hopes of achieving financial results, but with a goal of riding it out while keeping up my commitments to my employee and my landlords. My business partner had to pull out and I was on my own with decisions to make.
With the situation calming down in Nicaragua I decided to return that winter, and take some time to figure things out. For the first time in thirty years I lived alone. With the gift of free time, and more solitude then I had ever allowed myself to experience, I chose to look within for answers. This began with regular meditation and yoga, through which I finally began to connect with myself. This deepened when I signed up with Coacharya and began an amazing coach training program that integrated personal and team coaching with Eastern philosophy. I fell in love with everything I was learning even though it meant a lot of reflection and work on myself. I cracked open the door into my emotional underworld and, though it was a rough ride, I not only survived the waves of feelings that came, I felt better once they were out. The hardest part of my journey towards self acceptance was when I realized that in my attempt to protect and distract myself from pain, I had caused more suffering to myself and to others.
Through coaching, I’ve also learned to celebrate my victories. I may have struggled as a parent but there are so many things I did right. My children have matured into humans that I rejoice to be around, and we share values that are important to me. I dropped out of school at a young age but didn’t let that stop me from being powerful in my work life and having the confidence to switch careers. I’ve run races, endured month long cleanses, and eaten a mostly healthy, mostly plant based diet for most of my adult life. And, I’ve moved countries, am learning a new language, and am running a business on my own. Acknowledging my strengths, while opening up to my vulnerabilities, has given me the power that I need to be blaze my own path. And in coaching others and working with them to make their own discoveries, to switch on their own connections, and to find their own purpose, I have found my professional passion.
As I write this, I am living in a little jungle casita in Nicaragua, running a business here, relaunching Switchism and expanding my virtual coaching practice . My days are now bookmarked with yoga, meditation and beach life with my dog Charlie. In Switchism, my intention is to provide a space to expand our connection to self and others, to motivate empowerment, and to support existing in a way that feels good. I’m by no means here as a guru, I”m still learning, sometimes painfully, and I know I will always have something to learn. I’m here to share my experiences, victories and learnings, and to partner with you in exploring your own journey.
Update: Months after writing this, (which was written pre-Covid) I’m back to Canada, managing my SJDS business remotely, living and coaching in Vancouver, and spending lots of invaluable time with my two grandchildren.