Ten years ago I was lost. I had just returned to work after my fourth and final maternity leave, and I was completely miserable. Not only was it hard to leave my baby every day, but I was in a job that didn’t sustain or inspire me. All it did was drain my energy every single day. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for tears to flow on the way home from work.
Five years earlier, I’d taken my first leadership job in the government and I took to it like a duck to water. I loved the challenge and I loved my team. I was inspired and energized by the opportunity to provide them guidance and unleash their creative potential. I had an eager and talented young staff and we worked together beautifully, finding creative ways to communicate and commemorate the sacrifices our veterans had made.
At the start, it was good, but then things started to go wrong. For one thing, I started to internalize some of the messaging I was hearing at leadership workshops and from leadership mentors. “Keep your feelings out of leadership.” “It’s about control and moderation, not about passion.” “Don’t let them see you vulnerable.” “Use your head and ignore your heart.”
For another thing, I stepped away from that first job to take one that offered higher pay and more security. Unfortunately, it was all wrong for me and the environment was toxic. It was a science environment where most of the leaders were in their roles because of their knowledge of science rather than their leadership abilities or their understanding of people. As a professional communicator, I was usually the only one at the management team table who didn’t have an advanced science degree. In an environment that valued left-brain logical thinking, there was little space for my right-brain, intuitive, heart-based approach to leadership.
I felt lost – like a foreigner in a foreign land. If this was what leadership entailed, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a leader anymore.
And then one day, I started to explore a new way of looking at leadership (that was much closer to the way I’d intuitively lead when I’d first started) and it felt like someone had offered me a lifeline. I can’t remember whose work I discovered first, but three writers started to show up on my radar screen – Christina Baldwin, David Irvine, and Margaret Wheatley. All three wrote about authentic, community-based, vulnerable leadership. They inspired me to lead from a place in the circle, live simply in a complex world, and turn to one another. (I am deeply grateful that in the years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to attend workshops with all three of these incredible teachers.)
Not long after that, I left the government for non-profit. It was a job I loved, but it was also one that challenged me in more ways than I’d ever been challenged before. Every leadership ability that I thought I’d gained and every principle I thought I valued was put to the test. I led a national team that was mostly full of fiercely independent people who didn’t really want to be lead. I was emotionally abused, I had a lawsuit filed against me by someone who felt she was wrongfully dismissed, I witnessed more than one emotional breakdown among my staff, and I had to deal with multiple conflicts and miscommunications between staff. It was a good place to work, but it was hard and I often felt very much alone. I was floundering and there was nobody to talk to about it. I searched for a circle of other leaders who might serve as my support system, but I found none. The best I could do was have regular coffee dates with my friend Susan who understood my challenges and was always a good listening ear.
When I finally left that job to become self-employed, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was to serve women like me who knew they had a calling to be in leadership in some form or another (whether at the boardroom table or the kitchen table) and needed someone to support and guide them. I tried to do that from the beginning, and I briefly offered a program called “How to Lead with Your Paint Clothes On”, but there was something holding me back that I had to work through first.
The truth is, there were some failure stories that were getting in the way of my calling to support other emerging leaders. There was the story of my last year at the non-profit, when I was so burnt out that I was mostly ineffectual as a leader. There was the story of the ugliness of the lawsuit (that was never resolved, by the way), and the difficulties surrounding that relationship. There was the story of the pseudo-coach who’d blasted me for my unprofessionalism when I responded emotionally to a staff member’s suicide threat. There was the story of the many attempts I’d made to build a unified team out of independently-working people spread across the country.
Every time I’d think about offering a leadership program for women emerging into leadership, I’d get blocked by the gremlins that told me “you failed at leadership – what gives you the audacity to think you could teach people?”
And yet, the memory of the lifeline I’d been offered in my most lost place kept propelling me forward. I knew that the woman I was ten years ago desperately needed women like me to serve as her guide – women who’d been through the challenges, admitted her failures, had a few glorious moments, and learned from her mistakes. I knew that she needed someone who would encourage her without judging her. I knew she needed to be given permission to lead with her heart and not just her head. I knew – more than anything – that she needed someone to say “You’re okay. You’re enough. You’re on the right path. Don’t give up.”
This summer, I had the privilege of co-hosting a beautiful circle of 44 women at the annual Gather the Women gathering, and I walked away inspired once again by the need this world has for more women to gather in circle and offer their hearts into the service of transformation. After asking the women to share stories of courage, I knew that the most courageous thing I could do would be to more boldly and confidently step into the role of guide for women emerging into leadership.
Finally, after two years of self-employment, I am ready to offer the thing that’s been tugging at my heart for years – a personal leadership program for women emerging as changemakers, artists, visionaries, storytellers, and edgewalkers.
It’s called Lead with your Wild Heart, and it comes directly from my wild heart to yours.
First and foremost, it’s about redefining leadership. I believe what Margaret Wheatley says, that “a leader is anyone who is willing to help, anyone who sees something that needs to change and takes the first step to influence that situation.”
This program is for you if you’re imagining a better future for yourself, your community, or the world. It’s for you if you feel something nudging you to step into your courage. It’s for you if you’re the lost young woman I was, stuck in a corporate world that’s eating away at your soul. It’s for you if you’ve been wounded by a patriarchal model of leadership and you need healing and encouragement. It’s for you if you need permission to follow your heart. It’s for you if you’ve been longing for a program that honours ALL of who you are – body, mind, and spirit.
I offer this humbly, admitting that I have made mistakes and that I still have much to learn in my journey. Because I still have much to learn, I have invited a number of wise, wild-hearted friends to share their stories and wisdom with the participants of the program as well. I’m honoured that a long list of willing guides (including some people who’ve been my own teachers) have stepped forward and agreed to have conversations with me that will be recorded and made available as part of the program. Follow the link to find out more.
I hope that you’ll consider joining me and/or share this with other women you know who might need it.
I have seen too many wounded women.
I have watched them lose the light in their eyes when the shadows overcame them.
I have heard a thousand reasons why they no longer give themselves permission to live truthfully.
I have seen too many wild hearts tamed.
I have witnessed the loss of courage when it’s just too hard to keep being an edgewalker in a world that values conformists.
I’ve recognized the fear as they take tiny brave steps, hoping and praying the direction is right.
“I feel guilty whenever I indulge in my passions. It feels selfish and irresponsible.”
“My husband doesn’t like it when I talk about feminine wisdom, so I keep it to myself.”
“If I write the things that are burning in my heart, it will freak people out. So I remain silent.”
“I used to love wandering in the woods, but I never have time for it anymore.”
“I just want to have a real conversation for a change. I want to feel safe to speak my heart.”
“My job makes me feel dead inside, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
“People expect me to be strong and hide my feelings now that I’m in leadership. I feel like I have too much bottled up inside that I can’t share with anyone.”
“Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t fit in.”
“There is so much longing in the world. I get lost in that longing and don’t know how to sit with it.”
“I wanted to be a painter, but I needed a real career. I haven’t painted in years.”
“People think I’m strange when I share my ideas, so I’ve learned to keep them to myself.”
“I can’t go to church anymore. I don’t feel understood there. But I haven’t found another place where I can find community, so I often feel lonely.”
“There’s a restless energy inside me that wants to be free. I long to be free.”
So much woundedness has been laid tenderly on the ground at my feet.
So many women want their stories validated. Their fears held gently. Their tiny bits of courage honoured.
I hear them whisper “please hear me” through clenched teeth.
I see the tears threaten to overflow out of stoic eyes.
I recognize the longing.
I know the brokenness.
I feel the ache of silenced dreams.
They come to me because they know I have been broken too.
They trust me with their whispers because I am acquainted with fear.
They look to me for courage and understanding because they witness my own long and painful journey back to my wild heart.
I see you.
I know you.
I honour you.
I love you.
You are beautiful.
You are courageous.
You are okay.
You can be wild again.
You can trust your heart. She will not lie to you.
You can live more fully in your body. She will welcome you back.
You can go home to that part of you that feels like it’s been lost.
You can find a circle of people who will understand you.
You can step back into courage.
You have permission to be an edgewalker.
You have permission to speak the things that you’re longing to say.
You have permission to be truly yourself.
You have permission to step away from your responsibilities for awhile.
You have permission to wander in the woods.
You also have permission to be afraid.
And to wait for the right time.
And to sit quietly while you build up your courage.
You don’t need to do this all alone.
And you don’t need to do it all at once.
You don’t need to shout before you’re ready to whisper.
You don’t need to dance before you’ve tried simply swaying to the music.
You can give your woundedness time to heal.
Take a small step back into your self.
Move a little closer to your wild heart.
Pause and touch the wounded places in you.
Just breathe… slowly and deeply.
And when you’re ready, we can do this together.
If this post resonates, please consider the following:
1. Join me as I host a circle of amazing women at A Day Retreat for Women of Courage in Winnipeg on October 20th. Pay what you can.
2. I’m creating a new online program called Lead with Your Wild Heart (related to the themes in this post) that feels like a coming together of a thousand ideas that have filled my head in recent years. Add your name to my email list (top right) to be the first to hear about it and to receive a discount.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. – Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You can be mediocre.
You can fail to capture the attention of hoards of admirers.
You can struggle all of your life to create a masterpiece and then leave it, at the end of your life, unfinished.
You might never get your book published.
Your business might never bring in more than $1000 a year.
You might not get that masters degree you always dreamed of getting.
You may not make it to the Olympics.
You might die without a penny to your name.
It doesn’t matter.
All of those measures of “success” are not important. They are the measures that we have arbitrarily attached to our efforts because we feel the need for yardsticks and goalposts.
But what if there are no yardsticks and goalposts? What if life is not a competition? What if the only winner is the person who lived well? What if the journey is the destination?
What if, at the end of your days, the only thing that matters is that you were faithful to your gift and your calling?
What if the only measurement you need to concern yourself with is whether or not you kept walking?
What if the only thing that’s important is that you let the “soft animal of your body love what it loves”?
It’s about love. It’s about the wisdom of the bumblebee as it follows its hunger to the next beautiful flower. It’s about the trust of the wild geese as they follow the migration patterns that call them to their next home.
It’s about the soft animal of your body – the part of you that knows nothing about goal-setting or success, but knows everything about love.
It’s about writing and painting and dancing and laughing and connecting and counting and inventing and problem-solving out of our deep and passionate love for that thing we do. It’s about doing it because we can’t be happy any other way. It’s about trusting the gift to lead us where we need to go. It’s about sharing what we do because we feel compelled and it doesn’t matter what other people think.
The outcome is not your responsibility.
The path is the only goal. One foot in front of the other. Winding, dipping, trusting, falling, surrendering, picking yourself up from the ground and stepping once again.
Your only responsibility is to love what you love. And to be who you are. And to dream what you dream.
Now stop telling yourself you have not succeeded. Are you in love with what you do? Then you have succeeded.
Go ahead and ask the soft animal of your body what it loves.
It’s my birthday. I’m 46. There’s a very good chance I’ve passed the halfway point of my life. I think I may have just stepped over the crest of the proverbial hill.
But you know what? The view from here looks pretty spectacular! I can see lots of hills and valleys still ahead of me. And a lot of aimless afternoons spent wandering in the woods. A lot of late evenings lost in meaningful conversations with great people. A lot of adventures in unexplored places. A lot of good books still to read. A lot of fascinating people still to meet. A lot of failures still to live through. A lot of triumphs to celebrate. A lot of disappointments. A lot of love.
Forty-six feels pretty darn good. Sitting here in the early hours of the morning while my family sleeps, I can tell you one thing for sure – I have never felt more content about who I am and what I’m offering the world than I feel right now. My forty-sixth year was full of a great deal of personal exploration and a fair bit of struggle, but it was all very good, because I feel more confident than ever about what I am called to do.
One of the things I am called to do is to help guide people on the path through chaos to creativity. That’s going to be the the tagline on my new website (that I’d hoped to unveil today, but decided I didn’t want to rush it). I’m excited about it because it feels like clarity and a little more focus.
I know a lot about chaos and a lot about creativity. I have been through both places on the journey many times, and I will visit those places many more times in this spiralling journey of life.
As I step into the next year of my life, I have more and more confidence that I am being called to serve as a guide in this journey. There are many people stuck in chaos who feel lost or frantic or frustrated. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you need someone to help you shift your perspective, to begin to see the chaos or brokenness or lostness as a valuable part of the journey. Or to begin to invite creativity into the shadowy places. That’s where I come in.
One of the tools I use to help examine the chaos and invite creativity into the space is the mandala. There are so many things we can learn when we sit down with paper, coloured markers, our intuitions, and our openness.
In honour of my 46th birthday, I’d like to offer 10 people the opportunity to have mandala sessions with me for $46 each. One time sessions are normally $100, so that’s less than half price. If you’re curious about them, read more here. (In case you’re wondering, these sessions are usually done over Skype or the phone, so you can do them from anywhere in the world.)
This is powerful, chaos-shifting work (that’s much bigger than me – I am simply a conduit) and I know that a lot of people will find value in it. One of my most fascinating experiences has been a series of sessions I did with Dr. Kay Vogt, a psychologist who found me through a listserv we’re both on. After a series of sessions and many mandalas, Kay experienced a profound shift in her life. Here’s what she said about the work we did together, “Our work together has been extremely powerful for me. As a professional doing something similar to what you do it takes a lot to impress me. I am very grateful for your mentoring. You have been a coach’s coach for me.”
In case the idea of mandalas scares you a bit, let me assure you of this – you need no artistic talent whatsoever to do this. This is not about making art. It makes no difference what your finished piece looks like. It’s about using a creative tool to explore some of things that your right brain wants to discover that are sometimes buried under left brain logic. It’s simply a tool for deeper self-discovery that goes hand-in-hand with the heart-opening conversation we’ll have.
If this feels like something you’d value, book a session for $46 and let’s go on an exploration together.
Discounted price no longer available. You’re welcome to book one for the usual price of $100.
Note: If you’re curious about the mandala at the top of the page, it’s my birthday mandala. I wanted to do something to represent 46 years of growth (there are 46 tendrils growing from the centre) and 46 years of being who I am (there are 46 words around the edge that represent what I love and value).
“But… I don’t have coloured markers. Or pencil crayons.” Pause…
“In fact, I have nothing in my house that I can write with in any colour other than black or blue.”
That’s what I’ve heard from several of my mandala discovery clients after we’ve been through the coaching session at the beginning, we’ve identified some block or growth area they want to work on, and I’ve begun to explain a mandala process that will help them.
There’s always a note of something in their voices when they say it. Longing? Fear? Regret? Maybe even a little bit of shame?
“You can start with what you have,” I say, not wanting to push them too far outside of their comfort zone right from the start. “But at some point, I suggest you go out and buy some.”
A few days later, I get an email. “I bought coloured markers!” And sometimes (because buying coloured markers can take much more courage than one would imagine), “I had no idea what I was doing when I was standing in front of a wall full of art supplies, but I heard your voice in my head and I BOUGHT THEM!”
There is always a note of something in that simple email… Joy? Pride? Surprise? Permission?
You could say that I’m a coloured-marker-ambassador.
I believe that every home needs at least one set of coloured markers. Preferably two, or three… or more.
The more I do mandala discovery work, the more I believe in the power of coloured markers.
Coloured markers give us permission to play.
They strip away some of the seriousness that grown-up pens (in boring colours like black and blue) trap us in.
They remind us of the fun we had when we were kids, when a blank white page meant POSSIBILITY!
They help us get unstuck when we’ve been spending too much time in our left brains, trying to wrap logic and ration and order around everything.
They let us make mistakes and ignore linear paths and forget the rules and HAVE FUN!
They remind us that creativity means freedom. And freedom brings change, and from small changes, revolutions begin.
Just think of them as tiny colourful swords to be wielded in our battles against the fear gremlins.
There were many years when I didn’t have coloured markers in my house either. I thought I had to be a grown-up and put away childish things like markers and crayons and colouring books. I was a mom, a manager, a wife, an elder in my church, a board member… a serious, grown-up member of my community. Grown-ups didn’t play with coloured markers.
But then one day, after too many years of blue and black pens, I finally gave in to my silent longing and signed up for an art course. Throughout that first class, I choked back tears. Happy tears. I was in a happier place than I’d been in a long, long time. My love of colour and art and POSSIBILITIES had re-awakened.
I needed more art supplies.
I needed more swords.
And since then, I have filled my tiny office/studio with art supplies… paint, crayons, pastels, chalk, and especially markers. I have fat ones, thin ones, and medium-sized ones. I have every colour in the rainbow… and then some. I am well equipped for battle.
I do most of my journaling in colour – switching whenever the mood strikes me. I doodle, I play… and I make lots of mandalas.
And now I see it as my job to make sure other people rediscover their love of coloured markers too.
Because coloured markers – in a tiny revolutionary way – change things.
We need to stop silencing that part of us that wants to live in full colour. It’s time to stop being so darned grown up and responsible all the time!
When my friend Desiree – an amazing, bold, and creative woman, who’d forgotten just like so many of us – finally bought the markers I’d been cajoling her to get, she gave me the title of this blog post… “THIS,” she said, waving her coloured markers in front of my Skype screen, “is a revolutionary act! Buying these markers CHANGED me!”
If I do nothing more in my life than convince a few people to bring coloured markers back into their lives, then I have done well.
What are you waiting for? Go out there and buy some!
And once you’ve bought them, sign up for Mandala Discovery, and you’ll get to play with those coloured markers (and think revolutionary thoughts) every week!
I was standing at my kitchen sink yesterday afternoon when the tears started flowing down my face.
I wasn’t crying because of the drudgery of having to clean the house again, and again, and again. I was crying for the sheer privilege of being able to clean the house for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday.
Wilma Derksen didn’t get to clean the house for her daughter Candace’s sixteenth birthday. When Candace was just thirteen years old, she disappeared on her way home from school. Six weeks later, her body was found, tied up and frozen in a shed not far from the Derksen’s home.
Just last year, twenty-seven years after Candace’s death, her murderer was finally found and convicted.
Yesterday, before cleaning the house, I visited an art show made up mostly of art created by Cliff Derksen and Odia Reimer, father and sister of Candace, during and after the murderer’s trial. Every piece bore marks of pain, anger, guilt, anguish, and love.
The first piece I saw was a set of simple pencil drawings Cliff drew during the trial. There were sketches of the judge, the security guard, the jury, and various other players in the narrative that was their life for those twenty-three days. Mixed into the human characters were images of the guardian angel that protected them throughout, and the demons who were never far from their minds.
The piece that first made me cry was a set of simple black and white photos Odia took of the steps her sister would have taken on her way home from school. Just a simple, ordinary street, with simple, ordinary stories happening all around, and yet those everyday images took on a whole new layer of meaning because they represented her sister’s last view of the earth. Under the images were snippets of text representing the moments and thoughts the family experienced in the days after Candace’s disappearance – the way they’d been treated by police who interpreted their deep faith as religious fanaticism, the day that five plates were set at the table and one had to be put back in the cupboard, the guilt Wilma felt over not picking her daughter up from school that day.
Below the images stood a sculpture that represented Cliff’s anguish. It was titled “Suspicion” and was ostensibly about his youth, growing up on a farm… “how impossible expectation resulting in judgement, created an environment loaded with suspicion and distrust on all sides.” He felt trapped like the first post of a barbed wire fence – something I could immediately recognize, having grown up on a farm with similar expectations. At the bottom of the text, though, was something I had no way of relating to. “Is this symbolic of my 22 years under suspicion?” Imagine… 22 years he lived with the knowledge that some in the police force suspected him of murdering his own daughter.
My own memory flashed back to the day when I’d returned home to the farm after suffering at the hands of a rapist. My father, overcome with emotion and the pain of knowing he’d been unable to protect his own daughter, left the house for a few moments. When he returned, with great pain in his voice, he told the story of a man he’d once known who’d spent five years of his life hunting for the man who’d raped his daughter, with the intent of killing him. “Suddenly,” my pacifist father said, “I know exactly how he felt.” My father was not under suspicion, but like Candace’s father, he probably felt trapped, knowing he could do nothing to change what had happened.
The next piece that caught my attention was one that I’d seen before – 490 crocheted teardrops created by Odia. 70×7 – the number of times the Bible instructs us to forgive those who’ve wronged us. With each teardrop crocheted, I imagine Odia trying to find a drop of forgiveness in her heart for the man who’d taken her sister from her. I’m sure the tears she shed as she crocheted them were more full of rage than they were of forgiveness.
Upstairs in the gallery, two last pieces provided the final frame for the story that the other pieces began. One was a line of six black and white images of feet drawn by Cliff, called Sacred Ground. Each set of feet represented a different member of his immediate family as they sat in the trial waiting to hear the verdict. Most of the feet were barefoot. During the trial, they’d often removed their shoes to remind themselves that, like Moses at the burning bush, they were on Sacred Ground. God was with them in the courtroom and had been with Candace as she lay dying in the shed. What great faith that simple act of removing their shoes must have required!
The final piece moved me even more than the rest, and makes me determined to go back to the gallery so that I can sit quietly in its presence for a little while longer. It’s a set of 23 crocheted circles in red, black, and cream. Each day that Odia sat in the court room, she crocheted a circle. The colours represent the state of her emotions while she sat and listened to the proceedings – cream for neutral, red for pain, black for rage. Some days were mostly cream, other days were a complex mix of all three, and other days were pure black. One day that intrigued me was almost purely cream, with a tiny shock of black. Not unlike my own mandala practice, she brought the complexity of the experience into a simple circle.
With me at the gallery was my friend Gabby with her two small girls – beautiful, vibrant children who made the viewing of the art even more complex and meaningful. While I processed the sadness, little Sadie was busy pulling treasures out of her bag to show me. One was a large plastic sparkly diamond. Surrounded by stories of death, this little girl reminded me of the joy of life. Our stories are messy and complex and the beauty doesn’t stop even when the sadness overwhelms us.
As I stood at my kitchen sink processing the fullness of what I’d seen, I cried for Wilma and Cliff and Odia and the rest of their family. I cried for the day that Candace would have turned sixteen and their basement wasn’t full of the laughter that would soon ring through mine. I cried for the gift that my three daughters continue to bring to my life. I also cried for the sixteenth birthday I will never be able to host for my son Matthew.
Several years ago, I heard Wilma Derksen interviewed on the radio, and she shared a story about the one year anniversary of Candace’s death. She’d been holding her emotions together, when suddenly she’d noticed fingerprints high up on the wall on the way down the stairs. She knew those could only have been Candace’s fingerprints, left there on the many times she’d bounded down the stairs and jumped up to slap the wall above her on her way down.
As I wiped the fingerprints my own children had left around the house yesterday, I thanked God that there will still be fresh fingerprints to wipe off tomorrow, and the day after that, and… I pray… the day after that. I also thanked God for the fingerprints Matthew left on my heart, though he will never leave any on my walls.
A few weeks ago, I heard Wilma Derksen speak at TEDx Manitoba. She said that one of her greatest learnings during the trial was that you can’t hold two things equally in your heart. Though she tried to hold both love and justice during the trial, she knew that there was not enough space for both. And so, for the sake of her family that remained with her, she chose love.
Yesterday, as I prepared to celebrate my daughter, I too chose love. It’s the same choice my dad made after the rapist harmed me. And the same choice I made eleven years ago after human error resulted in the death of my son.
Again and again, I choose love.