This past weekend I took myself on a retreat. Nope, I didn’t go with a group of people. I was my own leader and the only participant. Each year when I tell people about my annual pilgrimage, they ask the same question, “What do you do?” When I tell them, they all say the same thing, “I need to do that!”
So what do I do, and how can you create a retreat for yourself? Here’s my formula:
First, I prepare. I like to talk with a coach who helps me clarify what I want to get out of my time. I do this the week of my retreat, typically three to four days in advance of when I go. She helps me identify what questions I want to answer, what resources I need to take and what outcomes will make me feel fulfilled. Usually, I’m aiming to create or tweak the vision and mission of my life.
THE RIGHT SPOT
Pick a spot that suits your personality. Some people like the beach, others like the mountains, others, the city. I like a mix of alone time and being with people. I carefully pick my surroundings. This time it was a converted grainery building in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As soon as I saw it on Airbnb I knew it was the right place. Natural beauty, fireplace, great hiking and just miles from Charlottesville, VA.
In the days leading up to my retreat, I begin to extract myself from my typical routine. No more Facebook, fewer e-mails, more quiet time.
The drive becomes a meditation of sorts. With each mile I get from the city, I find myself opening to possibility and expansion.
To spark my creativity, I put new information into my brain. I carefully select two or three books that will take me to a higher level of thinking. Podcasts and videos are also helpful, although I enjoy the peacefulness that comes from silently reading the written word. This year’s books were Mastering Leadership, The Evolving Self and The Power of Myth. Just like an artist, the media I choose is inextricably linked to the form and content of my output.
With new ideas simmering in my brain, I create space for integration. How do other people’s thoughts mesh with my own? What’s my unique thinking about what I just read? How can I take what I learned to generate new thoughts? I find that movement helps with this process, so I take a hike or I do a little yoga. There’s no agenda for this time other than to breathe, create space and integrate.
Now it’s time to create. I love the Post-It Easel pads. Hey—if I’m thinking big, I want to write big! I pull out the marker and just start writing. I’m always amazed at what comes out. I don’t think too much; I just let it flow. After I’ve gotten everything out, I step back and take a look. Where is my focus? How does it align with my planning? What thoughts do I want to pursue? Then I get down to creating real deliverables like I discussed with my coach.
After a day of hard work, there’s nothing better than a reward. For me, it’s getting out of my comfort zone and having an adventure. Friday night I took a hike with my Airbnb hosts. I have to admit, as I was riding through dirt country roads with two strange men, I wondered exactly what kind of adventure I was about to have. But the risk was worth the reward and I got to know amazing people while experiencing a dazzling sunset. Saturday night I had dinner with some friends I met on my last retreat. Then we spontaneously snuck into a concert! I felt like a kid again…breaking some rules, dancing to the beat of the music and feeling completely free.
My retreat helps me remember that I am the author of my own life. I get to create whatever life I want. And so do you.
It’s hard to create your own life if you don’t stop to consider a life that's really worth living. What do you want to do that’s worth risking the comfort of how things are now? How courageous can you be when the world tells you no?
I invite you to retreat...to listen to who you are and what your heart is calling you to do. Then make a change. Be bold. Do something that’s never been done before. And then go back the next year and do it all over again!