So here I was, sitting barefoot in a meeting room at a coworking space in Bali, unexpectedly baring my soul to a bunch of strangers. I was taking a good, hard look at myself and letting others gawk too. Luckily I was in good company – two equally lost women taking the course with me, plus Leannah and Udane guiding us through. We kicked off the Life Design Lab with a coaching exercise called the Wheel of Life. You break things down into the different aspects of life and rate them out of 10 – it’s actually a revelation to forget the overwhelming whole of it, and focus in on specific areas. My ratings swung wildly from a 10 for family and friends (#blessed), 5 for career (unemployed), 10 for environment (Bali), 0 for romance (nope), 6 for money (burning through those savings fast), and so on. I acknowledged that my main crises right now are career and health. Building on this, we were challenged to decide what rating we were aiming for in each (surely a 10, right?), and asked to describe what that felt like as if we were living it.
In terms of career, I could see a framework that I wanted, which involved building my life around a meaningful livelihood that brought me joy and freedom to travel. The specifics were missing, so I was set homework that day to create some momentum – I was obviously feeling drawn to the digital nomad lifestyle, and was to write a list of 20 jobs I could do remotely. Writing and editing, yes, for sure. ‘Sex?’ suggested Areti, when I was telling my Unsettled friends about my first day of LDL. Erm.
When it came to health, I was surprised to realise that the 10 actually felt within reach. Physically I want to be fitter and stronger, not just to fit accepted standards of beauty, but so that I can truly enjoy doing or learning things that I love – surfing, hiking, sailing, wakeboarding… Recognising this as a motivation, rather than just ‘I’m fat and ugly and need to fix it’, was far more powerful. And my mental health is inextricably linked to my physical health – the more I move, the better I sleep, the more rested I am, the better choices I make around food and other addictions, the more in control I feel, the lower the anxiety and then the more calm, content and – dare I say happy – overall. It’s logical maths on paper, but putting it all into practice when life throws temptation and challenge my way is another thing altogether. I was galvanised to make a conscious effort to look carefully at the decisions I make and the behaviours I spiral into when I’m not paying attention.
In that first week of LDL we also explored our values to create a mission statement, and addressed our inner critic. Words like connection, collaboration, love, empowerment (specifically that of women), inner peace and service came up for me. We were also discussing our strengths, and it’s interesting how all three of us taking the course felt like soft skills didn’t count as useful ‘strengths’. Like, ‘I’m a good listener, but whatever. I’m compassionate, but that’s not going to make me a living. Ugh.’ Leannah, who had walked away from a high-flying career with some of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley to use her ‘soft’ skills as a life coach (and live the dream on a tropical island), had to convince us to see past our judgements about what strengths really are. I was struggling to figure mine out, so Leannah suggested asking those close to me. It was humbling to receive the words that came from some of my closest friends, words and themes that overlapped: Honest, creative, brave, funny, determined, intelligent, caring, reliable, thoughtful, passionate, outspoken. Wow. That person sounds incredible. That person is me.
This put me in good stead to tackle my inner critic. We discussed what she sounded like – The Dementors from Harry Potter, or that judgy bitch from high school, Becky-with-the-good-hair. We all agreed that if anyone else actually said to us the negative things we said to ourselves, we would be outraged. We’d tell them to fuck right off – who were they to say I’m not good enough?! So why do we listen when it’s our own, imaginary voice? A task that felt incredibly powerful was to write down what our inner critic was saying, and respond compassionately: I don’t deserve the things I want? I’m as deserving as anybody else. I’m not interesting/fun/energetic/caring/clever/creative/strong enough? I’m enough for me and the people that love me. I’m taking this exercise with me as I develop new projects – any time nasty Lily strikes, I’m writing it down, responding rationally, and dissipating that negative energy.
Another beautiful exercise from the first week of LDL was each of us telling a peak story – an episode in our lives where time just seemed to stop. I talked about a weekend I had spent on a dhow in Oman a few months previously, when I had jumped off the top deck, at night, with a close friend who is not a strong swimmer (her idea). The moon was out and silhouetted the mountains surrounding the deserted bay we were moored in, and I didn’t tell her that I was rather scared to leap into the darkness myself as I was so impressed at her bravery – she’d been taking swimming lessons and was so empowered by them. We’d held hands, counted down and leapt together, and in the water I was conscious to keep her close by – she was loving it and I felt so proud! Fanning our hands quickly in the water stirred up dazzling phosphorescence, like a sea disco especially for us. As she and I faced our fears together, the water sparkled, the moon glowed and my heart soared.
After telling this story, I had to sit quietly and receive words from the girls that came to mind. Brave, supportive, powerful, mischievous… there were so many amazing words they related to me. ME. Together we were to come up with something that represented me, and Amritha said my energy reminded her of a thunderstorm, the way lightning comes from nowhere and lights up a whole place for a moment. I loved this analogy as it kind of fitted – I criticise myself for not having consistent energy, but every now and then I’m on fire with it. Tanya called me a warrior and Leannah saw a cheeky, fun side to me. I’d also expressed my fascination with the powerful Hindu goddess Kali, so we came up with Lightning Warrior Goddess – as if I was sitting above the clouds, throwing lightning bolts for fun and just generally being powerful. I had to wear the name – literally, on a post-it on my chest. By this point I had also earned a nickname, Liloncé. The girls saw me as fierce, bold and strong like Queen Bey: Liloncé the Lightning Warrior Goddess.