Adventure speaks to us all differently. Regardless of its size, nature, medium or experience, there’s endless potential in every adventure we take - every time we put ourselves out there, risk what we know and follow an internal, innate need to see, explore, and follow what we hear to do.
In this edition of #WomenWhoLead, Steph Jagger takes us on her journey of doing just that: of exploring the possibility of what could be on the other side of a life that was ‘working’ - that was ‘good’, but not ‘great’. Her leap was one sparked by a simple question, not a trauma or the breaking of a heart, a job, or otherwise. And in following that question, that call, she ended up on a year long journey that changed the course of her life. Big time.
Steph—now a coach and writer—inspires those around her to listen: to live life with eyes, ears and heart open to receive what path, purpose, and callings are being shown to you. She’s encouraging others to explore the absurd and to toe starting lines with epic boldness. And, she’s building her future, day by day, by living and breathing a simple mantra: ‘Make shit happen.’
Join me in welcoming Steph to the SoulPowered community, and in celebrating her commitment to listening and living completely unrestrained.
SP: Your story is one that inspires me so much. Can you start off by telling me what was going on in the moment when you knew there was more, and what you did then?
SJ: I was at a place in my life where most people would describe me as a ‘success’: I had a good career in PR and marketing, had some money in the bank, bought my first place in Vancouver - things were good from the outside. And from the inside too; I wasn’t in a horrible, terrible place. People talk about this place—Chris Guillebeau talks about it in his book Happiness of Pursuit— I was in a place of general discontent. Things were good but they weren’t awesome; things were decent but they weren’t outstanding or superb or exciting.
So, I just started thinking that I couldn’t go on and live the rest of my life like that. I had everything that people thought that I should have, but couldn’t help wondering ‘Is that it? Do I just tuck in for the next 40 or 50 years and call it a day and keep repeating what I am doing now? Or, go after something bigger or better or more even if I haven’t got a clue what that really is?’ And I went with the latter.
I think the biggest part of my life before the change that other people feel too is that general sense of discontent; not ‘bad’ but doesn’t feel like it fits me 100%.
So off I went. I think there’s a lot I could talk about in regards to what was my call to adventure or what snapped me to attention. I think a lot of people wait until something really breaks before they make a change and I want to call poo-poo on that.
I think for women especially that concept exists in media, in culture, in movies, in books; that something has to break—the marriage has to break, someone has to die, you have to get sick or something has to snap before you choose to change your life and go after something bigger or better.
Not to say that when those things do happen that it’s not difficult or that they’re a huge wake up call, but I don’t feel we have to wait for that. And I think a lot of people do...but I just wasn’t willing to.
SP: I love this story and that’s why I am so excited that you are coming out with this book and you get to share it with everyone.
So you took a leap - tell me what you did.
SJ: So essentially what happened for me was I was in that state of general discontent and wondering what to do - and didn’t really know. And the next ingredient is that after the discontent will come what I will call an absurd idea. I think that’s probably sign number two for people: that when you talk about what you want to do next—like ‘I want to go run cat hotels’ or ‘I want to leave my massively amazing corporate job and start a knitting store’ or ‘I want to give up everything and travel the world for a year’—there will be at least one voice, if not more, saying ‘Pssssh, that’s crazy.’
So, for me, my moment of absurdity came to me while I was on a chairlift, up in British Columbia, in Whistler, one of my favorite places. I was not terribly happy. I was skiing in the middle of the week with a couple good friends and I just said ‘I feel like I want to do this for a year: take my skis, travel around the world, see other mountains. I have a love affair with Whistler but don’t even know what other mountains are out there.’ And that was a big thing to say. I think one of them came close to peeing their pants they were laughing so hard.
They thought it was totally crazy. They were saying things like “But Steph, you’ve got a mortgage!” and “Steph you’ve got a career!”. And their reaction made me think ‘Right, that’s totally crazy, I shouldn’t do that. It’s totally absurd.’
So then, we got to the top of the chairlift, and I don’t know if you ski, but there are these signs when you get on the chairlift that say ‘Lower Your Restraining Device’ (the safety bar that comes down across the seats) and then a sign at the top of the ski lift that says ‘Raise Your Restraining Device’. And I had seen these signs hundreds of times before -- but when we got to the top of the ski lift I looked at it and said ‘HUH. What is it really that would hold me back? What is it that’s restraining me from going after that idea?’
From that point, I decided to do it; to take a year and do my three favorite things: to travel, to write and to ski. I had no idea where it was going to lead but I thought if I spend a year immersing myself in my own joy, something’s gotta pop. SOME road will appear - something’s gotta happen. So off I went: I skied around the world, and I didn’t know it existed, but ended up breaking some big giant record, met who I am now married to, moved down to the states, and started a whole new career...it really was a massive massive turning point in my life.
So when we get hit with that absurd, I really believe that’s what divine intervention is.
SP: I love this word absurd, and how it seems absurd to people to go from doing one thing to recreate, redefine or move in a new direction. And yet, in your own mind, you were able to clearly ask yourself what was holding you back. Did you know if it was a calling, or ‘divine intervention’?
SJ: In the moment did I know it? Probably not. It struck me in the moment but I grappled with it for a little, but—and I think this is the next thing—it just wouldn’t leave me alone. The idea kept coming back, and back, and back.
So that’s the next part: if you have a little voice chirping away in the back of your head or if you’re seeing things over and over again that are telling you ‘Write a book, write a book, write a book’ - okay, you’re supposed to write a book. So the first time that it happens, do we know or not? I’m not sure. But when we see something that resonates, it’s our job to have our eyes alert - to be awake to see if we see it again and again.
And that’s a part of how I live my life now: how I decide where to travel, what to do for work...if I see something three times in a short span of time, a couple weeks or a month, I say ‘Okay - that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.’
SP: Absolutely - you’re tuned in and you’re listening. Or you mistake them for something else.
I think a lot of times we misunderstand them or we miss them. A lot of times we hear them—loud and clear—but because they’re absurd, they’re difficult. It’s hard to give up a relationship or a job or something because you can’t explain it yet.
So I think people make what I will call ‘band aid solutions’: they change the color of their hair, sign up for PX90, switch from potato chips to kale chips, leave a job or switch a career or leave a relationship—which can be pretty big—but most of the time I think they really know what they should be doing, but the band aid change makes them think they’re moving in that direction, but I don’t know if they are or not.
I see it a lot...I still do it a lot...where it’s like ‘Oooh I don’t know if I’m ready to do that murky unknown thing. So...maybe I'll just get a bit in shape or do a bit of travelling or that sort of thing.’
SP : So do you feel like it’s your purpose to share this message with the world? To listen and follow the absurd?
You know I’ve never thought about that before. Is it my job to tell people to listen up to the absurd? I dont know. I feel like my purpose is my callingship, and I feel called to do different things: called to do the ski trip, called to write a book, called to have this certain kind of business.
Is my purpose to be an example of that, and openly talk about the good bad and ugly of that in a variety of ways—whether that comes out through coaching through the book—sure...that’s certainly part of it. To hold light for people when that space gets very dark - yeah, absolutely. I’d love to think that’s my purpose.
SP: I love what you’re talking about and thinking about how much of an impact this conversation is going to have on so many lives. As people are reading this conversation they are going to be nodding up and down saying ‘YES, me too!’.
SJ: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think women of what I will call ‘our generation’ grew up on the cusp of a generation where they were told they could do anything: ‘You can be anything, you can do anything!’ But, at the same time, are also told that if you’ve got something good you’re not supposed to ask for anything more, or better or different. It’s a very confusing message.
The generation before us were definitely settled, not allowed to ask for more, and were taught to wait for something to break before they moved on. We were told differently, but shown the same. I find that to be very confusing - where we ask ‘Should I be leaning in or should I not?’ I know everyone is writing about that and talking about it but what I have seen is the opposite. So it’s a bit of a different place.
Thinking about it - I don’t know if I could fully name my purpose. I think I’m just NOW starting to hone in and circle around on that, but I think there’s something else that’s come up for me lately around holding space for people around starting lines. I think our entire society is built around the glorification of finish lines. And, my ability to cross multiple finish lines has opened multiple doors for me, however the first ingredient is starting lines, and I wish that conversation would change.
What if we cheered as wildly for people the moment they put their foot in the box at the beginning of the race, as we do at the end? I just wonder how much MORE people would want to do it.
SP: What does focusing on the starting line mean to you?
There’s nothing that’s more alluring than the sound of the figurative gun as it goes off and cracks in the air, signalling that you’re supposed to be doing THIS now, or that THIS door is open for you to walk through now. And this might sound a bit vague or murky for people because those calls to adventure happen in so many different ways but to me it’s more exciting to think of a door opening that I get to see and look through and begin to walk through than leaving a room, at the end, at the finish of the party or whatever.
Even using the metaphor of going to a party—and maybe this more of an extroverted metaphor but anyways—most people have an anticipation, maybe a bit of anxiety, a bit of adrenaline when they’re first going in like ‘Oh, what’s Susie wearing and who will I talk to?’ That’s adrenaline and excitement for many people (for others it could be dread if you’re more introverted…) but the point being that I think the beginning is where all of the possibility lies - every ounce of it.
When I have finished things, a lot of people have said “Man, that must have been huge for you! The minute you crossed that finish line everything must have changed.” And the answer is no - nothing really changed. In fact I was probably exhausted that day.
If you were to ask an actor or an actress who won an award if the night they won the award was the game changer for them, OR was it the day they stepped onto the movie set and really owned the character or role they were doing. I think there’s a huge difference there - that people really glorify the end bit, but it’s the beginning that has all the possibility.
SP: This is insanely relevant from a creative perspective and as an entrepreneur. I think everyone focuses on the dollar signs or the revenue or the client list, and that’s sort of a finish line, and yet, there’s this thing you’re talking about; the first time you FINALLY took the steps to grow something or take the steps into action and really walk in as a pro.
There are a lot of coaches and a lot of authors who use this phrase, and I use it a lot too:
"How can we play our biggest game, or be our biggest self or best self?"
It’s in those moments, in the beginning moments, even if we look like fools, that we’re playing our biggest game. THAT’S when we’re taking all the risk and putting things on the line and stepping up into a different space.
At the finish line, I mean I don’t want to send the message of not finishing things, but I think that I would love so much more to see people talking about what the first day or first month of trying to write their book was like, compared to the day it got published. I think about that vulnerable, just going to throw it out there person staring at a blank screen and creating and things coming to them and trying to be their best self in that moment versus being the person that gets the book delivered to their doorstep on the day it publishes.
There’s excitement in both, yet I’m much more interested in the person starting it - that’s who I want to have a conversation with.
SP: Exactly. So what would your advice be to creative entrepreneurs out there who are starting something new?
I’ll go back to the idea of paying attention. If you’re feeling discontent in some places, my number one piece of advice would be to pay attention to that. That’s a sign from the Universe preparing us that something big could happen if you have your eyes open. That’s number one.
Number two would be going back to the absurd. Pay attention to that: the ideas you have that other people are saying ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘That’s impossible’ or ‘That’s crazy’ to. Consider the opinions of people you trust or who are experts - but you truly are the expert on life and the absurd ideas—the ones just a bit too far out of reach, almost impossible, the ones that people will call crazy—those are the ideas I really truly believe are divine intervention.
The Universe doesn’t throw us stuff that we know how to do or have complete clarity about; there’s no learning in that. So, of course we’re thrown things that are crazy sounding. There are some ideas (there’s a big difference between absurd and asinine - like following ‘stupid ideas’ down a rabbit hole) but you’ll generally know the difference. There’s something internal when we’re struck with those ‘Oh my god this is so crazy I don’t want to tell anybody’ ideas. Those are the things to be listening for and following.
The other thing is don’t do it alone. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, there’s tons of ways to get a community behind you. I remember someone recently said:
“You know Steph, when you went and did that ski trip, you probably learned a lot about your own power individually: how much physical, mental, emotional spiritual power you had to harness on your own to get through that trip. And that’s great - that’s a huge learning someone needs to have.
Now you’re in this next phase of your life of business building, sharing ideas and writing stories that will hopefully have universal themes that will connect to other people.”
Then she handed me a book and it was about the first women-only trip up Everest. When she handed it to me she said:
“You went downhill on your own power. You wanna go uphill? You’re going to need some women. You’re gonna need collaborators, you’re gonna need wisdom, you’re gonna need someone who’s strong at what you’re weak at. You’re going to need a sounding board.”
It was such a brilliant message because I think there are so many awesome women who are doing unbelievable things and are like me: I work from home, I’ve got my own space, and it would be very easy for me to not connect. And I think that’s a huge part of that.
SP: What has been a moment of understanding or realization that your work has created an impact on others?
I don’t know if I am ever going to be fully privy to that. I want my work to impact others but I think it would be coming from my ego to ask ‘Show me all the ways of making an impact’ because that’s just a way of feeding myself a bit. With that, a couple things come to mind:
My niece phoned me the other day and they had to do a project about heroes and she wanted me to talk about this ski trip in front of her class. And that was a ‘whoa’ moment: I didn’t realize there was a little nine year-old girl going ‘My auntie’s awesome and I wanna kick ass like she does.’ And that’s cool.
And I think other times when I have conversations with people like yourself and they get emailed or posted and people email me and say it impacted them - I get little pieces of feedback like that all the time. The rest, I don’t know.
I also think I feel quite concrete in the real purpose being to shine a light for these people or provide an example or inspire their own change. The real work on my part is to sit and do the writing, to have the coaching sessions, to bring a certain energy to a group, so I pay more attention to that. When I feel like I am doing that part—when I am sitting and writing and providing a clear channel for that—that’s my responsibility.
How it impacts people is not up to me, so I don’t pay attention to that as much as I pay attention to if I feel I got out of my own way and was a clear channel for that message; do I feel as though I came to this event or conversation without an agenda but with an open heart, a bright light and offering that up to other people. I would pay more attention to that and those cues than did I get feedback about how I changed or inspired people. Not that those things aren’t nice to get.
SP: So you’re really focused on showing up and being of service?
Yeah, showing up and doing the work that I feel like I am supposed to be doing - that’s what I am focusing on. Not that I’m not going to look for feedback from clients, but that’s more the work: am I clear on the work that I am supposed to be doing rather than am I seeing the impact. I don't know if the impact is my responsibility. I get into ‘What as a human can I do?’ And what I know is I can do the work.
SP: What is your vision for your future?
I feel like the vision for my future is actually a little murkier than it used to be in a very good way. My hope for my future is ‘Are you doing as called?’ Do I feel like if I am given something to act on, that I am acting on it. So it’s difficult for me to say precise things—like having this type of company making this much money with this many employees five years from now—that kind of visioning I don’t do as much of now.
I do a lot more in the moment stuff: doing the work and checking in with listening to where I am being called to go, being aware of those directions and starting to march in them.
The more concrete example: I am writing a book right now. The job right now—the vision right now—is to do that work. Is there a vision down the road for what I’m sharing and speaking about that’s in the book? Sure. BUT those ideas are not as concrete as they used to be, because I’m not sure what will present itself as I go along.
That’s a huge learning for me as well that has to do with this starting line/finish line stuff. So many of us, and this is what I have done all my life, set these HUGE goals and we are so dogged in marching towards those that we often fail to see or miss the signs saying ‘Hey. You were supposed to set that goal to walk over that bridge, but once you got over you were actually supposed to go in different direction - it’s just that you needed something so big to get you over the bridge...to lure you over there, then you’re going to do a bit of a quarter turn. You’re not going to go towards that goal.’
I’m way easier on myself with the vision of the future I have and not as attached to big big goals and finish lines as I used to be. I still use them as bait, but I’m open to having that path and trajectory change. And that’s my vision: to continue to live life that way.
SP: Sounds like so much has shifted for you over your journey. What has been your biggest learning about being an entrepreneur?
Know when to stick with it. Know when your dogged, determined, ‘I’ve got to get to this finish line’ mindset is going to come in handy, and know when to do a quarter turn.
Here’s a really tangible example: I started to go through a rebrand for my coaching company in September of last year. And I really felt like it was time to launch this baby into the stratosphere. The company started small and was organic and growing and good, but I just felt like this puppy needs a whole new closet to really wow the world. So I started to create that, and in a big way.
I started marching along that road: I got a branding team, a design team, was looking to hire someone to do some PR and social media and was saying to these people ‘Go, go, go!’ and roll this out and move. AND, at the same time, had been writing this book and not really knowing what was going to happen with it.
I was rolling along with both these projects and really, really quickly—much quicker than I thought possible and much bigger than I thought possible—I got a book deal. So I sat down and went ‘Oh my gosh. My instinct as an entrepreneur is take care of the business, finish the roll out of all the products and finish what I started in September.’
Then I thought ‘Wait, this is going to turn into a catastrophe.’
So, after saying to a whole team of people ‘Go, go, go!’ for months, I had to pick up the phone and email a bunch of people and press stop: tell them that I’m not doing the roll out. I had to come to terms with it meaning not making back the money I spent on developing all these products, but I didn’t know that this book thing was going to happen so quickly or with the same timing.
I had to ask myself: if I go into the future, how am I going to do this? What is going to best serve me? So I put a halt on all of that so I could put as much of my creative energy into the creation of the book - then pick the rebrand up later. And I really struggled with that. It felt so counterintuitive; spending all those months developing assets to prepare and roll out, then to put them on hold was really an exercise in discipline for me.
And that’s what I mean between the difference of the dogged determination of getting to the finish line and completing something versus being flexible enough to know where you’re being directed and where your creative energy is naturally flowing.
SP: I think a lot of people can relate to that because you do have to make these adjustments as your business grows and evolves in ways you can’t anticipate weeks before things happen and other times you have big plans that you want to grow into.
Was there ever a point in your journey, whether while you were skiing or as an entrepreneur, that you doubted what you were doing?
Oh come on, every day! Every day. When I was up in Tofino writing recently, there was a two or three day stretch where I was like ‘OKAY! I think I got this - I’m really on a roll!’ AND, certainly there’s been times, like when I was on my ski trip, where it was fantastic and I was enjoying it.
But I think especially for entrepreneurs who are working on their own and especially for creatives specifically, there is such an unkown to real, real creative work which is involved in all entrepreneurial endeavours. To stand in the middle of a storm of unknown and say ‘Totally got this’ - I want to meet that person.
Because there is lots of doubt: Will I be able to do this? Will I be able to write this way? Someone has thrown an interesting scenario to me coaching and I go to ‘Can I navigate around that?’ There’s lots of doubt in everything.
The next question is around how you deal with it. Live your life in pure doubt? No. When I find myself doubting—especially when it comes to creativity and when I am doing more of the writing side of things—it’s usually a sign to me that I am getting in my own way; that I have to step back and remind myself that there’s way more. That if this is truly where I find a calling, if I am called to do something or called to share a message, I don’t know if I can take full responsibility for that message. It means I am getting it from somewhere else; from the Universe, you know?
SO, if I am doubting myself and doubting my ability to do it, it means I am not putting full trust in getting it from elsewhere. So I think when I find myself in those spaces of real doubt creatively, I have to go ‘OOPS! Got myself in my own way and my ego is trying to claim responsibility for the creation of this work.’ And that’s not the case: this has to do with my relationship to the Universe, this has to do with my relationship to my creative muse, this has to do with lots of different things.
When I’m in doubt about being able to do something, my husband is the one that says “You’re not doing this. You’re doing the discipline of sitting in front of your computer. You’re getting in front of what youre supposed to be doing, but you’ve gotta channel it. You’ve gotta just get it and be an open container for it to come through.”
Whenever I am doubting, it’s a red flag to look at whether I am in my own way here.
SP: It’s so good to hear everyone’s practices around these things. What do you think is your most effective growth strategy?
Here’s what it is today: when I don’t know something, which is often, I just say ‘I DON’T KNOW’.
The example of this is happening now. I had, and I still have, NO idea how to write a book. NO IDEA. I signed up for a writer’s group (and I think a lot of people would say they’re not writers and they don’t belong in a writer’s group and that’s fine but it’s what I did) and every time I had an interaction with someone there, I was honest in saying that I didn’t know what I was doing but knew I needed to do it - so asked people to tell me what they knew.
I asked them to share their experience with me: to tell me what they struggled with and then shared what I was working on and working through. And coming from that place of being okay with not knowing has been huge for me in the past year.
I feel we usually have to prove ourselves and come to something already knowing or already confident. And, coming just as we are, from a space of being a total newbie excites people and was a massive growth strategy for me and, I think, quite refreshing for most people.
That’s been huge for me over the past year or so. When people ask a question of me to come to me with something saying ‘I have no idea!’
SP: How do you continue to develop yourself?
I have a team of coaches that I use for a variety of different circumstances: I have an intuitive coach, I have a business coach...I really have a network of people I can rely on and go ‘OKAY. I need some development in this area.’
So much of the work I am doing now is switching over to writing, and I’m making sure I am immersed in that world. I’m checking in to see if I am signing up for writing classes, if I am reading a huge volume of books, whether they be about the craft or memoirs.
Those two things—the network of support and honing my craft—are my sources of development.
Immersing myself in honing my craft is a big thing. So when things move back—when the writing thing wraps up and I immerse myself more so into the coaching side of things—I’ll be checking in to see if I am taking coaching courses and checking in with other coaches in how they are honing their craft.
And always for me has been travel; that’s a big self development growth piece.
SP: Oh me too - big time.
What women entrepreneurs or leaders inspire you?
There’s lots! I am fascinated by Danielle Laporte. She’s someone who I am infinitely inspired by; someone who’s done an unbelievable job mixing creative with business. She’s someone I’ve had my eye on for years and years and years coming from Vancouver, so that’s a big one.
I really keenly watch a handful of authors. Liz Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, her ability to cross over into what she’s now doing with much more motivational speaking and posts that are much more coach like. She’s got a book coming out in the fall about creativity - she’s someone I keep a keen eye on.
I’ve been obsessed with Cheryl Strayed lately; she’s the woman that wrote WILD. I went to see her speak in Seattle just a while ago and it was just so illuminating.
There are more people that I want to pay attention to that might not be in my field but I feel so inspired by - Marie Forleo is one of them. Sheryl Sandberg and everything about Lean In. That’s really different for me: the women that are in big business and how are they doing things.
And then there’s what I call more ‘boots on the ground’ people. A good friend who’s a photographer and has been running her own business for years and I love hearing what she’s doing and what she’s up to because it’s inspiring to hear how shes growing her business more quietly and more organically. My brother’s wife is a huge inspiration to me too. She’s in a more traditional corporate career and how she’s managed two young kids and still getting promotions...how she’s really leaned into her career is really phenomenal to me.
I think the biggest theme is around the ‘lean in’ - and maybe not in the way it's defined in the book, but ‘Are you really leaning in to what you’re passionate about?’ I think those are the women, regardless if they’ve had traditional success or not, that inspire me.
I think anyone who is leaning FULLY into what they feel called to do: I want to applaud you - it’s amazing.
SP: What’s your take on living and leading with soul?
It’s probably what I just talked about. I think when we are really doing what we feel called to do and are doing something that we are so joyous and passionate about, that IS what it is to lead with soul.
OR flip it inside out: I’m following my calling with soul, it’s my soul’s connection, therefore that’s how I’m leading my life. Gung ho - I’m for it!
SP: How do we find out about your book or keep informed?
The book will be a while until it’s birthed - this experience has been an amazing learning for the process behind books. It could be later or earlier, but we’re currently looking at late 2016.
In the mean time, visit www.stephjagger.com. The site is only half released right now but you can still get information there.
Steph Jagger is a coach and writer (and yes, avid skier) currently living in San Diego, CA. She’s on a mission to inspire three things in this thing called life: discovering, declaring, delivering. In other words: knowing thyself, choosing thyself and making shit happen. She’s an avid reader, has been referred to as the human embodiment of the mullet (!!), and believes that pickles are the real deal representation of being ALL IN. Learn more about what she’s up to in her work HERE and keep your eyes out for more on her book, coming 2016.