La Jolla, CA / Steer Your Ship

On Halloween afternoon, I put on my Hocus Pocus half-sleeve tee and loaded my bags into the car. Forty minutes later, Jon was bidding me off at the curbside drop-off area for JetBlue at Dulles International. I was about to fly across the country by myself, something I hadn’t done before in all my years of fearful flying. The furthest I’d flown alone was from Manchester, NH to Orlando, and that was 11 years ago. Inhale, exhale. I can do this.


The reason for my cross-country jaunt was for a business retreat with my coach, Kristen Kalp. After spending a night with my photographer pal Tori and her husband, I showed up to the retreat house with equal parts excitement and trepidation. I’d been working with Kristen for awhile (via coaching and other workshops), and knew only one other girl who’d be attending (Indriana, a tiny Singaporean photographer who I’d met at a prior Kristen workshop, and basically my sister from the other side of the world <3) – what would the other girls be like? Would they think I was weird and/or annoying? Would they get my goofy sense of humor?

I don’t know what I was so concerned about; Kristen is the kind of person you either love dearly, or just don’t understand. Her very appearance puts off ‘love me or leave me‘ vibes, what with her pink hair and rainbow outfits. The upside of this is that her people are fiercely her people. We love her originality and her ability to fully be herself in any situation. Thus we’re all entrepreneurs with a slight rebellious streak – of course we would all get along!

The retreat house was a four-bedroom mission-style ranch with views of the Pacific ocean. Gasps of ‘oh my God!‘ could be heard as each of us arrived and toured through the house and backyard. And oh, the backyard – between the early evening pink-ish sky, the tall palms swaying in the breeze, and the killer amenities that lay before us (fire pit! hot tub!), we knew the next few days would be incredible.

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The week together was going to be a healthy mix of working hard and playing hard. As a coach, Kristen excels at digging through the bullshit to get to the core of the issues. And because we’re entrepreneurs, our businesses are an extension of our selves. Therefore, a great business coach is one who is also part life coach. If this sounds a little woowoo to you, maybe it is. We did sit around a bonfire and did a spirit animal visualization. While that was all in good fun, the work we did was real. From pricing issues to client care to marketing, we covered so much in our time together, but it never felt overwhelming. That’s because CFO (that’s Chief Fun Officer) Johanna (or Doey, to Kristen’s people) had planned 20-30 minute fun breaks throughout the day. There are no photos to prove it, but we did play paint Twister in the backyard, and reenacting the ‘I’m a maniac’ scene from Tommy Boy was the requirement for getting hosed down.

Because the work we did was so deeply personal and number-crunchy, having the fun breaks was crucial to ensure that our brains would not melt away. Kristen had also arranged for a whale watching trip (in which we saw zero whales, but loads of dolphins, and really it didn’t matter anyway because I was in the ocean and thus in my happy place, so all was well) and… drumroll please… SWIMMING WITH OTTERS. Yes, the same otters from the Buzzfeed video, which Kristen had booked months prior to that because Nurtured by Nature has a crazy long wait list.

When I say that we reached peak joy levels that day, I seriously mean that. The energy expended from being so deliriously happy made most of us fall promptly asleep in the car and then nap again once we returned back to La Jolla. All we knew was that we were going to swim with otters. But hellooooo BONUS ANIMALS! None of us – including Kristen – knew about the bonus animals! We got to meet a sloth, foxes, pacas, a cerval, a porcupine, armadillos, lemurs, and kangaroos. Try your best to get on the wait list for Nurtured by Nature – if you have the chance, I highly recommend it. It is so choice.

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While most of our time was spent at the house (because this was a work retreat, after all) we did have some adventures out and about – like when we visited the Yellow Deli for lunch and as it turns out, they’re some kind of cult? Or when we took a stroll on the beach to explore the tide pools and watch the sunset together. Or when Jackie, Tina and I had to make the pilgrimage to In-n-Out Burger for cheeseburgers, animal style.
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It’s too difficult to put into words what this retreat did for me, both personally and for my business. It helped me learn to accept myself and my flaws as quirks. It’s helped me realize that I am not alone. It’s helped me realize that I am capable of so much – like flying across the country alone or running a successful business – and that being negative toward myself and my abilities never helps me.

And as for this group of women – well, we came into this house strangers and left friends. Soul sisters. We opened up and became vulnerable in ways that are exceedingly difficult in everyday life, but this was a safe space. We laughed a ton, we cried more than I expected, and we ate crazy well, thanks to SYS alum, Nicki.

Kristen, Doey, Nicki, Indie, Meera, Tina, Nicole, and Jackie: Thank you for opening your souls and sharing yourself. And thank you for opening your arms and accepting me as I am, weirdo and all.


Oh hey! I’m planning to return to California because I absolutely fell in love during my visit (with the state, not another man). Want to get in on this action? Check out The California Sessions for more information! MWAH.

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