Shine: Carla Robertson Is Living Her Wild and Precious Life

Since April is poetry month, it’s fitting that today’s Shine post features Carla Robertson. We met because of a Mary Oliver poem. If you were hanging around this blog last April (and thanks, if you were!) you might remember this post where I shared three of my favorite Oliver poems, one of which is titled “The Summer Day.” It ends with the question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” (If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and click on that link to read the entire poem.)

Not too long after that post, I stumbled on Carla’s blog aptly titled, Wild and Precious Life. She was in the process of becoming a certified life coach. When she   started taking on new clients, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. What I loved about talking with Carla is that she has asked herself the same questions a lot of us struggle with. What do I want to be when I grow up? Is this the right path for me? How do I figure out what that is? What’s next?

Carla embodies the Shine philosophy because she has answered Mary Oliver’s question for herself, and now she’s giving back by helping other people do just that.

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You’ve recently become a certified life coach. Can you explain what a life coach is? 

A life coach is someone who can help people who are feeling stuck or overwhelmed get back to their right life and live their dreams.  A life coach doesn’t give advice or offer therapy – instead, we ask powerful questions that help our clients uncover the wisdom they already possess.  It’s so easy to get caught up in other peoples’ expectations or even our own muddied expectations of what we think we’re supposed to do.  Many of us are lucky to have a lot of choices, even when we feel like we don’t have options or we’re feeling stuck.  Life coaches help our clients get out of their own way and address fears and untruths. We reconnect our clients with the part of themselves that still dreams of the possibilities, and then help them figure out how to make those possibilities happen.

What drew you to life coaching? 

I read some fantastic books by Martha Beck and they completely changed my life.  I found myself wondering if I could help do these things for other people.  Once I had these tools, I wanted to share them with the world, because they’re so powerful!  It took me a while to realize I could be a coach and I went on my own journeys first and revamped major parts of my life, and now I’m excited to share my skills with others.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail seemed to be a turning point in your life. What was it about that experience that changed or challenged your perspective? 

It’s funny – the turning point actually came before, and the hike was like the cherry on top.  In my job, I’d gotten it in my head that I needed to be responsible for all kinds of projects and programs I’d created, and my work as a teacher and service-learning coordinator had become completely overwhelming and all encompassing.  My life felt unbalanced and I would look at my calendar on Sunday nights and just want to cry.  But I couldn’t figure out anything to take off the calendar or any way to get some balance back.

Once I started really questioning that way of looking at my life, I ended up doing very different work and leaving to hike for six months.  Even before I left for the trail, I had gained a lot of clarity about what I wanted and how I wanted my ideal life to look.

My hike gave me three gifts:  First, it gave me incredible courage and allowed me to realize just what I’m capable of, both mentally and physically.  I faced all kinds of fears on the trail and stepped into my power.  Second, it reminded me just how generous the world is.  On my hike I was overwhelmed by how many people, both friends and strangers, reached out to support me and help me.  We live in a culture that idealizes self-sufficiency, but offering help and being able to ask for help are such glorious ways to share and connect with others.  The last gift my hike gave me was to remind me of the importance of quiet and stillness and connection with nature.  It’s so easy to stay plugged in to the 24 hour News/Facebook/Twitter/drama/castastrophe cycle. Stepping away from that and being intentional about how much of that I let back into my life after my hike has made such a difference in my well-being and my ability to have time to develop my own talents.

Like so many of us you’ve explored different career paths. How did you know those other paths weren’t right for you and when did you realize it was time to move on? 

The way I see it, my whole career has been just a shifting of the same type of work – just done a little bit differently each time.   I started out in environmental education teaching middle school kids in the woods, and it was perfect for me.  I made a shift when I got tired of the repetition and wanted to see one set of kids for more than two days.  So I became a science teacher, and that was perfect for a long time.  There was never a dull moment and I learned so much and developed tons of cool programs.  I always maintained a focus on nature in my science teaching and I learned a lot about what I valued in teaching and how important it was to connect with and listen to my students.  Meanwhile, I began to teach new teachers because I knew the crucial role a good teacher could play in the lives of his or her students, and I wanted to share my wisdom.  I also wanted to support new teachers with managing the overwhelm of a very challenging job. My last big change came from needing to take an extended break from it all. I’m an introvert by nature and I was desperate for a very large chunk of alone time. Hiking the Appalachian Trail had been a dream for me since I was a teenager, and it was time to stop waiting and do it. Once I came back from the trail, I wanted to keep teaching but on my own terms.  Mentoring and tutoring students one on one, life coaching adults, and creating programs and courses to help others make sure they don’t miss out on living their wild and precious lives is just the next variation on a theme.  I’ve been lucky that I’ve always had jobs that didn’t just pay the bills, but also fed my soul.

Can you talk about your “Wordless Walks?” How could someone replicate that in their community? 

Wordless walks are very easy.  On the simplest level it’s just walking silently.  And in the process of silent walking, the brain slows down its chatter and you can connect with nature around you and with your inner self in a deep and restorative way.  If you go to my website and look for “How to take a wordless walk” there’s a blog post with little more instruction, and soon I’ll be offering a more fleshed-out free wordless walk how-to  guide.  Look for it on my website by the end of April.  I’m beginning a Wordless Walk worldwide revolution, and I feature wordless walks from around the world every Wednesday, so look for that as well.  I think it’s important for us to remember the value of wordlessness amidst the cacophony of modern living.

Do you have any A-HA moments that you’d like to share?

My biggest a-ha moment gets repeated over and over every day because it’s so powerful.  It’s this:  I am not my thoughts.  I don’t have to believe every thought that my mind tosses out there.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I have two bits of advice that have made such a difference for me, and both were printed on little signs.   The first was a question that came from a Mary Oliver poem and then became incorporated into my business name. I was walking around a meditation labyrinth with a friend and we were reading the quotes set in the grass in front of the benches around the labyrinth.  I came to one that read, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  I immediately felt like I’d been punched in my heart, and I began to cry.  I think it was the wake-up call that I needed at the time to remind me that I wasn’t living all of my dreams, that my world had become small – a never-ending cycle of projects, events,  and responsibilities – the calendar pages whooshing past.  None of it was bad stuff and a lot of it was actually quite meaningful, but there was too much and it was all focused outward.  That quote was a reminder that it was time to do some inner work and gain some peace and take care of me.  That’s when I began to make the big moves and shift everything around.

The second was on the bumper sticker of a good friend’s car years and years ago.  It resonated so much then and has been a mantra for me ever since, even when I wasn’t doing as good a job at it. It’s so simple:  “Don’t postpone joy.”  We are taught from a very young age about the value of delayed gratification.  “You can do this after you _______.”  or  “You can’t use/wear/play with that now – you need to save it for later.”  This is a helpful tool, but it can be easy to believe that we have unlimited time.  If we find ourselves delaying our big dreams until we: move into the new house, get a promotion, get the kids into college, retire, save up X amount of money, feel more stable, lose ten or twenty or thirty pounds, or whatever it is, that’s a red flag that something needs to change.

Is there anything I left out that you’d like to add?  

My cat Buster wants to remind everyone that the other mantra I have and use regularly, especially if I’m in a bit of a hurry and zipping out the door and he’s lolling on the front porch, is this:  “There’s always time to kiss the cat.”  And he’s right.

Carla Robertson is a teacher and life coach who specializes in helping overwhelmed people come back to living their wild and precious lives. She lives in New Orleans where every day feels like vacation, and she loves to help others figure out how they can live lighter and happier. In 2009 she thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, and she revisits the woods whenever she can, taking willing and curious souls with her. Find her at livingwildandprecious.com 

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Get inspired by past SHINE posts here. If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.

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14 comments

  1. Love her! There’s something so peaceful and comforting in what she says about “not being your thoughts”. So often, the icky thoughts can make me feel “icky”, but to recognize that these are just mere thoughts and not identifiers, well that’s cool.
    Also, the “stepping into your own power” is huge. I may be giving her a call too!
    Great SHINE, Jackie!

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    1. That was one of my biggest takeaways, too. I am not my thoughts. Dogs, cats and horses already know that, don’t they? 🙂

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      1. Jackie – so true – that’s why I think that our dear animals can really help us. As Martha Beck explains, if you can’t explain your problem in a way that an animal can understand – like you can’t walk it over and show it the physical problem, then it’s actually just a thought – and you can work with it! So cool! 🙂

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    2. Thanks so much, Joy! I would love to hear from you, anytime! It is amazing to begin to realize this beautiful gift that thoughts are just thoughts – what a revelation! So glad you enjoyed this! 🙂

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    1. How fantastic that your niece hiked the AT, Lenore! It was such an amazing experience – I go back and walk at least a small part of it every year. Seems that everything turns to peace when I place my feet on that trail, even if my body gets sore from hiking! Cheers!

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  2. Oh, I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Maybe when I’m an old lady I’ll do it. Haha!
    The realization that we are not our thoughts changes everything for the better. It’s so easy to be caught up in the everyday drama our minds cook up. I love the simple and direct way you word that here, Carla. Best wishes to you in your life coaching career.
    “There’s always time to kiss the cat.” That’s one very wise cat.

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    1. Thanks so much, Cynthia! (love your last name, by the way 😉 ) I know – there are things I picture doing when I get old – I still imagine that I’m going to have a Georgia O’Keefe phase – and then I think, wait — why not start that phase now? And yes, my cat is a sweetheart – he’s next to me right now, awaiting kisses…

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