538 Shelley Paxton:
How long is your list of “should’s” … all those things you “should” do, accomplishments you “should” achieve … the person you “should” be? We all “should” all over ourselves – and that disconnects us from our true calling, disconnects us from living our joy.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who has the blueprint to help you reignite your rebel soul and spark a movement through your work within your company.
Shelley Paxton believes everyone deserves a “soulbatical” – that is, a quiet time where you go slow … in order to move swiftly to liberate yourself from what she calls “the shackles of should”.
Shelley, a former Harley Davidson Exec turned international speaker, transformational leadership coach, and author of the newly Simon & Schuster published book, Soulbbatical: A Corporate Rebel’s Guide to Finding Your Best Life, shares today on Wings how she is helping to liberate her clients from burnout + enable them to courageously create with rebel leadership.
Today we cover a lot of ground … why who you are being rather than what you are doing … is the key to success, plus how to find that inner GPS that guides you to living into your true purpose as a “rebel leader” manifesting “ripples of impact”. And much more. First..
Shelley Paxton spent 26 years as a highly regarded marketing and advertising executive, stewarding some of the world’s most iconic brands like Harley-Davidson, Visa, McDonald’s, and AOL. She was essentially the Chief Marketing Officer, responsible for leading all brand and marketing activity around the world. In her 6+ year tenure at harley, she led significant growth and transformation with her signature authenticity and courage, rocking leather, jeans, and boots in the Boardroom.
In 2016 she walked away from the corporate world to nurture her soul and discover her purpose. She christened herself Chief Soul Officer and called the journey her Soulbbatical.
It did more than change her life, it became her calling.
In 2018, Shelley opened the doors of her own company with the mission to liberate the souls of leaders and organizations, by inspiring them to realize
their greatest purpose and potential. Shelley’s intention is to help her clients discover, as she did, a way of being that is aligned with their authentic self (soul) and deeply rooted in a commitment to living and leading courageously.
As a certified professional coach, she works with individuals, entrepreneurs, and executives at Fortune 100 companies like Lowe’s, Inc. and Mars, Inc.
As you listen to this episode, take out your phone & download the free Podopolo app. Share with Shelley & me what you think your inner GPS is saying to you …. And the impact you want to have on the world.
And listen as Shelley shares her rebel soul ways as a Second City improv grad, and self-proclaimed Global Citizen having lived in places as diverse as Istanbul, Shanghai, and New York City, and traveling to 66 countries and counting, quite a few of them on a motorcycle. I cant wait to share her inspiration with you.
So let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Shelley Paxton.
Melinda Wittstock: Shelley, welcome to Wings.
Shelley Paxton: Thank you, Melinda. I’m so excited to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: I am excited to have you. You describe yourself as a chief soul officer. I want you describe what that is and what that means.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. Can I just start by saying that it is by far the most important title I have ever held. And it’s interesting … Maybe I’ll give a little part of my backstory because that will help everybody understand why on earth I created this title. And literally, it just sort of manifested itself. I was chief marketing officer of Harley Davidson. I’d been in the corporate world for 26 years. An amazing career, really, with incredible success. And I found myself in one of the sexiest jobs in marketing at one of the most iconic brands in the world; that people tattoo on their bodies.
And while I was ticking all the boxes of success on the outside, I was feeling empty on the inside. And I started to really feel like, “What is going on, here?” I would have the guilts, actually, because I thought, “Well, who works this hard and this long to get to this place and then doesn’t feel the joy and fulfillment of being in this place?” And I realized that I was living completely out of alignment with my own truth and my own soul and that I was really living someone else’s dream. More specifically, I was living my dad’s dream.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness. How many of us do that?
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Everyone, we … I call it the life of should’s, where we grow up, we’re taught by our parents, our school, our media all the things we should do. And then as women and as girls, we’re going to be the good girl and do the path. And when it’s out of alignment, it just doesn’t work. You just can’t, in essence, be happy. What was the spark? You’re there and you’re like, “Oh my God. I’m not happy. I feel guilty for not being happy.” What happened then? How did you make that shift?
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. As you and, I’m sure, many of your listeners know, we don’t often do it on our own; there’s usually a catalyst.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Shelley Paxton: In many cases, it’s like you lose your job or tragedy happens or illness happens. Something forces you to have that reckoning and in my case, I had many instances of illness that only in hindsight I realized were like, “Oh, those were wake up moments.” And guess what? I didn’t wake up. I just hunkered down deeper in my armor. This time, the universe kind of reached into my subconscious and was ripping me out of my sleep like five nights a week. My book actually starts with the story of the nightmare, and the nightmare was my catalyst. I was seeing the same thing again and again. It was ripping me to shreds five nights a week. I won’t spoil it for everyone, but suffice it to say that when I … This was happening for my entire last year at Harley, so I was 45 years old and I was waking up screaming and crying in bed like a five year-old most nights of the week.
So, then I started numbing myself. I was drinking a bottle of wine before I went to bed to try to incapacitate these nightmares instead of processing it. I finally went to see a doctor. He was in integrative medicine and so he got me into meditation for the very first time in my life. And through meditation I started to understand the message of this nightmare. And what I was seeing in the nightmare, which was … well, I’ll say it … was my dog; my precious puppy who had passed away about six years prior to this, right before I went to Harley. And I was finding him in a small utility closet still alive, whimpering, dying, malnourished, longing for attention, desiring love. And through meditation, I realized, “Oh my God. He’s a proxy for my soul.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Oh my goodness. I have chills.
Shelley Paxton: Right? I know. I still … Every time I tell that story I get goosebumps and tears. That was my wake up call. And I love what you said about the life of should’s because I talk a lot about that in my book. I have a chapter called Shoulding All Over Myself on how-
Melinda Wittstock: (Laughing)
Shelley Paxton: Right? So, you and I are so aligned. And I immediately say-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that’s hilarious.
Shelley Paxton: -our job as chief soul officer is to release ourselves from the shackles of should. Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: Because we do this to ourselves. We build the prison around ourselves. We create the pain. And let’s start owning the cans so we can create the life we really want. I talk a lot about … So, chief soul officer … Just to come back to your initial question, this was my wake up call. The nightmare really helped me understand, “Oh my God. I’m neglecting my own soul. I’m not listening to it. I’m not nourishing it or nurturing it. I’m not even paying attention to it. I’m just stuffing it down and saying, ‘Well, I did all this work to get to this place and this is what I should do and it would be sunk cost of I left corporate America right now, at this point’.” And I was making myself miserable.
My wake-up call was like, “You know what, girl? You’re 45 years old. Are you going to live someone else’s life or are you going to live your life?”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: Right? And when I made that decision to say, “You know what? I want to invest in the possibility of my future self. I want to understand what is my truth and what is my higher calling.” Because I just had this sense that I was being called to do something bigger and that’s why I wasn’t feeling that fulfillment. So, I made the decision. I started paving my way out of Harley. It was about six months of work to make sure that I was in a good place and that the company and my team was in a good place. And in the process … And when I made the announcement that I was walking away from this dream job by most people’s standard, I really was getting a lot of resistance from everyone in my world. My parents thought I’d lost it. They thought I belonged in a padded cell somewhere. My business network was like, “Who leaves that job? And especially without another job?” You can imagine, right? We face these things. There was this chorus of doubters.
And so, I woke up one morning and said, “I want to help the world understand that this is a profound personal journey that I’m about to go on.” And the universe delivered this gift and said one morning, “You are chief soul officer of your life,” because titles were important to me at that time. They’re not now, but I really … I still love chief soul officer because it reminds me of what’s important and to stay true to who I am. “And you’re going on this journey called the soulbatical. You’re going to nourish your creative soul and listen to it and just lean into it one tiny step at a time and see where it takes you. And worst case scenario, you decide to take a corporate job a year later, but give yourself some time for that exploration.” And the rest is history. That was almost four years ago. Literally next week will be four years from the day that I walked away from my sexy corporate life.
Melinda Wittstock: So many entrepreneurs, particularly female entrepreneurs, have that story. Many of us do the things we’re supposed to do. We go into corporate, we do all those things, and we’re out of . And finding that alignment, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you can be in the present moment. That’s where you can find joy in your life. That’s where the relationships really blossom. That’s where the innovation happens. That’s where everything happens. But it really is a journey to get there. That’s the thing. And I guess it’s not really a destination, either.
Shelley Paxton: No.
Melinda Wittstock: I’m curious how your ‘soulbatical’ continues to unfold. Are there new realizations? Are there new things? Because it is a journey.
Shelley Paxton: It is 100% a journey and will be for my entire life. It unfolds so magically, as you said. Let’s say this. I feel like what I’ve realized in the process … First, I had to go through the initial part of the journey, which is unwinding and unraveling my identity because I didn’t realize how much my worth … my self-worth, my precious self-worth … was attached to titles and money and sexy, iconic brands and all the things.
And so, the first step for me was saying, “Well, what if the most iconic brand you could ever represent is Shelley Paxton?” And that was mind blowing for me because as a marketer I was used to serving these epic brands like Harley, like Visa, like McDonald’s, like AOL. All of that. My whole career and my life had been built around that. So, it was really digging deep to understand who I am at my core and my self-worth and starting to build up from there. And I realized that’s the place we all have to start. We have to be in this place of more being than doing.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, yes. That’s been my big life lesson. There have been many, but …
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. Yeah, of course.
Melinda Wittstock: But that’s been a really interesting thing because where I’ve come to there is who am I being to have the outcomes that I wish to manifest? And when I’m in that mode, it’s interesting how the synchronicities happen; how things just happen. The right people show up. I don’t know, the right divine downloads come to me in my meditation or the … I don’t know. There’s more of an ease and a flow.
When I go into doing, though … When I scratch that itch and I’m all about the detail and the doing and I become a human doing rather than a human being, everything’s much harder and I get less done. That’s the irony of it.
Shelley Paxton: It’s so incredibly true. And I think especially as women we place so much value on … It’s like, “Oh, I’m going to prove myself through my productivity.” It’s like, “Actually, no.” Our power is in the way we show up in the world. Our power is … I like to speak in terms of rebel for. One of my big … This was another epiphany that I had on this journey even more recently, actually. I realized … The subtitle of the book is A Corporate Rebel’s Guide to Finding Your Best Life. And I’ve always been a rebel. You get it when you read the book; that I was rebelling against everything. I was rebelling against my parents and tradition and religion and authority and you name it from the time I shot out of the womb. And what I realized more recently on this journey is that I … The power is in rebelling for.
Rebelling against is exhausting and it’s on someone else’s terms. Rebelling for is empowering and it’s on your terms. So I say, really, if we think about the way that we’re being it stems from this place of rebelling for who we are, which is our authenticity, what we want, which is the courage to create that, and the impact we want to have in the world, which is our purpose. And I think that’s the wellspring of where we just start to radiate and make a difference in the world.
Melinda Wittstock: There are a lot of people who ask me questions like, “How do I find my purpose?” A lot of people are so removed from it and I will find myself saying things to them like, “Well, what do you love to do where time disappears?” Or, “What did you do naturally as a child before you got into the whole school system that structured your life for you?” What’s your advice for someone who feels a bit lost or unhappy? They don’t really know what it is. They don’t really know what it is and they don’t necessarily know what their purpose is?
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. You and I, we’ve already proven … I think we are soul sisters because what you just said is so often what I say as well. And my way of framing it is your purpose isn’t a script in your head; it’s the story in your soul. And I think so often we get caught up. I know this was true for me. I got caught up in the buzzword bingo of in my head trying to go, “What is my purpose?” And intellectually-
Melinda Wittstock: Intellectualizing it. Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: Intellectualizing it and getting stuck in that. Then, of course, it’s going to feel very generic and it’s going to lack the emotion because you’re not feeling it in your heart, in your soul, in your body. You feel it in your head.
Melinda Wittstock: Or ironically-
Shelley Paxton: Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. And ironically, it becomes hard work to find your purpose when the exact opposite is true.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s about who are you being?
Shelley Paxton: And the advice that I give to everyone is I ask similar questions that you just stated and I also say, “When’s the last time you just got really quiet and really still and listened deeply?” Because I’m a believer that we are a culture that is … We’re taught, we’re conditioned to be addicted to busyness; to try to outrun ourselves and try to outrun that little voice that’s saying, “Hey, wait a second. You’re not happy. This isn’t actually working for you. Sit down for a minute.” I believe that it all starts with getting quiet and turning in. And I think, honestly, you and I are talking in the midst of this global pandemic and there is no more powerful and important time to be getting really clear on what matters to you and listening to that little voice. It’s your GPS. It’s your guide in life. It’s what helps you weather the storm and create fulfillment.
I love to talk in terms of being success-full instead of success-empty. I think-
Melinda Wittstock: Ah.
Shelley Paxton: Right?
Melinda Wittstock: I love that. Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: That was one of my other big a-has is we have the opportunity … and I would actually argue the responsibility … to rewrite the script of success; to be success-full. In order to know, “What fills me up? What creates that fulfillment for me?”, we have to listen deeply, which means creating that space and creating that stillness even if it feels terrifying. And believe me, I know it feels terrifying because the first few times I tried to do it on this journey I was like, “Oh hell no.” I was rank ordering the sexiness of the cast of Game of Thrones in my head. I was doing my grocery list. I was doing all the things to avoid what I was pretending not to know.
Melinda Wittstock: This is why meditation is called a practice.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Say if you look at it like a whole series of trains going by. All these trains. And each train is a thought. You want to expand the gaps between the trains.
Shelley Paxton: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: And just gradually find that quiet. It was very difficult for me to get to those quiet moments. Sometimes I can meditate for a long time before I actually get to that quiet place. I guess it’s about perseverance.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. Perseverance and practice, too.
Melinda Wittstock: And practice. It’s a practice.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. I want to pick up on what you said a moment ago about the Coronavirus, though, because to me, I think this virus and everything that’s going on in the world right now has a profound message for us. And I think what was interesting about the lockdown is it forced people to stop. It was this massive pattern interrupt.
Shelley Paxton: I know.
Melinda Wittstock: Where all of a sudden, you’re sitting in your house or your apartment by yourself or with your family and no place to go and so, your habits are changing. And in a time where your habits are changing, you’re more open to new things, first of all. And things come to light about what is it about your life? Maybe you didn’t like that job, anyway. Maybe you didn’t really like the way your life … Maybe your relationship needed work. Maybe all of these different things. So, it sort of forced us into contemplation. And I believe that when the lesson is learned the experience is no longer necessary. So, what you were saying about all the things that you were ignoring in your own life until it got so loud in this horrible nightmare so is true with the Coronavirus and its impact on society. So, we can learn the lesson or try and go back to the way it was.
Going back to the way it was is actually not possible. And it’s an opportunity. There’s an opportunity in there. This is where I think like an entrepreneur. I’m curious what you think of that message from the virus. What’s the lesson, really, profoundly as a society that we are learning right now?
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. I think there are so many lessons. My point of view is that there’s so many lessons and maybe the meta lesson from all of this is it really is teaching us to get clear and to listen deeply and to face the truth because I think we were all moving at such a pace … or I should say so many of us were moving at such a pace that we were like, “Well it’s okay that I’m not super happy. I’ll be happy when ….” “I should do this.” Feeling obligations. And we weren’t living … Like the old normal, if you want to use that paradigm of the old normal and the new normal … I don’t love the language, but just for the sake of this conversation … A lot of us are realizing the old normal wasn’t so great.
Melinda Wittstock: It wasn’t! It wasn’t really working.
Shelley Paxton: No.
Melinda Wittstock: Even when you think in business terms. You think of Wall Street and the short-termism of anything for profit, anything for revenue; this short-term thing. It’s ultimately not sustainable.
Shelley Paxton: No. 100%. And I think what I love … And believe me, I’m not saying that I’m not recognizing the pain and the lost and the tragedy that-
Melinda Wittstock: Yes.
Shelley Paxton: -has come as a result of the Coronavirus.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly.
Shelley Paxton: At the same time, I’m somebody who says, “I do believe…” Was it Winston Churchill who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”?
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Shelley Paxton: I’m totally a believer in that, so it’s like, “Okay, we’re in this situation. Let’s accept the reality of the situation and let’s understand what this is trying to teach us because there is a lesson.” A couple of things come to my mind. One is I think it’s teaching us to reconnect with ourselves and others on a much deeper level.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: And that, to me, is profound because I think we had become so scattered and busy that we didn’t even realize how disconnected we are. And I think because so many people are losing their jobs, getting furloughed … This is a time of true pivoting. This is a time of true reinvention. And this is a time for all of us to reimagine, “What do we want the next chapter to look like?” And remind ourselves we have the power to create that.
I think we get so caught up in, “Well, this is unfolding and this is unfolding and this is unfolding and this is unfolding.” It’s like, “Well, is that actually what you want?”
Melinda Wittstock: You can react.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Or you can re-envision or reinvent.
Shelley Paxton: Yes. And you can create what you want. And I’m a big … To me, that’s also a tenant of being a chief soul officer. We create the life we want to live. And in order to create it, you have to be really clear. What do you want to rebel for? And on the business side … I love that you brought that up. On the business side, what I am loving and I think is such a gift is we’re seeing so much more compassion and empathy and courage and authenticity in leadership.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: This wholeheartedness in the way people are leading through this. And we have needed that. That’s the feminine energy coming out in leadership and we have needed that for so long in this world. And I’m seeing it break through and I’m celebrating it.
Melinda Wittstock: I see women really leaning into their feminine power. And I’m talking about the sacred feminine; the empathy, the intuition, the connectedness, the-
Shelley Paxton: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: -collaboration. And this is really … and has the power to change our institutions, the way we do business, how we organize business. I think it’s a very powerful energy. I see more and more men leaning into that as well. And so, think it’s a wonderful time for women to be entrepreneurs.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: A more powerful time than any other. But I also see it as a … not to be … not a heaviness around it, but I see it as a responsibility because when we truly have the courage to step into that and be that … Not what society wants us to be, all the things we’ve been told we have to be, but just genuinely being in that sacred feminine. I see tremendous opportunity and change and even women who have business models increasingly that are triple bottom line models.
Shelley Paxton: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: Right? That actually use business for social good and social impact. Seeing so much more of that, which I think is amazing.
Shelley Paxton: And that’s one of my favorite topics, so a couple things come to mind when you say that. I now have goosebumps on this end from you saying that. I’m like, “Oh.” Once again, we are so aligned and it’s just juicy. It’s really good. Two things. One, I am watching Jacinda Ardern down in New Zealand and her leadership and how powerful it is and I am like, “Oh my God. Yes. Thank you for being a role model because we need more of this energy.” And you’re right, it’s the sacred feminine that we all have access to. And I love that she’s really, as the prime minister of New Zealand, leaning in to not apologizing for how she is being and how she is showing up as a political leader, which is so … At the most crucial time in our history … And it’s beautiful.
I’ve been watching that and just saying, “Okay, we need more of that energy, that vibe and those role models.” So, let’s all step up to being the role model and stop apologizing for what I think previously has been looked on as a weakness and recognize that our empathy, our kindness, our compassion; those are strengths.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Shelley Paxton: Those are powerful strengths. Yeah. That’s one thing. And the other thing is I say a lot that now is the time for us to redefine ROI. And it picks up on exactly what you were just saying. I recently wrote A Rebel Leader’s Manifesto and if anybody’s interested in reading it you can find it for free on my website. I just wanted to get it out into the world. It’s taking all of the messages of soulbatical and saying, “What does this look like if we just kind of turn leadership on its head?” And one thing that became clear to me … actually, it was reflected back to me when I was giving a presentation about six or eight weeks ago … is ROI now stands for ripples of impact.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that.
Shelley Paxton: I know. And so, I share that with everyone to say, “What if that becomes our lens?” It’s exactly what you were just saying. It’s like the triple impact and the bottom line. If we are really putting that lens on it, it means we want to make a difference. And it’s not just about return on investment in the traditional dollar sense. It’s really about start being the source of those ripples that become the wave that make a difference on so many levels. And I think it changes … It certainly changes the way I look at how I show up in the world, what I’m doing in my business and even a business model.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. I’m on to my fifth business now, Podcasting Network. It’s a media company but it’s a consciousness company, in fact. And everything we do with the way it’s gamified in the social networking around the podcasts in this network is around encouraging people and rewarding people for doing good in the world. Moreover, we’re committed to investing and donating 10% of our earnings each year to entrepreneurs, particularly women entrepreneurs and minority-owned businesses all around the world who are using business for social impact.
Those are just two examples, but it’s right the way through our model.
Shelley Paxton: Love that.
Melinda Wittstock: Everything we do, even the people that we hire, the podcasters that we work … all of it. And how can we really bring together people in this positive way that’s self-actualized as an individual. When people are being really, truly in alignment as individuals the organization as a whole also becomes aligned.
Shelley Paxton: Oh, that’s the … Yeah. The highest energy. Oof. They’re the highest vibration. That’s beautiful.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. And it-
Shelley Paxton: Sounds like-
Melinda Wittstock: And it’s interesting with purpose because there’s all these things … When you look back on your life … I think Steve Jobs said this really, really well. “You can connect the dots looking backwards.”
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And so, you can see how all the experiences, good and bad, all the skills that you’ve learned, all the things you were doing, they didn’t necessarily make sense when you were in them necessarily but even the bad things, they were all … And even toxic people, they were all your teachers.
Shelley Paxton: Yes. It’s so true. Well, you’re reminding me. We didn’t talk about this when we were on the topic of purpose earlier, but one of the things that became really clear to me on this journey, and I talk about in the book, are what I believe are the four myths of purpose. In fact, this excerpt of the book was published on Thrive Global, so if anybody wants to just go read it for free, go to ThriveGlobal.com and you can search for my name or search for purpose and it will come up.
One of them that I talk about is purpose … I think the myth is purpose is not for profit. And the reality is that isn’t true at all. You can look at … Look at what Sara Blakely does with Spanx. Look at what Blake Mycoskie has done with TOMS. The list goes on and on. I think more and more business models are shifting to exactly that. And it’s what you talked about. Even in the way that I structured my book deal, 10% of my profits from the book go to a charity around mental health … it’s called Life is Priceless Foundation … that is hugely important to me and part of my own personal journey. And more of that is coming into my business, as well, so I just believe there’s so many different ways to look at purpose.
And I’m not even a believer that we have only one purpose. That’s another one of the myths. I believe it can grow and change and expand over time. And I also believe that purpose doesn’t have to be this earth-shattering idea. One of the things … I know I would get stuck in my head, like we talked about earlier, because I was like, “Oh, no. Purpose has to be that thing that would be on the cover of Time Magazine.” Right?
Melinda Wittstock: Right. People think-
Shelley Paxton: Where like-
Melinda Wittstock: Right. And our purpose … We can have lots of impact on a small scale. It doesn’t have to be that at all.
Shelley Paxton: Totally. And it-
Melinda Wittstock: And it’s just as valuable.
Shelley Paxton: Right. And it might start out like mine did. And this goes to the point you made earlier, which is it was like there’s like little P and big P. Little P are your passions; the questions you were asking earlier. And it’s just following that. Nourish your soul by getting reconnected with your passions. For me, my soulbatical started out with me getting reconnected with three things I love: travel, writing and photography. And through those and the synchronicities that started to be revealed and the portals that started to open up as I took one tiny step after the other led me to realizing, “Oh my God, there is a bigger P purpose in my life and that’s the purpose of liberating a billion souls.”
I went on this journey so I can help others on this journey to really understand what it looks like to live a life that’s more authentic, more courageous and more purposeful. And that was so beautiful but I only got there by taking little, tiny steps forward and leaning into that energy and momentum.
Melinda Wittstock: So Shelley, when you look back on your life and all you did in corporate … You’re obviously a very accomplished marketing person. You’re really good at this. And these skills and the things that you learned, even if it didn’t feel like it was aligned with your purpose it feels like that gave you all the skill and all the insight to be able to do what you’re doing now. How do you thread the needle through all of that when you look in your life?
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. I think, for me, the biggest a-ha, which is the through line, is that authenticity is the truest form of rebellion. And what I realized is even when I thought I was being … when I was misaligned with my truth and maybe parts of what I were doing felt inauthentic … I actually realized in looking back that I was doing corporate my way. I rarely went into a job that had already existed where 100s of people had already been in that role. I usually was sent out into the white, white, white space of create something new. Help us to do X that we’ve never done before. Go live in Istanbul, Turkey.
I started to see my … I lived all over the world. I traveled all over the world in these global jobs and I realized, “Oh, I’m doing my career in corporate my way,” because I always wanted to see more of the world and experience more cultures and all of those things to, really, learn more about myself. I saw all of that as a reflection. And so, why I was beating myself up along the way I now realize that, “Oh, I was doing it my way.” And those 26 years of being in the corporate world were such a gift because I was … I was a different breed of leader. I was putting myself out there in ways like, “Yeah, you know what? I’m 26 years old and single. Send me to Turkey.” I’ve never been there before. I don’t speak the language. I know no one. And yet, that feels like leaning into my edges.
And I have a philosophy that comes from the short time that I spent in improv. In my early to mid-20s I’m in Chicago. I’m actually back in Chicago now. I was living in Chicago. It was my first sexy advertising job after university and I trained at the Second City. And when-
Melinda Wittstock: Yes! I saw that. How amazing. I love that.
Shelley Paxton: Which is fun. More like we realized that our professional life was just all consuming and it wasn’t feeling that fulfilling, and so this was my first a-ha moment of digging into, “Well, what lights me up?” And so, a friend challenged me to say, “Let’s go do improv. Let’s get on stages and just lean into the crazy.” And so, I did. And the two most valuable things that I got out of that … that I can now see that I brought into the entire rest of my life and will continue to do … One is the concept of, “Yes, and …” It just opens doors and it reveals opportunities and it’s the language of possibility, and so I have lived my life saying, “Yes, and …”
It’s allowed me to do things that lot of other people don’t do because they’re scary. But I’m like, “Well, you know what? I know when I say, ‘Yes, and …’ it opens a door.” I know it will reveal the next step. I know even though my palms are sweating and I feel terrified, that something … That this is what opens the door to possibility. I’ve lived my whole life that way from the boardroom to the ballroom to whatever.
And the second one that … The second lesson that improv taught me is go before you’re ready. And this, to me, is a big one for us as entrepreneurs. Certainly, for me, because I could have spent … I spent about 14 months in between when I left Harley and when I started my Soulbbatical business. And part of the length of that had everything to do with the fact that my dad had two strokes in the middle, and so I actually went and just spent time with family. But that, also, was another one of those tragedies that crystallized that I was not going to my deathbed with any regrets and I was going to live life on my terms. And I could have sat there and polished and polished and polished this idea of what does the Soulbbatical business look like? And I thought, “No. You know what? Go before you’re ready. Hang a virtual shingle and start showing up and see what happens and iterate along the way.” And I think it’s one of the most valuable lessons for all of us.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It’s so, so true. I think that’s even true about exiting a business. A lot of founders, they build a business but they wait until they’re no longer enjoying their business-
Shelley Paxton: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: -or something goes wrong before trying to sell it, where the time to actually think about exiting your business and selling your business is when it’s going really, really well because that’s when you get the maximum value, you can still have an ownership stake in the company that bought your business and watch it grow and make more money that way. And you’re free to go onto the next. But it’s actually just knowing when those cycles end and leaving at the top. I think that’s a really profound point.
Shelley Paxton: So true. And you know what? In hindsight, I realize that’s what I did at Harley, too. I really ended up leaving at the top and I think that was one of the messages from my soul. It’s like, “Now is the time to go. Now is the time to really, really understand this brand called Shelley Paxton. It’s time for radical self-care. It’s time to create space in your life. It’s time to find your higher purpose and calling.” I could have hung on for a long time. And Harley’s not in great shape right now as a company, and so I could have been in a place of going, “Oh my God, now I’m scrambling and now I’m even more depleted and exhausted and even more disconnected with myself.” And so, I love how this message … Listening deeply really did it. It was terrifying and it was the biggest gift I’ve ever gotten.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely Shelley, I could talk to you forever. I want to make sure people know how to find you, work with you, get your amazing book; all of it.
Shelley Paxton: Yes, thank you. Thank you. And by the way, I could talk to you forever, too, so there might have to be a part two. I think I’m going to have you on-
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly.
Shelley Paxton: -Rebel Souls. Rebel Souls-
Melinda Wittstock: I would love to.
Shelley Paxton: Rebel Souls is my new podcast. My only podcast. My brand new podcast. I would say you can learn everything about me if you go to Soulbbatical.com. And Soulbbatical has two B’s and one T. You can learn about where to buy the book. You can learn about the podcast. The book is available anywhere and everywhere. One of the things I would say right now is if you go to Bookshop.org, that’s the publishers coming together to support indie bookstores. I’m a big fan of people buying books through Bookshop.org because it’s really helping especially the indie shops stay afloat during the pandemic.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, wonderful.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah, yeah. And I also say, “Find your Black-owned book store in your local neighborhood and support it.”
Melinda Wittstock: I love that, too.
Shelley Paxton: Yeah. That’s really important. And you can find me … My playground is Instagram, so @Soulbbatical. Again, two B’s, one T. That is my playground. You can also connect with me as Shelley Paxton on LinkedIn. And I would love to continue this conversation with anyone who felt like it lit them up and they want to be on this journey. I’m happy to chat and support in any way that I can.
Melinda Wittstock: Ah, that’s wonderful. My goodness. Well, thank you so, so much for putting on your wings, Shelley, and flying with us today.
Shelley Paxton: Thank you.