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Vision & Allies: The ramp up to Lifestyle Sandbox

Years ago I began visiting St Simons Island Georgia thanks to my Westminster High School friend Marie Jones Wilson and her mother Jean Jones whose hospitality always included cold drinks, delicious meals, karaoke singing and long hours deliberating on the nature of life.

On other trips I visited my Agnes Scott College friends Leslie Miller, Julie Custer and Anna Cheshire (among others) and learned the soul healing power of a deeply southern approach to beach gatherings.

In between visits I found myself gravitating to books that had the main character escaping crushing life and career circumstances to a hole up in a beach house in a community that helped them discover the core of who they were once again.

The Lifestyle Sandbox Retreat idea was actually born of these experiences and these ideas.

There was also a pivitol moment during my coaching certification that took the idea from a musing to mission. In the CTI (Coaches Training Institute) coaching certification there is a module called Fulfillment. 

Working with my coaching buddy Robbin Jorgensen we did an exercise that made it very clear that the next chapter of my life would include sandy toes and a retreat center for leadership development and team building and that I would be living at the beach. (That Fulfillment module has an uncanny way of creating powerful futures for attendees! In the same exercise I found the beach retreat, Robbin’s ‘aha’ had her start down the path to creating her Women Igniting Change initiative Pamela Marttsson was the leader of that segment and would go on to be my coach and the one to hold my vision in my darkest days.

Before that CTI Fulfillment weekend, I had truly not considered living at the beach. Being a red head who easily burns the idea of moving to the beach to open a retreat facility came as a bit of a surprise. 

However, the truth of this new path came clear as I realized that some of my best memories were dancing on the beach, Jimmy buffet on the boom box … yes it was the 80s…with buddies like Celia Shackleford Booher drinking margaritas and laughing like crazy.

The CTI Coaching and Leadership curriculum has a way of surfacing non linear right brain wisdom and soul quests.

After every coaching module I would meet with my spiritual and psychological quest partner Leslie Lyons Watkins to catch her up on every ‘aha’ and insight. 

After the Fulfillment module I told her I knew that I needed to take all the wisdom from my life and what I was learning and pass it on.  She knew a beach path was the right one for me and that she would be my biggest cheer leader through it all.

Like all ideas it takes time to manifest into the world.  Sometimes ideas never make it to the light of day.  The Sandbox idea stuck.  It stuck throughout the most turbulent years of my life.

It was through tremendous turbulence that I took on the year long CTI Leadership Program.  I learned sometimes timing is perfect when it seems totally imperfect.

In this experience (much more than a curriculum) I learned more about leadership while on retreat than I ever did professionally or in the class room.  This year long course taught me how very vital it was to have allies. Finding global allies (for example my room mate was from Canada, living in Dubai and other attendees were worldwide from Scotland, DC, Miami, Boston and Canada) expands perspective and the idea of what’s possible.

I learned how very vital it was to find a ‘tribe’.  To find a group that can hold your vision when you can’t.  My tribe mates have held my idea tirelessly.  They continue to help me manifest it all  (Alexis Tabacinic, Ben Murry,Cheryl Breining, Donna Milofsky, Donna Needs, Isabelle de Martin, Jeffrey Loesch, Jenn Tenczar, Kirsty Star Maynor, Leslie Crain, Lucetta Zaytoun, Mark Scannell, Mike Caralas, Murray Thorpe, Regina Hellinger, Roya Ferdows, Stephen Sayle, Thom Qafzezi, Tracy Figg, and Zita Delevic)  

Specifically, one of the assistants during that year long course, Melanie Scott, continues to be my thought partner and business strategy consultant helping me to craft the actual Sandbox space and experience. 

I learned during this time how important it was to build a board of advisors for your projects and for your life. Having a CPA, Lawyer, financial advisor,  career coach, and/or mentor is vital, especially during transition. My financial advisor/estate lawyer/sanity steward Helen Rice ( helped me wobble into my own capacity to lead legally and financially.  My career advisor Bruce Dreyfus ( coached me through advanced business contracts and reminded me how to stay true to my heart.  Emory Mulling mentored me in C-Suite HR Consulting and leadership coaching and Allison Mora showed me how to build top tiered white glove excellent customer service (  

There is only so far you can go by yourself, you must have allies.

Over the last several years I made many trips to St Simons to look into the wheres and whens and hows of starting the sandbox and leaned heavily into my community at the beach.  Like those books I read over time it was my beach community that helped me find myself and rebuild who I wanted to be.

Julie Custer Altman and her husband Stewart , Anna Cheshire Levitan and her husband Rich, Clay Custer and Beth McKim, Mac Holland and Sherrill Sumner (the realtor who survived my search for my townhouse) and Ann Harrell the realtor and ASC buddy that helped me explore Villa de Suenos ‘House of Dreams’ a spectacular location available for rent for executive retreats) , Donna Waters (the neuromuscular massage therapist and wellness guru, Michelle McGregor (neighbor and fellow coach), Molly Howard SouthCoast Bank and Trust, Art Lucas, Kathi Hardy, and Louise Hooper at Lucas Properties, Trish Anderson CPA and most of all David Palko were the community I needed after my crushing life circumstances to find the pieces of myself again.

Though dark hours of doubt and tears and bright days of beaches filled with sunshine, mustang convertibles and full moon surf walking, the pieces of the Lifestyle Sandbox began to emerge.

Over the years of coaching, while the retreat idea simmered in the background, I learned a great deal behind the doors of an Executive Leadership Coaching Session. 

I learned that the same problem the CEO was having the the CFO was the same issue found at home with a teenage son.  I learned that the migraines the Sr VP of sales was having was impacting not only sales results but their marriage and home life as well.

What I learned was that my mission went way beyond the scope of work place effectiveness.  What I helped executives grapple with went into their entire lifestyle.

So as I worked with Anna Levitan and Abby Born with 5th Street East to create my brand, the name Lifestyle Sandbox emerged to describe  the experience I wanted each attendee to have on their beach retreat.

In CTI’s Coaching and Leadership curriculum there is always a part of the weekend that was called a Sandbox.  It was a chance for the attendees to circle up, play with ideas, collaborate and launch concrete next steps.

I loved the idea of a sandbox, a place to try things, knock them down and try again, work with other folks, have fun, be surprised how others bring skills and expertise so that you end up with ideas and solutions you never could have found on your own.

I also knew that in the IT world a sandbox is a testing environment designed to reduce the risk of technical errors adversely affecting a larger group of people than is absolutely necessary at the time.  It isolates untested changes and experimentation from the production environment.

In the gaming environment (thank you Graham Paul Berg for introducing me to this world) a sandbox is a style of game in which minimal character limitations are placed on the gamer.  A sandbox game emphasized roaming and allows a gamer to select tasks.

So taking these ideas and applying them to leadership development I created a sandbox for a Lifestyle of Leadership.

It is an experimental environment to test ideas or new directions outside the production environment of the workspace or home.  Frequently when we are called to create something in the world it can cause turbulence in the current enviornment.

I saw this myself when I was clear the next step was to move to the beach. This decision was the right decision for myself and my business but it came with a very difficult pulling away from my home town and from my family.

My family, Graham and Duncan Berg, my late husband Jon Berg, Sanders, Debbie, Melissa and Mathew McConnell loved and supported me throughout the process of birthing this idea.  As much as they wanted me to find my path it has been hard to have me leave the compound that we built for ourselves in the suburbs of Atlanta and lived in for almost 2 decades.

(My brother Michael and Valerie McConnell and their boys are devoted Parrot Heads and are happy I am now at the beach and actually closer that Atlanta to them!)

This is part of leading your best lifestyle.  Leading your life, your career, your organization, your family is thrilling as your vision manifests and it almost always causes change that is bitter sweet.  It will most likely include unintended consequences as well. 

Each of these elements are to be expected.  Each of these elements can be navigated with grace and power, I have found, if we have a place to step away and create and a coach to help guide our steps.

This is why I built the Lifestyle Sandbox. This is why I chose to be a coach to help others lead transition rather than survive change at work and at home.

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