Blast Off! How VLI propelled me to the stars!

Guest Post by Elaine Clayton
Vista Leadership Institute* participant, 2016
travelaine.com | @travelainegram

When I started the Vista Leadership Institute, I felt stuck in my career and life plans. I had a successful career, health, great community; but I didn’t feel like my dreams were being realized. I needed help implementing ideas I was hesitant to take action on.

Along with my full-time job, I run a travel blog where I write about cross-cultural experiences in Washington, D.C. and around the world. That was growing last year, but I felt like there was more I could do with it. I also wanted to start some kind of business where I could take groups of people to explore different cultures through food, events, and more in Washington, D.C. But, I had no idea if that idea was even plausible.

The Vista Leadership Institute helped me map out these ideas, as well as aspects of my personal life I didn’t even realize,  were holding me back from them. The readings, exercises, and discussions we had as a group really pushed me to think deeper about these personal and career goals. Instead of reflecting on these ideas and keeping them in my mind, I was able to put them on paper and start implementing them. Mary equipped us with the tools needed to push beyond roadblocks we created in our own minds.

One of my favorite lessons learned was that of letting go, based on a reading of Theory U by Otto Scharmer. It seems simple enough – letting go of the bad for the good to come in – but I didn’t realize how essential it is until I lived it. As Mary, the Vistaleras and I started mapping out a plan for my new business, blog and personal life, new opportunities started to come my way. I received my first blog collaboration with a Washington, D.C.-based restaurant. In exchange for coverage on my blog and social media, I enjoyed a decadent Mediterranean meal. A couple of weeks later, a woman who started a business about exploring cultures locally reached out to me, and we met to discuss potential collaborations. I also started to build more confidence in my goals, feelings, and decisions in what I did, who I surrounded myself with, and where I lived.

Mary quickly pushed us out of our comfort zones in a way that didn’t feel scary or rushed. With a safe space to bounce ideas around in, we were able to start realizing our true passions and goals. This happened in our virtual conference rooms, in the living room of our house in Oaxaca, with Oaxacan farmers working in an amaranth farm, sharing mole with Zapotec women. And immediately, these plans started to take shape.

A year later, I am writing this post right after touring a national airport to write about their new offerings on my blog. I moved into my own apartment and vouched for myself to live and work in Tunisia for a whole month. I’ve started freelance writing, took my first international press trip, and started a Meetup group of over 950 people in Washington, D.C. in which we explore cultures through restaurants and exhibits each month. I’ve let go of any relationships that made me feel constricted in any way and learned how to schedule out time for self-care. I never anticipated any of this before the Institute.

One of our last activities was to put together mission statements for each of our life visions. The group brainstormed different options, and the one that came out for me was: “You are the surprising song that lifts spirits and encourages everyone to dance.” It blew me away when I came back home and looked at a vision board I had created a couple of months before the Institute. Right in the center of my board was a woman dancing freely in the street, something I previously felt drawn to and randomly pasted in the center of the board.

So, I guess something inside me did anticipate what the Institute could help me achieve. I just needed that extra push and guidance to propel forward.

*When Elaine participated in our retreat, our professional programs were named “Vista Leadership Academy”. We relaunched this work as “Vista Leadership Institute” in May 2019. We have edited this blog post written by Elaine to reflect the name change to avoid confusion with new readers. 

Photos: Walter Lee Olivares de la Cruzian dooley via Unsplash


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