How I use silent retreats to build my career

I’ve met many people who can just go off into the mountains and be silent to gain clarity and creativity. That is so not me. I love the outdoors.

Like many ambitious young women dead-set on building my own successful business, I spent several decades running. I thought staying busy and productive was the key to achieving my goals. Now that I’m 54 and a mentor to many young people, one of the first pieces of advice I share is to take time away from the world to really sink into yourself and the wellspring of creativity that’s inside each of us.

Living in Idaho and Utah for most of my life, I’ve met many people who can just go off into the mountains and gain clarity and creativity. That is so not me. I love the outdoors and find inspiration in nature, but camping has never been my forte; I certainly do not find it relaxing!

When I really want to go within and do deep creative work, I need to be put in time-out. Retreats create that for me.

That special time in retreat, and now in my daily meditation practice, is like going on a date with my own soul. In the beginning, they were sparse, a bit awkward, and restrictive. But as I’ve gotten older, I treat myself to retreats with softer accommodations, amenities, and delicious food. This helps me remember that my time away is about being kind to myself. From this gentler, safer space, I can connect and watch my emotions rise and fall, allow my thoughts to flow through me, and give myself permission to feel and to heal. I believe our souls are here for the purpose of healing, and retreats are how I honor that journey. It’s done wonders for me as a human being, as well as for my business.

I became curious about meditation after I heard the Dali Lama speak in Sun Valley, Idaho, almost 13 years ago.

All of the running around I’d done was starting to catch up with me: drinking too much, not making healthy decisions in my relationships, and feeling “stuck” with my business.

I began to notice that when I did take time to slow down, I felt really uncomfortable with myself. After Dali Lama’s talk, I decided to do something about it. I started researching and reading about meditation and mindfulness.

I attended my first three-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock in the Bay Area. If you think silent retreats sound like meditation on steroids, you aren’t wrong.

It was brutal. All it took was one day to notice how crazy my mind really was! I was alone with my never-ending stream of thoughts, including many not-so-nice thoughts about myself. For the next two days, all I could think about was how to get out of there. I concocted story after story of what I could say to be released. Finally, I realized what I really wanted was to run away from myself. As the third day came to a close, I was hooked. Something inside me woke up and started calling me. This time, it wasn’t the voices in my head – it was my heart.

That first retreat was a pretty simple structure — Vipassana meditation — and it exposed me to some powerful teachers and life-changing ideas. Generally, on a silent retreat, you only speak when conversing with your teacher, and sometimes, that’s only at the conclusion of the retreat. And those high-quality accommodations I mentioned earlier? Those aren’t typical of rigid meditation retreats, so be sure to check before you sign up if that matters to you.

Even though it was really hard those first two days, I loved getting a taste of the creativity that comes from sitting quietly for long stretches. It inspired me to sign up for a weeklong retreat not long after. I’m glad I did, because I found that after I allowed my mind to jump around for a few day without engaging, I could finally start to let go, and that’s when the magic really happens.

In 2012, I was about to sign a lease to open my third LunchboxWax waxing salon. Something kept me from signing before I left for my retreat. While there, a moment of clarity struck me: my business is not just a waxing business – it is so much more. I started to believe that I could use my life experiences to help others. The floodgates opened, and I started to visualize a business created with the sole purpose of empowering young women. I knew deep down that a lot of people were going to want to be a part of this. The idea to franchise came to me – I still don’t know where the first thought came from, and I don’t question it. When I got out of my retreat, I immediately started researching. I was lit up – everything inside me said this was the right path. LunchboxWax was going to become a franchise. I’ve never looked back and have learned (and re-learned) to always listen to my gut. My best big ideas still come to me during stillness.

We can all do unbelievable work with a clear mind.

Once I established a regular meditation practice, I began to see all the creativity I missed in regular life because I couldn’t seem to slow down. I started writing and painting again after 30 years of being “too busy” for that sort of thing, even though I loved it. Taking time for silence is much bigger than just not talking. To me, it’s about opening up to creativity, whether that’s writing, art, or business. Now, twice a year, I carve out a week for a silent retreat.

With more than 10 years of daily meditation and biannual silent retreats as my foundation, I’m now passionate about incorporating mindfulness into my business, including offering mindfulness training for waxologists. Growing a wax-only salon franchise that specializes in Brazilians  might not seem like the type of company that benefits from mindfulness, but I truly believe it’s at the heart of our culture-first business. We serve people in intimate ways that can bring up feelings of vulnerability. Having a strong sense of self-awareness, good communication skills and boundaries are important for any team to thrive, including in my business.

If you are just getting started in your practice or want to learn more, I recommend checking out Mindfulness in Plain English– a short read you can download for free online. You can also check out my hero Oprah Winfrey’s 21-Day Meditation Challenges with Deepak Chopra. Listening to their inspiring guidance basically tricks you into meditating, even for the monkiest of minds like mine. For business owners, Search Inside Yourself by Chande-Meng Tan is a must-read. He was one of Google’s earliest engineers who retired with the title “Jolly Good Fellow” in 2015, and the book helps business leaders implement the skills of mindfulness without too much woo-woo.

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.