By Sarah Swain
It was 1130pm on December 31, 2018 and my husband just arrived home from work. My parents had been with us over the holidays and they decided to head off to bed. We got the champagne ready and started flipping through the TV channels to find a live New Year’s countdown event. That’s when it dawned on us that our options would be limited being in the Atlantic time zone, one that doesn’t even exist in the States! So strange. We were an hour ahead of the famous New York Times Square ball drop, so that wouldn’t work! Luckily, Charlottetown, PEI came to the rescue with a live outdoor concert with Canadian musicians and we tuned in just as the East Pointers were about to sing Auld Lang Syne, as they invited a plethora of other musicians up onto the stage, swaying their glasses of champagne about. 10,9,8…2,1 – HAPPY NEW YEAR! My husband and I stood up for a NYE smooch and hugged each other tight. We held onto each other for longer than usual, though. Rob, my husband whispered in my ear, “We made it...” To which I replied, “I have no idea how.“, and we continued our embrace.
It was January 6th, 2018 that I was officially done my leave of absence with my previous employer. I had taken a stress-induced hiatus that allowed me the space I needed to feel the dangerous contrast of how I was allowing myself to live with a demanding, pressure cooker career, vs how I felt after a complete mental, emotional and physical decompression. The difference was too great to ignore, and I made the decision not to return. Surprise, hunny! By this point I had a vision that was boiling over and needed to be released into the world. And so it was, my first day of unemployment, became first day of self-employment as I walked over to the local registrant office in our Town of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta and registered my business, Life Intentionally©. It’s now or never, I thought.
It was a cold winter, and that was okay with me, at first. I figured there was no better time of year to build a business from scratch. As such, January to March was a blur. I don’t recall doing much of anything other than hammering away on my laptop in my Lady Cave.
I was excited and terrified all at once because I had just walked away from a healthy 6-figure salary and each and every day I questioned whether or not I had lost my sanity and made a knee-jerk decision to just walk away and build my own business. Who does that?! As I held myself hostage in my home office, Rob on the other hand was wondering how long funds would last as I built this mystical vision of mine; a vision I wasn’t even able to articulate at the time, leaving him entirely uneasy. From his perspective, his wife whom he had known for 7+ years as the corporate dragon slayer, was now trying to explain to him that this idea in her head was bigger than her, that it wasn’t about her, and that women needed her help. That’s all the assurance I gave him, so it’s no wonder he signed up for overtime, and then proceeded to work 59 days straight. In retrospect, I did sound pretty looney. We barely saw one another for 2 months, yet we lived in the same home.
3am was when Anxiety liked to show up. I would snap awake out of a dead sleep and my eyes would be wide open, staring into the darkness of our bedroom. Anxiety would say things like, “Why can’t you just live like everyone else? Work, then live in your free time. Stop being so greedy…” Or, my favourite,”Hey Sarah, remember that time you were mean to that girl in 6th grade? Remember that woman you fired? Remember that time you didn’t stand up for your friend? Who the f*** are you to inspire and lead women?” 3am had a funny way of making me recount absolutely every single mistake I had EVER made in my entire life, and remind me of every single reason possible that I would likely fail. Thanks Anxiety, I guess I’ll get up now…off to the Lady Cave I’d go to start my day anyway.
By March I had replaced my former monthly income and I was seeing the shifts beginning to happen in the women I was working with. Rob decided it was safe to take a day off. I remember watching one of the Facebook Lives a client of mine was conducting in our private group and Rob had overhead this woman speaking. He felt her palpable emotion and deep gratitude for me and my work. Although he still didn’t have a hot clue what it was exactly that I was doing, he made it clear to me that he was proud. “Babe, you’re really helping these women.” he said, with a look of pride and a twinkle in his eye. I could feel my heart travelling up my throat. The stress my venture was putting on him had made me feel all the more wretched on top of my own fears and borderline insomnia. To see him nod and begin to understand the magnitude of what I was building (albeit still mostly in my head) made me want to burst with joyful tears. I had worn a mask of “I’ve got this, we are fine” with him since I left my 9-5 gig, even though I wasn’t yet sure of that myself, and diarrhea was part of my morning (and afternoon) routine. Stress poops. All I knew was that if he saw me sweat, he would sweat more and then we would both be pooping all the time. What I didn’t want to say out loud was, I don’t fully believe I can do this. After all, I really hadn’t thought this through very much, but I knew I was out of excuses not to start. I had burned them all up over the last 4 years as I felt these deep, Soulful pulls to create. I don’t have time. I haven’t read enough books. I haven’t worked with enough coaches. I haven’t joined enough programs or attended enough retreats. I don’t have a big enough social media following. I need to know more. They were all expired now. Every single one of them, because the one thing I hadn’t tried that was left to do, was to just take some bloody action.
Come April, I was emerging from what felt like a 4 month battle with myself as I stayed trapped in my own home for the better part of the long, cold winter. The same cold winter that I thought would help me grow my business, was actually deteriorating me on a personal level, day by day. Edmonton had broken a record – 167 days straight of temperatures below 0. Go team! I had managed to escape to Southern California for a weekend early in March to attend a Women’s Empowerment event with 500 other women. To my surprise, nearly half of them were Canadian. Wait. What? My decision to follow my deep need for sun, warmth, connection and growth bode well for me. I can remember bumping into Canadian women left, right and center and feeling totally mystified as to why we all had to travel to California to come to know one another. I didn’t know it at the time, but a seed for The Great Canadian Woman Platform had been planted that weekend.
Back in the Arctic, I mean Alberta, I had really underestimated the effects that a lack of human connection would have on me. Even though I was unaligned with my former career, the traditional work environment had indeed provided me with the ability to connect with people on a daily basis. By this point, even the most irritating face to face interactions with humans felt missed, as hibernation transitioned to straight up cabin fever. I had returned my company car on my final day of work in January, and had been without one ever since – which robbed me of that feeling of independence a vehicle naturally gives a person. Our pets were also growing increasingly concerned about Mom’s sudden onset British accent that would come out when it was time for treats. Luckily we were heading to Mexico in May for our friends’ wedding, which gave us both something to look forward to after a long, cold and emotionally difficult winter. Get me the f*** outta here, was how I was beginning to feel on a regular basis.
Ask and ye shall receive.
Rob emailed me from work one day saying, “Babe, I got a transfer opportunity to the East Coast.” I’ll admit, my first response was “Ugh, where..?“, assuming it would be some remote, desolate place where my Soul was screaming at me not to go. Isolation is not my jam, and I made that clear when there was the looming possibility of the Arctic circle if Rob were to apply to the RCMP. “Dorchester.” he replied. Hmmm…I pulled up the Maps app on my phone and typed in it. Oh! I exclaimed in my own head. New Brunswick. We could live in Moncton, right smack dab in between the Bay of Fundy and the open water of the Atlantic Ocean. Water! My Soul screamed, something we had both desperately missed since moving to the Prairies. I replied to Rob and said, “Okay, let’s talk when you get home.”
We’re moving to New Brunswick.
The conclusion was drawn within 15 minutes of him walking in the door after work. We both felt it. We both acknowledged the uncertainty. And we both knew it was time to start a new chapter. The events of the year so far were amplifying our desire for newness, refreshment and more adventure. And so it was. One week later our house was listed and we committed with a deep sense of trust that everything was going to work out – although we had no idea how.
Off to Mexico we went in May, desperate for warm sun and ice cold Cervezas. Although we were thrilled to be in the land of shut your brain off and chill, we were both internally pre-occupied by the growing concern that our house wasn’t selling, and Rob’s transfer date was getting closer and closer. It weighed on us both as we made every attempt to be present and enjoy ourselves as we watched sunburnt Canadians crush the pool-side beer drinking Olympics. It was cringe worthy to watch, yet deep down we were damn proud. Dos cervezas más por favor!
June rolled around, and we not only still didn’t know where were going to live in New Brunswick come August, our house still hadn’t officially sold. We accepted an offer, but it was from a couple in a neighbouring community who’s conditions included the sale of their own home – in the same buyers market we were trying to sell in. In other words, we weren’t hopeful. We were less than 60 days out from Rob’s start date, which is the standard length of a closing date. So, we did what any other people who no longer had the capacity to think clearly would do, we bought plane tickets to New Brunswick to find a place to live, and hope like Hell our sale would go through.
We flew into Halifax instead of Moncton because it was a direct flight from Edmonton. We figured it would take less time to drive from Halifax to Moncton, than it would waiting around at another airport somewhere in between. To boot, we took a red-eye, a decision I quickly regretted somewhere over Manitoba. We had decided that since we had nothing to lose other than our entire East Coast dream, that we would rent a convertible and at least make a vacation out of the stratospheric level of stress this trip was bringing about. We landed around 6am, on zero sleep and jumped in our Mustang convertible. It was raining – top up it is. Two hours into our drive and getting closer to Moncton, I was near tears from exhaustion as I chugged my Tim Horton’s orange juice in attempt to keep me upright. Rob was doing the same, only he was driving. He called our hotel to see if we could swing an outrageous request of an early check-in time of 10am. Sure, come on in, we will have your room ready! Oh East Coast hospitality, you won my heart that day. We arrived at our hotel and felt the questionable looks from the hotel staff, as we looked like we had both been to war. Soggy from the rain, black eyes from no sleep and an inability to communicate clearly. When we got into our room, we passed out until 3pm. When we woke up, we splashed cold water on our faces, got ourselves ready and met our realtor in the lobby to commence day 1 of our house hunting expedition. We were armed with a commitment to seller’s that we could buy their home, so long as ours sold (*cough* back in the Alberta buyer’s market *cough*). It was worth a try, since my newfound income wasn’t yet recognized by the bank.
On the final day of our tour, we had narrowed it down to 2 homes which we were completely divided on. Over a bottle of wine and a view of the ocean from our realtor’s cottage (did I mention East Coast hospitality yet?), we turned to Instagram to help us decide. My house won by a landslide. He still wasn’t convinced. More sigh.
The following morning as we were getting ready to go view the two homes one last time before we made our decision, Rob asked, “Should we take one more look on MLS?” I cringed into my coffee. I was sick of all things real estate. I was past caring. A tent would have been fine by this point. “Sure”, I grunted as I took a larger than usual gulp of caffeine. About 10 minutes later, Rob mumbled, “Woah…Babe, you should come look at this house.” Reluctantly, I strolled over to him as he stared at the screen on his phone, wide-eyed and hopeful. To my surprise, the house was actually checking all of our boxes, and priced significantly less than the other two. I wonder what’s wrong with it? We both said at nearly the same time, demonstrating our diminishing amount of belief that this was all actually going to work out in our favour. It had just come onto the market that very morning, so we called our realtor to see if she could pull any strings and get us in on incredibly short notice for the sellers. Good news, they were out boating for the day and we were good to go. We checked out the other two houses one last time, feeling side tracked and eager to see this new place. When we pulled in the driveway, we both gave each other a quick look to non-verbally communicate our approval. When the front door opened and we walked in, we both knew we were home. We suddenly remembered that home is a feeling, not a list of physical requirements. Although this house was checking all those boxes too, there could have been a 6 foot hole in the bedroom wall and we wouldn’t have cared. It felt right.
It felt like home.
Our agent explained that the house had already been viewed twice that same morning, because it was priced to sell. Before she could utter another word, we declared almost simultaneously that we would offer full asking price, to help offset the lack of appeal we would have on paper, given the condition of our sale on our Alberta home. Our agent said, “We could probably get it down another couple thousand…” Nope! Full asking. Let’s go. Where do we sign? Only a few hours later, as we were on the patio of the Pumphouse Brewery downtown Moncton, we got the call – our offer had been accepted. We would be moving to New Brunswick in just 5 weeks. We couldn’t allow ourselves to think about the rapidly growing chance our sale wouldn’t go through with our current buyers. We kept our focus on the slight chance this would all work.
Back in Alberta now, it was no surprise at all when our buyer’s asked for an extension on conditions. Not having anyone else lined up, we had no choice but to oblige. We had also dropped the price on the house with their current offer, with hopes it would light a fire under them to offload their place quicker, or attract a new offer for us. Gawd real estate is the worst game, ever. As we were planning a trip to Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary, and potentially surrender in the wilderness to the fact that this East Coast dream wouldn’t happen, we got a text from our agent in Alberta, asking permission for a house viewing. It was about viewing number 25 by this point, so we weren’t hopeful. But we said yes, of course. I remember taking the fur babes next door while our neighbours were at work to sit on their deck during the viewing, something I had done often by this point. The potential buyer had brought his girlfriend with him to check the place out and I heard her squeal when she stepped onto our back deck, “Babe! Omg look at this deck! and the yard! Wow!” I couldn’t help but smirk, we did have a pretty sweet set up back there. Back inside they went, where the rest of the tour was a mystery as I sat feeling completely numb, with 3 very confused and fed up animals that had been uprooted from their fairly mundane lives over 2-dozen times for these viewings.
Later that afternoon, we got another text from our agent. An offer was coming in the following day. We shrieked, and jumped, and clapped, and screamed and probably cried. It was the most hope we had felt in the last 2 months. Then it dawned on us, we were going to the mountains…out of cell range! Oh, and we also needed a 30 day closing date, with any conditions removed within 7 days, so we didn’t lose the house in New Brunswick. Too much to ask? Too much to swallow. I sunk again at the realization of the likelihood of any of that actually happening, but we agreed to trust whatever this journey was going to throw at us, and completely surrender to the outcome. Off we went to the mountains. When we arrived, I went to the travel centre at the base of Mount Robson to use the payphone to call our agent. It dawned on me that I had never actually used a payphone before, so I awkwardly fumbled around until it started ringing on the other end. Forgetting I was attached by a physical cord, I had attempted to turn around to look at the mountains surrounding me, only to be startled by the metal cord pulling me back into the wall. My nerves were shot. No offer had been received by our agent, so I said I would call her again the following morning. Rob and I took turns each morning for the next 2 days, driving to the nearest town about 25 minutes away where we had cell signal, as the offer had officially come in after my payphone fiasco on the first night. The other would stay at the campsite and get the campfire going and keep the dogs occupied. We agreed on our terms, non-negotiables and hard lines with each other before one of us would ride off in the truck to go call our agent.
Happy anniversary, Dear.
We countered the offer the 1st day, the second day, and on the third day the buyer had us pinned. He was armed with another home similar to ours, at a lower price. Damn it! Faced with a decision to take a financial hit on our equity, or forego the East Coast dream, we agreed the Alberta economy likely wasn’t going to improve anytime soon, and the original buyer’s still likely wouldn’t sell within the next few days for condition removal…therefore, our decision was made. Our current buyers, unable to remove their conditions withdrew their offer and the new offer became official. We got the 30 day closing, but the conditions were to be removed the same day ours were required to be removed before we lost the house in New Brunswick.
On condition removal deadline day, I sat in my favourite living room chair with a gin and tonic and Rob paced the room with a rum and coke. Save the judgement, please. We had until 9pm to remove our conditions on our East Coast home. The home that was twice as big, yet half the mortgage as our Alberta home. Asking for an extension was out of the question, as the New Brunswick sellers had a second buyer lined up already if we didn’t work out. At 730pm, our phones pinged. Conditions had been removed by our buyer!!! With no time to spare, we immediately contacted our agent in New Brunswick (1030pm AST) and frantically squealed for her to send over our condition removal document so we could sign the shit out of it. We signed, sent it off and I collapsed to my knees and cried. Somehow, against all odds, it was actually going to work out. That night, we celebrated like it was 1999 as we wrapped our heads around the fact that within the next 30 days, we would be moving across the country – for the second time together.
I was elated not to be confined to a traditional job while we orchestrated our big move. I was careful not to take too much on, and carve out the right amount of time needed to make a smooth transition from Alberta to New Brunswick. Down to the wire, within the final 48 hours of our time in Alberta, we sold 90% of everything we owned in a firesale style garage sale, had a tearful goodbye party with our friends who had become family, cleaned the house, packed a tiny Uhaul trailer, jumped in the truck with our 3 fur babes and headed East. By this time, I had just launched The Great Canadian Woman Podcast, and was excited about documenting the trip across Canada.
However, by Winnipeg, we were both speaking “cat”, as our 23lbs cat Charlie yammered away in the back seat, expressing his distaste in our decision to drive instead of fly. We put in close to 17 hours of driving before collapsing in a hotel at 1am in Kenora, Ontario. After I cried from exhaustion for about 2.5 minutes, I recorded an episode for the podcast in the truck while Rob went to sleep – because I made a commitment to have a new episode out every Monday morning. With zero motivation left in my cells for anything other than breathing, I was relying fully on my own discipline. We were back out the door by 6am the following day. 15 hours later we arrived at my parents house in Massey, Ontario. We had been kept occupied and awake for the day in large part by the scenic coast of Lake Superior and copious amounts of beef jerky. I was dehydrated and swollen from the sodium intake and a conscious lack of water, so we didn’t have to make so many stops for pee breaks along the way. We stayed with my folks for 2 nights to catch up on some sleep, let the dogs run wild and eat some home cooked food. Before we knew it, we were back in the truck making a straight run for the New Brunswick border. We stopped in Quebec for fuel and for more Jerky au Boeuf and landed in Grand Falls, NB at 1111pm. I remember the time vividly as we pulled into the hotel parking lot, feeling a slight sense of reassurance that was later magnified when we were handed a room key for room 111. We were almost there.
We were going to be okay.
We pulled up to our new home the following morning around 930am. It felt surreal to see it again, like we both never fully believed we actually would. We were also slightly delusional by this point, after driving 4500km with two dogs, a cat and every single item we owned in tow – which was next to nothing. It was raining, hot and humid. My dry prairie skin was retaining every ounce of moisture it could soak up and the hair on my head had doubled in size with frizz. Our real estate agent, who looked bright, well rested and hella in shape met us at the door. I distinctly remember feeling the physical contrast between she and myself, who was tired, bloated and in desperate need of a salon and a salad.
Our lawyer arrived and began sorting out the details, and that is when it became known that our insurance had not been filed by our new insurance company. The woman who was in charge of our file, had called in sick the day prior and left our file incomplete and unattended. Rob was furious, I was laughing – albeit maniacally. Our agent, recognizing our concern thought the timing was right to retrieve a huge Welcome Home gift basket from her car, distracting us with potato chips and locally made Cider. Well played! The insurance issue only delayed our official East Coast home ownership by about an hour. “Congratulations guys, welcome home,” she said as she handed the key to my collapsed body on the staircase. Our agent must have super powers, as she saw the real me underneath the hot mess I was showcasing, because she still asks me to hang out today. Go me! We unpacked all 3.5 things we brought in our trailer, and our new 3400 sq foot home suddenly seemed even more enormous without any furniture. Rob went out and bought two camping chairs and we set them up by the patio door and ordered a pizza. We sat there quietly, sweaty and smelly as we ate our greasy food and sipped on Dom Perignon. We made it until 6pm that night, before we retired to our blow up mattress and sleeping bag in the master bedroom.
One week and $25k later, our house was furnished. Our air conditioner units weren’t yet installed during a record breaking heat wave in New Brunswick. We put the furniture together in our swim suits, and jumped into the pool every now and then to bring our body temperature back down. 2 weeks later my family arrived to visit and 4 weeks later I was on a flight to Ottawa for an intensive business retreat with my Publisher (did I mention I had become an official author?) because in the midst of all this, I was still just in my first year of business start-up and my once crystal clear vision was experiencing a rapid decline in clarity. I also had my very first live event approaching in Toronto mid-September where 30 women were eagerly awaiting the experience, and there was an unspoken expectation that I was ‘okay’.
The truth is, I wasn’t okay.
Through the chaos of January to August of 2018, I had completely lost myself and it was taking every ounce of energy I had left to draw from, in order to be enough for my clients and beautiful community that I had created. On the first day of the retreat, I woke up early in my hotel room. I found a coffee shop in the quaint town of Merrickville, Ontario and decided to head to the riverside. I came across historical ruins that had been preserved by the community. I wandered around sipping my coffee, with my journal in hand, feeling intensely called to meditate in an attempt to calm my mind and set an intention for my time at the retreat. I stumbled upon the signature Canadian red Adirondack chairs that are placed thoughtfully all over Canada and decided to take a seat. I was right beside the river and all I could hear was the sound of the light rapids as the water flowed past me. I was surrounded by big trees and the ruins of the Old Mill along the locks of the Rideau Canal. All I did for minutes was focus on my breathing, something I hadn’t done in what felt like months. My short, shallow breathes slowed into deep, intentional inhales and exhales. I closed my eyes and asked whoever or whatever was listening to me, to please give me some clarity. I was begging for it, fighting back tears. I opened my eyes and wrote two words in my journal.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I looked down at the paper. When I looked up, there were two giant Blue Herons standing with their tall lanky stick legs in the river. They were so close they looked to be the size of pterodactyls. Me, grasping at straws at this point, quickly whipped out my phone and googled the spiritual meaning of blue herons, grimacing at the thought of my own desperation for answers.
Permission to progress and evolve was granted to me in that moment. With tears welling up, I knew with certainty, that amongst all of the year’s uncertainty, that I, and everything about me was going to be okay.
In the days leading up to my live event in September, fear was still making every attempt in the book to take me out. It was the most crippling kind of fear I had felt since I started my business. Who am I to run an event? What if no one shows up? What if they think it sucks? What if they don’t have a great experience? What if I choke on my words during my combined 12 hours of stage time? My husband, noticing my visible anxiety would tell me to stand up and say, “I’m gonna do great!” I would reluctantly mumble something to that effect as I stared at the floor. Rob would say, “Hunny, you’re going to do great but you have to believe it, too. Say it louder – I’m going to do great!” I would respond, saying it a little louder. It became quickly obvious to me that he wasn’t going anywhere until I was jumping like Rocky Balboa at the top of the stairs, pumping my fists in the air, screaming, “I’m going to do GREAT!” And you know what? It worked. The Summit went off with minimal issues, if any at all, and in turn gifted me with both experience for an even more powerful and amplified Summit in 2019 (which I had sworn I wasn’t going to do while I was pouting on my husband’s lap just days prior), and reaffirmation that I am absolutely, undeniably on the right track with my vision.
Upon my return to New Brunswick, we promptly whisked ourselves and the fur babies away to an oceanfront Airbnb on Prince Edward Island for 3 days to decompress by way of sunsets, wine and beach-combing.
It was early November when we both came to the realization that we felt ‘normal’ for the first time in a very long time. It was the first time our emotions had felt true contrast. It was like we had been under water for so long, we had just gotten used to feeling that way and now we were finally feeling what it was like to be on top where the air is, and breathe easy. It was beginning to dawn on us both that our wild and crazy year had been full of intentional choice, trust, adventure – with just a touch of madness. We both fought like Hell to align ourselves with what our guts were telling us we needed. In hindsight, very little of we did in 2018 made any logical sense. Actually, none of it did. None of it took place within our comfort zones. None of it was easy. We had puzzled and mystified just about everyone in our lives with the decisions we were making. Looking back on it, all of it was extreme and we acknowledged that we had chosen and done, was what most people wouldn’t. The short story is, the way in which we were living our lives was no longer working for us, so we changed it.
Simple, but not easy.
My family coming to New Brunswick for Christmas felt like the icing on the cake. We even attended an East Coast Christmas show, performed by the Barra McNeils as we celebrated my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. I carved time out of my schedule to block myself off from the digital world to be present and enjoy the season. Rob had reluctantly caved to my Christmas decorating needs and hung lights outside, shoved an 11-foot Christmas tree in our living room and didn’t roll his eyes too hard when he came home from work one day to Whoville style gold vinyl polka-dots on our porch pillar, door…and cabinetry.
The interesting thing in all of this is, despite the chaos, was that 2018 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t feel desperate to get away from. Excited for a new year, yes, but not done with 2018, as so many people were exclaiming all over social media. 2018, albeit challenging and emotionally devastating at times, was the year that we both proved what we are made of. It was the year that elevated us in a way that only the deep rooted trust in uncertainty can provide a person with. Our belief in one another grew, with each new hurdle we jumped and mountain we climbed, and we proved to ourselves that the idea of creating a life we love, actually is possible with a little blood, sweat and tears. We recognized that we each possess a Superpower, and it’s called Choice. Even when the decision is between hard and harder, we can still choose, commit and proceed because the only thing that ever truly stays consistent in our lives, is change.
My personal values in 2019 are energy, alignment & service and it is from these three pillars that my choices will be made. Rob has also agreed to set goals for 2019 for himself and for us as a couple. This is a first in the 8 New Years we have celebrated together because after all of this, he too now recognizes, that your entire life can change in a year…if you let it.
Love & Gratitude,
Founder & Visionary at The Great Canadian Woman
Copyright, Life Intentionally 2018