At the top of the year, I attended an exclusive invite only women’s winter restoration retreat called YouTopia. It was hosted by CEO and Executive Coach of Diverse and Engaged, the phenomenal Dee C. Marshall. I went in with the expectation that at a minimum I would enjoy my time bonding with a select group of powerhouse black professional women.
My career has afforded me the opportunity to attend lots of women’s empowerment events each year and they all serve a valuable purpose. But this was different. Not only did I enjoy the experience, I left with a renewed focus, life prioritization, and spiritual awakening!
The first thing I appreciated about this experience was the dress code, sweats, lounge wear, pajamas and no makeup required. We each had to make a commitment not use our cell phones, laptops or watch television during our time at the resort. We were completely disconnected from the distractions that often consume our daily lives. We were empowered to unmask and simply relax and unwind. We weren’t required to put on our beauty masks and dress up to make an impression. It was truly come as you are. The experience is limited to a select group of women which enables a high touch deeply engaging experience.
The second thing that I appreciated was Dee’s understanding that black women have unique professional challenges that require them to embrace white male dominated culture and the vernacular among presiding groups of co-workers, industry leaders, clients, etc. This often requires black women to suppress our authenticity to “fit in” as we pursue acceptance within our work environments.
Often, we are the “only one”, and inherently deal with the conscious and unconscious bias that we have to navigate in our careers without being painted with the stigma of being an ‘angry black woman’. The mental strain associated with trying to live up to a professional ideal often stifles us, rather than embrace our diversity. It leads to an exhaustion that our non-black colleagues may not understand or identify with. The ability to bond with a group of women who inherently understand this challenge enabled us to truly engage as our true and authentic selves.
We left titles at the door, it was first name only and we didn’t know the professional titles or accomplishments of one another until the last day. I appreciated that component, because Dee's intent was not to enable the women to be distracted by the breadth and depth of the power and titles in the room, which ranged from CEO, EVP, CDO, Political and Civic Leaders.
We were required to assess the core areas of our life, ranging from, but not limited to spirituality, finance, health, career, relationships and self-care in a wonderfully relaxing and warm environment. The agenda for the weekend ensured that we had time to ourselves to reflect and enjoy the amenities at the luxury Salamander Spa Resort.
If you ever visit the Salamander, I highly recommend their seasonal spa treatment. I had the winter warming treatment, and it was OUTSTANDING! The staff were very welcoming and accommodating. The hotel rooms were very inviting, relaxing and the traditional elements along with rustic and floral accents complimented the stress-free environment. The bed and scenic views were also nice, I slept contentedly each night. The food was also quite good, I highly recommend the crispy cauliflower it was amazing!
Dee’s curriculum required us to evaluate all aspects of our lives, starting with pre-work, a comprehensive needs assessment, with level setting and introspection tools that enabled the women to identify road blocks. This self-discovery enabled us to truly look forward, to vision and plan with a renewed focus. Some of us had previously set goals for the year before putting in the self-evaluation work. There was a quick realization that we needed to re-prioritize different things. This ranged from love and relationships, health, finance and career. It was an intense reflection and diagnosis of our holistic well-being.
We shared our challenges, triumphs and there was an exuberant amount of laughter, some intense moments of exposed vulnerability, crying, and lots of hugs and sisterhood bonding. We started and ended each day with prayer. We all valued that we were empowered to celebrate our spirituality, which we sometimes suppress in workplace environments. Studies have proven that Spirituality, is critical to black women's well-being. To be clear, spirituality is not religion, it involves meaning-making and relational dimensions of faith to a higher power. And Ms. Dee Marshall did not disappoint, she is definitely a gifted prayer warrior.
I left committing to no longer bring my mobile devices to the bedroom, which I know my husband will deeply appreciate. I also realized that I was over committing myself to things that did not align with my life goals, so I immediately made a few phone calls to put an end to the misuse of my time. I graded myself an “F” in prioritizing my health, so that is at the top of my prioritization list committing to daily exercise.
I vowed to consistently start my day with reflection, prayer, gratitude and intention. I recently announced my decision to retire from Corporate America this year and have decided to start a small business. This will require much sacrifice, time and hard work. But given my values of God, marriage, and family before career, I will be sure to plan accordingly!
The YouTopia retreat was definitely what I needed to re-calibrate, recharge and renew! I am focused and committed to my well-being and success. I am thankful for the opportunity and experience. I understand the importance of putting in the self-evaluation and reflection work before I start my planning.
I’m sharing this experience in the hope that it will inspire you to put in the work, so you too can benefit from what I have learned and experienced.
Peace and blessings,