Gwyn Erwin attended Designing Your Life for Women in May of 2018. Here, in her own words, is her account of the experience…
My hopes for the Designing Your Life for Women Workshop were high — my expectations, cautious.
I have spent the last twelve years managing the heartbreaking decline of my husband of 44 years to Alzheimer’s. This brilliant, beautiful man disappeared like down-moving stairsteps, a sharp loss, then a plateau, months or a year, another loss, sharp or subtle, another plateau. I worked full-time, Psychoanalyst in private practice, coming home to care with our small village for the man many called the Psychoanalysts’ Psychoanalyst. A year before the DYL conference, Bill died, leaving us unexpectedly shocked after the last four years of a life and death roller coaster. Was he actually mortal?
I found the DYL book when it first came into print, delving into it here and there as my circumstances allowed. After Bill’s death, I was gripped by a fatigue I had never known before, so whenever I turned to the book, I sagged, not even being able to imagine my future. But, I registered for the May Designing Your Life for Women retreat in San Diego, and I found hope.
It’s easy to sprinkle superlatives all over these paragraphs: the venue was refreshing and cozy; the set-up and food, elegant and delicious. The “Presenters,” Susan Burnett and Kathy Davies were vital, knowledgeable, and created a safe place ripe with inspiration; the other 30 participants were solid, eager, open, accessible, bright, accomplished, and “all in.” Despite our marked diversity, we were each searching for “What now?”, “What next?”, “How do I get to where I don’t even know I’m going?”
I loved it! And I could have burst with gratitude.
Waterloo. Saturday afternoon, drenched in new mindsets, flexing our newfound skills, we embarked on mapping our “Odyssey Plans,” a three-part imaginal adventure into versions of our lives over the next five years. I could map my current Life #1 as it would likely evolve. I dared to map some of Life #3, my life as I would love it to be if money and image were not factors. On Life #2, the life I would have if Life 1 was unavailable, I crashed headlong into every shred of pessimism, doubt, fear, and catastrophe that lurked within, though my reactions went undetected by others. That night, I cried myself to sleep, grieving for Life #2: what would I do if I couldn’t do what I was doing now? There was no such life, and in the rubble, Life #3 became an impossibility, and Life #1, exhausting. I decided not to return to the workshop the next day.
Respect for others, especially Susan and Kathy, instrumental gifts to me, forced my keys into the ignition, respect for myself merely a whisper. By 10 am, the materials and exercises offered were dripping with skills, opportunities, and rekindled my scant hope into conviction.
On the way home, I made my way to my favorite bookstore, a stop I had given up on the night before. At a book signing table was a welcoming young woman, signing her book on the EXACT topic I had taken as my quest for the DYL workshop. A small crowd parted, I introduced myself in the new way we had just been taught, and she invited me to sit with her where we talked undisturbed for nearly an hour. She sketched the beginnings of a plan for me in the back of my copy of her book. She waved over her business partner and a four-person meeting is scheduled for this week to “design” my new phase of life adventure. What were the odds?
I have learned through hard-won experience that when things aren’t right, obstacles will stumble us at every turn, but when “things are right,” uncanny paths and pieces fall into place. Designing Your Life for Women is not another self-help gimmick. Designing Your Life for Women is an invitation to embrace your possibility, by learning how to design your life with the vital collaboration of other women also on the wayfinding journey.