It is my absolute honour to feature one of my favorite boss babes in today’s Sassy entry. Stay tuned for the exclusive interview below but first, let me tell you why this lady inspires me. Sarah Birtwistle is the new host of “Dîner En Blanc Montreal”. For those of you who are not familiar with DEB, it is this magical and elegant picnic (yes, picnic!) in which all exclusive invitees are instructed to wear white from head to toe. Their destination: unknown. The only thing guests know is, they will be dining along side beautiful strangers in a gorgeous location with the city lights as their back drop. Originally from Paris, DEB has expanded to 80 cities and 30 countries worldwide with a total of approximately 120, 000 participants! Pretty incredible, right? Well, it did not surprise me when Sarah took over as Montreal’s host this year. Wonderful things just seem to surround Sarah and “randomly” materialize into her life. But let me tell you, friends, these occurrences are of no coincidence. Sarah is one of the only people I know who acclimates tasks to her moods & passions. In other words, she follows her heart FIRST instead of following some masochistic TODO list like the rest of us. She is not a slave to money, or societal rules and pressure, or judgemental people. Instead, this entrepreneur makes decisions based on how she feels each day. I mean, isn’t this what successful people have been telling us to do all along – not to mention our therapists, yogis, and meditation coaches? I so admire Sarah’s ability to excel at this and don’t get me started on her talents, generosity, open-mindedness, and love of people. I’m honoured to work with her and call her a great friend. Here’s Sassy’s exclusive interview with one miss Sarah B:
Sarah’s UPDATE (AFTER le Dîner en Blanc took place): I originally answered all of the interview questions weeks ago, although it truly feels as though years have passed since those wonderful living-the-dream days. And something back then kept me from going to publication with this interview. Back then, I couldn’t put my finger on what that something was. But I can now. It felt fake. That is the best way that I can describe it. And perhaps that is one of the answers to how to follow your heart. Avoid the things that feel fake. So, here we are after the Dîner en Blanc Montréal has come and gone (it was on August 16th) and I have realized that I DO want this interview to go out. You see, for the past several months, during the planning of this magical and love-filled event, things started to go quite, quite south. Working with the organization became intolerable. Like quite literally, could not be tolerated. BY ANYONE. I realized, naively and quite late-in-the-game, the manipulations and back-stabbing and awfulness that is hidden behind a magical white curtain. I don’t think this is the forum for the details of the saga. But it is sufficient to say that I don’t wish this on anyone. EVER. And I probably will write the saga, even if it remains a private journal available only to me. But, in this particular article, I wish to keep my original answers below, written when I was still happy to be realizing a dream that I had had for years. But now I wish to also add a second answer to each one, in red and italics, because while following your dream and following your heart is important, it is equally important to know when to change the dream and when to allow your heart to make a u-turn. Without judgment. My dream was important but so was walking away from it.
Why did you accept the offer to become the host of Dîner En Blanc Montreal?
The Dîner en Blanc, for me, has always embodied values that I choose to surround myself with: friendship, sharing, and passion. I love getting together to support charities and other worthy causes but sometimes it is nice to also meet new people without the pressure of networking, etc… Everyone at Le Dîner en Blanc is on the same level and no one cares what you do or who you are, they just want to share a meal with a stranger. I felt that becoming a part of the organization of this was exactly what my soul needed.
I still feel that this is what attracts people to Le Dîner en Blanc. It is still a gathering of souls with a goal of sharing and friendship. It is unfortunate to learn that behind-the-scenes is a completely different story. Again, this is not the avenue for all the details but, where sharing and friendship should reside, much darker elements seem to have taken their place.
How do you manage being the head honcho of such a huge event?
It’s not always easy. In fact, the closer we get to the event, it is NEVER easy. Especially while juggling my day-to-day business, three kids, the household, etc… To be quite honest, there are days that I feel overwhelmed and think I can’t do it. Those are the days that I take a step back, go to a water park with the kids, or lunch with a friend and come back with my sleeves rolled up ready to slay. I also feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many incredible people. I have a supportive husband who picks up my slack around the house without complaint, friends who are always there if I need a calming cup of tea or a lunch on a Tuesday, and a team of hardworking, passionate individuals. We all have each other’s backs. We lift each other up when one of us feels like falling. It proves the power of team work. It also proves how powerful it is when you focus on all the good that surrounds you (in your friendships, relationships, family and teammates).
Unfortunately, I naively only realized, quite late in the game, that a manipulative game of chess was being played. By the time I realized this Hunger-Games-meets-Chess game was going on, I was already two moves away from being check-mated. Needless to say, after losing most of the “team of hardworking, passionate individuals” that I mention above, I fell too. So, I did not end this saga as a head honcho of this huge event. But I think that is a major part of this story that needs to be told. That letting a dream go is sometimes the hardest thing that we can do. Kind of like a lover that you realize is just not good for you. I am still presently in mourning for this dream. I am at times angry at how I was treated, sad for the loss of the dream, confused as to what (if anything) I should do about it. So until I can process all of these emotions, I am going to simply sit still and wait for the inevitable signs of my next dream. Because it will come, of that I am sure.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs who are inspired by you?
Gee, I didn’t know there were any! LOL. It’s strange how this question feels more difficult than the others. I find myself looking for words…. I guess I would have two things that I feel got me to where I am: 1) I take steps. I don’t journey. I don’t feel the need to plan out the next 20 steps of my life. I take one step. And I don’t analyze, or worse OVER-analyze, what that step is or where it is going to bring me or how much it pays or any of the other who, what, whys or hows. I take one step. And if it starts to not feel right, it is easy to go back one step. And this does not mean you can never take risks. Or jump into something with both feet. But even something as major as starting a business or getting married can be broken down into a series of small steps. Go through them. But the minute something feels uncomfortable, stop and look at why. It is never too late to go back one step. 2) I try new things. When, in the past, I have tried to convince my sister of the benefits of trying new things, her argument is that it is “easy for me” because I have confidence in myself. But that is far from true. I am just as nervous walking into a room full of strangers as the next person. I just do it anyway. The more you do it, the easier it actually gets. So I try stuff. Anything, really. I might not like it or ever want to do it again but I do new things and, when I like them, I continue doing them. And this ties in with my first point about taking steps. Because as I try new things, new steps in my path open up. If you keep doing the same routine day after day, how do you expect to find new steps or see new paths? I am not sure that advice makes any sense. But it would seem that everything I do comes from that.
I still believe in the journey. In fact, now more than ever. The only thing that I would add would be the importance of also standing still. I took steps towards a dream. Then I took a step back because the dream got crushed. Now I don’t know what I want to do next. So, I am doing something that is just as important. I am standing still. I am standing, still. I like both of those sentences.
But, in an age where we put much importance on moving and doing and producing, we often forget to stand still when we need some clarity of the right step. There is nothing wrong with standing still and getting your bearings. It is infinitely more useful to our journeys than being what my husband calls “busy fools”. Meaning you look constantly busy but are not really getting anything done!
In your opinion, what are 3 healthy habits to adopt in order to live a good life?
#1 is definitely set boundaries. Balance is my number 1 important element. I shut off completely on weekends and evenings to spend time with the kids and my friends. I have a romantic date night EVERY Friday with the hubby. I make sure that all of the aspects of my life have my full time and energy (husband, kids, friends and career). #2 would be make “me” time. I take a bath with the door locked and a good book almost every evening, no phones allowed. I take myself out to lunch when I really want to treat myself, no phones allowed. I enjoy spending time with myself. I like me. But I feel that that is learned, it doesn’t come naturally. And how can you get to know yourself and learn to like yourself if you don’t spend time with yourself? Just like any new friendship, it requires time and effort. #3 hmm – I would love to say exercise or eat healthy but I feel that I am not eating healthily enough nor am I exercising enough these days. So it would probably be hypocritcal. I am going to go with HAVE FUN. When was the last time you ran through a rainstorm? Or rode a roller coaster? Or jumped in the pool with all your clothes on after walking home from getting ice cream on a hot night (the whole family, btw!) I try to have fun because having fun at 39 years old feels just as good as having fun did back when we were 6. Life is too short to always be thinking like an adult.
#4 – Know when to change directions. No excuses. You are never too old, too broke, too set-in-your-ways, too encumbered by responsibilities (ie children), too single, too married, too uneducated, too anything to take your life in a whole new direction.
I really think you specialize in being true to your heart, even with your daily TODO list. What advice do you have for others who’d like to do the same?
You are right. I do try to follow my heart. The easiest answer to this question is to remove money. Money, salary, how much something costs, etc.. NEVER factor into my decisions. I realize some people are rolling their eyes either disbelieving that that statement is true or rolling their eyes thinking “well, that’s easy to say when you have money..” or something along those lines. But I have always functioned under the belief that I have enough money. Back when I was making minimum wage all the way until today, I have always believed that I have enough money. Obviously, this means living within your means: low cell phone plan, only one car in the household, no cable, blah blah blah. But it is possible and it is liberating to choose your life without looking at money. Second thing is I look at who I am. Sometimes it is hard to see how you feel about something or whether that last step was the right one. But then I look at who I am these days. Have I been impatient with the kids? Have a canceled a date with friends? Was I a good conversationalist on my Friday night date with hubby? Did I get angry this week? If any of those answers are not what I want them to be, then something is not right in my life. I am not happy. And I make sure to remove whatever isn’t working for me. Do a self-check once a week. Did you enjoy your week? If not, what made it unenjoyable? Remove that thing from your life.
Diner en Blanc was never about money. It was neither the deciding factor nor the end goal. It was truly about being in charge of something so full of love-energy. That is what I would call it. If you have never participated in a Diner en Blanc, then you don’t quite know what I am talking about. But there is an energy in the air, an energy 5000 strong, that permeates the surroundings and fills your soul with happiness. I wanted to be a part of its creation. I still do.
But I remember writing the second part of my answer above, the part about the self-check on who you are at any given time. That was written when I had realized that I no longer liked who I was these days and admitting that was important. I was almost writing that part to myself, allowing myself the judgment-free freedom to let the dream go since it was turning me into something I did not want to be: ugly, dark, vindictive, angry. None of which are things I wanted to be. I cannot stress the importance of the self-check more! It is soooo telling! If you are unsure if something is right for you, do the self-check test. How much do you like you?
****It is noteworthy that I am writing all of this from a place of mourning. Mourning the loss of a dream that I held in my heart for a very long time. Mourning the loss of an event that I thought was beautiful and loving and mystical and pure. It will take some readjusting and I will live in a place of discomfort for a little while. But I would love the take-away lesson to be that THAT is exactly how I am able to follow my heart first. I allow myself to FEEL everything – even the negative emotions, no matter how uncomfortable – and I wait them out. If I were to make decisions now, from the unhappy place of mourning and anger, I would probably “seek revenge” and “demand restitution” and other angry things. Instead I will wait. The heart would never want those things. So I will stand still. When my heart is done hurting, it will once again pick up the walking stick and let it lead me on my next beautiful adventure to find the ”wonderful things that materialize in my life”, as the Sassy Psychologist so eloquently put it.