Necker Island, March 2014
Today, my bruises ache. Standing in the mirror, sporting black bra and underwear with white stars, I stare at my legs. The fronts glow gold and tan. The backs throb, bruised in deep purple welts from hip to knees. I crane my neck to see my backside. I see them, my bruises, and my eyes rim wet.
I pull out brown-black eyeliner. I fix my eyes, run a quick blow dryer over my hair . It’s bleached gold on the ends from my week on the beach. I stretch an aqua skirt around my legs careful and wide. Like stepping into a hula hoop.
I feel the sting up the back of my legs and my spine jarred out of place.
Outside, my husband John knocks at the door of the Tahitian style hut we are staying in.
“You coming hon? Are you ready?”
Sitting at the edge of the bed, I reach over to put on my flip flops. My legs reflect back to me in the full length mirror, two black and blue half slabs of meat.
Trapped on this island, I have nowhere to hide. I can put on a maxi dress instead of this skirt. I know even that won’t hide my bruises.
In March of 2014, I took a business trip with my family to Necker Island. It was a fantasy island of a place owned by the entrepreneur, Richard Branson. Necker is his home and a unique guest retreat nestled in the British Virgin Islands.
How a stay-at-home mom ended up on Necker Island is a long story. What happened when I took a running leap off of a forty-foot cliff on Necker Island is this story.
During this trip, I observed Richard’s daily evening tennis match.
His boyish vitality and graceful discipline of taking care of himself stuck with me. Inspired, I signed up for a tennis lesson. An opportunity to try something new. I hopped down a flight of stairs to meet my instructor.
At the base of the steps, two businessmen I met during the trip detoured me from my tennis lesson. They stopped me with an invitation to go cliff diving. I have never been cliff diving. I am a mediocre swimmer at best. I have three kids and two dogs that depend on me to feed them. I have a fear of heights. I suck at tennis. On all fronts, this detour was a bad idea.
My brain registered a “hell no.” My soul was in that Branson, Necker Island energy of “anything is possible.” So, this invitation presented itself and something made me leap.
A forty minute boat ride and hike later, I stood barefoot at the edge of a cliff. Sweaty layers of tank top, running shorts, and Nike tennis shoes I’d shed dotted the hill behind me. Standing in my black sports bra and swim bottom, I felt exposed.
I looked out at the ocean, counting the waves in and out as if waiting to jump rope. I waited for my moment, terrified. I thought of my three kids. I questioned my sanity. My mind backtracked to that tennis lesson detour that got me in this spot in the first place.
Before I could let another thought come, before I could let another ounce of fear enter my head, I jumped.
I broke the surface of the ocean with the elegance of a brick. I hit the water, hard. Ass first like I was sitting in a chair. A bracing sting radiated down my legs and spine. My legs felt spanked, fifty shades of red.
As I ascended, the heat in my legs intensified. I popped my head up from the surface of the water. I swam to the boat, face flushed with pain and embarrassment.
Hours later, bruised started to form. Huge bruises and welts covered my backside and legs top to bottom.
On my way back to my room and to my husband, I felt the tears finally come. It was a few hours before the meeting I had been waiting all week for on the island. A roundtable discussion with Richard Branson.
In that moment of waiting, a funny thing happened. I realized there was nothing to hide. I was on an island with nowhere to run. I made a choice, I jumped and I got hurt. I took a leap of faith in front of some of the most influential people I’d ever met, and epic failed. My legs told the whole story.
In that moment on Necker Island, something in me loosened and let go.
My ideas of what I thought I was supposed to look like and act like and prove on this trip went out the window.
Two choices emerged: hide out in my room alone and sit the trip out. Or, experience the rest of my beach trip in my bikini with my wounds on full display.
I got dressed. I dried my tears and made my way to the roundtable discussion.
Nothing dramatic happened. Mr. Branson made some lasting points about business and life that I was so happy to have heard. We did not become BFF’s and engage in a long discussion on business and parenting like I might have dreamed. Richard inquired on the condition of my bum in his gracious British way with earnest concern. Entrepreneurs and new friends sat with me with ice packs and beers and humor and caring.
In that full acceptance of head to toe pain, I finally felt like myself. I felt without armor. I stopped caring about having anything to prove. My biggest fear had just smacked me in the ass. The fear of going big and messing up, in public.
My outside finally mirrored how my body felt on the inside all week. Painfully imperfect. Painfully imperfect in this group of business rock stars.
I realized how guarded I’d been to just be myself. When I dropped my guard, this group of entrepreneurs let their guard down with me too. I had more conversations in those last few days than I had all week. We connected through stories of epic fails and torn body parts and life in general. The things we had in common. The life moments that exist whether you are a billionaire or a stay-at-home mom.
Sometimes, my bruises and my fears and my failures still threaten to overtake me from the inside out. I remember I always have this choice: to hide from the moment or to be raw and myself. To simply own it. To hide from this life. Or, embrace vulnerability and own my choices along the way.
On the last night of the trip at the farewell dinner, the organizer handed me a microphone. He asked me to describe what the experience meant. I climbed on top of Mr. Branson’s long dining table. I stood above forty people in my beachy maxi dress, hiked my gown over my head and flashed my wounds.
I said, “What I learned is this. When you take a leap, the universe has your back, and when you leap with faith, it’s got your ass.”
Each day, we surface with new wounds, and we trigger old ones.
Those emotional bruises that live deep. Those that take years to fade, if ever.
The secret is no one knows. No one sees those bruises.
Sometimes, my oldest bruises ache. Those phantom aches of worthiness I think I’ve healed from haunting me. I am fearful. Every time I sit to write, to try to become the writer I’ve dreamed of being, I am a little bit afraid. I’m afraid my flaws and bruises will show up. And then I remember those are the things that also connect us. Those are the things that remind us we are human.
When I am afraid, I remember I can hide. Or I can choose to show up and keep on leaping.
With gratitude, to Yanik Silver and Sophia Umanski of Maverick Business Adventures and to Joe Polish of The 25K Group for creating this experience on Necker Island. Thank you for modeling abundance, giving and daring in the world through business. With gratitude to Richard Branson for sharing his generosity with the world through Virgin Unite, and for sharing his home and his spirit so openly. And deepest love and respect for my husband John, for all he does in his life’s work at Simpler Trading to make dreams come true.