Friday Book Club | Soulbbatical: A Corporate Rebel's Guide to Finding Your Best Life.

September 11, 2020

Friday Book Club | Soulbbatical: A Corporate Rebel's Guide to Finding Your Best Life.

May 29, 2023

Chip: Separated at birth. That’s all I can say about me and Shelley Paxton. As former Chief Marketing Officer of Harley-Davidson, she knew how to make her way around a pretty macho culture and, of course, she learned how to ride a hog.

And, then, she decided to walk away from her successful marketing career of more than a quarter century and embark on a profoundly personal journey. Shelley, tell us a little more about your story and how you ended up stumbling on the meaning of a “Soulbbatical.”

Shelley: Roger that, Soul Brother. Separated at birth and reunited in a midlife re-birth of sorts. No better time to be joining forces.

I could write a book about stumbling upon the meaning of Soulbbatical (oh wait, I did!), but here’s the abridged version. By all traditional measures, I was successful on the outside while dying on the inside. I was at the pinnacle of my career, in one of the sexiest jobs in marketing, at one of the most iconic brands on the planet, and yet I felt success-EMPTY, not success-FULL. I erroneously believed that success and fulfillment were mutually exclusive. And that I had to sacrifice my soul for salary. Not to mention that I was pretending not to know that I was living someone else’s dream. (My Dad’s to be exact.)

I was playing Warrior, pushing through in the way I thought I should, until the Universe intervened (in cahoots with my Soul). They conspired to rip me out of my sleep – literally and figuratively – in the form of a devastating recurring nightmare that forced me to come to terms with the fact that my soul was feeling neglected, malnourished, and longing for attention. It was time for me to choose me.

Soulbbatical is the handle I created to signify my desire to blaze new trails toward reconnecting with myself, my truth, and my bigger purpose in the world. It was my way of declaring that it was time to liberate my soul from the clutches of my ego. And to finally own that authenticity is the truest form of rebellion. Four years later, the rest is history.

Chip: It’s so ironic (again, separated at birth) that we met and you were a guest on our MEA/Ageist Happy Hour with me and David Stewart just as we were starting to think about creating MEA Sabbatical Sessions for this next year (which we’ve just announced to replace our 2020-21 workshop calendar). By the way, everyone coming to Sabbatical Sessions receives a free copy of your book, Shelley. Why are these times suited for taking a sabbatical?

Shelley: First, can I just say that Sabbatical Sessions is a brilliant pivot? These are challenging times and it can be hard to let go of “what is” in favor of “what’s possible.” Kudos to you and your team for getting creative and really tapping into what our middle-aged souls are craving right now. And, yes, it’s pure synchronicity that the Universe brought us together at this moment in history. A moment when we are individually and collectively re-examining just about everything in the face of COVID and racial injustice. Honestly, there couldn’t be a better time for a sabbatical/soulbbatical. We are all being called to live our truth.

I’m also a big believer that we need to create space in our lives to slow down, listen deeply, and reflect. Sometimes that space is served up to us on a silver platter (though it may look like a shit sandwich in the moment) and sometimes we have to proactively pump the brakes. My hope is that more of us get to a place where we don’t need crisis or tragedy or illness to remind us of the importance of taking time to reflect, re-source, and reset.

No time like the present to start.

Chip: You did not come from a New Age background. How the heck did you start pondering your soul? And, how would you define “soul?”

Shelley: Yeah, as you (and anyone who has read my book) know, I’m the product of a pretty straightlaced Midwestern family that was far more likely to be found in a Catholic church than a crystal shop. Growing up I felt like the proverbial Black Sheep. I used to wonder when and where I would find my people. Believing that if I found them, I would find myself. In those days, I would often sneak into my Dad’s home office to spin his old-fashioned globe on its brass axis to see where my finger would land. I would create stories about who lived there and imagine what it would be like to visit those exotic places that might feel more like home.

It was only in my mid-20s, as a result of being fully consumed (but not wildly fulfilled) by my work in the advertising industry, that I started to get more curious about a deep yearning inside myself. A blossoming sense that if I could just let go of what I thought I should be, this thing called my soul would gently guide me toward what I could be. At the suggestion of an enlightened friend, I read (well, devoured more accurately) Gary Zukav’s Seat of the Soul and eventually went on a 5-month solo backpacking and volunteer journey across Europe in an attempt to connect with mine. (I now call that my first Soulbbatical!)

For the record, it took me another twenty years before I really deeply listened to what my soul was trying to tell me all along. That’s when I left Harley-Davidson and my corporate career to become Chief Soul Officer of my life (and ultimately my own business). I now understand the soul to be our essence; the home of our deepest truth, values, ideals, and commitments. It’s the limitless source of our highest self and greatest potential if we:

  • Connect and listen deeply
  • Nourish and nurture it
  • Honor its truth
  • Are courageous enough to rebel for the purpose it reveals.


Chip: If you were to give a few tips to someone who is considering becoming a “corporate rebel” or taking a sabbatical, what are the tips you’d suggest?

Shelley: I love this question because I was recently inspired to write A Rebel Leader’s Manifesto (which you can download for free here). I feel passionately that every one of us has the opportunity – I would argue responsibility – to live Soulbbatical. What I mean by this is it’s not a one-and-done event, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave your job. It’s actually a radical self-commitment to live more authentically, courageously, and purposefully; to rebel for what matters most to you. I recommend starting with these three ideas:

  1. Flip the time-off script. Think of time off as a prerequisite for smart work instead of a payoff for hard work. Time away is crucial to fostering creativity, innovation, and perspective. On a regular basis.
  2. Become Chief Soul Officer of your life. Self-first isn’t self-ish. It’s an opportunity to connect with who you are, what you want, and the impact you want to have in the world.
  3. Ask yourself the question, “What would change in my life if I were living 100% true to myself right now?”

Chip: You will be joining us in Baja in the first half of November and everyone coming to our Sabbatical Sessions this next year will get a free copy of your book. Any special things you’re looking forward to when you’re with us at MEA?

Shelley: Only 65 more sleeps until I arrive in paradise! Not that I’m counting or anything. ;) As an MEA virgin, I can’t wait to steep in every aspect of the experience. From deeply connecting with you and other kindred souls in the community to re-sourcing my creative energy by the ocean to reflecting on what’s next for my life and business. I also want to push my own edges so I’m planning to take a surf lesson or five in between sessions with the resident Shaman. (To be clear, the edgiest part of that statement is the bit about learning to surf. It’s been a lifelong dream, but I’m terrified!)

I’m incredibly honored to have a copy of Soulbbatical: A Corporate Rebel’s Guide to Finding Your Best Life included as part of the Sabbatical Sessions experience. My sincere hope is that it will inspire fellow Modern Elders to discover what they really want and to boldly create it. I mean, if not now, then when? We got this, my friends. If you want to watch Chip and me riff on a fun video, I think you’ll enjoy my Rebel Soul podcast with him.

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