Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Sarah Quirk

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.  And Sarah Quirk, another great Shanghai friend find, is one of them.  Another ginger (with much less grey hair than me!) she makes me smile every time I see her.

These amazing individuals have inspired me to think beyond ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Sarah Quirk – Business Woman & (super) Single Mum

Sarah Quirk
Sarah Quirk – Talent, Learning & Development Senior Manager, Jaguar Land Rover China

Tell us a little about yourself…

I am a thirty-something businesswoman and single mother, currently living and working in Shanghai with my 8-year old son James.

I was born and raised in Birmingham, England as one of four red-headed siblings. I have a large and colourful family, who I love dearly.

Music was a huge part of my childhood and provides a constant mood-appropriate soundtrack to my life.

In my spare time I love to travel, get lost in a great book, bake, knit and crochet.

I have a weakness for buying shoes (you can never look fat in shoes) and I’m also a huge fan of social gatherings that involve food and wine!

How do you know Nicki?

Nicki and I first got chatting on Christmas Day 2017 when our respective family paths crossed at a Shanghai brunch.

We regularly put the world to rights on the sidelines of the football field and at our newly formed Book Club.

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

Right now I am the Talent, Learning & Development Senior Manager at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) China. I have worked for JLR for 14 years and my career has progressed significantly in the time I have been a single parent – one promotion when my son was 2 and another when he was 4 and then the opportunity to work overseas.

This is my second role in China and I have gained so much from working with and leading people from a completely different culture. Overcoming cultural and language barriers means the lessons haven’t always been easy, but my development has been huge and I have really grown in confidence as a result of this experience.

The idea of moving to China first came up in December 2015, when I was asked if I might be interested in considering an overseas assignment. The fact that this would be a great career opportunity was never in doubt, but I also needed to consider the personal impact on both myself and James.

I did my research, talking to people who had lived and worked in China previously, reading as many articles as I could about taking children overseas, looking into what the options would be for school, childcare and where we might live.

I also sought the views of my nearest and dearest…most importantly my older sister and trusted adviser Amelia. We had numerous conversations about the pros and cons of making the move, most notably in the sauna of a spa on a chilly wintery day over Christmas, during which a lovely lady interjected apologetically and encouraged me to go for it!

By the New Year I was sure I wanted to put myself forward and so the whirlwind began…an interview, visit and several discussions later I was offered the role of ‘Senior HR Business Partner, Jaguar Land Rover China’ and on 31st March 2016 James and I left Heathrow with as many of our worldly possessions as we could manage to squeeze into 4 large suitcases.

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

The end of my marriage was a huge defining moment in my personal life; everything I dealt with in the aftermath has given me an inner resilience I did not possess before.

I’ve spoken to other people who have been through separations and however they come about, for many people there is a ‘moment’…the moment when you know the right thing has happened and you can be the master of your own destiny going forwards.

Mine came on a very hot summer’s day in June 2012, as I walked along the promenade at New Brighton with my sleeping baby in his pushchair, listening to Ben Howard’s “Only Love”. I remember feeling an immense sense freedom and being genuinely excited about the chance to build a great life for myself and James and make my own decisions about how I did this.

After this initial feeling of liberation and then moving my life back to my hometown, I went through a long period of feeling somewhat lost and unhappy. I was struggling financially, often feeling very alone and like my life was a constant treadmill. I had lost sense of what I was doing it all for and I was craving a change, but I didn’t know how to make one.

A death in the family that hit me unexpectedly hard was a real defining moment during this period and gave me the push I needed to take control back and move forward.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

My wonderful son James. We have been on so many brilliant adventures together, collecting incredible holiday and home memories along the way. His happy face and loving nature have got me through many a difficult moment.

Sarah Quirk
Sarah & James

My family who constantly tell me they are proud and my friends who seem to know just when I need reminding that they think I’m amazing.

I also have to mention my company – Jaguar Land Rover –  for giving me a great platform to develop and in particular a few great allies (they know who they are), who have constant faith in my ability to rise to new challenges.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

As a new mother I had naively assumed my life would follow a certain course and the idea of being able to work overseas wouldn’t have seemed possible, even if was something I had dreamt about doing.

And yet, here I am, successful business woman and single mother, living in Shanghai with my now 8-year old son.

To say this has been our greatest adventure to date is an understatement. We are now 2 years, 8 months in and I can honestly say I am so glad I took the leap; this would have been far too good an opportunity to miss.

Along my journey, many people have described me as ‘brave’ and I’ve learnt to hear and accept the compliment in this. Coming out to China was definitely a considered move to take on a challenge I felt ready and able to run headlong at.

It hasn’t always been easy, even if the lifestyle and setting make my old life look positively black and white.

I’ve had to deal with living with no furniture, periods of loneliness, struggling to fit in with the ex-pat set and local food threatening to scupper my diet, but 90% of the time I am very happy.

I hope to encourage others to see that balancing a career and being a single parent can be tough, but it is definitely not impossible.

I really hope my experience can inspire others not to let their circumstances hold them back and consider taking a leap of faith when an opportunity comes along.

Turns out it is possible to follow your dreams without being a Disney princess, but if I was one, I would definitely be Ariel!

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

My sister recommended I read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and I was not disappointed; this was the first book in a long time I both laughed and cried at and it has proven a tough act to follow.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

“If it doesn’t open, it wasn’t your door to push”

I try to remind myself of these words whenever I face something challenging or something doesn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, both in my work and personal life.

I’m also a firm believer in short-term pain, long-term gain…often the battle to get where you want to be is more than worthwhile.

What’s next for you on your journey?

The exciting thing is I’m really not sure and this doesn’t scare me at all.

Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Monica Garcia Cabello

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.  And Monica, who I met out here in Shanghai, is one of them.  She is an absolute joy – who has transformed my relationship with my skin!

These amazing individuals have inspired me to think beyond ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Monica Garcia Cabello – Korean Skincare Guru

Monica Garcia Cabello
Monica Garcia Cabello

Tell us a little about yourself…

Hi. I’m Monica, the founder of The K skin factor. I curate Korean skincare products and regimes.

I left my Madrid day job as a financial auditor in a big company to take a wild leap into the unknown Asian world. After living in Seoul for 2 years I decided to turn my passions into a business.

Monica Garcia Cabello

I’m passionate about helping other women to make it happen and find their skin voice. Because I know first-hand all of the huge and brilliant changes that being in control of your life and your skin can bring.

How do you know Nicki?

Our kids have been classmates at school since we moved to China. Besides just this, I always admire woman who are dedicated and work hard. Since the beginning I was sure that Nicki was more than simply an expat mum. Then Nicki became my client and I love to create a relationship with my buyers and clients, so here we are!

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

Well, the life I have created is just a record of thoughts, revelations and things that have happened to me in the past years. I have always been such an independent woman but I become a mother and a wife and these kind of things change your life forever.

As a financial auditor I have always had pursued the idea of perfection. With my family I realise that I needed to abandon this approach in order to bet for my biggest and wildest dreams.

As a woman we always have so much pressure about what we do and what we don’t. Sometimes choices are limited too. We can’t simply have all we want at the same time. It is not easy to live your best life and keep the balance. I think that’s the answer to most people’s problems : “you do what you have to do”.

I love my life now because I made my choice : I went abroad and made a living again. My family is not a chain for my personal goals but my inspiration. Curiosity is my motto and I had to slow down .

The thing I love most is the freedom to decide about my interests, my schedule and the correct timing .These things are essential to stop worrying about stupid stuff to simply enjoy life and family.

I specially like the idea of being my boss and challenge myself to develop my own ideas and projects.

Even though life gets crazy sometimes, that way is like I am able to enjoy the personal, family and professional side at the same time. Maintaining your career/academic and personal life can get pretty hectic sometimes. … Being able to work and engage with my family and social life at the same time is just priceless.

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

Well, I was born in a really tiny village in the north of Spain right after the dictatorial times. All was about nature and mountains. My father run a hotel and some businesses inherited from his family. Since the beginning the idea of hard work and creating a legacy for others was very clear to me. I always worked with my family and didn’t have a conventional childhood at all. My father passed away when my youngest brother was only 8 years old so my mum took care of the business and the 4 kids since that.

Life was tough at that time but I also learnt that it’s not what you were born into it’s what you do what matters. I soon learnt what is important in life and what resilience means.

I was so lucky also. I worked at the hotel after school and during the weekends. That has been key on my life. It set me apart. I lived in an isolated mountain town, just 10 men remained. But at the same time I was exposed to many people, from different countries and cultural backgrounds. Countryside and city life all together.

I had the chance to find out what the world is really about, meet foreigners, ask questions and discover how curiosity moves and changes all our lives.

Since I was very young I started to travel and study abroad.  I was an Internationally minded person. These experiences were a valuable asset as they had strengthen my interpersonal skills and personal development. They were the seeds of what I am. I soon gained the courage to follow my dreams and leave the family path so I moved to Madrid.

I was determined to be myself.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a strong woman my mother, who made herself who she is.  I absolutely consider her among the best, most capable leader I’ve ever worked with. She’s still working with my sister in the family business, inspiring all of us, doing more everyday. She will never give up because she loves what she does.

And I’ve been so lucky to find a determined partner in crime too, to be loved and supported, making my life run smoothly these past years. I think it’s so important to love others and have common dreams .When you share your passions with the ones you love, they will help you to make it happen and you will enjoy the journey together.

My two little kids inspire and challenge me everyday.

My friends and the community I live in are so important too.  

I’m always looking for role models for the next phase, and powerful people who don’t worry about how the world perceive them are key to my future. Originals are everywhere!

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I consider that we have the power to give energy, good vibes and courage to others by maintaining a positive behaviour, by giving example.

I try to help others to break through barriers and affirm their strengths.

I love to talk about grit and future plans with my friends too.

I work everyday to maintain integrity and honesty in what I do, and I only make choices that align to my own values and beliefs.

I grow my kids to make the world a bit better.

I try to inspire people to be authentic and I always say, well if you don’t like your life –  just switch it up!

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

I always have more than one book on my side table. I just grab one or other depending on my mood.

I recently finished The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell a novel about women who refuse to conform, about maternity and pursue.

I also loved Americana by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a powerful story of race and identity that gives you a good idea about what being a foreigner means.

My book for the past break in Singapore has been Crazy rich Asians”. I like to read books based on places that I’m exploring.

I’m currently reading “The souls of China” by Ian Johnson, about the return of religion after Mao. There is always so much to know about this amazing country.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

There have been a few but I always try to listen to my inner voice first… I think the best way to listen and offer advice is just being vulnerable and transparent in a daily basis.

Some phrases that have helped me to affirm my strengths were : “Just keep going and do not worry too much “ and “ Speak up!”.

What’s next for you on your journey?

As an expat in China I’d very much prefer to immerse myself on the culture of the place and its people rather than just stay in the bubble. That is one of the main reasons I created the k skin factor, to help people appreciate the wonders of Asian beauty culture.

Now that the project is solid I’m considering new projects to build up more bridges to link East and West.

I love cooking and I’m fascinated about Asian food too so who knows what comes next! There’s a lot to look forward to.

Monica changed my approach to skincare with her knowledge & enthusiasm – she made it fun for me, so I’m a huge convert to The K Skin Factor…

Monica Garcia Cabello

For more info and to follow what The K Skin Factor is up to, click here



Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Christina McFadden

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.  Christina McFadden is one of them.

They have inspired me to think beyond the ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Christina McFadden – Founder, Blue Door Partners

Christina McFadden
Christina McFadden

Tell us a little about yourself…

I am a Leadership Coach and Facilitator. I founded Blue Door Partners in 2016 – a professional development company for leaders – and all my dreams continue to come true – so much that I haven’t been able to dream fast enough.

I recently learned it’s ok that I don’t know my next big dream and it is expecting me either way – which was very relaxing to hear.

How do you know Nicki?

We both signed up for CTI’s Leadership training program. We friended each on Facebook before the program started and I thought (and still do) that Nicki was so bad ass living in Asia, from England and headed to Leadership.

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

I made a big jump 2 years ago and love that my days are filled with leadership and team coaching or designing and leading workshops. I am over the moon.

Plus I get to travel the world (my personal favorite hobby) and take my work with me or work from home with my 3 black cats.

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

Being a millionaire on paper for a week back in 2000 as the first employee of – we made a directory (actual book) of urls. This was before there were any search engines.

I spent 12 years in Healthcare and worked my way up to COO. I kept getting fired or leaving after making big changes at a health centers.

I now know I am an agent of change and get bored once the heavy lifting is done. At the time I never thought I could leave a job after a year so I stayed even thought I was bored.

I was introduced to coaching, improv and acting 3 years ago, within 2 months of each other, and it changed the course of my life.

Now I get to coach leaders and run workshops with teams as my day job.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

This is truly one of my biggest challenges, I crave mentorship and I continually outgrew these relationships quicker than I wanted to, until I found coaching.

CTI coaches inspire me everyday. CTI leaders warm my heart. I try to talk to 2 coach friends a week (at least) because every conversation helps me grow.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I share all my paperwork for coaching and I am always happy to have a call about coaching. I love hearing about other folks coaching journey and sharing tips with each other.

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

I am a hands on leader. I love to assist for CTI or watch videos. I do love books and I would rather be jumping into the work.

So take a look at this TED talk: The Little Risks You Can Take To Increase Your Luck

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

I asked my cousin if she regretted not having kids as I was considering skipping having kids. She said, I am pretty sure you regret it either way. From that moment on I felt so free and knew not having kids was going to be just fine.

What’s next for you on your journey?

As I said earlier – it’s waiting for me even though I don’t know what it is yet.

A Ted talk? More coaching, more workshops and more traveling….. more cats and more kisses from my husband of 18 years.

Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Jessica McClure

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.  I’m very pleased to be able to say that Jessica McClure is one of them.

They have inspired me to think beyond the ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Jessica McClure – Leadership & Life Design Coach

Jessica McClure

Tell us a little about yourself…

I believe that when we are living our best life, there is no need for balance.  

Sometimes we focus on some things more than other — so let go of the guilt and the “shoulds” that don’t have meaning for you.  Instead take the time to make a priority of the things you “want” to include in your life — I think too often we go on autopilot and the days just pass. 

It takes effort to make yourself and your desires a priority, but in the end it’s worth it because you can create so much more in your life when you let in the unknown.  

I try and honor that with my own life and working with clients to incorporate that in their own lives, as a Life & Leadership Coach.

How do you know Nicki?

I met Nicki on a magical island (Lopez Island) just over 18 months ago, with 8 other women, where we slept, dreamed, ate, conspired, cried and grew together, both as humans and as leaders.  

(You can read a little about Nicki’s journey to & from Lopez island here)

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

I have created my own schedule that allows me to be with my family and also work one-on-one with people, to mirror back to them the life they want.  

I am drawn like a moth to a flame to connection, to community, to people and to conversations. This isn’t to say I don’t get nervous, don’t know what to say or love networking — it’s just that I have settled in to showing up and trusting that I will meet the people I am meant to meet or have the conversations that will have meaning for me.  

I believe that every interaction is a trading of energy — I’m supposed to learn something from you or you are supposed to learn something from me. If I come with that attitude, than an interaction is always meaningful, even when it isn’t apparent. You never know the impact or the random comment that might affect you — I still remember snippets from movies, conversations, listening to others, experiences, reading that have made a profound impact.  If I didn’t get out of my comfort zone and do things that were sometimes scary – I wouldn’t have had many of those experiences or growth for my own life.

So I guess what I love is that my life is not predictable.  I love that every interaction can change the course of my future.   

And what is predictable, is that my husband and kids can still make me laugh so hard that I have to run to the bathroom!

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

Oh wow, such a great question.  …It’s interesting to notice dots in my past that would have taken my trajectory in a completely different direction… no right or wrong.  Just being aware that every decision does shift the future.

My chronological dots are:  

– working in a corporate world for many years and never feeling like my puzzle piece fit in with the others;

– watching a reality show years and years ago when a person had a life coach and I remember being so intrigued;

– a random night sitting in a hotel room with 10 other women and having one of them ask me if I took a class on how to “communicate”;  

– reading Sheryl Sandbergs Lean IN book — which I hated and made me want to tell others to Lean OUT (this one was a big dot);

– “praying” before bed one night asking for a sign as to what I should do for my career and my dream of three women – one collecting mushrooms, one teaching yoga and then me “to speak” – two days after this dream writing in my journal “teach others to find their dharma” and three days later in the aisle of Costco my husband telling me he thought I would be a good life coach (I hadn’t shared the dream or the journal entry with him);

– meeting a pivotal person that encouraged me to create Lean OUT – a group of 8 women – and oddly enough, my entry into Lean In Seattle;

– a vision in meditation of 3 women and me sitting in a circle, I saw a symbol – a star with 4 points and each woman was a point – connection, spirit, movement and grounding.  And seeing how this symbol with its meaning has shaped my own growth.

– And the constant standing up for myself, against society, my family, some friends (never my husband or good friends) about getting a “real job”.

Every time I had to defend my choice,

I became stronger in my choice and stance.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

Countless supporters who have believed in me and lifted me up when I didn’t believe in myself.  

My husband — who has never questioned this path and what it entailed, specially when it financially didn’t make sense and it would have been easy for him to tell me to “go get a job”.  He gave me inspiration/belief when I doubted myself and the permission to be selfish in achieving my dreams – holding the confidence for me when I didn’t have it myself.

Inspiring coaches who are doing it – and who have had faith in me as well, to trust me with their clients.  

My clients who have made huge shifts in their lives and I get to witness them empowering themselves to go big.  

Random meetings that turned into new clients, workshops that I facilitated that helped my growth as well as the people who attended.  

Honestly, it always feels like the universe seems to support my growth, exactly with what and who I need at the time and with time my confidence in myself has grown and I’ve learned to be courageous in the face of fear.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I mentor in the year-up organization.  

I speak to everyone, not with the goal of “coaching” them, but to have a greater connection.  I am genuinely curious about people and about their trajectory.

By leading with my truth I hopefully inspire others to do the same.  

I write and I often hear that something I wrote was exactly what someone needed to hear — or that they read it and have an “and I think…..” which creates a bigger conversation.  

By putting myself out there – I think it shows people it’s not so scary to do it themself.

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

OOOH, that’s tough.  I have 10 books on the side of my bed right now…  

One that has made a big impact on me and has taught me how to talk to my “inner self” is Carolyn Myss, Sacred Contracts and everything Dr. Joe Dispenza (most recently Breaking the habit of being yourself) for understanding the science behind the brain.

But the book I recommend the most, and I think every person should read (especially women) is Women Who Run With The Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pikola Estes.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

There are not two people in this world who are the same.  Don’t look to others for your path — inspiration yes, but follow your own path – and delete anyone from your life who makes you feel less than (social media or in real life).  

And trust. Trust in the journey and that you are meant to be happy.

What’s next for you on your journey?

Continuing coaching one-on-one.  Facilitating more womens groups – a smaller lean out and currently creating a monthly cross-generational larger group format for women to learn from each other.  

Letting the universe surprise and delight me with more opportunities, people and undertakings – while I do the “work” on my side.

Connect with Jessica and find out more about how she can help you find clarity by visiting her website:

Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Steph Wong

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.  Steph Wong is one of them.

They have inspired me to think beyond the ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Steph Wong – Gluten Free Baker & Entrepreneur

Steph Wong
Steph Wong (bottom left) & the WHO’s team

Tell us a little about yourself…

When I was small, I had ideas of what I wanted to do when I grew up.   They weren’t always concrete jobs or professions, but there were requirements to the kind of future I wanted.

I grew up knowing that I wanted a job where I could travel the world, where I could become a mentor, and eventually become my own boss. Most importantly, I knew I wanted to do something that helped people or where I felt like I could make an impact.

So I went through a series of jobs during high school and college, learning what I could about the different fields that I was interested in. The list included everything from camp counselor & dentist assistant to magician’s assistant, muay thai instructor training and managing a handmade lampshade factory.  I then ‘settled down’ into a corporate role as a project manager and finally a production manager.

All of it seems so disconnected, but each job gave me insight to who I wanted to be, what kind of people I wanted to work with, how to work with and lead people, and how to manage tasks that seemed near impossible! [Thanks Imagination].

However, after a while, I got to feeling that I wasn’t being challenged enough.  I wasn’t learning anything new and the support that I needed to grow was not there.

Prior to this I had some health issues, and found out that I had celiac disease, which is what brought about the next big change in my life.

I had a hard time finding good food and snacks while being on the road, so I started to make my own. I shared it with friends, family and coworkers and they loved it. That’s when I realised that I could get back into doing something that made me happy.

I started WHOS Gluten Free in December of 2013.

I worked on the branding, the recipes and figuring out what people wanted by going to farmers markets and food festivals – all while working as a production manager. I slowly built up my business, funding it with my paychecks, but too scared to jump into it full-time. There was always that “what if it fails?”, or “what if I can’t pay my bills” in the back of my mind.

All of that changed though, when my mentor and ex colleague was diagnosed with ALS, which is a serious progressive neurodegenerative disease. It put things into perspective for me. This is a man, who worked hard and poured his life energy into his work, only to be let go and then diagnosed with this life altering disease. Did I want to end up in the same position as him? To put so much heart, soul & time into working towards an unknown future for somebody else’s company? The answer was an easy NO.

I spent some time planning my exit and gave my months notice. I have now been working at my bakery for 7 months. I have 3 employees, and have grown my accounts from 4 to 17.

Steph Wong

It’s still in its early stages, but I am proud of what I have accomplished so far. I feel like I don’t have a real job.  Not because I’m not taking this next stage seriously. But because I love what I’m doing.

I don’t dread waking up at ungodly hours to bake bagels or bread. I enjoy baking and cooking, even if I have to stand on my feet for 12 -15 hours straight. To me, its something that I want to do. So maybe the best type of job for anyone, is a job that doesn’t feel like a “job”.

How do you know Nicki?

I answered an add on Craigslist for a project assistant position at Imagination New York.

After meeting Nicki & the team, I was hired for the job.

We were like a mini family the first few years – working/traveling together across the US.

I learned a lot about myself from Nicki and she gave me more confidence – reminding me that I need to speak up for myself and be my own cheerleader.

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

Most days I wake up early and walk the dog, then head to the bakery to make to-do lists for my bakers. Bake, make deliveries, talk to the neighbors, and build a community around the bakery.

Compared to what I was doing before, this all seems fun and easy.

I love coming to the bakery, knowing that we are helping people and making it easier for them to find delicious gluten-free snacks and healthy gluten-free food.

Steph Wong

It really makes my day when parents come in with their kids, who have serious sensitivities and allergies, and feel at ease. They don’t have to worry about cross contamination – or chemically processed foods and flavors, because it is so abundant in the GF products found in the super markets.

I am also consciously working on a better work life balance – which is a lot easier now that I have 1 job instead of 2 full-time jobs. I am still learning how to slow down with the workload and focus more on my mental and physical health without feeling guilty. I started a run group in my building complex, I am organizing a team of 12 for a 2 day relay race, training for a sprint triathlon & learning how to swim.

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

Looking back into the past I can see how the things I wanted for myself subconsciously guided my decisions in life.

Pivotal point 1 “Leaving the nest”. I moved away from my family, friends and everything I knew to start a new life. I wanted to see if it was something that I could do, if I could survive on my own.

Pivotal point 2 “Finding my career” By accepting the job as project assistant at Imagination, I hit my dream goal of traveling and seeing different parts of the country while working. I moved up the “ladder” and then changed career paths. I learned how to work with people, how to get people behind your idea and most importantly I learned more about myself through relationships I had with my colleagues and managers.

Pivotal point 3 “Lifestyle change” I had a lot of health issues and went to doctors for years, before figuring out that I had Celiac disease.

I changed the way I ate, went out less to avoid getting sick, and started a bakery.

I went to farmers markets every weekend that I was not traveling and met great people. Within 5 months of farmers markets, I opened a retail location with 2 other women business owners. We formed a co-op space, that brought the community together, with 3 completely different businesses.

I had the GF bakery, there was a specialty tea bar and bath and body workshop that focused on afrocentric products. I felt like we were making a statement and that it was the coolest thing to be a part of.

When we came into this part of town (Jersey City, NJ) – there was nothing like us.  Now it’s an up and coming area with several specialty bakeries and restaurants. I like to think we made the area more desirable. Then we were growing and needed a bigger kitchen space – so relocated to another part of Jersey City.


Pivotal point 4 “Dead end” I felt trapped at times and that whatever I did was not enough.

I believe as women we have to learn and accept the fact that


…maybe better for the job than the male counterparts that we get passed over for.

Once we believe in ourselves, then it gives us the power to fight against the micro- aggressions and stand up to it.

If we don’t believe in ourselves, we begin accepting what is handed to us without question. I know I let that happen for too long – by the time I realized my worth – I decided that it was time to start a new journey.

Pivotal point 5 “Creating the culture” Its like the saying goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

I’ve taken what I’ve learned in the past 10 years, to create a space where we feel empowered to do better everyday.

I teach my employees everything I know, answer all their questions about starting their own bakery.

I help other gluten-free bakers by renting my space out – giving them contacts and tips on wholesaling.

Some people tell me that I am helping the competition. But I don’t feel that, I feel like I’m helping someone live out their dream – and that is what matters at the end of the day.

How many people can say they helped or encouraged someone to do something great with their lives or that they helped them live out one less regret?

We are on the outskirts of Jersey City, far from the popular downtown area. These are the areas that I feel like need a space like ours, a safe space for kids to hang out after school. A place to get healthy food at affordable prices. A place to have donation based yoga classes, or educational classes on food and health. Theres a lot more about the disparity in my part of Jersey City and the downtown area…(but I think that would have to be another article.)

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

My key supporters are my friends and family – they jumped in feet first with me.


Steph Wong

They stayed up late baking with me, woke up early to load up the car for the markets, then they stood out in the hot sun and pouring rain with me to sell my baked goods, without asking for anything in return.

Steph Wong

They believed enough in me, in my idea and my cause to sacrifice their nights and weekends to see my dreams come to fruition. They even packed up my apartment and my bakery when I was on the road for work, because our lease was up and we were moving to a new location. I don’t know what kind of friend would help you move, while you were out doing something else. I think I might just have some crazy best friends.

It also helps that my boyfriend believes in my work so much, that he pushed me to choose the path that I am on now.  Without the financial stability he helped to provide, I would have had a harder time transitioning from my “9-5” to living out my best life.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I rent out my kitchen to other small businesses who are just starting out or trying to figure out what their next stage is.

I have partnered with other women owned businesses.

We also hold community events in our space like, donation based yoga, since it is not easily available to everyone.

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

Right now I’m reading Codex Alera, it’s a 6 part fantasy book. I like to read a ton of fiction, instead of watching tv, to escape.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

I can’t narrow any one piece of advise or quote down, but I know that when I’m feeling a little less than enthusiastic about life, I can count on Walter Raymond.

Without realizing it – he regurgitates little simple truths, idioms and tons of wisdom. He helped me get through a lot of self-doubt without realizing it Here is the most recent excerpt from Walter.

“What I need and what you need is different.

The point is you don’t need much to be successful.

You find your core needs, and get them to serve you fully, what can’t you achieve?”


What’s next for you on your journey?

I started an app company with a group of friends back in December of 2017. I’m planning on putting more time into this, as it’s still in the content development stages. We hope to launch a prototype in January so we can start speaking to investors.

Once that gets under way, I plan on being part of the Forbes 40 under 40 list. Maybe for the bakery, maybe for this new app, maybe for something completely different.

All I know is I’ve got a few years left to make the list and a lot of work to do!

Connect with Steph Wong and Whos Gluten Free Bakery here:

Feeling inspired? Want to work out your first step to create a life you love?

Get in touch with Nicki and schedule your free introductory coaching session.

Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Thea Baker

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.  Thea Baker is one of them.

They have inspired me to think beyond the ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Thea Baker – Wellness Warrior

Thea Baker
Thea Baker

Tell us a little about yourself…

I am a lifestyle counsellor and movement coach – a career born out of lived experiences as a daughter, wife, mother, widow, business woman and partner – above all a wellness warrior for all things woman!

How do you know Nicki?

Oh, the delights of the universe flinging together women in a space and waiting to see what magic would occur!

I met Nicki in cyberspace – and in fact have still never met in person (!) – thanks to another amazing coach and entrepreneur, Nikki Armitage-Foy from Electric Woman where we journeyed together for an amazing 9 weeks of soul-searching and creating.

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

I can truly say that now (at age 42) my life really is something that I have actively chosen.  From the people who I surround myself with, the work that I do, to the place that I live…they are all there because I have chosen it to be thus.

I live with my partner, Andrew, two children, Martha & Sebastian and three step-children, Ruby, Oscar and Imogen. Our family home (affectionately known as Brady Bunch Towers) in Melbourne, Australia, fluctuates between a space of quiet creation, housing two grown-ups, through to a noisy and extremely busy place of seven.

I have created a business where I determine the days and hours of my work, which includes hands-on time with my movement clients in my studio through to coaching and counselling –  either from my practice at home, or utilising the wonders of technology reaching and connecting with women in the UK, China and New Zealand.

My big passion is around providing women with practical wisdom around their physical health, enabling them to be the most incredible steward of their body, whilst at the same time supporting their journey towards optimal mental, emotional and spiritual health.

I am one of life’s eternal students and currently that involves a Masters of Counselling at Monash University.

I present internationally around all sorts of female-orientated health and wellbeing issues, and this year will be addressing the inclusivity and intersectionality of the health and fitness industry – a subject dear to my heart.

I love to swim, ideally outside, either in a pool or the ocean, and whenever possible I am outside getting grounded and connecting with the amazing natural world that is all around me.

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

Couldn’t agree with Steve Jobs more – about connecting the dots backwards. Where I am now is in large part the direct product of the journey that I have been one…I simply would not be here in Australia right now, doing what I am doing were it not a for a few significant milestones.

An all-girls boarding school at the age of 10 certainly assisted my independence, but it also provided a rich insight into sisterhood.

My lack of clarity around “what to do with the rest of my life” after excelling at my BA (Hons) History (because what on earth do people do with a degree in history?) saw me working within corporate HR for my pre-children years – an experience that laid the foundations for the deeply person-centered work that I do now.

Becoming a mother changed everything about me. It made me evaluate my choices and my desires. I got so lost and through exercise and movement found not only my body but also my calling – to help other women figure out how to find connection with their head, body and soul. Firstly, retraining as a specialist pregnancy and postnatal personal trainer, and then more recently coaching around epigenetic health and a broader focus on personalized health and lifestyle counselling.

However, it was through marriage, divorce, another marriage and sudden widowhood at 38 that I learned that you really do have a choice in how to respond to change.

Sometimes it’s something that you can create or curate for yourself, it is something that you have worked hard for and are prepared for the outcome. Other times it’s the kind of change that knocks the wind out of you and turns your whole world upside down. But even in that space you can choose how the ending is written.

The work I am doing now came directly from that time, it is the phoenix rising from the ashes that was my life.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

My children.   They are my inspiration, my biggest fans and the two people guaranteed to call me on my authenticity.

I have had a number of amazing mentors who have taught me very different life lessons – all of them women!

My parents who have watched me pick myself up and start from scratch more times than I can count. Whilst I am sure I have caused them many sleepless nights they don’t ever seem to doubt in my ability to survive and indeed, thrive.

Lastly, my partner Andrew. He came into my life after my hardest and darkest days and he has believed in me unwaveringly. Whilst he’d be the first to admit that the work I do takes him far outside of his own comfort-zone, he can see the enormous value in the work that I do and the impact it has on the women’s lives that I am blessed to work with.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I support and mentor other women in the health and fitness space – I believe that we all have our unique pixel of the rainbow to add to this world and if we aren’t encouraged to shine and live that out in a very real sense, then the whole world will miss out on that special something that we were put on this earth to do.

Instead of working from a protective space of scarcity, when we lift our eyes to look beyond and help others, we all benefit.

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

Vagina by Naomi Wolf. Every woman should read it.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

Don’t believe everything you think.

(Sometimes your thoughts can be your own worst enemy and you need to step outside your head and listen to your gut…)

What’s next for you on your journey?

I am about to open my very own studio, called, which will be an inclusive safe space for people to come and explore their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

It will be the physical home for my business, Thea Baker Wellness but it will also be the home of a number of other businesswomen who are excited to call home.

Collectively we will offer a range of personalised sessions and group workshops, classes and training. It feels like a huge leap and natural next step all at the same time!!

Website coming VERY soon!

And in the mean time, for inspiration & a great deal of raw honesty & humour, you can connect with Thea here:

Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Karen Kimsey-House

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.

They have inspired me to think beyond the ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Karen Kimsey-House: Cofounder & CEO, The Coaches Training Institute (CTI)

Karen Kimsey-House
Karen Kimsey-House & The Elder Tribe, Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma – June 2018

Karen is one of the earliest recognized luminaries in the coaching profession.  She founded CTI in 1992 with Laura Whitworth and Henry Kimsey-House – and together they created the Co-Active philosophy that informs CTI’s coaching and leadership programmes.

She is a tour-de-force, and was one of the primary reasons I chose to do their Leadership programme when I did – as she was co-leading it.

What do you remember about when you met Nicki?

I didn’t know her CTI story but I imagine that she was looking for something in the direction of freedom from old limitations and an expansion of self-expression. …the image of a powerful Phoenix stretching her wings and flying comes to mind.

For my side, I was delighted to be co-leading my 62nd leadership program. I remember being intrigued and excited.

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you love most about it?

Gosh…I love my life. When people tell me that CTI has changed their life, I smile and say “I know!”. ..because it so changed mine. I was a whole lot of giddyup and not much focus. ..a thunderstorm trying to figure out which way to pee.

I’d been told all my life that I was too much. ..too loud, to energetic. ..too passionate. …too intense. CTI became a big broad canvas on which I could paint ALL of myself. All my heart and longing for the world and for people. All my power and intensity. All of my human shortcomings and failures. …all of it.

I love people. Period. I get a huge kick out of how different we are and how much the same we are. I’m wildly curious about what makes them tick, what moves, inspires and tickles.

Now, as I move towards the later stage in life, I have the freedom to do as I please.. talk with people just because I want to, to love them just as much as I feel like, to be as corny or mushy, or edgy or bitchy or messed up or wise as I’m feeling right in the moment. It’s immensely satisfying.

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

At the time, I know those that loved me (my parents come to mind) scratched their heads and wondered if I would ever make anything of myself. Looking back, each piece was essential.

I started out in English and theater. …wanted to be an actress. My English studies gave me a deep love of language which I cherish to this day. Theater training taught me to use myself as an instrument. ..invaluable.

Growing up as a military kid taught me fierce independence and how to make my own way. Marrying Henry set me free to fly as high as I possibly could.

CTI was the context or container that pointed all that learning. I am most fortunate and blest in these things.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

First and foremost, Henry. He has never shied away from intense conversation. He taught me how to be in the moment and how to relish chaos.

My mother taught me how to be gracious and inviting and “social”. . .she was a Southerner to her toes.

My father taught me that I was a Kimsey and that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind too.

My Wasitu (Spiritual teachers in the Beauty Way) taught me how to remember always that I was a part of, and therefore supported by, Life.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I don’t know how to answer this question. I guess I just believe in them.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

I came back from a meditation retreat with these words firmly planted in me:

“Love is the Answer. matter the question”

I think that’s really true. .. .that life is an ongoing choice between fear and love and my prayer is that I chose love as best as I can.

What’s next for you on your journey?

I think it’s to enjoy. to be In Joy. To savor every single sweet drop of this remaining life.   The whole ripe peach of it.

Co-Active Coaching, Fourth Edition has just been released.  It is the proven framework for transformative conversations at work and in life

To have a chat and see whether Leadership might be a journey you want to take for yourself – get in touch with Nicki, and hear first hand what transformation is possible.

Create a life you love – Inspiring Stories: Esther Wyatt

I have the pleasure of knowing some amazing people. People who have done extraordinary things with their ‘ordinary’ lives.

They have inspired me to think beyond the ‘normal’ as to what’s possible for my life – and I hope that by getting them to tell their stories here, they might just inspire a few others of you too.

Esther Wyatt – Paddle Board Instructor

esther wyatt
Esther Wyatt

Tell us a little about yourself…

I’m a Personal Trainer, Paddle Board Instructor and run a small health & fitness business (Jurassic SUP Fitness) on the Jurassic Coastline in the South West of England.

Having worked in high-end events delivery for nearly 20 years, and been fortunate to work for some incredible agencies and travel the world, I can honestly say I hit burn out in my late 30’s. I was tired all the time, my health took a turn for the worst and I realized life was passing me by.

I work up one night with an epiphany. I had never enjoyed living in the hectic bubble of London life (even though I was born and raised there – I believe I am a country girl at heart) I am a complete water baby and have always kept myself very physically fit. I trained people and taught paddle boarding as a side hobby but never thought I could make a career out of it.

Fortunately I have the event background so knew I could always freelance, and I still do in the winter months when things are quieter, but finally I had the courage to step out on my own. I put my flat in London on the market, found a house in a little village called Charmouth on the South West coast where there are no gyms, just the sea, cliff tops and stunning scenery.

I have been living here nearly a year now and the business is flourishing. The paddle boarding instruction and safari exploration along the coastline is very seasonal so I do take the odd freelance project in winter to help ends meet, but this allows a bit of travel and reminds me how much I love coming back to my new home.

I have never felt happier and I finally have a work life balance which I have always craved.

I got an amazing little Jack Russell called Daisy (again this would never have been an option in my London lifestyle) and I have made some fabulous new friends. Living in a village has a real community spirit and there are some fascinating characters within a short stroll (my next door neighbor is Chris Moore who recently worked with David Attenborough on a documentary – David Attenborough and the Sea Dragon – after finding a new species of Ichthyosaur: an extinct dinosaur fossil).  

I am learning new facts and skills daily and I am excited about what the future holds.

How do you know Nicki?

Nicki and I met at the last big agency I worked for full-time (Imagination, based in London). She was my line manager whilst working on the Ford of Europe account and was a hugely popular member of staff – even now a lot of us are spread around the globe after making big life changes, we always come back to her for advice and encouragement.

I remember sitting at lunch in Wahaca, telling Nicki of my plans and she was so encouraging and supportive – it was people like Nicki that made me believe I could make this dream a reality.

No matter what people think you “should” be doing, or what is the safe and sensible option, follow your own dreams!!

Tell us a little about the life that you have created – and what you most love about it?

I’m outside the majority of the day.

I’m teaching and meeting new people daily.

I have to overcome hurdles, teaching students with learning or physical difficulties, inspiring people to get more active.

I live 5 minute walk from the sea and in the most beautiful countryside.

I might work 7 days a week during school holidays but I manage my own time and not once have I felt “I just don’t want to get out of bed and go to work”

What are the defining moments in having created this life you love?

Defining moments for me are when I see someone achieve something they never thought possible. The look on someone’s face, the sense of pride swelling. I have been working with a lady who has suffered a terrible past, and her self-confidence has improved dramatically. I have a student with learning difficulties so I often have to find alternative ways of communicating and inspiring, or the client with the hip replacement that never thought they would regain their balance enough to get on a paddle board (she is about to buy one having mastered it!).

I can honestly say that I feel what I am doing is making a difference to some.

Who are your key supporters along this journey – and what have they given you?

Friends, family and Daisy.

esther wyatt
Esther & Daisy – the paddle boarding puppy

There was apprehension, particularly from my parents, when I told them what I was planning, but I will always credit my brother for talking them round and I feel I have their backing 100%.

I don’t have a family or children so it has always been my responsibility to go and see friends but they have made an effort – some even with 4 kids in tow to come and visit and it means everything to me.

How do you now ‘pay-it-forwards’? What support and inspiration do you provide to others to enable them to create a life they love?

I try to inspire a fit, active lifestyle that does not necessarily mean the use of gyms.

I encourage the use of the environment in its natural form to create a healthy balanced lifestyle that works for the individual

What’s your current favourite book recommendation?

I just read Shantaram and found it very inspirational – how someone can completely turn their life around.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

There is always a reason not to do something, so focus on the positives. Yes there may be risk involved. Minimise those risks, talk it though with your nearest and dearest and you will find a solution for most things with a bit of perseverance.

What’s next for you on your journey?

I’m going to enjoy my first full summer doing what I love.

For the first time, I’m not worrying about what lies ahead, I just want to enjoy each day as it comes.

I worked my arse off for two years to get here, managing a full-time job, house moves, setting up the company, building websites, marketing etc.

Its time to take some time out from stress and love the life I have created for myself.

And if you want to hear what people think about what Esther now does – take a read of some of her awesome reviews on Tripadvisor... and then go book yourself a lesson.