The Mountain, The Sea, and You and Me
I’m a pretty good card player. I spent my childhood summers in Dunfanaghy in the old house my grandmother was born in. It was brought into the twentieth century in the mid-eighties with an extension and indoor toilet but we still weren’t allowed to put a TV in there. So we played a lot of cards. In a weird way that experience would come to save me as an adult. When everything in my life was confusing and tumultuous I knew it was time to go and be held gently in the hand of Dunfanaghy’s benevolent forces. Something told me if I could exist where modern noise couldn’t reach me then I’d finally hear what I needed to hear.
Those childhood summers were kind of a renaissance existence. We’d open the front door each morning to the sight of the mountain and the sound of the Corncrake’s call. When the weather was good we’d spend all day at the beach, retreating home only when the sun did. When the weather was bad we’d drive to the pier or the cliffs and watch the waves at play. We made a makeshift art gallery in an old caravan - my brothers, cousins and I - where we’d draw pictures before inviting the adults in to view and buy them.
One of my favourite things was our regular night time routine. After dark we’d all pile in the car with my mother and grandfather and drive up the narrow winding road to the top of the headland. If you’ve seen my film, it’s the spot where you see the aerial footage of me standing at the edge of the cliff. We’d stop there in the pitch dark and stare out at the black sea. Then we’d drive a few minutes to our favourite beach. At full tide the water engulfs the whole beach and stops just short of the road. My mum would wind the windows down and turn the engine off and we’d listen to the gentle breaking of waves we couldn’t see. On the way home we’d stop off at the shop and buy some sweets to fuel our late night card games.
As we played cards by the roaring fire the elders would regale us with stories of times gone by. We’d stay up late learning about the family history and what life was like before we came along. In Dunfanaghy there was always time for these stories. Just like there was always time for indulging our interests. As a child I was obsessed with Gaelic football. When I was 10 there was controversy as my teacher – a woman – took over the coaching of the school team after an extended string of defeats. She encouraged girls to join the team for the first time. She made us train hard and awarded starting positions based on merit. When we showed up for our first competitive match our opponents started laughing when they realised they’d be playing against a team that was almost half girls. After a few games word of our winning streak got around and the laughing stopped. We won the league that first year and I felt like I had found a calling.
It was my grandfather who had gotten me interested in Gaelic football in the first place and he would come to all my matches. Afterwards he’d tell me what I’d done well and slate any little boys he thought had employed dirty tactics against me. When we were in Dunfanaghy we would ‘break in’ to the local Gaelic pitch, led by our Granda, and he’d sit in the dugouts while we played.
As I entered my teenage years I still loved those trips to the pitch in Dunfanaghy but I stopped playing for the club team. I was one of the last girls to leave. I gave up a lot of things I loved around that age. I gave up things I was good at but thought I shouldn’t do, like football, and I gave up things I thought I wasn’t good enough at, like drawing and crafting. I had reached a point in my life where I became aware of this feeling inside me – I had this quiet sense that I was capable of big things and I wanted to fulfil my potential and do something significant with my life. I thought the way to do that was to buckle down, get good grades, go to university and pursue a career people would take seriously.
I was 9 when we started doing mock exams in school to prepare for the 11 plus exam at the end of primary school, which was a big deal. Around the dinner table I’d have to answer my dad’s questions about the day’s test. When I would report my mark the next question would always be, “What did Sarah Hegarty get?” Invariably Sarah and I would take positions 1 and 2 in the class. Sometimes she came first, sometimes I did, and I think as much for fun as anything else, my parents kept track of the rivalry. Sarah and I ended up in the same class again at secondary school but went our separate ways as our subject choices diverged in later years. I didn’t miss the “What did Sarah get?” question.
Doing It Right
My parents expected me to do well at school and I did. I got a lot of significance from it too – I felt like I was doing it right. When I was 18 I got joint first place in Northern Ireland in my Geography A-Level and was awarded a prize from the Royal Geographical Society and a small scholarship from my university, Imperial College London. More evidence that I was ‘doing it right’. One of the reasons I chose Imperial is because it was rated as the third best university in the UK at the time. It wasn’t conscious at all but I guess I thought if I could meet their standards and get the stamp of approval from this significant, respected institution then my parents and the world might think I’m enough. And maybe I’d feel enough too. Incidentally, Imperial was third behind Cambridge and Oxford but I was way too intimidated to apply for them, not that I would have been able to admit it. Sarah Hegarty went to Oxford to study medicine. I reminded myself that she was never any good at sports though.
It felt like there was so much to lose at that age. Somewhere along the way the message I’d picked up was that you have to achieve, do things perfectly and never appear fallible. At university I occasionally flirted with the idea of setting a goal to be top of my class but the reality was I was never cut out for excessive study. I was too interested in pursuing other things, like music, friends, London and life in general. In the end I graduated with a First but I was decidedly not top of the class.
Life Punctuated By Death
By the time I got my degree results I didn’t care anymore about my place in the class or how I compared to others. My aunt, Mary P, had just died at the age of 57 after a short battle with cancer and my perspective on life had been flipped on its head. Mary P’s death marked the final scene in an act of my life that was punctuated by death. It started 8 years earlier with the death of my grandfather. A few years later my father’s mother and my mother’s aunt from Dunfanaghy, Joan, died within a few months of each other. All of a sudden the elders were gone.
After Granda died we stopped going to Dunfanaghy so much. Over time the house started to fall into disrepair and day trips were more common than extended stays. Through my twenties I went even less but I continued to feel the undeniable call of the sea and of Dunfanaghy. The first holiday John and I had together was to Dunfanaghy. By that time the roof was leaking and there was only one bedroom that was still habitable but I had an overwhelming urge to bring John to experience the place. Looking back I think it was a way for me to connect him with Granda and Joan and all the people who shaped me but were no longer around. From the very beginning John reminded me of Granda; something about his irreverent humour spliced with a deep warmth. He would later unwittingly propose on the anniversary of Granda’s death. I wish they could have met. That holiday in Dunfanaghy with the house falling down around us remains one of my favourite.
With John, London was starting to feel like home and I was beginning to feel like I knew where I belonged. But in my professional life I was totally lost. I was still desperately trying to be a ‘good girl’ and metaphorically get good grades but in many ways I felt like I’d peaked at school and since then hadn’t fulfilled my potential. Meanwhile I had noticed on Facebook that Sarah Hegarty was married and working as a doctor. I was so frustrated with myself. Why couldn’t I get my shit together? Why did I have to question everything? Why was I always analysing my life and my choices? Why didn’t I have the blind obedience or dumb confidence that seemed to stand others in such good stead in life? Why was everything always so complicated for me?
In the midst of all of this I found myself unexpectedly revisiting the past...
My parents had been talking about renovating the house in Dunfanaghy for a while. They had some grandchildren of their own at this point and everyone missed the extended stays there. Over the course of a year they transformed the house. They brought it back to its former glory and then some, but it remains a low-tech environment and the no TV rule stands. It’s a place we go to sit around the fire rather than in front of screens. Within weeks of the house being finished I went there on my own to stay for a few days. The following year I did the same. My father jokingly enquired about the health of my marriage, what with all these solo trips. John would join me at the end of the week but the time alone was crucial for me.
Every now and then I get an instinct to do something and I don’t question it, I just do it. It was instinct that told me to go to Dunfanaghy alone. The premise was that I would write. I was being advised at the time to write and self-publish a book to establish myself as an ‘expert’. When I went to Dunfanaghy I did write, but I was never able to write that elaborate-business-card type of book. Instead something else started happening.
I spent my days thinking, writing, walking on the beach and wandering around the hills staring at the mountain and the sea. I couldn’t focus on churning out a book for marketing purposes; instead I found something else rising up from within. I found myself contemplating who and what had gone before me, where I was in my life and my work, and where I was supposed to go next. I realised I was starting to feel like I had during those childhood summers spent chasing my curiosity and unfolding my creativity. It hit me; I was returning to myself.
This sense of peace washed over me. For the first time in a long time I could see a clear direction for my life and my work. And there was a deep trust rising within me that said even though I don’t know exactly where all this is going and where it will end, I am certain I’m moving in the right direction. I was beginning to do the work I was made for.
Searching for Significance, Craving Meaning
Before this nothing ever felt like it was enough. It didn’t matter how impressive my achievement might have been I was always comparing myself to others and finding myself lacking. I would live and die by every small success or failure. But now I had finally discovered the difference between significant work and meaningful work. All these years I was trying to do something significant, when really what I was craving was something meaningful. After my respite in Dunfanaghy I realised that no matter what happens in the external world – with customers, partners, competitors, peers, the economy or anything else – nothing can touch my real work and my resolve to do it. No matter what happens or what people might do or say I know my work matters, I matter, and the cumulative effect of my efforts is a positive one no matter how much I might screw up along the way. The search for significance is a black hole of insecurity, doubt and disappointment. I was relieved to have begun to pull on the thread of meaning.
Since then I haven’t looked back. These days, despite the inescapable uncertainty of work and life I am clear and unapologetic about my work and my direction in the world. As a result I reach out more, connect with greater ease, and the world reaches back. Every year I move closer and closer to doing the work only I can do. After years of repeatedly starting to build someone else’s idea of a good business or career and then abandoning or neglecting it, I’m now building a body of work that reflects who I am. I’m doing the work only I can do. If I die tomorrow I leave behind work I’m proud of, work that represents the real me - something that’s become even more important to me since having a child.
Since my teenage years I had been so worried about figuring out what I should do and what story I should write with my life, but during my solo retreat in Dunfanaghy I began to hear the story I needed to tell. Because I was finally able to listen. Sister Simone Campbell talks about the importance of listening deeply to our stories and then seeing where they lead. I have come to believe that’s our most important job. It’s not about calculating, strategising and figuring out; it’s about listening and uncovering what is intrinsic and rising up from within.
Simplicity and Impact
Listening to my story and seeing where it leads has enabled me to have a more meaningful impact through my work. Before my Dunfanaghy experience I helped clients increase their conversion rates and sales, tell better stories and make their marketing campaigns more effective, all of which is important and impactful on a certain level. But after Dunfanaghy my work began to deepen and I started to get reports of a more rooted impact. One customer told me how she shared my teaching around identity with her son who was struggling to find his place in the world of work; he was finally able to point to something and say, “That’s me! That’s how I feel,” she said, and a conversation opened up. She was able to connect with her son and help him feel more confident about who he is and where he’s going in life. Another customer shared the same identity teaching with a friend who had taken the leap into entrepreneurship after a long corporate career. They both agreed it articulated something they had never been able to find the words for and gave them an understanding of themselves that freed them up to trust their instincts and move forward with purpose. Another client emailed me a couple of years after we first worked together to tell me, “Your work has had a profound effect on who I am today.”
I try not to get too attached to this kind of feedback – as Brené Brown says, if you hitch your self-esteem to positive feedback, you also hitch it to any criticism that lands in your inbox – but it is rewarding to hear it and it tells me I’m digging into something real. I certainly didn’t get this kind of response when I was hustling and trying to force my work out of me.
A More Personal Benefit
But there’s also been a much more personal benefit to me from listening deeply to my story and seeing where it leads. It has streamlined my thoughts, decluttered my mind and simplified my life. After my time in Dunfanaghy I realised something very simple and unambiguous: I’m a writer, I tell the truth, and I articulate things people have been living with but haven’t been able to find words for. That’s what I do. Sounds so obvious in retrospect but that kind of deep clarity and simplicity is always hard won. Since realising exactly what I do I instantly stopped trying to shoehorn myself and my work into someone else’s ‘model for success.’ And as a result my work has expanded; it’s become richer, more fulfilling, and I’m able to let the most important parts out.
I’ve stopped shying away from following my natural urges so my work has expanded into my personal life too, allowing me to get ever closer to shedding the mask of my professional persona and just be me – at work, at home, with friends, with clients. My whole career I kept my work and my friends very separate. I was afraid of anyone seeing too much and judging me – for the quality of my work, how much money I made, the crassness of my marketing, the vulnerability of my self-disclosure, and everything in between. Over time as I began to show more of myself through my marketing I reached an odd place where I had a more honest communication with my customers than with my friends and family. But now I was starting to feel integrated and I found myself following my instincts beyond the business. When my gut told me to write about my experience of miscarriage on my personal Facebook account I did it without thinking too much. It didn’t occur to me that the reaction I would get from friends would be similar to the response I was now used to getting from clients. The day after I did the Facebook post a friend sent me a text. She’d miscarried before having her first child a few years ago – I knew that, we’d talked about it and she had offered me insight into dealing with the anxiety of being pregnant again after a loss. But she had something she wanted to say in response to the Facebook post: “You’ve articulated something I’ve never been able to articulate for myself. Thank you.”
I’m a writer. I tell the truth. I articulate things others haven’t been able to articulate for themselves. This is what I do. In work, in life. And it’s such a relief to know it with absolute certainty after years of feeling like some of the puzzle pieces were missing.
When you understand what it is you do at that kind of level, your work can really begin to flow. Your decision-making process becomes fast and simple. And you’re free to step up and offer the world the best of you.
The Corncrake’s Call
The problem is we have too few opportunities to do this most important task of listening deeply to our stories and seeing where they lead. Maybe you don’t know what it really means to listen like that; perhaps no one’s ever made it tangible for you. You almost certainly don’t have the right environment for that kind of listening. We live in a world full of noise – physical noise, psychological noise, emotional noise – for most of us day-to-day life is deafening. You need a special kind of quiet, just the right kind of environment and stimulation if you want to hear the whispers rising from within. You also need to be supported to listen.
A sound I was trained to listen for from a young age is the call of the Corncrake. The Corncrake used to be widespread in Ireland but with increasing urbanisation and intensive farming it’s a bird that has been in danger of extinction nationally and globally for some time. In 1991 a Corncrake Conservation Project was launched in Ireland as a rare joint initiative between the Irish and UK authorities. That summer Dunfanaghy was home to a team of English fieldworkers who were doing a Corncrake census. Dunfanaghy and the surrounding area is now the last of only two or three Corncrake strongholds in Ireland. Just a few weeks ago my mother informed me that she and my dad had heard one in the field opposite the house. The long grass, the hills and headlands that defy farming machinery, the wildness of Dunfanaghy means that to this day you can hear things there you can’t hear anywhere else. The wild Atlantic rolling in, the crackle of a turf fire, the call of the Corncrake, and the whispers of destiny; these are the sounds of Dunfanaghy. There are some places that refuse to relent to the smooth edges and mindless din of modern living. It’s in these unreachable places that we’re finally able to reach ourselves.
The Dunfanaghy Retreat
26th - 29th September 2023
I’m excited to tell you I’m doing another Dunfanaghy Retreat in 2023. I’m inviting you to join me and a small group of kindred spirits in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal on the 26th-29th September 2023. Come and hear what you’re meant to hear. It will feel like coming home.
During my Geology degree we went on field trips a couple of times a year. We’d do some learning in the classroom and then head off into the wilderness to go deeper into the work and unlock new insights and understanding. It was these fieldtrips that brought everything together. It was always in the field when I finally ‘got it’. That’s still true for me – the most important insights, ideas and answers come to me when I’m outside. It’s not enough to sit in front of a computer or pad of paper. So when you come to Dunfanaghy we’ll make the most of the environment. Each day we’ll have some time inside where I’ll teach, we’ll do some processes together and we’ll have group discussions to grapple with the theme of the day. And then we’ll get outside to go deeper into the experience, have some outdoor lectures, and discover what the landscape wants to teach us.
We will gather in Dunfanaghy for a 4-day retreat. Each day will be complete with indoor teaching and processes, outdoor lecture and ramble in the wilderness, and time for group discussion. I’m excited about this format as it gives me the opportunity to share my story and work more intimately than I ever have before.
Day 1: The Dunes
Day 1 of our retreat together is a deep dive into who you are and what it looks like when you are truly yourself. This work of discovering and clarifying who we are is a lifelong endeavour. Every time you think you understand yourself you realise there is more to learn. Whether we realise it or not, everything we do in our lives is an attempt to answer the question “Who am I?” Everything you do, what you achieve or fail to achieve, the relationships you nurture or destroy are all determined by your ability to understand who you are. I always say, people don’t have business problems; people with problems have businesses. Everything is personal. Getting what you want and living the life you desire begins and ends with you and your understanding of yourself.
Your identity is a moving target, so the essential skill is understanding who you are, who you have been and how to see clearly who you are becoming in any moment. It’s often said that it doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in, your real business is marketing, but the truth is your real work is uncovering who you are and then being your authentic self.
Day 1 of the retreat will be a very tangible discovery of what it means to be yourself. You will make connections in your life that have been invisible to you until now. You’ll make sense of how you’ve come to be this version of yourself. We’ll shine a light on your personal obsessions and curiosities and illuminate the elemental questions that are the deeply hidden driving force of your life and work.
You will learn things about yourself that seem so obvious in retrospect you won’t know how you’ve lived your whole life without knowing them. Your understanding of yourself will be more potent than ever before because it will be more simplified than ever before.
In The Field
When I did my first solo retreat in Dunfanaghy I instinctively did a regular walk through the dunes every day. On Day 1 we’ll do that walk and visit my favourite coastal dunes. The sea air will blow any remaining traces of the city out of your mind, clearing your head, filling your heart and returning you to yourself.
In the evening: Welcome Dinner
On the first night we’ll have a welcome dinner together in the hotel to settle in and get to know each other better.
Day 2: The Mountain
Day 2 of our retreat is all about understanding where you came from and how that continues to propel you forward - consciously or unconsciously, constructively or destructively. You’ll discover how to harness the narrative of your family and your history to move you and your work in the direction you want to go.
History, family and the fundamental human need for connection are powerful forces that most of us aren’t aware of as they play out in our work and lives. Our story is always one born out of a collective story. We are not separate from our history and those who have gone before us – to try to work without understanding that context is foolish, painful and filled with struggle.
You’ll learn how to align your efforts with your personal and cultural historical forces so that you can make your way in the world, progress your work and grow your audience without the invisible friction that has been inextricably holding you back until now.
In The Field
Years ago I wrote about going to Ireland with my only plan being to stand on the edge of a cliff and feel totally insignificant. There’s one cliff in particular that I make a regular pilgrimage to. I go there because there’s something transcendental and indescribable about standing at this particular edge of the world staring out at the vast Atlantic Ocean. My family have been coming to this place for as far back as we can trace and to this day it’s the place I go to put myself and my life in context. It just might be my favourite spot on the planet. On Day 2 of our retreat, I’ll take you there.
In the evening: Fireside Storytelling Circle
On our second evening together we’ll spend a relaxed couple of hours exploring the art of storytelling. Over the course of the four days together you’ll get to know each other’s curiosities and questions. This informal evening session together is an opportunity to share stories, learn more about each other’s work and life, and have a bit of craic into the bargain.
Day 3: The Sea
Culturally we’re obsessed with asking the question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That question is supposed to embolden us and reveal our highest intentions and deepest desires. But the question we should be asking is “What’s worth doing even if it fails?” On Day 3 we will wrangle with this question. You will learn what the term ‘your real work’ means on the deepest level and uncover the signposts that point to your real work at its most essential. Being able to describe what you do in a few short statements is a superpower. It unlocks power and providence in a way that is undeniable yet difficult to explain logically. This goes way beyond technical work and USPs. Being able to simply state what the work your most authentic self does is kind of a spiritual experience. On Day 3, I’ll guide you through the process so you can have that experience.
When we acknowledge the inherent uncertainty in our real work, we are all artists. You’ll discover the art in your work on Day 3. We’ll spend time finding the edges of your work and your life – because the wild edges are where change can happen, and where the next evolution of the real you can unfold and be revealed to you. You will experience making friends with uncertainty in a way you never have before.
In The Field
In and around Dunfanaghy there are many places to witness the power and wildness of the Atlantic Ocean. On Day 3 of our retreat I’ll take you to the best place to experience it – in my opinion it’s one of the most spectacular beaches in Ireland but few people know about it. It’s only accessible by foot and is almost always deserted (my grandfather nearly expired trying to make the trip there in his latter years when he couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs, but that’s a story for the retreat). I paddled at the water’s edge many times as a child but the ocean is so mighty here it’s not safe to swim in. This is Celtic nature at its most majestic; it leaves no one unchanged.
In the evening: Traditional Session
No one knows how to party like the Irish. You’ll experience a traditional Irish music session in a local pub. Sure you can’t come to Ireland and not have a bit of craic! The first session I was ever at was in Donegal with my parents and my uncle. When we arrived the regular musicians were playing in the corner of the pub with guitars, banjos, fiddles, bodhráns (an Irish drum), and many pints of stout. When the song finished an old man stood up behind me and started singing, a couple of the players joined in, a man handed me a shaker to do some percussion. The atmosphere was electric. When that song finished someone said to my uncle, “Give us a song, Brian!” He started singing King of The Road and the musicians joined in – not exactly a traditional Irish number but in keeping with the spirit of the session all the same. A trad session is not a performance to be watched so much as a collective experience to be shared. You won’t have to perform (unless you want to) but you will get to be part of a quintessential Irish experience.
Day 4: The Ground
On our final day together we’ll focus on grounding your experience - integrating your discoveries and insights - and we’ll talk about how to be in the world as your most authentic self. You’ll be ready to return to your work and life with a coherent map for the next chapter. On the previous days you’ll have listened deeply to your story, now you’ll see where it leads. You’ll go back to your world with meaning, clarity, purpose and peace.
In The Field
We will head into the hills to visit some sacred ground that puts everything in perspective. It’s an often over-looked and easily missed place but it’s somewhere I always like to go. There are big dramatic places you can go to be reminded of our inability to fathom the enormity of space and time and life as a human, and there are small, quiet places that remind you of exactly the same thing. This is one of those humble quiet places with untold wisdom to impart.
Monday 25th September: Optional Bonus Day in Derry (details below)
Tuesday 26th September: Day 1 (We start at 12pm in Dunfanaghy)
Wednesday 27th September: Day 2
Thursday 28th September: Day 3
Friday 29th September: Day 4 (We finish at 2pm)
Bonus Day: Afternoon in Derry
I’m very proud of my hometown of Derry. It’s a place that shaped me and is the backdrop for much of my story. It’s also a town with a rich and complex history, from when St Columba founded it in the 6th century right up to the Troubles and the Peace Process in the nineties. If you would like to join me for a just-for-fun afternoon in Derry the day before the retreat begins in Dunfanaghy I’ll take you on a guided tour of the town I love so well and we’ll have a welcome drink in one of my favourite pubs. People really enjoyed this little get-together before the official start of the retreat in previous years. It gave everyone a chance to get to know each other a little and relax and have some fun before we settled into the real work in Dunfanaghy. Derry was listed 4th in Lonely Planet’s list of the world’s best cities to visit in 2013 so it’s not just my bias that says it’s well worth seeing.
The Retreat Accommodation
You won’t be surprised to learn there’s no Hilton or Marriot in Dunfanaghy. An eager client who was already figuring out his travel plans for Ireland before I announced details of the very first retreat told me he didn’t need me to tell him where the retreat would be held because he googled it and discovered there’s only one hotel in Dunfanaghy. He is correct. Arnold’s Hotel is as much a part of my family history as anything else in Dunfanaghy. The Arnold family have been running the hotel for the past 98 years and my family have been going there for every one of those years.
When my grandfather died in hospital his body did not come directly home for the traditional Irish wake – his wish was to have prayers in the chapel in Dunfanaghy before his wake and funeral in Derry. So our family and some friends followed the hearse all the way to Dunfanaghy, the local priest said some prayers and Granda then ‘lay in state’ in Dunfanaghy chapel as we all went to Arnolds for tea and sandwiches. The priest and undertakers joined us so anyone who nipped into the chapel for a quiet prayer that afternoon would have stumbled upon my Grandfather’s coffin alone at the foot of the altar. As well as family funereal events, Arnold’s has been a warm and comforting home for family weddings, birthdays and countless summer days in my childhood. It is a true Donegal country hotel yards from the water’s edge with beautiful sea views and the warmest welcomes around. You will be very well taken care of.
Pre-Retreat Preparation Call
When you book your place on the retreat you and I will schedule a 30 minute call to talk about where you’re at in your work and life right now and what you’re hoping to get out of the retreat. The beauty of doing a small retreat is that I can get to know each of the participants and tailor the experience just for you. On our call I’ll also give you some things to think about between now and Septmeber 2023 so that you come to the retreat primed to get as much out of it as possible.
Post-Retreat Debrief Call
4 weeks after the retreat you’ll get a 1 hour call with me to debrief, solidify your insights and address any questions or challenges that may arise as you go back into your world and work. Some aha moments are immediate and will strike you on the retreat but there will also be others that reveal themselves slowly in the days and weeks that follow. This debrief call is a space for those insights to become clear and crystallised in your conscious mind, as well as an opportunity to ask practical questions about your work, strategy, marketing or anything else you’re tackling.
My four days at the Dunfanaghy Retreat felt like taking refuge from the craziness of the world.
It was first and foremost a safe place. A place for some much needed self-focus – with some guided introspection, and natural inspiration from the magic of Dunfanaghy and its multifacetted area.
It was a time for honest conversations that somehow wouldn’t be possible in any other place.
The intimate group and setting were truly special. No recording devices. No interruptions. Just honest, open human beings sharing their story as they could see it.
At times I felt one with nature. At times one with others. And at times one with myself.
No-one claimed to have all the answers. Nor did all my inner-questioning get answered… But I got precious clarity on which questions are worth asking - and most relevant to me, my story, and who I am.
I left with a new sense of direction, of knowing and accepting myself more deeply, and a sense of possibilities and potential in doing work that feels right for me. And I could never have achieved such levels of quiet confidence and clarity if I had stayed in the “comfort” and predictability of day-to-day life. The Retreat was undoubtedly one if the best gifts I ever gave myself.
Going on The Retreat started as a treat I gave myself to dive deeply into my work. It turned into the gift that just keeps on giving.
Getting away from my day to day drama let me learn as I was discovering new landscapes. The landscape is so rich you must experience it in the flesh for it to work it’s way into your heart.
The North of Ireland’s setting helped me uncover untapped resources within myself. All under the masterful guidance of Megan Macedo and her first class team. They teased out new clarity on the right direction for my work.
As an unexpected bonus I made wonderful new friends; like minded people who seek to do the work they were meant to do.
I spent the time and money on my work to not miss the first Retreat. And my work is worth every penny. And The Retreat was worth every pound. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Don’t forget Northern Ireland takes pounds sterling. Do it!
The Dunfanaghy Retreat was a life line.
Before the retreat I was in a rut both professionally and personally. I had tried many ways to move ahead with my work and life and just ended up with a bad case of information overload. There’s so much out there telling us who we should be, what we should be doing and what system we should be following to ‘succeed’. I’d had enough. I was sick of learning environments inside windowless rooms with artificial light and uncomfortable chairs, lead by teachers creating soulless experiences that got me nowhere. I was feeling pretty hopeless when I crossed paths with Megan Macedo.
By luck I heard her interviewing someone she had helped market their business. I was fascinated. Despite my disappointment with everything I had previously tired , I took the risk and signed up for her 21 day writing challenge.
The writing challenge was a hugely powerful experience with a number of us choosing to continue working with Megan at the Dunfanaghy Retreat 2018.
The Dunfanaghy Retreat is almost indescribable. But I will try. The learning room is full of natural light and the chairs like nothing else I’ve sat on in a classroom. The inspiring countryside is a second learning environment for the retreat and a big attraction. The people in our group, were a cohesive community from day one. (We still are today). The accommodation was homely and welcoming and just what was required to support our work together. Even the food was amazing and made up part of the whole wonderful experience.
If you are on a journey of self discovery either at a personal or business level Megan’s your girl. She is ultra smart, hugely empathetic and will help you articulate some truths about yourself and your work that will be have a huge impact on where you choose to go next.
At the retreat Megan provides a safe, soulful space to go exploring. I liken it to a treasure hunt for adults- loads of fun with the bonus of finding some hidden gems of self understanding and work direction.
The retreat gave me some concrete tools that have helped me learn about myself, what I may have to offer and how to successfully communicate my message to potential clients. It also helped me to begin to flourish is my personal life.
Seven or so months on, I have had two major breakthroughs that I directly attribute to attending the Dunfanaghy Retreat. My floundering eight year marriage is turning into something beautiful and I left my ‘job’ and began establishing my own business doing work that resonates with me.
At the retreat I was also able to declutter from my mind, much of the information overload that had been weighing me down.
Since the retreat I accept that the only way out of stagnation is to take the next step. At the retreat Megan’s methods gave me the confidence to take that next step and to keep taking the steps towards being myself in my life and my work.
Every now and then you come across someone who is the best in the business. So even if you are feeling fed up as I was, I encourage you to go to the Dunfanaghy Retreat. The power of the place and spending time with Megan and the group is likely to be just what you need to start gaining clarity and infusing meaning back into you life.
“I wish I knew this at the beginning. I wish I’d had more fun in the process and been a bit more lighthearted.”
I think we all do it. Reach that point where we rue the time lost simply living, working, going through the motions of life, wondering if there could be more, did I miss a turn?
Megan recognizes these regrets that we all anguish over “if only I had known, grown, taken chances, allowed curiosity and joy to carry me on, away ...”. She sees them as necessary dues to the story you are building. She sooths and pushes, asks us to dig deep, unfold, to recognize and accept that YES it did take longer than we wanted but we have learned and leaned into our story, we are here and have opened our eyes and heart to a new place, a new space for creativity, curiosity and possibly love that would not have been there without our own personal journey.
Megan is an “old soul”. I am so glad I went to that first Dunfanaghy retreat in April. I hold memories close of creating a self-portrait that was not defined by work I had done but the work I would, should be doing. We did not sit but walked and talked and shared. I have memories of free-writing assignments shivering in an ancient stone croft high above rocky sea cliffs, weaving warily around a band of horses on the way to a wide sandy beach where hot soup and more writing awaited, and lying in warm sun on soft Irish turf while Perry riffed on the depth of the roots holding the land together.
Thank you, Megan! See you again soon.
Dunfanaghy... I didn’t feel I could take it for myself; yet something made me make the leap. It felt like a leap of faith and it was; but looking back it was a creative leap... the first of many more that followed.
I felt there was more to reveal and unravel but I was afraid to tug at the thread; Dunfanaghey was the space, place, community to do it.
I felt in my gut it was what I needed; what I wanted. I’m learning to notice and trust my instincts, and to allow what I want instead of simply what I need. Sometimes what you want is exactly what you need.
If my work was ton help others to transform I had to go on that journey myself; Surrender to the exploration and the blockages, truly, deeply, and be fully open to what I might discover.
What I discovered was a space to be real; to just be, and to share and learn vicariously through the experiences and lives of a diverse group of people; people who shared their stories, their perspectives, their pasts, their lives...warts and all, their dreams and their humanity.
It was an experience that that helped me to reconnect with the heart of me; to accept what has gone before as a platform of wisdom to start to build, and take the first step from stuck to the freedom to step out to be me.
Trust your instincts and begin with the end in mind. Begin with you.
When Megan's email came through about the 2018 Dunfanaghy retreat, I was mid-renovation of my house and thus had both a stretched brain and bank-account, but something inside me just knew I had to go. In fact I found myself actually shaking and it didn't stop until I had hit 'book'. One thing is for sure, I have never had a single regret and, as the months have gone on, the time there has just gone on giving.
My work had long been based on a simple one-to-one client basis. Then the century changed along with the world and connecting to potential customers was no longer through advertisements in the press or cards in the window. However, having not felt confident enough to 'build a business', I hadn't spent much time with successful business people, so was pretty nervous about how I would fare in Dunfanaghy.
I had no need to worry. The whole retreat was so well thought out, so well held, and everyone so real and open. In fact we formed quite the Dunfanaghy family and are still companioning and supporting one another from all around the world.
One of the first things I found was a sense that everything I had been doing for nearly 40 years was sound, valid, and held as great a potential for further growth as anyone else's work. This was a real confidence boost. I also gained so much from everyone else’s stories and ideas; much good comes from being in such a diverse group with totally fresh interest in what you do.
Working outside on the mountain, beaches and clifftops was both inspired and inspiring. Out in those stunning and wild places, ideas and conundrums were able to do what they needed to do in order to come to a positive outcome, even if I have no idea exactly how. I do know I am often daunted by the hugeness of my ideas and tend to shrink them down to 'acceptable', but the massive skies and seas of Donegal didn’t let me, and the results have been affirming.
In the cosy carpeted room with tea and homemade shortbread, and out in the wilds on the beaches and hills, I found the inner trust to move out of my old ways of working and to dare step into my own work. Now I find people are quicker to see what I offer - which after years of confusion is a delight all round - and I feel an energising congruency between my ideas and my actual work.
Megan is a wise one indeed and can see avenues and blocks in a person's story which most would miss, yet she puts what she sees across with a sensitivity and gentle humour which honours and respects each person. I encourage anyone feeling bit stuck or lost, or unable to find the courage to change direction and start something new, to go to Dunfanaghy.
Who Is This Retreat For?
This retreat is for those who are willing to embrace the experience fully. I’ve spoken at conferences and hosted a live event in the past but this feels different. It is different. It’s immersive and very personal to me and it feels like quite an intimate thing. I’ll be taking you to the places that are most special to me in the world. The places that shaped me and have given me my biggest breakthroughs. You’ll sit around my ancestral fireplace and listen to the unfolding of how I came to be. You’ll peer into my life and my work in a way no one has before. And with my help, you’ll peer into your own life and work in the same way. What I ask of you is that you are willing to be present with the whole experience. This is not the kind of event where you can sit uncommitted at the back of the room and dip in and out at your leisure. This is a journey we will embark on together, so you need to be ready to walk alongside me.
EARLYBIRD FEE: £2,425+VAT or $3,395
Book your place with a deposit.
The Dunfanaghy Retreat takes place on 26th - 29th September 2023
Places on the Retreat are obviously extremely limited and will be given on a first come first served basis so if you want to be with us in Dunfanaghy secure your place by booking as early as possible.
The retreat fee includes:
- Your registration for the Retreat
- Your accommodation for 3 nights at Arnold’s Hotel, Dunfanaghy (check in on 26th September, check out on 29th September)
- Breakfast and lunch each day
- Dinner on Day 1 of the Retreat
Bringing Your Other Half
You are more than welcome to bring your other half to join you in Dunfanaghy – your time in Dunfanaghy could be the centrepiece of the trip of a lifetime if you choose to stick around and see some more of what Ireland has to offer. Your partner is welcome to join us for lunch and the evening activities each day. They are also welcome to join us for the outings into the field during the Retreat so they can enjoy the landscape and adventure along with you. There is a room and board supplement of £450 or $625 for them (based on sharing a room with you). If your partner would like to participate fully in the retreat, then the fee is £1275+VAT or $1775. If you’d like to bring your partner along just let us know after you book your place.
Physical Ability Requirements
Our trips into the wilderness around Dunfanaghy do not require any extra-special physical fitness or gear. If you are in good health, have sensible shoes and can climb a flight of stairs then you’ll be able to handle the retreat.
International flights go to airports in Derry, Belfast, Dublin and Shannon. Hiring a car is the easiest and best option for getting around the northwest of Ireland, but if that’s not an option for you let us know when you book your place and we’ll gladly help you plan your travel to Dunfanaghy.
Make It the Trip of a Lifetime
If you choose to take some extra time before or after the retreat to explore Donegal and further afield you could plan the trip of a lifetime. Donegal was named ‘Coolest Place on the Planet for 2017’ by National Geographic Traveller because it’s “a land that feels undiscovered.” It marks the beginning of 2,500km of coastal road on the Wild Atlantic Way and is the perfect place to begin any Irish adventure, whether you head south towards Sligo (Yeats country) and Galway, east towards the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast, or south-east through the lakelands and on towards Dublin. Whether you’re into surfing, horse riding, fishing, golfing, walking, hiking, biking, road tripping or music, Donegal and the North and West of Ireland have it all.
EARLYBIRD FEE: £2,425+VAT or $3,395
Book your place with a deposit.
The Dunfanaghy Retreat takes place on 26th - 29th September 2023
Places on the Retreat are obviously extremely limited and will be given on a first come first served basis so if you want to be with us in Dunfanaghy secure your place by booking as early as possible.
Reaching Into The Depths
I once heard the Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue say, "There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you." Isn’t that the place we’re all looking for?
There is a route to that place deep within yourself; it runs through special places in the physical world. Your first step is into the landscape and your second step is into the soul. When a group of us make that journey together we all leave new, changed and still the same.