Taryn attended our three–day Bristol residential Catalyst Bootcamp in July – here she provides fascinating insights into what it was like.

Bristol is a beautiful city. It’s so full of life, culture, people. It’s also full of colour – in particular, green: in 2015, Bristol was crowned European Green Capital. It’s a real sustainability hub, with people working across sectors to reduce our impact on the environment. If you’re passionate about saving the environment, Bristol’s an exciting scene to be a part of.

It was with sustainability in mind that I found myself at the Catalyse Change Bootcamp, a three-day residential with an aim to empower and inspire young women to become change-makers.

After teas, coffees, and mingling, we jumped right into our first session – talking future and purpose with Rhian Sherrington, founder of the Women in Sustainability network.

I feel pretty good about life – I’m following my passions, I have wonderful friends and I have time to do things that make me happy. But whenever I think about the future, I panic – I have no career path in mind. A lot of the time, I feel like I lack a specific purpose.

But, according to Rhian, purpose changes and evolves, just as we do. She revealed that although we often think of career paths as linear, for most people they’re not: instead, they’re more like rivers, meandering and changing course – and that’s okay. The key thing to think about is whether it’s really you that’s driving your ambitions – if it’s not, then that means it’s time to re-evaluate and turn inwards.

What makes a life well-lived? This question was thrown into the circle, generating a mixture of responses; being in the moment; contentment with the present; creating meaningful connections; learning from experience; taking opportunities. In the end, a well-lived life seems to come down by finding your values and your principles and sticking to them.

Despite being told that we would not unpack our values in five minutes, we gave it a shot, scribbling down what we thought were core to us. In considering these, we were asked what makes us angry – and why.

For me, inclusivity, open-mindedness and autonomy came out as my core values; I think it’s really important that people feel involved, I get angry when people refuse to accept or understand difference, and I am thankful for my freedom to travel and think and create.

All of this led to the discussion of ‘ikigai’, a Japanese concept that if we can find where what we can get paid for, we love, we’re good at, and the world needs intersect, we will have found our reason for being.

By looking at our strengths and the things we love, we attempted to find our reason for being. Even now the bootcamp’s over, I’m still trying to figure that one out. Despite not having discovered my purpose, this workshop made me think harder about it than I had before, and I feel closer to finding some answers.

It was an intense day – just as the rest of the bootcamp turned out to be – and after another coffee-drinking, biscuit-munching break, we go back to the circle, our lovely Traci Lewis taking us through SAVERS, an acronym standing for: Silence
Scribing (Journaling)

It’s a ritual which she feels has been ‘life-changing’, and, in its most compact form, takes only six minutes to complete. It’s about mindfulness, being aware of how we feel and taking time for ourselves to start our morning in the best possible way.

Having spent all that day inside, we moved on out, walking over Bristol’s famed suspension bridge, crossing the river Avon. The

landscape around Bristol is something special, and the view across the city was incredible. We wandered over to Leigh Woods, a beautiful spot that’s isolated from the noise and bustle of the city, and were guided in meditation by Rhian, focusing on the sounds and smells around us, the feel of the wind on our skin, letting go of intrusive thoughts. It was calming, sitting there in the grassy shade of the trees.

But it was hard.

I was constantly dragging myself away from outside thoughts and back to the present. I realised how difficult I find living in the moment, which perhaps explains why I often feel out of control, time just slipping right by.

Thursday was focused on a sustainability challenge. We were given a brief talk by some local female leaders in sustainability, getting a glimpse into their job, what they do, and how they fell into it. There were representatives from the food, fashion, and construction industries, as well as campaigners and initiative-drivers. A common thread here linked back to yesterday’s discussion: many of their career paths were not linear – in fact, most of the women had gone all over the place – and this helped with my worry that I won’t find a purpose. I just need to recognise that it might take a while.

We had the chance to hear more in-depth about what these women were up to, sitting with three of them for ten minutes each, asking questions. This opened my eyes to the kind of work that’s out there in the sustainability field, and made me see that it’s something I could fit into, despite not being involved in STEM. I have strengths in different areas, but I can be just as useful – in a different way.

Having finished the sessions, we were split into groups that aligned with our specific interests in sustainability and handed over to one of the mentors. I was in a group looking at fashion, supported by Amelia, creator of givewearlove.com, an organisation creating outfits from curated second-hand clothing. Our challenge was to come up with a product or a service to address an issue in our designated field, then pitch this to representatives of Catalyse Change sponsors.

We decided on an organisation that would go into schools to teach sewing, rebranding it as a ‘life-skill’, rather than a domestic one, helping young people to repair their clothes and upcycle them into new ones. Our name? ‘Upcycle Stereotypes’. Our aim? To tackle the Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality all while combatting the issues of pollution on land and in the sea that are caused in part by the fast fashion industry.

I enjoyed working with my team – our values were similar, which made coming to a consensus a much easier task. Presenting, I felt supported by the others, and I was really inspired by the thoughts and ideas put forward by the other groups.

If we are the future, then I reckon it’s in pretty safe hands.

To finish the day, we did a session of African dance with Grace, all of us moving our feet, hands, and hips to the solid beat of the music, embracing free movement and leaving judgement behind. I felt energised. I could tell that we were loving the empowerment, the group letting out enthusiastic whoops and rounds of applause as we strutted, one by one, through the middle of the common room, offering up our most confident self.

That evening was a unifying experience, a feeling that extended after activities, when another group who were staying in the same accommodation, but had nothing to do with us, came out and joined our conversation, all of us laying on the grass and watching the stars. We shared our stories about struggles with mental health, our opinions on body hair, our concern about climate change. It was raw and open and honest, a real marker of the safe environment created by Catalyse Change.

Continuing the theme of love and support, we kicked the last day off with a mission; to find three girls in the group to give a genuine compliment to, and to take the ones we were given without embarrassment or apology – only a ‘thank you’. It was lovely to hear all of the kind things people had to say – I was told that I’m ‘energetic’, ‘inclusive’ and I have ‘soft and fluffy legs’!

It’s so important to let people know the nice things we think about them – lovely words are left until funerals, and by then, they’re not much good to the person they’d mean most to. If it’s positive, and I feel it, I try to say it.

The final session at Clifton Hill House was held by Jenna, talking us through the next part of our journey – making our sustainability pledge. We thought about the things we’re passionate about, bringing in the ideas of purpose, and wrote a pledge detailing specific action in the next month that we would take to realise our goal. Then we shared our pledge with the group, with the topics ranging from diversity to personal wellbeing to climate action and things between.

Then it was off to visit an office just outside Bristol, the base of an organisation creating and selling a whole range of tea blends, with sustainability as one of its core values: Pukka. We were all enchanted by the workspace; light and airy, full of colour, complete with hanging plants, a beautiful space for meditation, and secluded desks for quiet work. Everything as far as possible was sourced locally and sustainably, with careful thought and attention to the aesthetics of the space.

A stream of women who work at Pukka gave us a talk about their career path and their current role – again, none of their paths were linear – and I felt so inspired by the love and the passion that they so clearly share for this workplace and their colleagues. One of the women gave advice that really resonated with me:

“I knew what I cared about, and I followed that.”

It’s simple, but makes a lot of sense – if I find work in projects and places that excite me, I’ll surely end up somewhere doing something that I really love.

I feel so fortunate to have been part of this incredible programme – it’s given me a lot to think about. I have new connections – with women in industry, and also with the other amazing girls who were participating. I felt loved and entirely comfortable.

And now I have the beginning of a mentorship to look forward to – although I didn’t get to meet her on the camp, she’s already been in touch and I’m super excited to get to know her.

My main takeaways from this are that being uncertain isn’t a bad thing, that going down the ‘wrong’ track isn’t necessarily a failure, and that I should expect my ideas about my career and my purpose to change as I change. I need to focus on the now, continue looking for contentment in what I already have, while also thinking about the future and how I want to shape mine.

A big, heartfelt thank you to everyone who was involved in the designing and deliverance of the programme, and all the love in the world to the other girls who became like a family over the three days we were together.

Taryn attended our annual summer residential Catalyst Bootcamp in Bristol, for more info traci@catalysechange.com