Living at 100%

January 27, 2012

Yowzers, what a week!  I just got back from a mind-blowing 6 day Leadership Retreat in beautiful (and rainy!) Sonoma, California.  The course was an advanced Leadership Program put on by my Coaching School, the Coaches Training Institute (CTI).  It was a live-in program that started at 7 in the morning and ended at 9 in the evening (shared accommodations and all).  The retreat was intense as hell but provided a great return on the energetic and monetary investment.  Seriously people, this was massive transformation in a ridiculously short length of time!

Given the magnitude of the experience and the fact that I’m still downloading and processing all that I learned, I thought I’d share my peak experience from the week.  It really captures what the program is about and allows me to share some of my key learnings.  Here goes…

It was the second morning of our retreat and we were debriefing an exercise/game we had done the previous evening.  I was feeling unsettled after the exercise and wanted to verbally process what I was learning about myself.  My realization went something like this: I can show up at 60% and still win the game.  The Problem: I didn’t feel good about my win.  It was unsatisfying to know that there was 40% more that I could have brought but didn’t due to fear, limiting beliefs, etc.  In my mind, I didn’t deserve the win because I knew I had WAY MORE in me.

I realized that this game was representative of my day-to-day life, namely, that  I’ve been lucky enough to achieve many things while only operating at 60% of my capacity.  And while that looks fine and dandy on the outside, it creates massive dissonance inside of me.  When I spoke about my realization in front of the group, I became obvious of the fact that I was quite comfortable at 60% and hadn’t fully bought into the idea of stretching to 100%.  It was abundantly clear to my Leaders as well (the illustrious Karen and Henry Kimsey-House, founders of CTI and early pioneers in the Coaching field).

They prodded and questioned to no avail.  My fear was running the show and nothing they said convinced me that I should abandon my comfortable 60% perch.  At one point they asked me if perhaps I was really scared that I didn’t have an additional 40% in me.  I knew that wasn’t the case though.  I can recall plenty of moments when I have popped into 100%.  It isn’t a question of getting there, it’s a question of STAYING with it for a sustained period of time.  Little did I know that just a few minutes later I’d be getting a full immersion into what it felt like to be at AND stay at 100%….

Here’s what happens next: I was asking Henry HOW I could learn to live and stay at 100%.  Karen then jumped in and said, “I have a way, would you like me to show you?”  I naively said yes and just as I’m trying to figure out what’s going to happen next, Karen runs at me full force and starts shoving me HARD.  At first I thought it was a joke and tried to sidestep her advances.  I mean really, I wasn’t about the full-on fight the CEO of the Coaches Training Institute on the second day of my retreat was I???  Upon further reflection (in the 10 seconds I had to contemplate my options) it became crystal clear to me that I indeed was going to fight or I was going to be laying on the ground with my ass kicked by a 50-something year old woman!

As soon as I made the decision to fight her 100% my adrenaline kicked in.  I ran at her and started shoving back.  Without agreeing to any rules verbally, I somehow knew that we wouldn’t punch each other but that pretty much anything else was on the table (on a side note, the only time I’ve ever fought at 100% before was when I was in a rape aggression defense course in college and we fought off an attack from a padded instructor).  At this point I got out of my head and into my body.  I became insanely strong, recognizing that the only way to get this exercise to end would be to pin her to the ground so she’d stop coming after me.

My recent viewings of wrestling movies with Nick must have come in handy because I somehow knew how to throw her to the ground and get a lock on her head and legs.  She wasn’t going down easy though and she fought and fought.  I vaguely remember kicking her in the back and tightening my grip on her head, willing her to give up.  I was fierce but God was it intense.  The fighting had been going on a good 5 minutes I think before I had her pinned long enough that Henry called time.

We unraveled from each others bodies and turned to face each other, noting for the first time that tears were running down both our cheeks.  I had no idea what would happen next, so I sat there waiting for instructions.  Suddenly Henry said, “Okay, now show me how you stay at 100% without fighting.”  My instincts told me to embrace her from my spot on the floor and suddenly we’re intertwined again, both sobbing as we cling to each other and roll around the floor becoming intermeshed.  It’s hard to explain but the intimacy fell somewhere between sex and a hug with a dear friend.  I was insanely uncomfortable, but I STAYED with it – evacuating my mind and occupying my body fully.  I banished the gremlin thoughts that whispered about my inadequacy and the fool I was making of myself.

It was intense.  And very moving.  Something shifted in me in that moment and I finally GOT what it felt like to stay at 100%.  Before I had only understood that in my head, now every cell of my body shared in the understanding.  I felt powerful beyond belief and incredibly connected to this woman I’d met only one day prior.

When the exercise was called to a close I got up and dusted myself off.  The end was very anti-climactic actually.  The tears stopped rolling and I took my seat, grounded in peace and love.  I managed to take my first glance around the room as was met by expressions of absolute shock and intense emotion.

The thing was, at no point did I feel unsafe.  Yes, it was an unheard of thing for a leader to do but I believe she knew I would let her go there with me, just like I knew what the unspoken rules were.  In fact, as I reflected on it more in the coming days, my overall response to the event was humility – I was sincerely humbled and honored that she’d be willing to risk physical injury in service of my learning.  Talk about walking your talk and modeling true Leadership!

If that story doesn’t convince you to check out this program, I don’t know what will.  Although I’m sure you could have a similarly impactful exercise without wrestling on the ground!  For those of you who were moved by this and are at a place where you want to explore who you are as a leader in this world and the impact you’re supposed to make, do check out this program.  It’s not just for coaches – half my group did other pursuits for their work.  If you’re looking for powerful change in 2012, this would be a great place to start.  Let me know if you have any questions about the program.  I’m only doing the first retreat as a stand-alone right now and will be taking the remaining 3 at a later date.  Words can’t explain how this program has changed my life…

Dear colleagues who were on the retreat with me, I would love to get some comments about what the experience was like for you, since I was so fully immersed in it.  What did you notice/take away from the exercise?  Anything else you’d like to say to those considering doing this Leadership program?

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  1. lorrie hess says:


    First you had me laughing hysterically, then you had tears in my eyes. Well written. It was also one of my most powerful learnings at our retreat. I too often succeed at 60% (check out my post “An Easy Life” written last month). Just before reading your article I was thinking about pulling back again. Eeegads! Thank goodness for your reminder to be uncomfortable and stay at 100%. Thank you Sarah.

  2. Helen House says:

    Well done, Sarah! From the back of the room I saw a couple of things differently from you, especially in the way it began. Yes, there was a conversation about you living at 60% and such. What I remember though is that you were asking ‘How? How do I learn to live at 100% and stay? What practices could I do to get there? etc”. I remember Henry saying that those were great questions and maybe even throwing them back to you. Karen then said, “I have a way, do you want me to show you?” After you said yes, you both stood and started slowly for an instant and then she went for it at 100%. You were eager to discover a way. She was willing to show you a way.

    It was an awesome experience to watch you lose ground and be pushed around the room and then see you find it and meet her fully. Energetically, you became very ungrounded in the moments she could push you all over and it seemed all of your energy was from about the chest up to out above your head. The fear and uncertainty were palpable. When you found your 100%, your energy was rooted in the ground and you were in your full body. It was like watching a glass empty and fill again from the top. The room mirrored you. When you were in fear and uncertainty – so were they. When you were in yourself fully, strong, and staying – so were they. Very moving!

    I learned SO MUCH from witnessing that! It’s caused me to really think about where I get by with my own versions of 20-80% and how that serves and how it hinders. I’ve also been thinking about what do I need to do for myself to refill my cup so that when I’m there for others, I can be there at 90-100%. When my cup is empty, 100% is just not an option. Must keep filling up that cup!

    Thanks for the invitation, Sarah, and for being so available to learning and sharing in this way.


  3. Sarah Novak says:

    I fascinated by how many other people there said something similar. I had just assumed all you other brilliant peeps were already playing your full game! Thanks for commenting dear…

  4. Sarah Novak says:

    Ooooh, thanks for filling in more details – I had forgotten the specifics of the moment leading up to when we were wrestling! Funny that I don’t remember saying Yes, but now that you wrote that, I’m sure I did. :)

    I loved reading about your experience of us wrestling. Fascinating that what was happening in my head and body was so clearly on display for the room, even though I wasn’t saying anything out loud. It would serve me well to remember that in the future when I think I have a good poker face on! We are so transparent once we start keying into each others’ energy…

    I’m delighted that you took away something from the experience as well. I totally get what you are saying about self-care being a requirement to showing up at 100%. I spent some time with my coach this week looking at what it would look like for me to live at 100% every day. Part of that is definitely self-care! Thanks for taking the time to share Helen, I really appreciate it and love you! XOXO, Sarah

  5. Nomads By Nature says:

    Your experience sounds amazing. I also love the insight from your commenters. It all gives over to a lot of self examination and seems like something that everyone could benefit from. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your breakthroughs!

  6. TC says:

    Its hard to explain what this experience meant from the sidelines…on paper it may sound extreme or radical. This selfless act (on both your parts) would not have worked if we didn’t have complete trust in each other, an openness to the process and an understanding that deep learning was at work here. It was a shock for sure but it was obvious that a shock was needed to get you out of your 60%. Moments before Karen stepped up to the carpet, there were tears in her eyes as she tried to get you to see your worth. She spent time discussing and trying to guide you into your 100% and when that didn’t work…she allowed you to see what 100% looked like. You were brilliant Sarah…as was Karen. You both gave 100% to that moment and let the chips fall where they may. Every single person in the room was at 100% including myself and that was the gift. I walked away from that experience humbled and made the decision to live my life fully with intention. This was only one of the many powerful experiences that we went through and it was life shifting. Thanks to you and Karen, that learning will always be a part of my 100% fully engaged life.

  7. Sarah Novak says:

    Your words really touched me TC. Thanks for adding your voice to these comments. Love you, S

  8. Sara Roy says:

    I’ve recently thought about being a life coach. I’m definitely going to switch my major to Psychology, and I don’t yet know if I’m going to become a Coach or a Psychologist. This really brought me to laughter and tears though, great story and very well written.

  9. Sarah Novak says:

    I’d be happy to have a discussion with you about it Sara and share some of the differences. We can even do a little sample coaching if you’d like to give you a taste of it. Just FB message me if you’re interested in chatting about it. And thanks for taking the time to read about my experience. Hugs, ME

  10. Tia Sparkles says:

    Holeeeeeeeeeee heck!! I have been dying to do leadership since 2008 and intend to do it by the time I am 40 – for SURE!! Thanks for sharing, Sar!

  11. Sarah Novak says:

    You’ll get there, I know it. And it’ll ROCK YOUR WORLD, undoubtedly!

  12. Zoe Wild says:

    Hi Sarah!

    WOW-what an article! Thanks for sharing your (& our) story!!

    This was also one of my all-time favorite moments from our training…it keeps coming back to my heart. I remember the tears pouring down my face as I watched on, at full 100% (like TC said) — from your courage, from Karen’s compassion, from the willingness on both of your parts to do whatever it took to achieve positive transformation.

    This moment has positively influenced the way I show up as a coach forever — seeing the CEO of CTI go so far out of love, and your (and the room’s) response to it, gave me full permission to go the distance with my client whenever I feel scared that it may be too much for them. For this I am forever grateful!

    Thank you for showing up 100% in the world and for being a part of my heart. SO looking forward to our deepening friendship.

    All love and blessings surround & protect you!

  13. …Karen was my Life Coach for quite a few years. Yes, she most decidedly plays in life at 100%. Much of what/who I am today I can attribute to her skilled coaching and guidance. Wish I’d been there with you all for the retreat.

  14. Karen Pery says:


    Wow! Beautifully written and experienced. I participated in the October standalone R1, and as I read this, I felt like I was in the room (again) right there with you. I can see it happening, I can feel Karen’s intensity and commitment, I can sense the shift when you found yourself in the moment of your 100%. Being in Leadership (continuing my program this year), and being more of myself from it, I wish it for everyone! Thank you for sharing!


  15. Sarah Novak says:

    Lucky you! Maybe if you would have been there you could have warned me as to what was coming! :) HA! I feel very fortunate indeed to have had both of them as teachers. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  16. Sarah Novak says:

    Just AWESOME. I intend to continue as well, just trying to navigate when as we’re moving to Peru and I have a 3 month old. I do trust it will happen though! So glad you had an equally powerful experience. Thank goodness for CTI!

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