PP 214: Elizabeth Walker, Leadership Coach, Urban Forester and the Owner of Mind, Body Woo Woo

After being an urban forester for 25 years, Elizabeth realized the job wasn’t as fulfilling as it once was. She now works with executives to help them manage their stress by reconnecting with nature.

Elizabeth and I chat about our entrepreneurial journeys, the importance of passion in our work, how ridiculously disconnected our modern society is, and much more!

Elizabeth Walker & @thekimsutton discuss the importance of reconnecting w/nature: http://www.thekimsutton.com/pp214Click To Tweet

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Episode Transcription

KIM: Welcome back to another episode of positive productivity. I’m so thrilled that you are here to join me today and I’m thrilled to introduce you to our guest Elizabeth Walker. Elizabeth is a leadership coach and the owner of Mind Body Boubou. She’s been an urban forester for over 20 years and she’s recognized as a leader in the industry. Elizabeth, I’m so happy to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

ELIZABETH: Hey thank you so much, Kim, for having me here too.

KIM: Oh you’re so welcome. I would love for you to introduce yourself even further than how I-. Oh, Positive Productivity Podcast we got the lawn mower going in the background and the cat sneezing. And I was about – I was about to just quickly explain to the listeners about the lawn more in the background in case they could hear it. But yeah, could you please introduce yourself to the listeners and share a little bit more about yourself.

ELIZABETH: Sure. So, yeah my journey has been quite a fun one, I would say. As you said I’m a forster, urban forster and I’ve been doing that for 25 years. And a lot of people are wondering what the heck does that mean. And basically I’ve been able to work with people and trees in cities and help them manage their trees. Both the city itself, the city staff, as well as private citizens and residents so that we can have a healthy forest because the forest was one of the most important component. I think, it’s part of the infrastructure of a city that we heavily relying on and we don’t know about it. And so, anyway I’ve been doing that for 20, 25 years. And just found that it’s no longer a very fulfilling career. So I decided to see what else can I offer to the world. And basically, I transitioned it to working with executives and others who are stressed out. To help them be more productive in a positive way. So that’s why I’m really excited to be, like yes, on your show because I see there’s a link between what my work was for so long to what people really need in their lives right now. Which is a reconnection with nature. So, I’m excited to talk about that with you some more.

KIM: I can completely relate for the need to reconnect to nature.

ELIZABETH: Yeah

KIM: I have to confess that this entire week, and it’s getting a little bit chillier here in Ohio, but this entire week the extent of my getting outside was simply the five minute drive to take care, to pick up my kids. And the five minute back and drive back home. Until today when I actually went out to lunch and that’s still not even nature. That’s just me driving on pavement. Like, there was no nature in that but that was my extent of seeing natural sunlight that wasn’t coming through a window. And there’s got to be more than that. I mean, I’m in Ohio in the middle of cornfields surrounded by parks. There’s no excuse. And by getting out, you know, that does so much for creativity. And expanding our knowledge. And our ideas. And becoming better leaders. So, I think what you’re doing is fabulous. But I also want to talk about that transition from your former career to what you’re doing now. A lot of entrepreneurs are scared to leave what they’ve been doing for many many years. And it could be a career or it could be a former company that they had already founded. And they don’t want to give up what they consider to be certain for the unknown. How did you make that transition?

ELIZABETH: Well, actually I’m still in the process of the transition. So I can very much relate to how it can be a very scary, unsure move for folks. And yet, I think, by doing it just slowly, I mean, I’m actually taking my time in doing this. And I have the fortunate situation where I have a very good contract in urban forestry. Working for a conservation district that is financially helping me so that I can concentrate. And work on the few component, all the pieces that you need to get in place before you can really make that big leap, basically. At the same time even though I have this great contract, I’m like: “Well this is all comfortable.” And so, then I don’t take that before because it’s well, I’m still an  unknown. So, I think I’m getting to a point though where I realized that I actually can do more and have a bigger impact. And as I tell more people about what I want to do. I am forcing myself to just take that leap because I’ve done that before. I’ve — You know, a lot of people in my life say: “Hey you’re like the master of reinvention.” Because I didn’t start out with forestry. You know, I actually started in computers way back in the day. Back in the 80s when it was, you know, computers are nothing like they are now. And I’ve been able to shift around and either work for a city. And then, you know, within the last 15 years I’ve been my own entrepreneur. And my own consultant of my own business. And so, I think that that really helps to in the transition if you have tried out and have tested things that, you know, new ways of doing things. And find out that it’s not that scary and actually, yes, you may do little hiccups or maybe a little bit of, you know, mistakes or failures. But in the end, you find that you’re just that much more ready for the bigger game which is where I am right now.

Kim: I can totally relate. I was educated as an interior architect and I started building my first business in 2005. I know WordPress was around back then but I did not have a WordPress site it was hardcoded. I didn’t know how to make a single change to it. And I started that business for all the wrong reasons. And I made all the mistakes that an entrepreneur could make in that business and continue to try to grow and grow and grow it. I see a lot of entrepreneurs who do that. They’re trying to make it grow because they want the income but they don’t, they’re not thinking about the impact. And when they start to realize that — If they start to realize I should say that they need to follow their passion then huge things start to happen in their life. I mean it all gets more clear. You can you can stop making those mistakes. I feel, I mean you are so going to make mistakes. I make mistakes every day. I mean, I send out posts that have typos in them. And I accidentally delete web pages that were meant to stay-up but that clarity is something amazing.

I’m actually a mastermind Elizabeth with Cliff Ravenscraft who for the longest time has been huge in the area of podcasting. However, he’s making a big business shift right now. He’s actually shutting down his podcast Stancer man beside of his business because he realized what his passion was. And this has consistently been making him, over, well over six figures for years. But he’s shutting it down because he realized that is not what he wants to be doing anymore. Which to me is amazing.

ELIZABETH: Yeah and I’m sure he’s doing it in a transition, you know, he’s transitioning his way –

KIM: Absolutely

ELIZABETH: – out of that into whatever is. [Inaudible]

KIM: So what is your big why behind behind your new business?

ELIZABETH: Oh, thank you for asking that question Kim. You know, I just was recently talking with someone about this and then and I — You know, they were saying: “What is your why?” And you know, my why is this that when I have been — I’m such a lover for nature. And to be able to have a career where I get to play I thought: “It pays to play outside and you know, be with the trees. And try to make  that a better, you know, a better place for all of us. I realize that not everyone understands that and they’re so disconnected. So, I realize that I can no longer be an effective consultant or an effective player in this world. If I couldn’t get people to start realizing that their connection with nature is one of the most important relationships that we have in our life. And when I see such the disconnect through our technology, our habits, our society. Like for you, you’re, you know, you just describe your tenuous connection to nature with just this week with driving to and from point A to point B. And the nature was out the window, outside the window. And so, I think that is part of our problem is that we’re not connected. And therefore we’re going down the wrong path and we think it’s linked to a lot of our stress and our illnesses that we have. And just how well we communicate with each other it’s because we just need to have that reset. Is what I’m, you know, my book that I’m working on. It’s called Reboot. And what it is, is basically what we need to do is disconnect from how our world is right now. And we connect with nature to just kinda get back to what’s really important to each other. So it’s kind of global, big picture thing for me is that I saw the value of my relationship with nature. And I desperately wanted to have that be part of my new practice. Is to help people reconnect so that they can have, you know, such a high quality of life. And their productivity is that much better. And everything around them their health, their relationships, their finances. Even their work. Is all — It all benefits from that reconnection with nature. So, I really want to work with corporate executives, too, because I think that they are the ones that have the highest influence. The most influenced. So, I can get them to reconnect with nature. Then they can start changing the corporate culture. And have their teams understand that importance. And we could just have this trickle down effect of, you know, just shifting our corporate world with the appreciation and the embracing the environment [Inaudible]

KIM: Elizabeth what amazes me a lot of the time is that when we take our kids to the park, even for me, with that many littles. I have to be up there at the playground with them because they’re, it’s just crazy. Let’s just say that like following where they all are. At any given moment like I wanna make sure that they’re not running away with strangers or anything. But there are so many parents who take their kids to the park and sit on the bench and are on their smartphone all time. And there’s just so much else like I’ve I would just want to sit down. If I didn’t have to be chasing my kids just sit down on the grass and enjoy the leaves blowing and the fresh air. And I mean I know I could go out to my backyard and do that but it amazes me. I mean, it also amazes me that people go out to eat with their significant others and do the same thing. They sit at the table and play on their smartphones and barely talk to each other. So it’s not just communicating with nature and enjoying nature but it’s in — there’s that whole disconnected scenes lately. Disconnecting socially unless you’re on the computer. Disconnecting nature because you’re on the computer. It’s like — it’s a vicious cycle. And I am trapped in it. I won’t deny it but I don’t go out to eat and stay out of my computer the whole time. That would be bad too. Who knows what my kids would do at a restaurant. If I was glued to my smartphone the whole time. But –

ELIZABETH: Yeah

KIM: – I really appreciate what you’re doing

ELIZABETH: [Inaudible]  thing is that my process is basically taking you through the steps of how to just start connecting with yourself because that’s what it really is all down to. If I can get you to disconnect from or unplug from the technology and the world that you have — you’re just automatically going through. That’s when we can — Through nature I can help you connect with yourself. That’s what it is. It’s basically working with that. And so my process, is the first step, is obviously and I use the computer metaphor, ironically when you refer to that. I use that metaphor in my process by saying first step is to unplug. So I’m literally — half my clients, commit to actually stop using their smartphones at certain times of the day. And not only that, I have them go out and walk. Just go outside even if you’re in downtown Manhattan or like for instance, I’m on a 15 yarm here in Washington state. And every day, I take my dog and we walk out. And we are out for at least half an hour, totally unplugged. I do not have a smartphone. Fortunately, I don’t have kids to watch out for but one of the things as soon as they get older. It would be so cool if you could take them on just to walk on a hike. And you all are together. And you just walk through the landscape. Then you’ll see that their eyes will open up to the wonders that are around them as well as you can just start decompressing. But I can relate to what you’re saying about how we all say: “Oh yeah, we go out and do things or be with people but we’re glued to our technology. And it’s a false — It’s even a false sense of being sociable. I don’t think Facebook or any of the other apps are making us any more connected to each other than if we could just be face-to-face with no technology, or being out in nature. It’s amazing like you said in the beginning how we can be so creative and playful, joyful. And that’s where I do my best work, is out in nature. When I do my — when I take my walks.That’s where I get my inspiration.

KIM: I have been making a concerted effort, and I’m not 100% there yet, of getting away from my screen. An hour before bed and I’ve heard some studies say two hours before bed is even better just because of the blue lights. In full transparency last night, my husband says I fell asleep playing on my laptop. It wasn’t open. I just, I actually hadn’t even opened it in bed yet but I was going to work in bed and then read my book. And I just I sat back for a moment and then just fell asleep. It was an awesome day. I just was so exhausted, emotionally that I just fell asleep. But I found that by doing that on the days that I do do it and I read and journal before bed. And I know this has nothing to do with nature but by removing myself from technology, I have been sleeping so much better. And that’s something that I encourage my clients to do as well.

I had one actually complaining earlier this week that he was just not sleeping very well. And I was like: “Well what did you do right before you got you into to bed?” He’s like: “Oh I was watching TV.” And I said: “Well you need to stop”. And I didn’t say it quite like that but really you need to stop. Like don’t watch TV right before bed. Last week my son actually got me hooked on the Walking Dead. And I don’t watch much TV at all. But it was bad, Elizabeth I was watching Walking Dead right up to bed and then I was dreaming about zombies all night.

ELIZABETH: I know, that’s the worst.

KIM: Yeah, it was completely bad. So, what would be another recommendation that you give to clients? And would you mind sharing a transformation that you see in your clients as you’re working with them.

ELIZABETH: Yeah. So, you know, it’s those simple things. Once we somehow get them unplugged and then we get them out out into nature. I find that they, start, immediately start decompressing. They start realizing that they have some space. And you know, space to breath. And just kind of be with themselves without too much of agenda. What I tried to do is that I transition them into doing what I call — It is a meditation but it’s not hardcore like many people think meditation is about because in our fast-paced world meditation it’s just not easy thing for people to even grasp. And or even say: “Yeah I’ll try it.” Our monkey brain.

KIM: You’re talking to one of those –

ELIZABETH: Okey, the monkey brain is just — cannot grasp on that. So what I have them do is I actually say that it’s called — I have two practices. One is in, the best thing to do. Like you said at the end of the day it’s so important to have or to not have your last moments to be wired before you sleep. And certainly making sure if you do get wired make sure it’s a pleasant show instead of The Walking Dead. I could just see how my brains would go with that too. But what I concentrate on is actually the beginning of the day. And it’s a lot easier when it’s in the summer. But what I do is I say the first thing I want you to do when you wake up is to actually find a space that’s just for you. And it’s — This is before you have your coffee before you take your shower, whatever. Before you even start your day. Even before you look at your email. That’s another thing that we do is right when we’re waking up, we go check or email. What I want you to do is just get into a quiet space. And actually either sit outside which is not the best thing to do at this time of the year but at least sit in front of a window. That looks out onto your landscape. Any sort of landscape. And I say, you know, light a candle or it signified at this time is start and this space is yours by lighting a candle or making a transition. And you just — What you do is you just sit and observe what’s outside the window. And not try to clear your mind or anything but just see what comes up in your in your brain. And in your head as far as thoughts. And how that relates to what you see outside. When I say at the beginning of that day, hopefully it’s one of the day lights so that there is some action. Or even just looking and observing the trees whether they have weeds or not and that sort of thing. So, it’s helping people to get curious about something that’s so unfamiliar to them. But in a space that it’s not pressured and there’s no need for a certain outcome. And to me, by giving them that space and it’s like ten minute. If you could do that for ten minutes that’s  fabulous. 20 minutes is even more fabulous but whatever they can do it’s a great way for them to start their day. So that they are not so cluttered and they have had this opportunity to at least notice or observe something that is so not familiar to them. And hopefully start having them interested in the outdoors and the nature. And just what is, you know, the environment around them simply. And I found that just by them doing that, they have realized that they can start their day and their day proceeds so much more fluently. It’s smooth. They’re not so are already wrapped up and stressed out about things because they gave themselves that space. And it was space in a pleasant outlook. And an opportunity for them to just have thoughts go by. And maybe there’s an opportunity for them to be curious about something that is not normal for them. So just getting that practice going. I’ve seen some do that alone as help with their distressing as well as then flip side. It’s how they approach their day. So it sets the mood. And then they can move on to the others. What we also do is, work from there. We start talking about just what are their daily practices or daily habits. And how can they check those in a way that it just gets them better in alignment with what really works for them. And therefore, that will just influence and result in a better, you know, a better way to doing things both work and play.

KIM: I know this might drive some people crazy but with my team and I. Like, I’ve let team members know that nothing that I send them is an emergency because if we’re working in emergency mode then something is already wrong. Like, we shouldn’t be working in that space and a number of my team members have other clients. And, they, for the longest time had been in this whole mindset that, as soon as they heard the message come in, they had to they had to respond. That’s such a frantic pace to be working with all the time. And I was there for the longest time and even, I would have to say, that even just until this week my emails was always one of the first things I checked. But this week I did not allow myself to check my email until 9:00. And like I’m not checking my email. I don’t — I turned off notifications so Gmail’s not telling me every time I get a new email. So, I’ll check it at nine noon and sometime in the afternoon.

ELIZABETH: Yeah

KIM: So that has been amazing for me but I would like to ask. I don’t want to call it racing thoughts because racing thoughts can sometimes have bad — It can be related to health conditions. But the best way I can describe the inside of my brain, like, if I were to have to put what my brain looks like to me to somebody else, is it looks like the New York City subway system, full of people who are talking all the time. And each one of those trains has thoughts on it along with all the people on the inside. So when I try to meditate, it’s never quiet. Like, I just feel sometimes like it’s impossible to get quiet. And I also have Chronic Idea Disorder. So every time I try to be quiet, I have another huge idea and I feel like I have to act on it right away. Do you have any recommendations on how just to slow down and possibly quiet our thoughts? I don’t feel like I could absolutely, like, if somebody could show me how to have complete stillness. That would be amazing but I don’t know that I would want it. But I would just like to experience it on one time. But do you have any suggestions on how to just wire ourselves especially if we are outside and enjoying nature in the morning?

ELIZABETH: Well you know, I think that I’m — By the way I can understand your condition. It is very normal. And I think — Like I said it’s an outcome of — Its a result of our society right now. That we’re all racing around in our heads with new thoughts. And we need to respond in that sort of thing. So, the best thing to do is to not fight it. I think that the more we say stay still, stay still. And you gotta be quiet and if a thought comes in, you know, push it away or just focus on the, you know, candle light or whatever. So, like I said, I have found that just by walking in nature like if you have a park nearby. And since you’re not going to be looking at your email. I know it’s tough with you but if you’re not looking at email until 9:00. I’m wondering if it is possible for you to wake up 20 minutes earlier than normal. And it’s probably dark out. And just put on your warm clothes. And just walk around the block.

KIM: Oh I have a dog who hasn’t been walked since we moved into our house four years ago. She would absolutely love that.

ELIZABETH: Oh there and that you’re up before anyone else including everyone outside so that, you know, your dog could, you know, have a little bit of freedom there and the two of you would benefit from that. And that is — And then by walking and whatever thoughts come up. The walking helps just kinda help flow out of the system and it helps you not hold on to things or feel like there’s urgency in doing anything with it. So, I find that just by moving outside, moving through nature helps us just start getting more grounded, obviously. I mean, that’s the great irony there but I feel like you get more grounded when you do that. You gotta do it outside. You gotta do it  not in not in your home. Not, definitely not in your office and again just leave the phone behind and it’s just –

KIM: So not on the elliptical that’s on my basement –

ELIZABETH: No

KIM: – either.

ELIZABETH: No, oh yeah. No

KIM: Yeah

ELIZABETH: And we’re talking of walk. We’re not about anything strenuous or or anything –Again, it’s that space that you give yourself and allow things to happen but the last thing you want to do is try to stay still. It just won’t work. And I think that if you do that on a regular basis, you will find that your thoughts will slow. And as I think that what has happened with you, with your phone now that you are with your email that you don’t check now till later in the day and that certain times of the day. You’re starting to work on a habit or practice that’s helping you start just, you know, not get so stressed out of everything, right? Or being — feeling like you have to respond to every idea that comes out of your head because if it’s a good one it will come back, right?

KIM: Oh absolutely. Yeah.

ELIZABETH: Yeah

KIM: And what I’m also finding is that I’m not getting stressed first thing in the morning by client needs and the whole outside world’s needs. But I’m actually feeding whatever creativity inside of me needs to be released. So, I’m not saying I’m not on my computer till 9:00, that would be a complete lie but I’m working on an article or a post or promoting a podcast. You know, I’m out there doing something that feeds my inner need and not the rest of the worlds.

ELIZABETH: Yeah, like

KIM: Yeah

ELIZABETH: Yeah, definitely. And to me those are activities that you’re in it as its your unplugged –

KIM: Yeah

ELIZABETH: – cause you’re not totally in contact with like someone else’s, you know, with some other people, right?

KIM: Oh absolutely and another big change is I always have Skype open and I’ve been shutting that off in the evening. And especially on the weekends because I’ve found that if people see that I’m on then I’m, you know, then I must be available. I must be available to do work. It doesn’t matter if it’s ten or 11 at night or if it’s Sunday afternoon. I must be available.

ELIZABETH: Yeah

KIM: But no, it just — it doesn’t mean that.

ELIZABETH: Yeah, good for you

KIM: Yeah

ELIZABETH: I love it

KIM: Yeah, thank you. Elizabeth, this has been a lovely conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today. Where can listeners find out more about you and what you’re doing and connect with you?

ELIZABETH: So I have my website. It’s called theexecutivereboot.com. And we’ll have it in the show notes. And there, the people can take a look at. I have an assessment. So we can see how empowered you are as a leader or an executive or just someone who is trying to do it all. I have an assessment there. We can see how well you’re doing that within your life and work. And I also have a free list of the 50 plus ways to connect with your wild self that don’t require yoga class. And that’s the correct one cause that’s just some easy ways for people to start reconnecting with nature. And as I said before it’s also about yourself. And then if people want to know more about what I do and wanna see if it’s possible to work with me. I have an opportunity for them to sign up for a session to talk.

KIM: Fabulous, listeners just in case you are out on your walk right now. Which is going to be hard for me to leave my phone at home so I’m not listening to podcasts. I got to be just totally transparent there. But if you are out driving or on your walk right now, you will be able to find all of Elizabeth’s links on the show notes page at thekimsutton.com/pp214. Thank you, again, so much Elizabeth for joining us. Do you have a last piece of parting advice or a golden nugget that you can offer to listeners?

ELIZABETH: I think the best thing to do, at this time of the year, is to unplug as often as possible. And the best way to unplug is to go outside, walk that dog, and just enjoy this season’s beauty.