Julie Santiago is a former Wall Street trader turned transformational life coach and inspirational speaker. She helps women who are at a crossroads bring more balance, purpose, and meaning to their busy lives.
GGMG: What are the most common transformations you see in your line of work amongst the women who come to you for help?
JS: There are two types of transformations women come to me about: inner and outer. Typically they are coming because they feel like something is off but they’re not sure what it is. There’s a longing or a calling for more. Most of these women have on the outside good lives: good job, great career, mothers with children they love. They may seemingly have it all together but there’s sense inside that this isn’t it.
Let’s start with inner first. We spend so much money making sure our lives look good. But it’s time we start investing on the inside. Most of us try to reverse engineer our lives, thinking, if I get to this point, this much money, this job, this job, this career, this school I’ll be happy. We’re on this constant chase for happiness falsely thinking that when we get this thing we want on the outside we’ll get this happiness or this peace on the inside.
We have it backwards. If we’re constantly trying to get to the next thing, it’s the dog chasing its tale. Lasting growth is about doing the inner work. This includes feeling more confident, more alive, more connected to ourselves, less stress, more ability to be present, less overwhelmed by life. You get to a place where you can dance to the magic more, where you feel so filled on the inside your relationships improve.
As women, we are often depleted because we do so much for others and then we want others to fill us up. We have all these expectations of what are spouses, kids, friends, co-workers should do. It takes the pressure off our relationships when we fill our own cup. Outer transformations include things like improved relationships, career changes, leaving partners, finding love, moving cross country, starting a business. The outer transformation is a reflection of the inner. When I work with women, they actually start to realize what they wanted in the first place. They think Oh yeah! This is what I wanted all along before I started sacrificing so much. There’s a coming home to themselves.
GGMG: How does a woman know she is ready or about to embark on a major transformation? How might this be different than simply a phase or a rough patch?
JS: Growth is a choice. That’s an important thing. And there’s this idea that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. We’re constantly growing and changing. We can chose whether or not we consciously interface with that change.
The symptoms of “it may be time to grow” or “do something different” is that feeling of dissatisfaction with life. You may not know what it is, but you’re unhappy for no reason. You may feel like you lost your effervescence. Life starts feeling flat or become a trap. It starts to feel a little dark or hopeless in many ways. The truth is, we are all experiencing this to different degrees at different times: having kids, children starting kindergarten or graduating, changes in jobs, aging parents, an unexpected loss. Life is always happening and we’re being asked to grow and dance with it. Some phases can simply pass. It’s usually that we just get comfortable with things not being great. We settle. When we talk about transformation it can feel scary. We think, I love my life, I don’t want to change. It doesn’t have to be so intense. Sometimes it’s simple and slight within you. Sometimes we just need support. This is what a group does for people. Sometimes you need to just talk it out and not do it alone.
GGMG: For women who experience the most dramatic growth, what do they have in common?
JS: The first thing that comes to mind is that they’re done settling, they’re done playing small. They know they’re here for more. They’re committed to being the best versions of themselves. It’s a real commitment. They are also committed to not settling. They have a bigger why. Here’s what I mean: for some of the women, their bigger why in their career is that they want to impact the people on their team, mentor the younger women or make a difference for others. For other women, they don’t want to repeat the same patterns of their own lives by passing them onto their children. For some reason that why is a calling in some way. It’s a calling to just be real.
GGMG: For women who experience the least growth, what do they have in common?
JS: Fear. We all experience fear. Most of the reason we don’t grow is fear. We’re so afraid that growth means change. The reptilian part of our brain wants to keep things safe. It’s like, “NOPE! NOPE!” Even if it’s the most incredible change in the world, it wants to keep us safe and part of the tribe.
One of the reasons we stay with the average in our jobs or careers or marriages is that we’re afraid the change would shake things up too much. So we justify our decisions by saying, “Well, I guess it’s not that bad.” We talk ourselves out of having our own standards.
A lot of women I work with will discount their own voice by saying things like “Oh, first world problems.” Many of us are privileged but it has to be our choice to do something with that privilege. There’s a quote by Maryanne Williamson who says, “It is not our darkness but our light that scares us.” We are afraid to shine our light, afraid to have it too good. There are so many fears that come up. It wants to keep us exactly where we are. Fear of failure and fear of success holds us back. There’s a common fear of being huge and bright. If we make this transformation, we have a fear of not fitting in anymore or outgrowing things. So we settle and end up miserable.
GGMG: What are some of most important tools every woman should have to support their own personal growth?
JS: First tool: Self-care needs to come first and foremost. If we’re depleted we’re not helping anyone at all. Most women fill their teacup half way and they go around offering all their tea to everyone and then they’re exhausted and have to do it all over again the next day. The real work is getting to the point where we fill our teacup so much that it overflows. And we keep the teacup for ourselves and give to others from the saucer. That may look like different things for different women, but it’s probably alone time like a massage, yoga class, a coffee shop.
Second tool: Know that what other people think of you is none of your business. Nobody cares as much as you think they do. Our job is to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and let go of everyone’s opinion. It’s a practice. We need to take the pressure off ourselves to be perfect, to be liked, to be nice.
Third tool: Be fierce about our boundaries. Sometimes we have to say no to others in order to say yes to ourselves. No is a complete sentence. In order to have the lives and the families we want we have to say no. If it doesn’t light you up or fill you up, you have to say no.
Fourth tool: Practice gratitude. Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes it sucks and it’s hard but there’s still stuff to be grateful for. Learning to look for the good is one of the keys to moving forward even when things are hard.Grab a journal and write down 3 things you’re grateful for during the day. Do it with your kids, like a gratitude jar you fill in and read together on Sundays.
Fifth tool: Find a community of women who will support you. Women were evolutionarily built to be in tribe. In the early days, women had to tend and befriend to make sure we survived. We were built to be in tribe together. We weren’t supposed to go it alone. We raised families with sisters and cousins and grandmothers. Now we feel like we have to go it all alone and be perfect and it’s killing us. You need to find a group of women you can be real with, celebrate with and fall apart with. We want our partners to do all of this for us and they can’t. Finding a group of women to share life with will fill us in a way nothing else can.
GGMG: What is the biggest obstacle you see women face in their transformation journeys?
JS: There’s this paradox or irony wanting things to change but not wanting things to change. Things start changing sometimes and it can get worse before it can get better. I think that’s really challenging. There’s something called a healing crisis in science. When you go on a cleanse or a detox you feel like you’re getting sick or you get hives. It’s a healing crisis when things get worse before they get better. I think about the transformation of a butterfly, the metamorphosis process. The caterpillar releases itself and turns its whole body into a soup in the cocoon before it’s a butterfly. When we’re devoted to becoming butterflies, there has to be that metamorphosis process. There’s a messy middle. It can feel really challenging. All those tools above are so very important, especially finding a tribe of people going through it with you. It’s not as easy as “This isn’t working, what’s next?” There’s a reason it’s called growing pains. But if you keep moving, things always get better.
GGMG: What is the single most important thing you believe women should know before embarking on a major transformation?
JS: My first inclination is to warn women. “You’re going to want to quit!” but we are infinitely more powerful than we think. There is so much more waiting for us. Growing isn’t always easy and being real isn’t always easy. Many women are people pleasers. And when you stop pleasing people, people aren’t pleased. We get that feedback when we start asking for more.
I’ve wanted to quit and turn back more times than I can possibly tell you. At some point it just doesn’t become an option anymore. The call to change, grow and embark on this journey for our true expression becomes something we can’t keep ignoring.
The real quote here is that quote by Anais Nin “And the day came that the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.” This is one of the most rewarding journeys we can ever go on. You are being called for a reason and if you chose to answer that call, your life can be beyond your wildest dreams. It’s possible for all of us. It’s not always easy, but there’s a level of joy and connection and purpose and peace that we can all access if we chose to keep growing and to keep going.
GGMG: If you could give all the women you work with a particular superpower or an extra boost in one area, what would it be?
JS: I would want them to trust themselves. Maybe that’s more intuition, or more confidence. It’s the ability to see their own beauty and their power. The thing that connects all those things is that I just want them to really trust themselves. I deeply believe every woman knows who she is and what she wants but she’s scared to admit it. The ability to really trust the whispers in her heart, those intuitive pulls, that’s learning how to trust herself. And then have the courage to take action on what she hears and what she knows.
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