Playing by the rules
I grew up playing by the rules. I got good grades, earned a place at Cambridge University and from there on the graduate trainee programme at Unilever. I hoped following the rules would lead me to ‘success’ and happiness.
Fairly quickly, though, I began to feel a gulf between the orderly world I was building, and the expansive longings of my heart. One grey day, about two years into my career, I drove to an offsite singing along to Shawn Colvin’s Someday on repeat: ‘I’m gonna get out of here some day’.
I bought myself time by taking challenging expat roles – Bangkok then Buenos Aires. On the outside, I had an enviable level of glamour and success, with a driver, a luxury apartment, global travel, and frequent promotions. But on the inside, I felt increasingly empty. I was building a world far from home, and I was lonely. I was lost and I didn’t know how to find my way into something different.
The Inner Journey
A few days before my 25th birthday, I reached a new low. We unexpectedly had to cancel the product launch I’d been working on. And SARS hit Asia, so I had to abandon plans for a birthday weekend with my family. I felt deeply alone. So I picked up a piece of paper that had been on my coffee table for months, and called the aptly named ‘New Beginnings’ wellness centre.
So began my explorations of the inner world. I started weekly meditation and mindfulness classes. I learned Reiki. I moved to Buenos Aires, and experimented with shamanic practices – sweat lodges, dance, dream work, different forms of meditation. I did weekly therapy. For two years, I lived two lives in parallel. I held onto my ‘successful’ career and all the trappings of expat life, while invisibly building something more true and solid inside of me. As my placement in Buenos Aires came to an end, I faced a choice. Did I want to take another expat role in the US or Europe? Or was I ready to step into the unknown and discover what else might be possible for my work and life?
Off the map
In 2004, I tore up the rule book and quit Unilever. At the time, leaving corporate life was not a well-trodden path and most people thought I was mad. But I followed my heart, travelling across the USA and Europe for training in psychology, change and the inner world. I learned about shadow, the unconscious, intuition, dream work, archetypes, ego, the dark night of the soul, poetry, and rites of passage.
The Birth of Wild Courage
Slowly, I created the foundations of a life that was my own. I moved back to the UK and bought my first home. In 2005, I founded Wild Courage, retrained as a Co-Active coach with Coaches Training Institute (CTI), and in 2011 became an ICF certified Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with over 2000 hours of coaching experience.
I trained as a guide in rites of passage with The School of Lost Borders, living for a month in the California desert, including 4 days and 4 nights solo (no food, no company, no shelter). I attended annual silent retreats with Adyashanti. I built up a coaching practice with senior leaders – entrepreneurs, corporate mavericks and those in transition – helping them grow from the inside out, and create a life that reflects their whole self.
Trusting the unknown
I learned that there are two ways to feel lost. The first comes from building your life in the wrong place – playing by other people’s rules and striving towards goals that don’t make you happy.
The other is a lostness that comes from being in-between lives – unhooked from everything you’ve known, and not yet hooked into your new world. This happens to us as individuals, organisations, and whole societies (think Brexit). Navigating this unknown is scary and disorientating, but also hugely creative.
In the 13 years since I set up Wild Courage, I’ve stepped into the unknown many times. I left behind profitable work that didn’t use the best of me. I paused paid work to write a book. I got married. I became a new mum (twice) and allowed my world to be recreated around my changing priorities. I’ve woven and then rewoven a life I can call my own. It’s a daily practice to create a life where I thrive financially, making a difference, doing work I love, in a rhythm that works for me. Where I have time to tend to my inner world and creativity. Where I can be fully present as a partner, parent and business owner.
I now know that to build a successful life, you need to be willing to step into the creative unknown and allow yourself to rediscover not only what you do, but who you are. To rebuild your world from the inside out. To create a life that reflects your true self, your whole self. That offers your unique gifts generously to the world. This is the wild courage journey.
Working with us
Wild Courage Coaching is designed to help you grow from the inside out. We challenge you to trust the unknown and find new possibilities in it.
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Adam Morgan, Founder & Director, Eat Big Fish, London
"Every decade or so a new thought leader emerges, one who inspires and opens our minds to a new paradigm. Elle is one of these."
Eve Baldwin, SVP HR, Unilever, London
"Elle is an outstanding leadership coach. She has enormous depth, strength of character and fabulous intuition."
"Elle is tough but fair - generous in what she sees, yet unwilling to put up with bullshit. She helped me believe in what might be possible."
"Elle combines clear, pragmatic inquiry with deep humanity and wisdom - a compelling combination."
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"Wild Courage facilitate collaborative, honest, emotional conversations that reveal a deeper, whole person. Elle & her team are skilled at drawing out insights just below the surface that help shape strategy. If you’re ready to listen deeply, this is the team for you."
"Elle changed my life. Her empathy, instincts and intellect are finely tuned. Speaking to Elle is what I imagine gaining X-ray vision is like. Thanks to Elle, I am a more perceptive, emboldened, creative, curious and empathic version of myself. Years later I still think back to our conversations as revelatory. Elle's magic is lasting."
Maria Sbiti, Christian Louboutin
Wild Courage - the book
Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation For You & Your Business by Elle Harrison (Watkins, 2011)
What do we do when facing change? Do we resist and shrink back to what is safe, known and familiar? Or do we head fiercely into the unknown, journeying through our shadows towards the creativity and vitality of an emerging world?
Wild Courage is for anyone ready to turn into change. That change might be dramatic or subtle, personal, professional, part of a wider social picture or simply the longing for purpose and meaning. Rather than resisting or surviving these changes, Wild Courage offers a way to creatively engage with them.
Guiding you on an inner journey of transformation, it challenges you to reconnect with little-known, little-loved parts of yourself and life – Dying, Stillness, Intuition, Wildness, Vulnerability, Surrender – and shows how these unlikely qualities are actually a path to growth, fulfillment and power. At the end of the journey you emerge with a more courageous and wider view of who you are and how you might engage more fully with our changing times.