How I Came Up with My No-Rules Retreat

Lately, I’ve had some interesting encounters with people. Most of these people don’t know me, and I don’t know them. But they’ve taken it upon themselves to inform me of what I need to do to change my approach to love, life, leadership—and, well, just being ME.

To this, I say: No thanks. You do you, and I’ll do me!

Don’t get me wrong: I am a firm believer in constructive criticism, and there are plenty of people in my corner who don’t hesitate to call me out when I could stand to do better. It’s important for me to stay humble about my blind spots, and to take in perspectives that I haven’t stopped to consider.

However, what I don’t believe in is preachy, patronizing, unsolicited “advice” that pretends to be helpful while disguising its innate maliciousness. I don’t believe in “well-meaning” suggestions from people who insist there’s a formula for success, or for being an evolved person, or for sharing your message and your passion with the world.

There are as many paths to fulfillment as there are people, and anyone who attempts to corral you into the “right” way to be is not worth your time.

Life shouldn’t be about contorting yourself into someone else’s idealized images and arbitrary standards. If anything, you should be spending more time with people who inspire you to be more of who you already are, and to bring more of your unique strengths and characteristics into your life.

Trust me, it’s taken me a while to recognize this. I, too, used to believe that in order to demonstrate my worth and expertise, I needed to pretzel myself into the persona of an honest-to-goodness teacher or expert. I used to believe that there were rules for being successful and helping as many women as I possibly could.

And then I realized that all of this was based on appearance, not on who I truly am.

Having lived in a spiritual commune many years ago, I’m well aware of the shadows that are hidden beneath the veils of perfectionism and righteousness. I know what it means to “look good” on the surface but to be totally out of sync with who we are beneath the mask.

But you know what? At some point, I got tired of wearing my masks and pretending they were real.

Every day, I meet women who are incredibly effective. I say effective because I know this is not the same as powerful. Sure, they might be leaders in their families and communities and businesses, but on some level, they are not living authentically. They often feel like imposters, no matter what their accomplishments. They experience the same uncertainty and insecurity that all of us, as women, face in a world that demands our perfection rather than our truth.

For me, stepping into power is a long but beautiful road into fully claiming who we are. Even if that person is “too much” and “not enough” simultaneously. Too loud, too opinionated, too fat, too pushy. Not spiritual enough, not smart enough, not experienced enough. I’m sure you have plenty of your own examples to add!

We live in a society in which it’s routine practice to shame others into docile conformity. One thing I know beyond a doubt is that where shame lives, it’s impossible to step into power.

So, what is the antidote to shame? For me, it’s simple: it’s being fully and unabashedly who I am.

In demonstrating an acceptance of myself and all my parts—meaning that I can hold seemingly contradictory qualities such as being a great communicator and being someone who swears a lot—I am much more effective in my mission of helping women step into their own power and embrace their unique voices.

Whether that voice is brash, funny, scholarly, sarcastic, sweet, curious, flowery, or potty-mouthed (or all of these at once)—as long as it’s your voice and you can fully claim it, you are on the path to making life happen on your own terms.

I created Women For One not just for women who are interested in personal development, or feminine leadership, or spirituality, or whatever people might perceive my community as standing for. I created it for all women. I know that in order for us to wholeheartedly step into our authenticity, we cannot afford to continue to divide ourselves on the basis of false labels.

We are women. We encompass the generative, creative power of the universe.

And we cannot freaking be contained!

Wf1 is a community where there are few rules. Instead, we are advocates of creativity, collaboration, and a nonjudgmental willingness to be with and hold one another in our perceived strengths and weaknesses.

In our messy brilliance.

When we peel away the layers of societal expectations and become excruciatingly raw and vulnerable and real, we come across naysayers. They will invariably tell us that we’re wrong, or that we don’t know what we’re doing, or that we are not worthy of expressing what is in our heart, or that we don’t have what it takes to be leaders.

This is why I do what I do: to silence the noise of “too much” and “not enough,” and to create a world in which women can embrace all of who they are, without shame. Because anything less than that is utter bullshit.

This is also why I created my Your Messy Brilliance® Retreat, which takes place in Kirkland, WA, April 26–28. This will be a weekend of women coming together in sisterhood and solidarity, and supporting one another to break through our limiting beliefs—the ones that have been with us for years, and the ones we don’t even realize we’ve been captive to.

In honoring my commitment to every woman I have ever known, this is a retreat with no “rules.” My team and I intend to create lots of space for your experience of discovery and self-actualization, however that might look. Yes, we will create a solid container to hold you—but you will not be yelled at, micromanaged, shamed, or judged. Your primary compass will be your own intuition and personal guidance—and you’ll be in an environment that fully supports your self-care, where you can feel free to take off all your layers and masks—especially the ones that look “good” (trust me, they’re the most stifling).

So join me, in sisterhood and solidarity. Find your true power, which only you know how to embody and share with the world. To find out more about the Your Messy Brilliance® Retreat and register for this unforgettable experience, go HERE. If you’d like to set up a special 15-minute exploratory call to find out how this retreat can benefit you on your individual journey, email me at

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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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