Stephani Roy- McCallum’s REVEAL YOU Portrait Shoot workshop happened in July last summer. The sun shone brightly and it felt like we would rejoice in yet another glorious Summer day. Everything felt warm and inviting, and I remember that the hues of our surroundings were vibrant and shifting with contrasts that stood out in the environment as pops of pigment and texture seemed to show up in every direction.
Stephani was aligned with the viscosity of the day; her presence not one consistency or the other, but instead a reflection of her multidimensionality. The beauty of her existence was captured in each movement or angle, like a prism whose facets catch a raindrop, refracting one color of a rainbow or all of them, depending on how she caught the light.
Please tell us about you:
I’m a mother of four amazing humans, wife to an incredible man and a daughter, sister and aunt. Getting to be part of the lives of the four humans who are my children is the best thing I’ve ever done. My family keeps me sane, whole and connected to what matters most and I feel privileged to be traveling through my life with this small tribe of people.
I’m a redhead, which every other redhead in the world knows is part of your identity, with all the beautiful and challenging stereotypes that come with that. I’m a witch, vixen, nerdy, freckle-faced carrot-top, kindred spirit to Anne of Green Gables and more.
I’m an entrepreneur and have run my own business full time for 15 years, operating part-time businesses for years before that. I deeply love the uncertainty, constant change and requirement for risk that comes with being an entrepreneur. I run a company called the Courageous Leadership Project.
I am an intense, earnest, thoughtful, irreverent, generous, loving, brave, feisty, adventurous, introverted, uncertain, messy, principled woman. Claiming all those parts of me has taken 50 years!
What are the biggest challenge’s that have faced you as a woman?
A couple of re-emerging themes, that I guess most women have faced:
Being assertive, passionate and committed to something and as a result risking being judged as an intense, aggressive bitch.
The deeply ingrained desire to please, accommodate and be liked…even when it costs me parts of my soul. The socialization that if you aren’t “nice” enough that it will cost you friends, respect, relationships. I don’t know any men who worry about this.
Situations where men feel they have a right to touch and comment on me without my permission or consent. Or just plain take away my power because they can. The “old boys club” of power, influence and control over so many aspects of our lives. This enrages me, yet I’m not sure I really push back hard enough on it. Sometimes I’m more worried about being seen as a hysterical, emotional woman that I don’t draw the boundary as cleanly and forcefully as I should.
The tension between being a mother and being a career woman, and all the judgment, guilt and shame that comes with those dueling roles and expectations.
Owning my own anger. Even acknowledging that I have a right to be angry. Have I just been so socialized that my role is to support other people to bring all their emotions to a conversation so we can figure things out, but that its not “nice” for me to be angry myself?
What are some of the issues that you think are important to explore as it relates to being a woman?
Equality. Real equality. In terms of income, representation and power. Not just fitting women in to existing systems or power structures but actually changing those structures so that they make space for all humans in ways that are not gender specific.
Changing the systems and organizations we work and live in so they integrate a female centered approach, rather than just creating space for women in existing male-oriented structures. For example, wanting women to run for public office is admirable, but I wouldn’t want to run for office in a system that rewards public shame, blame, competition over collaboration, winning and losing as a form of decision-making and a requirement to leave your family and children at home. Things are slowly shifting – look at the New Zealand PM giving birth in office and bringing her babe to legislature! That’s a woman turning a system on its head! Let’s have more of that.
This insidious fear that women live with on a daily basis that affects our safety, choices, mindset. For example, I think about all the women I know who hesitate to walk alone at night, but I don’t know any men who worry about that.
Giving up this myth that women can “have it all”. No one can have it all. Let’s change the narrative from having it all to one about living our lives from a place of choice where we try to stay whole over the course of the journey.
What can’t you tolerate in the world?
Unfairness, discrimination, polarization and marginalization.
All the things humans do that ostracize and separate us from each other – these things make flames come out of my ears and break my heart at the same time.
When we can’t see the value of another human being and instead choose to judge, blame, shame and marginalize them. It just isn’t a thing I can be with in the world.
The deep divide between us, especially in politics and religion fills me with despair. And also pisses me off like crazy. We need to ask more of each other, dig deeper, be kinder, braver, more open so we can make that divide smaller. We need to own our angry and use it to make change real, rather than burning and slashing our way forward then leaving half the world behind.
What frightens you the most?
Being seen. Fully seen.
Because being seen means I might be found wanting. Not enough. It might prove to the world I don’t have value. And if I don’t have value then I don’t belong.
Honestly, the brutal truth is that when you are fully seen you will be loved, and you will also not be loved. Not everyone will celebrate you, and some will judge and shame you.
So I’ve been stepping out into this space for the last few years with some success, some heartache, and some lessons that come from my knees knocking together.
I’ve been traveling this journey for 50 years. I’m committed to releasing myself from the story that I am not enough. I’m coming to realize that the opposite of the “not enough story” isn’t a new “now I’m enough story.” Instead, it’s a story of acceptance, embracing that some days and situations I just won’t be enough, and that’s OK. It’s human and its messy and beautiful, rich and full of learning.
What is your calling, what does your heart and soul gravitate towards?
My work is in the space between us – having brave, honest conversations so we can find solutions to the challenges we face in the world, together.
Helping people find their own courage so they can show up brave, and compassionate and have those conversations that matter. Those challenging, emotional, scary conversations are the path to solution – and they are the path to connection, belonging, relationship and trust. When we are there for each other, anything is possible.
How do you keep yourself inspired by life?
It’s a messy, delicate balancing act that I’m not always successful at.
I’ve got clarity on what keeps me whole; time alone, time with family, time spent deep thinking. Having adventures, taking risks, exploring big new ideas, having a positive impact on the world around me. Being physically active, being creative and spending time in nature.
When my life tips over too far in any one direction I can feel myself out of balance. Too long one way I need to pull back into another area. Whether I do that or not in a timely way is another story…
Have you ever hit “Rock Bottom?”
(How did you recover, what helped you, what did it teach you?)
Yes, totally. A couple of times.
One was a caused by a personal crisis, the other a professional one. Both situations resulted in months of years of pain, heartache and reflection.
Both times I went to a pretty deep dark place where those internal stories of not being enough, not being worthy were pretty much the only voices I could hear.
I gained weight, drank too much wine, cried a lot, questioned my relationships, role and place in the world. In retrospect I’m pretty sure I was depressed in one of my crises, and should have sought medication, although I did seek therapy, both times. I think everyone should have therapy at least once in their lives!
All round it was pretty crappy. Both times were deep dark trenches it took a long time to come out of. Having responsibilities like children, family, work were a blessing and a challenge. They kept me distracted so I could keep going, and they kept me distracted so I didn’t look too closely at the pain – which would have led me to the healing road.
About a year and a half after the professional crisis that turned personal I took a sabbatical from work. I had this idea that I would take 3.5 months off over the summer and start writing a book. I was running a company with a bunch of staff, and I was the sole shareholder and I just walked away for a while, believing that if the company was still standing when I came back that would be a bonus. I spent the first two months of that break running in the woods, paddle-boarding and crying. Turns out a book would not be written. Instead I would start down the path of really looking into the mess I had become, questioning my worth, value and credibility. Sometimes it is only when you stop moving that the truth shines through.
I am learning to ask for help. I want to say that I learned to ask for help, but I think that learning how to ask for help is an ongoing challenge. Actually, recognizing that I don’t have it together and I have a right to need help is my first challenge. Asking for help comes after that.
I am learning when and how to put my own needs into the picture. Sometimes its really hard to do, and I struggle with it regularly. I’ve got an over-developed responsibility bone and it gets in the way of taking responsibility for my own needs, because I’m focused on others.
I am learning how to say no and live my life by the values that let me be really true to myself. Some days I’m so good at this, and lots of days I’m a disaster.
I am learning that the path through the mess is to own the fear, shame, pain, guilt of it all and just be in it. The sooner I step into it the mess of it all the deeper I can go into seeing what’s happening. It doesn’t make the path out of the mess any faster but it lets me be in it in an honest way….that hopefully allows me to find my courage.
What is the shadow side of you, that you try to hide, deny, suppress… OR maybe accept, celebrate…? It’s all about perspective! How does it kick your ass? What does it teach you? What is its disguised gift? Is there anything that needs to be forgiven or that you have already forgiven? If so, please share about that.
I know the truth of what I can’t be with is also inside of me.
I can’t abide the harsh, judgmental, polarizing actions that separate us from each other, but I know that when I am afraid, threatened or worried I can be exactly like that. I can be harsh, critical, judgmental, like every other human on the planet.
When I am overwhelmed, too busy or focused on getting things done I can lose touch with my softer, more loving generous side. That’s a gift in that I can be practical, tangible and get things done. However, it also separates me from those around me and has me lead with my head not my heart. I’m learning that my impact is far more powerful and positive when I lead with my loving, generous heart instead of my head. That requires me to be in balance more often than not so I can start from compassion and love.
Courage is easier for me; I don’t have to go looking for it too often. I used to think that I should lead with courage and then lean into compassion. I’m learning that I’ve got fierce and intense down pat – what supports me to lead others into brave, honest conversations is a loving heart.
What in particular made you feel like being part of the Revelation Project was a good idea at this time in your life?
I turned 50 in June of this year. In January I made a list of 50 things for my 50th year, and it included The Revelation Project. I included the project because I thought it might allow me to reconcile my lifelong inner story of “I’m not enough” and let it go.
50 years is long enough to carry this story, and it isn’t serving me.
About the shoot…
What was the conversation you were having with your Self, as you were approaching your photo shoot (before you got there)?
Leading up to the shoot I moved between “what the hell am I doing” and “this is going to be awesome” like a roller coaster. Choosing to do this felt vain, indulgent and also powerful and possible at the same time. It also felt straight up terrifying – what would happen when the pics came out?
I set an intention the day of the shoot that went like this:
“When I truly let go with a wide open heart, the ride shows me where I need to go.”
Was there anything in particular that made you feel more or less relaxed or open to the process?
I treated the whole thing like a solo retreat. I took myself for a hike, went shopping, drank some wine and had a bath the day before. I meditated and journaled and really invested in the gift of time focused on me I had carved out of my schedule.
It made the whole event feel like it was a gift, and that made honoring myself feel right.
I was lucky enough to ride out to the workshop with Kim. She is this beautiful, loving, open hearted, curious woman and being with her for the 45 minute drive was a really great transition.
What was it like to be witnessed by your TRP Team? What was it like to be the center of attention with a group of women? What was it like not to have to fight for attention with a group of women?
This question brings tears to my eyes. It was a deeply beautiful experience and one of the best gifts I’ve ever had. It felt like an induction into a community of sisters.
My work is in brave, honest conversations…and I do this work because when we are connected, belong to each other, really see each other then there is relationship, trust and the possibility we can move forward. This day was a day of my deepest hearts desire: connection, belonging, being seen.
My coach has said to me that I’m really gifted at creating spaces of intimacy and connection so people can have real conversations in their lives…but that in my own life I’ve got very few intimates where I can be fully seen, connect and belong. That is true; my circle is small. So this day felt extra precious because of how connected and loving it was.
What was the edgiest, most uncomfortable part of the shoot for you?
What was coming up for you, and how did you shift yourself out the discomfort?
There were a couple times I had to just choose to ignore the inside narrative, or to turn it off. Not knowing what I looked like in each outfit was freeing and also scary. Its an interesting irony that people tend to really trust me, but I trust very few people. I took a conscious choice to trust the TRP women to hold me and to really sink into that trust.
And seriously, wearing a bathing suit made me catch my breath. And pictures in a bathing suit? I channeled all my courage; picturing meeting rooms full of angry people or having conversations with protesters and thought if I can do that then I can definitely wear a bathing suit in a sprinkler and show up fully in this moment.
What’s the biggest lie you ever believed about your Self?
Do you still believe it, what do you believe now?
That I am not enough. Not pretty enough, not sexy enough, not fun enough, not nice enough, not interesting enough, not a good enough friend, mother, wife….all the not enough’s you can dream up I’ve got them wrapped into 1 story I have played on repeat my whole life. Its meant I’ve got a deep well of self doubt and insecurity. And it also means that no matter what I achieve or accomplish its never enough; there is always another goal to reach for I’ve been working on choosing a different story the last few years. I don’t think the answer (for me anyway) is stepping into a story that says “you are enough”. It feels fake and insincere. What I am claiming is that I am all these things and so much more…beautiful and unattractive, kind and grouchy, light-hearted, fun and intense, serious and without humour, irreverent, provocative and controlled and disciplined, sexy and serene…..I’m all this stuff. And its OK. All of it is OK. It is messy and beautiful and what it means to be human.
Here is the other thing – so what? So what if I’m not enough? I’m committed more to brave, honest conversations, connection, belonging and finding solutions together than I am to the story of not being enough.
I’m going to live a vibrant, full-on life committed to making positive change in the world even if I don’t believe I am enough. Believing in yourself is over-rated. Believing in other people is a gift I can be committed to. It turns out when I walk that path, along the way I find I believe in myself a little more because I’ve given something to others and made a contribution.
At what point in the shoot did you feel most beautiful and most connected to your Self? Did you claim it?
This happened throughout the shoot, in odd little moments. They looked like this:
Wearing my wedding dress connecting to the love of my life while claiming my own beauty
Standing solidly in the grass in my bare feet shouting “f%$##^ you” in defiance of those who want to hold me down
Wearing that orange dress (my fave colour) feeling deeply grateful for the moment, my life and the TRP women and the gift they were giving me
Giving in and letting go in the grass in the bathing suit and claiming my sexy, sensual sel
How did the music impact you during the shoot?
This is interesting. I sent a playlist and the music was on it, plus lots more really great songs. But the music didn’t really seem to connect with the depth of what I was feeling over the course of the shoot. I’m wondering if I need to do some thinking about music that really moves me and takes me to different moments and emotions rather than “favorite” music. It might also be time to start thinking about what music resonates with me at this season in my life.
What “possibilities” that were chosen before your shoot, play out during your shoot?
It always amazes me how the power of putting some wish and possibility into the world manifests in the space. My “possibilities” included: letting go, passion, full self-expression, inner goddess, belonging, magic, raw, ready, able and willing.
All of these things were brought to life with the TRP sisters, in me, through me and into the space. Its like the universe heard what I needed to claim and offered it to me through possibilities. I chose to claim them.
Please describe in three words the way you felt before we began photographing:
Hesitant, vulnerable, excited
Three words for after?
satiated, loved, possible
Three words for when you saw the results:
awestruck, celebratory, shocked.
After you left, but before you saw the results, did you have any thoughts about the experience?
The first two weeks after I was in the haze of feeling powerful, possible and having laid claim to parts of me I’d been hiding, avoiding, denying.
After that the doubt monster started up and I started hoping that the TRP sisters would “forget” about my shoot and not post the pictures. I actually sent a note wondering about when the pics would come out as an act of stepping into the courage to make sure I followed the project through, rather than stepping back into hiding.
I was pretty nervous about the reveal, what it would show and who would see it.
What were some of the things you thought about on the drive home?
I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. Not depleted, just with nothing else to put out there or explore. I felt calm, peaceful, loved. It was a really good tired – like after great sex kind of satisfying!
When you saw your images for the very first time what was your initial reaction?
I roller coastered between wanting to throw up, crying and amazement.
Please share about the feedback you received from those who saw your photographs: What was important for you to know from others about the impact your images had on them?
The act of being fully seen was so powerful it is hard to put into words. That I was seen in all the different parts of me, that people could see those pics and recognize me was so freeing. It was like saying “here I am” and people saying “I see you”. Since this is my biggest fear, it was terrifying and powerfully freeing at the same time.
What are some words you would use to describe how those comments made you feel?
People used words like beautiful, powerful, mysterious, hot, joyful….they made me feel like its Ok to be me. To be all of those things and more. It makes me laugh with joy and brings tears to my eyes too.
Who was most difficult to have witness your images, and why?
My husband, Ian. He is my biggest supporter and best friend. And there are layers to our relationship that my journey of the last few years have tested for both of us – in really beautiful ways that have strengthened our bonds. He is a man of action rather than of words so asking him for words as witness to the images of me was hard. I was afraid he might see something that was not enough. I needn’t have worried so much. He does like the smiling pictures best though – which is testament to who he is.
Was there anyone you intentionally did NOT reveal your photos to, and if so why?
No, there wasn’t. There were people I was worried would comment though. I was worried that there would be people who would see the TRP as self-indulgent, narcissistic…all those messages women get when they put themselves out there. I was worried I would be judged and found lacking.
I intentionally didn’t censor who saw it, and just accepted that if there were people who thought that of me they were probably thinking things like that anyway, with or without the pics. There was one woman who made only one comment on one photo: “what is this, your high school prom photo?” and I took a deep breath and let it go. I chose not to interpret what she meant by that, or why she said it. Not everyone is going to see you the way you intend, and that’s OK too.
Where in your life do you practice having boundaries, and where do you need to practice boundaries?
I practice boundaries in all parts of my life, with varying degrees of success! I need a few more with my children, and as they become adults its been a revelation to navigate new boundaries in those relationships. I could use a few more with myself. Holding myself to account, practicing self-care, making choices that serve me on an ongoing basis. I’m working on it but I think it’s a life’s work.
Did you learn anything new about yourself from your TRP experience? What has been the lasting impact from your TRP experience? Has it altered the way you view yourself or your surroundings?
I learned the power of full acceptance and celebration. I think I got a glimpse of myself as I really am – freckles, tummy rolls, grey hair and all. I can celebrate that! This is me, me at 50, me at this stage of my journey, me in all the parts of myself.
I feel like I’ve laid claim to being beautiful, sexy, joyful, sad, serious, grounded, irreverent, fierce, grateful, tender, loving, tough….all the parts of me that make me uniquely who I am. I’ve claimed those things without the filter of expectations of how I should be when I am those things, and am claiming the authenticity of what it means to be me when I am beautiful, fierce, tender etc.
I’m less afraid of being seen. Being seen is the path to belonging, connection, relationship and trust, and those things are the foundation for brave, honest conversations. They all go together. My work and my life are richer when I bring my whole self to it.
I’m Ok with not everyone applauding this act of coming out. It isn’t for everyone. It was for me, so I could step forward more fully alive and authentic into this next season of my life. I don’t need everyone to love me or even like me to do that. And its OK for them to be wherever they are, and for me to be here.
I think every woman should participate in the Revelation Project. Imagine a world where women claimed their power, possibility and authentic selves? Get out of our way!
What is your favorite song and why?
As I write this, in this moment I would say Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. With deep gratitude to the sisters of TRP.
If you want to have more Brave, Honest Conversations in your life join Steph at GATHER: 5 days of Brave, Honest Conversations ONLINE from May 13-17.
Use coupon code JOINME to get $50 off your registration as a friend of The Revelation Project.
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