First up in the Adventurous women series is the friendly, funny and adventurous Michelle Ellison. SUP Instructor, runner, mountaineer, YesTribe Ambassador, author and a whole lot more. To follow her adventures go take a look at @shells_ellison on insta, you will feel inspired, guaranteed.
Michelle and I spent a jam packed hour and a bit chatting a few weeks ago. Michelle was my first ‘victim’ and on a personal note, I couldn’t have wished for a better first interviewee. She was generous with her time and her thoughts. She has even spread the word about this research and is finding some more adventurous women to speak to, thank you Michelle 🙂
Enough from me, let’s dive in…
I asked Michelle, what does adventure or being adventurous mean to her?
‘It’s about getting outside your comfort zone and having fun, enjoying something that makes you feel alive and excited and brings you joy and pushes you in impossible places that you didn’t think you could go.’
‘I used to look at people who were adventurous, like the amazing humans that have walked to the south pole, north pole, that kind of stuff and just be like, that’s adventurous, I’m not that’
‘So for me, what I have translated adventure into, is what is adventurous for the person and what’s within their world adventure – so what’s the adventure for you as an individual and not to compare yourself to anybody else.’
‘Now it’s all about the outdoors and pushing my body, to see what it’s capable of…and pushing my mind. Your body just has to follow your mind.’
What stopped you being adventurous before that?
‘I didn’t even know, you don’t know what you don’t know, so I didn’t know that I would like it. I was a girl guide and I loved it….girl guides back in those days was really uncool, so I didn’t tell anyone that I did it.’
‘The only reason I went to Girl Guides, was to camp and actually in terms of sexism it was pretty bad wasn’t it? I learnt how to make tea and got a badge for making tea and ironing, there was an ironing badge. It’s mortifying now. But the reason I stayed in Girl Guides was that I loved camping with a passion, I got to be free from my family and I got to help and contribute. I got to cook and clean and put the tent up and down and all of these kind of things because you were creating something really great.’
What made childhood different or stand out for you?
‘I think there were 2 messages, maybe 3 that I got from my mum. Girl guides was one thing and my brothers did scouts. Then Mum always said, from the age of like 7 or 8, Team sports – it was really important for my mum and this is going to sound like a forced thing, but it was never a forced thing for us because we loved it. So we had to as a family and as kids, we had to choose 2 sports, a winter sport and a summer sport, that’s it. But we could choose and they could change but that was the one thing that we all had to do’
‘I was the biggest, shyest most unconfident person ever, so much so that my mum said if I am your Team manager will you play netball? So that the only way she got me to play was to be the team manager. I couldn’t even catch a ball, she recalls times where I would be playing a whole game of netball at the age of 7 or 8 and I wouldn’t touch the ball once because I would close my eyes when it came towards me. From the age of 7 right through to finishing school I played 2 sports. (and I did learn to catch the ball!) ‘
‘If I didn’t play netball at school I wouldn’t have picked netball up as an adult. 10-12 years later when I moved to London I joined a netball team and that then increased my social circle. If I hadn’t, what does that not give me access to? So it’s something like the more I get exposed to as a kid the better, as I don’t pick up new sports really now as an adult.’
‘The other thing with mum in terms of adventure, and it’s just language, language is so important. We were a single parent home from the age of 15, so there were two questions every year. Mum what do you want for your birthday and mum what do you want for Christmas? Really important, we want to look after mum, because she’s looking after us. Mum would always say, I don’t want any presents from you children, all I want is for you 4 to live in 4 corners of the world when you’re older and she said I will stay every 3 months per child and she said the child that I am with will pay the airfare to move on to the next child because you will want to get rid of me. She said I will then go around the world seeing my children. It was a message every Birthday and Christmas and it came true. We weren’t doing anything adventurous when we were younger but she had put this thing in our head that we could live anywhere in the world, so it was in our mind, not necessarily the physical doing part. It’s almost like she was showing what’s possible.’
‘She made the world, anywhere, seem possible for us to live in. She didn’t think about that consciously I am sure.’
Was there anything that frustrated you or stood in the way of being adventurous?
‘Women weren’t on TV in sport when I was in primary school.’
‘I would pick up the sports sections of the magazine from the tube station and there were Men everywhere, no mention, until the olympics, when they got more medals at the beginning for England than men and then they were plastered everywhere’
‘The newspapers, where are the woman in sport, why is there a page 3 woman, when it’s normal it’s like, well it’s just the way it’s always been, you don’t even think about it. But actually it’s not OK. What kind of environment does that then create for us as women as adults, there is a massive knock on effect.’
‘I never went skiing as a kid because it was too expensive, so then when I tried snowboarding and skiing as an adult, I now love the mountains because of what I have done with them, but I didn’t know that I loved it back then, when I tried skiing as an adult and actually it took a lot of courage because I don’t like doing something I am not good at and it’s an enjoyment thing, if you aren’t good at something you don’t enjoy it as much. I remember being on the mountain, learning to ski with a 12 year old instructor (he was more than 12 but you know!) And these little whizzy 3 year olds come whizzing past. I was like wow, if I had the opportunity to learn to ski as a child I would have had the confidence. The more that we get exposed to as a child, the more confidence it gives you.’
My final question to Michelle was, what do you love about adventure?
‘Life before adventure and life after adventure – before my life was fine, it was good and comfortable. I had a good job, I had lovely friends, I’d go on my city breaks, my holidays and the normal life up and downs, and it was kind of within that equilibrium, but with the space of being normal. Come home watch TV, live that life, in that kind of society life, reaching for a man, children, all the society stuff.
Moving into the world of adventure, just what it gives you is a life of joy, and it opens up so that we get this life, we only get to live once and the experiences that it can provide you compared to that normal loving of just status quo, is mind blowing, I am actually a different human being.
How I would describe myself before – I would not public speak, I would not walk into a room alone at an event by myself, I would not talk to anybody, my confidence was so bad. I really cared what people thought of me, now I don’t care and I don’t know if that’s an age thing as well.
It’s just opened up this whole new world of friendship, the friendships I have are amazing, the experiences, the talking, the sharing. I have always got a thousand things I want to do now because I keep meeting new people or have new conversations rather than the same boring chat.’
‘You don’t know what you don’t know until you give it a go…and the joy I have now is in passing that onto others.
‘I just asked myself a question, what have I always wanted to do that I had been too scared to do?’
WOW! Thank you for sharing so much Michelle and as you can probably tell this is the distilled version of the interview. There was so much more, but in summary, the key things that stood out for me were:
- The language used by Michelle’s mum and the ideas her mum planted in her children’s heads of adventure being possible were life changing. Parents don’t have to be adventurous or take their children on adventures, just sow the seed of ideas and possibilities. YESSSS Michelle’s mum!
- Exposure to sport in childhood can make it easier to be more adventurous when you are older.
- Girl guides/Scouts is a brilliant way to become familiar with independence and potentially adventure
- The newspapers and people’s cultural, ingrained viewpoints and language used were not encouraging of a life of adventure for women
Thanks again Michelle, I can’t wait to actually meet you in person soon. Check out Michelle’s 90 day challenge on insta for some inspiration…..