We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Whelpley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, alright, let’s jump in with a deep one – what’s you’re definition for success?
My definition of success comes down to a few key words: Big Impact. Big Joy. Big Simplicity.
This is not typically how our culture tells us to define success. The message is more like: Big impact, big team, big money. Bigger, better, MORE!
Don’t get me wrong. I want to grow. I want to make good money. But I want to do it in a way that works for me and creates positive impact.
The mission of my business is to have more women sharing their authentic voices with the world. As a speaker, I want people in the audience to know they don’t have to follow the rules they’ve been taught. I want them to know they can create change AND experience more joy by letting go of proving, pleasing, and perfecting. I want them to feel seen and heard for their true selves. I want them to leave the event feeling empowered, courageous, and free.
Success means I see examples of this happening. It’s the comments people put in the chat when I’m doing a virtual speaking engagement. It’s the email I get later where someone tells me they spoke up in a meeting when they normally would have stayed quiet. It’s the message from a woman who’s read my book saying that she’d loosened the knots connecting her worth to achievement and spent an entire afternoon painting, just because it brought her joy. It’s the email from one woman telling me she had decided to go for the new job even though she was scared — and it’s the email from another woman telling me she had turned down the new job because she knew it wasn’t right for her.
Success also means I’m challenging the status quo, particularly when it comes to gender discrimination and racism. I’ll admit, I get nervous talking directly about this sometimes, although it has gotten easier over time. I still worry I’ll say the wrong thing. But the desire to create change is bigger than the fear of doing it wrong. I know when I’m too quiet or indirect about white supremacy and the patriarchal rules we’ve been taught – and I’m not okay with it. Success means I’m leaning into the discomfort and doing it anyway.
Success also means having the space for joy, rest, and connection, both in my business and in my personal life. It means having control over my business, instead of my business controlling me. It’s going hiking on a Wednesday afternoon and taking Fridays off in the summer (which I did for the first time last year and it was AMAZING!). It’s taking a breath and watching the sunset. It’s sitting around a bonfire and singing folk songs with friends. It’s jumping in a pile of leaves before bagging them up and laying down in the glittering snow to make a snow angel. It’s being around people who are creating life, living in joy, and giving to others every day.
Big Impact. Big Joy. Big Simplicity. This is what success means to me.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I’m on a mission to have more women create their own rules for life and share their authentic voice with the world. I do this through speaking on imposter syndrome, discovering your authentic voice, creating your own rules for success, and recovering from burnout, as well as through my book, An Overachiever’s Guide To Breaking The Rules: How To Let Go Of Perfect and Live Your Truth. The title of the book says everything about my challenges, lessons, what I’m proud of, and how I got to where I am today.
I grew up as the classic overachiever. Top of my high school class, captain of two sports, worked at my church — I did it all. While I didn’t necessarily follow a traditional path for my entire career (I taught environmental education and led outdoor trips before going into a corporate job), I put a ton of pressure on myself to be involved in everything and successful the first time I tried anything new in school or work. This led to burnout, overwhelm, and disconnection from myself. I was still happy much of the time, but I felt trapped in a cycle of expectations, perfectionism, and achievement – and I’m pretty sure I was sleep deprived for a few decades!
This pressure and burnout followed me from school to my corporate career right into running my business. I felt like I had to match my corporate salary in the first year of my business (which did NOT happen, BTW). I felt like I had to do all the things you were supposed to do to run a successful business. I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off attempting to force success. When several programs I launched didn’t work, I felt like a failure.
At that point, I finally stopped to ask my WHY. Why was I putting all this pressure on myself? Where was it coming from?
The answer came to me in an instant. I was doing it to prove myself.
It wasn’t my fault. It was coming from all the messages we get every day that tie our worth to productivity, success, and achievement. It was tied up in the rules women are taught to never disappoint anyone and be everything to everyone. Even though I couldn’t control all those messages, I knew I wanted to make a change. This set me off on a path of disconnecting my worth from achievement and truly believing I am worthy for who I am, not what I do.
At the same time, I saw similarities between my own journey and so many women around me – and I wanted to do something about it. This inspired me to speak, write my book, and facilitate leadership development programs for women.
As I’ve grown my business, I’ve learned it’s a balance between listening and learning from other people — and then turning inward to listen to my inner voice and decide what will work for me. I’ve learned to let go of how I’m “supposed” to run a successful business and just run my business, which has gotten significantly more successful in the process. I’ve learned I create the greatest impact not by working the hardest, but by connecting with others, being vulnerable, challenging the status quo, and living my truth. Sometimes I still say yes too often (I think this will be a lesson I need to learn over and over again!), but I catch myself in the overdoing/overachieving mode and center back into myself and my definition of success.
I’m excited to see where this goes and what’s next! I just started writing my second book, which is always a personal journey of discovery. I have no doubt writing the book will influence the rest of my business to evolve as well. I am open the possibilities!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
– Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park: Hike to The Loch and Dream Lake and then come into town for a beer at Rock Cut Brewery – Boulder: Hike the Flatirons from NCAR in the morning, then walk down Pearl St and get lunch at Pizzeria Locale and gelato at Gelato Boy
– Northern Colorado: Hike to the top of Horsetooth Rock, then head up the canyon for lunch at The Mishawaka, back to Fort Collins for a beer at New Belgium, then round out the day at The Windsor Gardener (part garden center, park brewery, part distillery!)
– Longmont: Start the day at Javastop, then bike the St. Vrain Greenway, stopping at Lefthand brewery, Wibby Brewing, and The Cheese Importers along the way
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There isn’t a single person, but rather an entire community of women that have inspired me to create my own rules and supported me along the way. Some of these women are my family and best friends. Others are hosts of podcasts and authors of books that I’ve never met in real life. All are needed!