We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Ryan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
I’ve been exploring this topic for quite a while. Probably most of my adult life. Initially, I thought happiness was based on my external circumstances and that the feeling would manifest if I did certain activities, put myself in certain places, and surrounded myself with certain people. However, through my own research as well as trial and error my perspective has shifted and so has my goal. I have realized that for me, sustained happiness is less of an emotion and more of a state of being. In fact, the states of being that help support my sense of happiness are the internal states of peace, joy, and enthusiasm. When I first began cultivating these states of being, internally I felt the opposite of peaceful and the states of joy and enthusiasm weren’t even on my radar. This period of time occurred about 13 years ago when my parents were going through a complicated, messy, and traumatic divorce.
At the time, I felt as if my entire foundation had been blown up and I felt groundless and lost. I didn’t even realize that my mind, heart, and body were experiencing an ongoing trauma response. Slowly with the help of Sarah, an awesome counselor who I was able to work with while serving with AmeriCorps for a year, I began to move out of a state of survival towards the process of healing and eventually thriving. The first book Sarah recommended that I read was Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. I learned so much from reading this book and it also helped me jumpstart my quest to understand and create a way of living in the world that creates an overall vibe of happiness.
This quest, has definitely been worthwhile and also very challenging at times. There have been periods where I have felt totally out of my element like I was trekking through an unexplored internal wilderness. In working with other mental health professionals, I have learned to lean in, feel all of my feelings and reach a greater understanding of my internal experience while also cultivating and connecting to my sense of Divine Source. One of the most significant contributors to the internal peace I feel now is all of the work I have put into repairing and healing my relationships with my family of origin. There was a period of several years where my family was very fragmented and there was a lot of anger, hurt, grief, and resentment that engulfed our family and its members. At different points in time, I found myself feeling like the situation was hopeless and that we would be stuck in a traumatic relational pattern with each other forever.
What helped me start relating differently to my family members was my increased sense of wellbeing and the implementation of daily and weekly habits that helped me cultivate a sense of internal peace. In addition, I began to co-create a loving and playful partnership with my adventure spiritual partner, Scotty. From the moment Scotty and I met which was on a raft trip on the Colorado River, a primary way we have connected and nurtured our partnership is through play and going on adventures together. We play a lot! Most weekends we are out exploring the Colorado backcountry. We ski, dirt bike, mountain bike, snow kite, standup paddleboard, hike, snowmobile, dance, prepare & eat delicious food, garden, laugh almost every day, meditate together, cuddle every morning, play outside with friends and family, and regularly express gratitude and love to one another.
Because I was able to co-create a secure and vibrant relationship with Scotty and also cultivate an inner sense of wellbeing, about 5-6 years ago I felt equipped enough to put forth the energy and resources to work on repairing and healing my family relationships. Fortunately, I was able to find a family counselor who agreed to work with me and my family. Also, some of my family members had done their own internal work before we started counseling together so they were more resourced to do the hard work of repairing and healing our connections with one another. Witnessing how much progress my family has made in our relationships with each other elicits a tremendous amount of internal joy. Interestingly, this joy often increases when I witness and experience us working through conflict in ways that build trust and understanding. It is clear to me that what makes me happy in life is the connection I have with my internal experience as well as my connection with nature, my partner, and my family. I am also blessed with supportive friends, mentors, and mental health professionals who have offered loving support and guidance while also challenging me to grow and thrive. I have made peace with the painful events I have experienced and have even allowed myself to be transformed by them which has led to me to experience greater states of joy and enthusiasm.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Much like the question of happiness, I have spent a lot of time reflecting and exploring my purpose in the world and how that aligns with the work I do. At some point, I shifted from trying to find employment that supported my physiological needs to finding work that inspires me. I recognize that I have had and continue to have many, many resources and privileges that others do not have access to and with that understanding, I experience a great sense of responsibility to use the resources and privileges I have received in service to the greater good.
When I consider my professional path there have been lots of twists and turns throughout my journey. I have worked in many different capacities for many different industries and have gained valuable tools and insights throughout my journey. When I was 17, I held my first W2 position as an administrative assistant on an Intel jobsite for an electrical contracting company. Some of the other positions I have held include nannying, tutoring college student-athletes, working as a marketing intern and then a Project Engineer for a framing and drywall company. I was a primary school English teacher in France, a billing and insurance admin for an ambulance company, a marketing and program director for an Arts Center, and front desk staff for Westwall Lodge in Crested Butte. I also completed a year of service with AmeriCorps doing land and energy conservation throughout Denver. During the last 7 years, I aave worked as a mental health professional in various settings including my current work offering relationship counseling to individuals, couples, and families as a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice.
I wouldn’t describe my career path as easy nor would I describe it as overly challenging. There have been periods of struggle where I have felt totally lost and then there have been periods where I have felt more in the flow and have sensed that I am pursing the path I am meant to be on. At some point, I realized that if I am truly pursuing my purpose and soul’s calling, then my path is going to be unique to me and no one else in history will have traveled it nor will travel it again. That is probably the scariest and most exciting epiphanies I have had. And I often return back to the great sense of responsibility I described earlier. It is also another reason I spend so much time cultivating a connection with my internal experience. During the times I have felt lost in my journey to connect with my purpose, I have read and watched a lot of biographies and spoke with people who have chosen a courageous path and dared to live the life they have felt called to live. It can feel risky to show up fully as yourself and trust the universe and its process.
For the last year and half I have felt the call of the unknown stir inside me around shifting the external work I do in the world. While I haven’t seen the movie, I really resonate with the song from Frozen 2 about being called into the unknown and wanting to ignore the call because that seems easier and less intimidating. And yet I know that to progress and move forward in my self-development, I must lean in and go on another journey into the wilderness even I am scarred to do it. I know that if I am feeling fear about doing something in the world that I also feel called to do, it probably means that it is the next step in my evolution of consciousness. That edge of the unknown is the growth edge, and it is how I have progressed so far in my life. In addition to be inspired by others on the journey, it helps me to consider other times in my life when I have ventured out into the unknown.
For the last 10 years or so, I have embraced physically putting myself in situations where I am literally in the wilderness. I spent have lots of time in the backcountry and with each adventure, I draw from my internal resources as well as the support of those who are on the adventure with me. There have been many times, particularly while on a long mountain bike ride deep in the woods that I have thought about quitting and have questioned my decision to consciously put myself in a position of suffering with unknown consequences. And yet, when I’ve made it to the top and can charge downhill, I feel the rush of being in the flow and the vibrancy of being alive. It reminds me of something Brené Brown shared during a talk I attended. “We never feel more alive than when we are afraid and being brave.” I feel that vibrancy and stoke when I am doing different activities in the outdoors and also when I am fully and courageously doing meaningful and creative work in the world.
When I consider all the different professional roles I have held, what is consistent about them is my love for learning, teaching, and inspiring others to bring forth the best in themselves. Each part of my journey has given me additional tools and insights for how I can more effectively connect with different groups of people and what message(s) I want to share with the world. This year, as I have witnessed the impact of the pandemic on businesses and heard directly from my clients about their experiences at their jobs, it has become clear to me that many business leaders and their teams need greater emotional and relational skills for them to more effectively respond to the current economic environment. Additionally, it seems many more people are now aware and motivated to address some of the inequities dramatically impacting and oppressing certain groups of people in our culture. I believe many business and organizational leaders want to create more diverse, inclusive, and creative work environments but are unsure about what steps to take. My new company, The Scend is designed to help individuals and teams cultivate enthusiasm and connection with each other while also increasing their relational and cultural competency skills through business therapy. Scend is a noun that means the push or surge of a wave. I am here to support and guide leaders and their teams so they can build momentum and flow with each other to fully scend it and increase the impact of their mission and vision.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since I LOVE being in the mountains that’s likely where I would likely take my friend and depending on the time of year and how active my friend was I would decide where we would go from there. And since the question is asking about city recs, I’ll keep my recommendations to the Front Range. I live near Red Rocks so I would likely take them there and hopefully we could catch a concert. I also live near Bear Creek Creek Lake Park and would take them on a picnic there where we could also stand up paddleboard and mountain bike if my friend is feeling up to it. I also would be stoked to drive down to the Garden of the Gods and then go onto to Manitou Springs where we could go on a sparkling water tour. I would take them on a tea tour at Celestial Seasonings, then on a hike of the Flat Irons, and then for more tea festivities, I would take them to The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. In Denver, I would take them to the Botanical Gardens because I love gardens and then out to eat somewhere on S Pearl St because I love that area. I would also love to do a workshop with them at the 5 Star Salt Caves Wellness Center because that place is AMAZING. I would probably take them to one of the Snooze locations because that is the first restaurant I tried in Denver and I love all of their eggs benedict options. For an experience of the plains, I would take them out to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and then to Tocabe over in the Highlands. For afternoon tea one of the days, I would bring them to Babe’s Tea Room.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel called to give a shoutout to my adventure spiritual partner, Scott Ryan. Scotty and I make an awesome team! We have co-created a marriage that allows us to show up authentically as our full selves while also encouraging and challenging us to bring forth our best selves to the relationship and to the world outside of our relationship. Our partnership supports us evolving individually and relationally with each other and others in our lives. I feel tremendous gratitude and love for Scotty, our partnership, and the adventure of co-creating our experience of life together. Scotty is a gifted and patient teacher and I have learned so much from him including, most of the outdoor activities we do. He is also an awesome learner who accepts influence and seeks progression. We embrace our individual and relational growing pains which are often not that fun and yet we are both committed to the process of becoming better versions of ourselves in all capacities.
Credit: Heather Savelich, Erica Bonser, Ann Ashe, Matt Clark