“Just breathe,” Sandi Stetson says.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, stop and breathe. However busy your day is, however big and bad the stresses may seem, take a moment. Maybe even ten. Close your eyes. Now, take a few breaths, slow and deep. Centre yourself.
Because you’re never that busy. And it’s never quite as big or as bad as it seems.
“Even if I only have one minute or thirty seconds, good breathing and breathing exercises really help me. They just help me to keep my energy in check. I find it better if I manage my energy early on as opposed to letting it get too elevated,” she says.
“I go for lots of walks. If I’m in the middle of a hectic day, I have a little route that takes me ten minutes. Sometimes, no matter how pressing things are, I’ve just got to get out of my office. I’ll go for ten minutes and I’ll just really focus on good breathing.”
The founder and owner of Edmonton-based Verve Marketing and Communications Inc. and the brain behind the Grande Prairie Woman’s Show says that this is how she starts every day as well—a few minutes of meditation gets her into the world in the right headspace to beat the million-and-one things that a day in the life of Sandi Stetson normally consists of.
“If you let yourself get excited, that’s when things can really go wrong,” she says.
Strong visualization skills also help. And, when everything is done and it’s all over except for the energy, a good cry—be it a happy cry or a sad one—is a form of release she knows a thing or two about. Sometimes you just have to let the tears flow, she says. That’s part of managing your energy too.
For twenty years now, Stetson has hosted the Grande Prairie Woman’s Show, and her upcoming show will be her biggest ever, with double the usual capacity. She generally hosts two each year in the northern city to keep up with the demand.
Stetson’s work doesn’t begin or end with the trade show itself. It takes months of preparation and year-round planning. For many years, she ran the show while raising her son, Jordan, on her own. He is now a university graduate of whom she is very proud.
At times, Stetson has run the trade show while also holding down a “real” job or while running her company’s other endeavors, contracting her services to Big Valley Jamboree and Edmonton’s International BeerFest. She found her hectic work schedule challenging at times and her health began to show its effects.
“When you’re in something, you just do it. What other choice do you have?” she says.
Then, six years ago, Stetson discovered yoga. She credits her practice with a transformation in her life and how she approaches it. Yoga has brought her on a direct path with the ghosts of her past so she can accept and move beyond them into the present and create a more balanced life.
And she’s learned to work less. She knows now that her work-work-work mentality is one of her coping mechanisms for a deep emotional scar, which yoga has helped her to confront.
“When I started yoga—probably after my fourth or fifth class—I was shaking. Teachers were supportive and encouraged me as I learned to be in my body again.”
She says, “Yoga has just opened up a part of me that I had kept closed, locked up and dormant for years and years. When I started yoga it was pretty tough, but once I opened up, I had no choice but to keep going and to keep getting through it.”
The truth is this is how she’s wanted to live, as an entrepreneur with the freedom to create her own life. She believes knowing how to centre herself would have helped in the beginning, but she figures everything she’s gone through has been a necessary part of her journey.
She recalls a conversation she had with her best friend, in 1996 or 1997, not long after she’d taken one of those “real” jobs on top of running her trade show and had quickly discovered she despised it. Together, the pair discussed what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, and what she came up with is more or less what she still does today.
It came down to three questions, she says. What were her skills and her attributes? What did she love to do? What was her gift to the world?
“For me, I’m packaging all of those things into organizing trade shows and facilitating courses. I want to support other people to move forward in their lives in whatever capacity they have,” she says. “I didn’t want to go back to doing something I didn’t like, and I sacrificed a lot of things so that I could make a good, conscious choice on something that I would be content with.”
Stetson says Grande Prairie feels like home for her. Fresh out of the University of Alberta in 1985, with a bachelor’s degree in physical education under her belt, she was hired to set up the new Be Fit for Life Centre at the Grande Prairie Regional College. She moved to Red Deer in 1992 but was back again briefly in 1996 before moving permanently to Edmonton, where she now resides. In between her stays in Grande Prairie, Stetson started the trade show known today as the Grande Prairie Woman’s Show.
Although she was born in Edmonton and raised in Vermillion, Stetson says she grew up during her time in Grande Prairie. “I had to create my own reputation and identity and create who I was,” she says. “In all the other places I lived, you sort of evolve into it based on your family or based on what field you are in. In Grande Prairie, I went up there and I didn’t know anybody.”
Stetson shares what she has learned in more than twenty years in business by coaching, teaching and event planning, and she is certified as a lead auditor through Quality Management International, Inc. She holds the Distinguished Toastmaster designation from Toastmasters International for speaking, leadership and communications. Her natural humor, down-to-earth attitude and real-life business experience have made her a sought-after facilitator.
A big believer in supporting her community and the province that has provided her with so much, Stetson has given back through years of service with organizations such as Big Sisters, Fierté Canada Pride, the United Way and the Woman’s Employment Entry/Re-entry Program in Red Deer. Since 2000, she has played a vital role in helping fellow entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into reality, serving as a mentor in the entrepreneur program at Anderson Career Training Institute.
This self-made woman doesn’t play small, which speaks to her success and desire to be the person that she is destined to be and to live a full, abundant and joyful life. And when life gets busy, she remembers to breathe.
Damien Wood is a Calgary, Alberta, based professional spectator and teller of tales both true and tall.
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