Learning to Rewrite Your Script of Success

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Shelley Paxton
E 130

In This Podcast

  • Defining your own success
  • On a mission to liberate a billion souls
  • Leaving Harley-Davidson
  • Becoming a rebel role model for other leaders
  • The power of kindness

Shelley Paxton is an author, speaker and movement maker. Think Brene Brown with a dash of rebel. As former Chief Marketing Officer of Harley Davidson, Shelley found herself at the top of the proverbial mountain feeling success-empty instead of success-full. And that awakening led her on a profound sabbatical journey that became her mission, her business and best selling book. Today, she’s leading a revolution with a B to rewrite the script of success and liberate one billion souls.

Show Notes

Why we all need to rebel with Shelley Paxton

At the height of her 26-year career as an accomplished marketing executive and global brand leader – as the CMO of Harley Davidson, Shelley Paxton discovered the view from the top of the corporate ladder lacked the fulfilment she expected. 

In fact, being at the top was sucking the joy out of her life and out of her. She realised she’d been playing by someone else’s rules for so long that she didn’t even realise what she’d lost: a connection to her own soul.

“When I was young I was always trying to figure out who I am, and I rebelled against everything: my parents and authority, and the church, any sort of religion, any sort of structure. And I think it was me really trying to understand who I am. And it took me many decades to figure that out.”

But now she’s figured it out. 

“Now I talk in terms of rebelling for, which feels expansive, energetic and empowering. And I think it’s something we can all do.”

And Shelley is trying to inspire as many people as possible to join her movement: she wants us to awaken our rebel souls so we can live and lead true to ourselves.

Defining your own success

Shelley realised she’d spent her whole life living someone else’s dream, living success on someone else’s terms – i.e. her dad’s. And by living his dream and ticking his boxes, it left her feeling very empty inside.  

“When I started to dig into that, and to truly understand it, my passion became this idea that each and every one of us has a choice to live life on someone else’s terms, or on our terms, and to define success on someone else’s terms, or our terms.”

Shelley says she chased the wrong things for too long – big titles, promotions, big money, and that just wasn’t enough. 

“I think it’s a balance of what really lights you up, in addition to maybe some of those things that are meaningful to each one of us. I always say everything we were taught about success is bullshit.”

It’s incumbent in all of us as leaders, says Shelley, to ask: what does success look like for me? For my team? And how can we create a culture around this in a way where there’s more humanity in everything we do? 

On a mission to liberate a billion souls

“I am really passionate about this idea of: what is the impact? ROI to me means less return on investment, and more ripples of impact.”

She wants to see more leaders thinking about leadership and work in a way that creates ripples, that inspires people to join the movement and liberate their soul. 

‘When I think about what success means to me and what I would like for the future for all of us, is to be thinking about what is the difference we’re making in our own lives and in other’s lives? How can we reframe success to be impact versus this checklist? And showing up every day In a way that helps us be that change.”

Leaving Harley Davidson

The biggest transformational point in Shelley’s life was her decision to leave Harley Davidson. It was the moment that changed everything for her – her life, her trajectory, her new mission. 

“I was at the top of the proverbial mountain as Chief Marketing Officer of Harley Davidson. And that was the flashpoint for me. How could I be at the top of this mountain and feel empty inside? And asking myself: is this all there is? How do you work your whole adult life to get to this point that you thought was the destination, and it doesn’t feel so good?”

Thinking back she realised she’d missed the signs along the way – her body shutting down, major illnesses, numbing with alcohol. And then she had a recurring nightmare:

“I got ripped out of my sleep five nights a week with a nightmare. And the thing that I kept seeing over and over and over again, I finally realised was a proxy for my soul.”

In Shelley’s nightmare she saw her dog who had died years before still alive in a little utility closet. Every night she would find him malnourished and dying and whimpering and begging for love. 

And she realised it was a metaphor for her soul. Her soul was begging her to reconnect with herself. 

“Love me, feed me, nourish me. Please, please listen to me [it pleaded].”

Becoming a role model for other rebels

Having decided to leave Harley and go on a journey of self discovery, Shelley realised there were no role models doing the type of thing she was. So she decided to become a role model for herself. 

“I wrote my book because I wanted to be able to say, ‘I’m putting my arm around you, I got you. Yes, this is a scary journey. And it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do’.”

Of course not everyone has to leave their job, that’s not what rebelling is about. It’s about finding out who you truly are. And when you find yourself, you can engage in a deeper conversation with understanding who you are and what you want, and what impact you want to have on the world. 

The scariest part of the whole journey, reflects Shelley, was stepping away from financial security. That and fear of the unknown. 

She gave herself 12 months to go on her journey. She also gave herself permission to do whatever she needed to do course correct, if she felt she was losing her way. 

Being a soul model

“This whole pandemic has awakened all of us to what wasn’t working before, that we were simply tolerating what frankly, was toxic. We were burning out. We have a real mental health crisis at the moment. The change that I want to inspire is this idea that we’re bringing our whole selves to our leadership.”

We, as leaders, have an opportunity to create white space for creativity, to live our lives with more humanity, wellbeing and soul. We have the opportunity to build workplace cultures around that idea. 

In Deloitte, for example, they’ve appointed a Chief Wellbeing Officer. If a big organisation like that can prioritise their worker’s well being, there’s no reason why the rest of us can’t. 

“We are living fully aligned and integrated lives as game changers, culture creators, and movement makers. Because those of us who are saying we want to be the change also need to be showing what that looks like, and showing up as our whole selves in our leadership showing up in our integrated lives.”

What does that mean for leaders? Be the change you want to see, advises Shelley. 

“I call it being a soul model, you might call it being a role model. But I love that we would show up in our work as chief soul officers, officers of our lives, and bring that vulnerability into the way we lead and the way we inspire our teams.”

Shelley says she only realised what success means for her aged 45. So what’s her advice for younger generations? 

“I wish I would have been able to say, you know what, Shelley’s success is truly courageously defining success on your own terms in a way that lights you up and feels fulfilling from the inside out.”

The power of kindness

What does the world need most right now according to Shelley? Kindness. And kindness starts with self kindness. The only way we can show up in the way we need to for other people, is if kindness starts at home. 

“If more of us brought that to our leadership, it becomes natural to then project that kindness, share that kindness, approach everything with more empathy and compassion, because we’re doing the same for ourselves.”

Kindness for ourselves and kindness for others in the way we live and the way we lead is a beautiful starting point for how we can begin to engage with each other and rebuild strong, supportive, soulful corporate cultures going forward. 

If the talk resonates with you, we’d recommend you listen to this episode too: Charles Eisenstein