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I Attended a $4,000 Relationship Workshop. It Was Worth Every Cent.
I also met a dominatrix there.
I attended a multi-day relationship workshop recently. It was called Renew Bootcamp, and it was designed to help people create healthier relationships after difficult breakups.
And boy did I need this retreat.
Last October I was dealing with a breakup. And it felt like all my carefully laid plans in my 20’s were about to collapse.
The timing of this breakup right before my birthday made me feel like I was beginning my 30’s on a massive loss. Combined with the economic downturn and a realization that I had made a number of critical business mistakes, I felt like everything in my life was unraveling at once. I realized I was more fragile than I thought and sought counsel.
Why I Took an Interest in This Retreat
After a string of failed relationships in my 20’s, I wondered if I was repeating mistakes across relationships because I was missing fundamental relationship skills.
Growing up, there were very few healthy relationships around me to model after. My parents’ marriage was not worth emulating. It was an argument-filled marriage that ended in a divorce when I was 13. It would’ve been better for everyone had they divorced sooner. The sooner I learned how to have healthier relationships, the better the chance I could avoid repeating my relationship mistakes and my parents’ mistakes again.
I found Amy after I started reading books on relationship skills. I stumbled upon her book, “Breakup Bootcamp: The Science of Rewiring Your Heart” and even had a few private consultations with her about my relationship situation before I noticed that she actually had another edition of her camp that was about to start.
Not only that, she was holding this next edition within driving distance from me in California, a change from the usual location in Upstate New York. And most importantly, she accepted men to this camp for the first time.
So I paid the fee and signed up for the camp just a few days before it was set to start.
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How the Retreat Was Organized
The camp was a jam-packed four-day event organized around different speakers coming in to talk about different aspects of relationships. The speakers included:
a sex therapist
a few different relationship counselors
several yoga teachers
and of course Amy sharing her personal learnings and stories
In between these talks were nourishing meals and light exercise classes designed to help give us the tools to calm ourselves down physically during emotionally charged situations.
There were about 20 or so people, 4 men and the rest women. The participants spanned all ethnicities and ages, ranging from folks in their 20’s to 60’s.
Because it was a multi-day overnight event, we also had lodging and the accommodations were comfy. I lived in a cabin with one of the three other guys there. He was the same age as me, and ironically he was in a relationship. But he shared a lot of the same interests in relationship skills, and I enjoyed our recap discussions after each day was over before we went to bed.
The retreat covered a wide range of topics including:
Deepening our mind-body connection
Navigating tough conversations
And more. There were two particular topics that really stuck with me: the power of story-telling and power dynamics in the context of BDSM.
The Power of Story-Telling
A major theme throughout this retreat was the importance of story-telling. We spent several sessions:
Re-examining the stories we’ve told ourselves about past relationships
Letting go of stories that don’t serve us
Highlighting biases in our story so it’s lighter and closer to the truth
And even reflecting on what stories we are hiding from ourselves
At the end of the second night, we even spent one session writing past relationship stories, and throwing them into a bonfire to symbolize us letting go.
I realize now why examining our stories is such an important part of the healing and growth process.
The stories we tell ourselves shape reality.
If we tell ourselves that we are victims, then we won’t act with agency even if we have control over our situation. But if we forget to tell ourselves something is impossible, we can achieve things beyond our imagination.
And there were many stories I felt like I had to let go.
The Stories I Hide From Myself
This emphasis on stories made me realize how many stories I’ve been telling myself that have hurt me as a writer.
There were a few months in the middle of last year when I stopped writing out of fear. I was afraid that I was a “one-and-done” writer, and that after a few viral articles, I would be outed as a fraud. I was afraid that if I wrote too much, I would run out of value to give. And so I rationed out my writing like a scarce resource.
By re-examining what I had been telling myself, I began to wonder if this story was even true at all. I tested this assumption by cranking up the volume up from once every so often to a consistent publishing schedule every single week after leaving the camp.
I discovered that I was in no danger of running out of content, and have articles planned for at least the next two months. I realized inspiration is like a bottomless well, not a fixed pie. The more I give, the more experiences it creates for me to write.
And by writing my truth and letting go of the stories that don’t serve me, I reclaim the power to live the story I want to tell.
The Person With The Widest Perception Has The Most Power
The second discussion that left an impact on me was the keynote speech by a dominatrix named Colette. She has a PhD in Education from UC Berkeley, and has been teaching others about BDSM for 18 years.
Being a Berkeley alum myself, she gives me hope that if my engineering career doesn’t work out, I can switch to teaching BDSM instead.
I used to think that BDSM was “fringey”. But I now see BDSM as the study of power dynamics in human relationships in a bedroom context. And in fact, we all enact parts of BDSM in our lives every day.
No one is ever totally free - we are all bonded in some way. We all have short leashes, whether the leash is financial, cultural, or work-related.
Colette’s discussion of how subs and doms in BDSM exchange power helped me understand how I was giving up power in my daily life. Her talk gave me the tools to reclaim power I was unknowingly giving away, particularly through the ways I was limiting my own perceptions.
In her talk, Colette said that “the person with the widest perception has the most power.” The dom has more power in BDSM because their focus is on the sub, while the sub is focused on themselves. The dom’s perception is outward facing. The sub’s perception is inward-facing.
To reclaim our power, we must seek new perspectives to widen our perspective. We have to literally lift the blindfolds that limit our perception.
What blindfolds do you wear in your life, limiting your perception and causing you to lose power?
Her talk helped me realize how much power I was giving up particularly in client work through engineering consulting.
Power Exchanges in Client-Consultant Relationships
Every client-consultant relationship has a power exchange that is no different than power exchanges in BDSM. The client has power over the consultant because the consultant needs the client for business. But the consultant has power too because they have expertise that the client needs.
The mistake I made when I started off with consulting is that I focused too much on my own need for business. Like a sub in BDSM, my perception was inward-facing. The results were reduced contract sizes, fewer clients, and less respect.
Why I Have More Power Than I Thought
In my worst client experience so far, one client showed up 15 minutes late to a (free) intro call and proceeded to tell me to “hurry up so we’re not wasting time.”
Before I would’ve focused on trying to not lose that client. But Colette’s talk turned my perception outwards to focus on the client’s situation instead. That’s when I realized I had more power in that interaction than I had previously thought.
This client was a non-technical founder. They had never built any product before and didn’t have any engineers in their network. Furthermore, they weren’t venture-backed either, so they were limited in the size of the contracts they could sign.
From this perspective, the client needed me more than I needed them. They had already spent months talking to other dev agencies and gotten burned because they didn’t understand what questions to ask or what red flags to look out for. Without me, they couldn’t get their product built.
I learned from this experience that letting a client disrespect me creates the wrong precedent for the engagement. I now set harder boundaries. If someone is more than 10 minutes late, I ask them to rebook (at my paid hourly rate next time).
I’m also less afraid to walk-away if we aren’t a good fit. The headache is not worth the business. By turning my perception outward, Colette helped me reclaim the power I had been giving away and have more fulfilling client-consulting relationships.
Rarely do we ever get a safe-space dedicated to talking about relationships, and that’s what I appreciated the most about Amy’s camp. I enjoyed meeting all of the speakers and growth-oriented attendees who I would never have normally met.
From this camp, I’ve noticed that I’m handling difficult relationships issues in much healthier fashion. Before I would seethe in resentment from miscommunications. But last week, I had two difficult conversations I resolved quickly with the tools I learned at the camp. These are conversations I normally would have avoided for months before I said anything.
I’ve felt a noticeable increase in the quantity and quality of my relationships since attending. Although I still have a lot to work on, I feel better equipped than before to handle any relationships issues in the future.
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