Finding Purpose and Taking the Lead: Shad Alum shares how she made her dream a reality by embracing her authentic self and showing up fully
As a Leadership Coach and entrepreneur, Amanda Kwok knows a thing or two about personal journeys and how finding a path to a life of purpose isn’t always a straight line. That’s why she feels a real sense of gratitude for the work she does every day helping others to create space in their lives to step into themselves fully and show up every day in ways that are meaningful to them.
Amanda started Quiet Leader Co in 2022 to focus on helping introverts – those less likely to see themselves as “leaders” – find their voice and embrace the power of their authentic leadership style. She helps her clients to see that you don’t need to be loud to be a leader, you just have to show up in a way that allows you to be fully present as your best self.
As an introvert herself, Amanda had to learn that there are many ways to occupy a leadership role. And her time at Shad at the University of New Brunswick in the summer of 2006 had helped to show her the many ways someone could be a leader.
“The program provides so many opportunities for the students to step up and be leaders through presenting and leading teams and discussions. The more times people have the chance to take the lead and realize their ability, the easier and more naturally it becomes. We just get better at it.”
The value of community is also something she took away from her time at Shad, including the importance of finding a place of belonging and acceptance. As a practitioner working to help others elevate their overall wellbeing, she understands how invaluable it is to be in an environment where you feel you can be accepted for who you are.
“Shad provided an opportunity for me to do what I coach my clients to do: just show up fully as myself. I didn’t have to conform to any social norms or be anything I wasn’t. I felt really comfortable being authentic at Shad surrounded by other students looking for a similar experience.”
The Shad community continued to play an important role in her life after her time in the program. She lived with a close friend she had met at Shad as she completed her Bachelor of Commerce at Queen’s University, which helped to make a new and stressful experience more comfortable. She feels having people to share our experiences with, and with whom we can be our authentic selves, is an important component of feeling we belong.
“My one driving mission is to help to eradicate loneliness. Growing up, I often felt like I didn’t fit in, and I had many experiences that left me feeling somewhat isolated, so I have become passionate about helping people to see that they are not alone, that they belong. Coaching is a great way to do that because my work helps people to find ways to show up fully, which is something you need to be doing in order to establish that feeling of belonging within a group.”
Though her path is clearer now, Amanda wasn’t always loving what she does. Reaching a place where she feels she is living with purpose was a journey, one that started in high school when she dreamed of owning her own hotel. “I loved the idea of having my reason for getting up in the morning as being to make other people’s day.”
After graduating from Queen’s, Amanda began a successful career in management consulting and hospitality that took her across the country and abroad, managing different organizational teams and helping to cultivate an optimal customer experience for the people with whom they engaged. “I was doing well, and for a time I enjoyed what I was doing. I liked the challenge of figuring out how to create a magical experience for our customers and troubleshooting areas that might hinder that.”
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020, Amanda hit a wall. She suddenly felt burnt out and struggled with symptoms of depression. She realized she had become disconnected from pursuing goals that spoke to her core values and felt meaningful. She knew something had to change. “It became really clear to me that I no longer felt fulfilled by the work that I was doing.”
She decided she needed to get back to the values that motivated her desire to be a part of the hospitality business in the beginning, namely the idea of creating a space that offered more than simply a place to sleep. Informed by her own experience, she wanted to create a space where people could disconnect from a world where they are constantly plugged in and get back to basics through reconnecting with themselves in nature.
In 2021, Amanda co-founded arcana, a luxury wellness experience that allows guests to explore the natural world and who they are as individuals. Set in nature, guests stay in cabins nestled in the forest and are afforded an environment that promotes quiet reflection, personal grounding, and ultimately, a sense of restoration. “Being in nature has always been a shortcut to reconnecting with my true self, and arcana was a way for me to create that impact for other people.”
The goal of arcana is to help people slow down and rediscover the parts of themselves that can sometimes get lost among the demands of daily life, and Amanda finally felt like she was getting closer to finding what she was meant to do in life and the dream she’d held since adolescence.
“During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of work would light me up, and I realized that helping people to connect more deeply with themselves was what would be truly fulfilling for me. Starting arcana was a first step on my path to achieving that.”
Amanda loved that arcana offered a place where people could experience a personal transformation, but she soon realized she wanted to be more involved in that process. “I didn’t want to just create the experience and hope people had a transformation, I wanted to be more fully involved in helping them to have that transformation.”
Amanda had been working with Leadership Coaches since early adulthood, and loved the guidance and clarity they could provide. She hadn’t previously seen herself in that role, but her experience starting arcana had provided her with the confidence to go for it. In 2022 she enrolled in a program to start her training to become a Certified Leadership Coach and has since been helping people more fully achieve the personal transformation arcana was created to initiate.
“This role allows me the opportunity to more fully engage with people and help them to connect more deeply with themselves so that they can understand the barriers and limiting beliefs they hold that hold them back from showing up fully.”
As she expands her practice to include group experiences in the kind of natural setting provided at arcana, the principles of belonging and acceptance will continue to inform how she works to help people show up fully for themselves. For Amanda, this is the only way we can connect more deeply with others and build the community around us that allows us to be our best, most effective selves. It’s a message she hopes future Shads will heed in order to have the same amazing experience in the program she did.
“Instead of focusing on being liked, just focus on being you. That takes the focus off how people might react to you and allows for the opportunity to really connect with others in ways that matter. When you go in with that mindset you give people the chance to really know and connect with you, and you attract the right people and the right opportunities to you.”
It’s a valuable lesson for us all.