What to Do on a Personal Retreat – Part 2

What to Do on a Personal Retreat – Part 2

Written by Emilie

Topics: Self-Care

Thank you for all of the wonderful suggestions for what to do during my personal retreat!

I found myself feeling happier and more relaxed just by reading your comments. There were so many good ones. From non-goal-oriented art-making like sketching and songwriting, to spending time with old friends, to simply paying attention to the world around you. There were specific suggestions like tarot and Jin Shin Jyutsu, as well as smart guiding principals like “Do the opposite of what you think you should do” (thanks J Conyette). You all gave me so much to think about.

I think I have a plan.

Well, a loose plan… And that’s kind of the point.

I booked a room at this charming inn on a neighbouring island. The night I arrive, the pub is hosting karaoke. No one mentioned karaoke but it’s one of my favourite things in the world. I just love singing and performing. I invited a friend to join me, but only for the evening. After that I’ll be on my own for three days. I won’t bring a phone or computer either.

During the three days I will keep things fairly open and really take the time to rest, wander along the beach, and pay attention to the world around me. I might read (currently on the look out for a fantastic fiction book; suggestions welcome), I will probably do some hiking and swimming in the ocean, maybe rent a bike or kayak! Beth generously sent me a tarot deck and I’m very much looking forward to doing some readings and pondering the future a little.

But most of all, I just want to let myself do whatever it is I feel like doing in the moment. If I decide to scrap all of these plans and go to an impromptu event I hear about one night, so be it! As Sienna wisely summarized in her comment:

The point here, I think, is it’s a mindset thing. No matter WHAT you choose to do, approach it from a mindset of play and discovery, with open arms and a child’s mind. I’ve done too many “recovery weekends” where I end up more stressed on Sunday because, hilariously, I pulled an emotional muscle trying SO HARD to relax. Relaxing is one of those things that happens when you’re not noticing. It comes lightly. Trying to force relaxation is like trying to catch smoke. So whatever you do, do it with an intention of non-attachment and letting go (tough for us busy folk!), and dole out the patience and forgiveness every time you catch yourself trying to treat this retreat like one more Thing You Have To Do.

Thank you Sienna. Thank you everyone!

xo Emilie

p.s. There are so many good ideas in your comments and I will definitely be returning to them in the future. I can see myself taking different kinds of retreats down the road, and you provided plenty of inspiring examples! <3

Emilie Wapnick is the founder and creative director at Puttylike and The Puttytribe, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is the author of the award-winning book, How to Be Everything (HarperCollins), and her TED talk has been viewed 5 million times. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. KimPossible says:

    Book suggestion: Dream Train by Charlotte Vale Allen! Enjoy! It sounds like a fabulous time!

  2. Sienna says:

    Did I squawk when I saw my own name staring back at me from a Puttylike newsletter? Nope.

    Did I squawk even harder when I saw that it was because I was being quoted for “pulling an emotional muscle trying to relax”? NOPE DEFINITELY NOT. (It is too appropriate that this will be what I am known for.)

    I WILL admit to doing lots of excited wiggling when I saw the request for “fantastic fiction” recommendations though–because I JUST PUBLISHED A NOVEL a few months ago! It’s called The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming, and I’ve been working on it for the better part of 5 years. I built an indie press with my partner (with LOTS of help from our very own Neil Hughes!) and have been hustling to get the word out, and I just found out TODAY that they’re going to be carrying copies of it in Canada’s biggest/oldest SFF bookstore!

    So pop on over to the website and have a gander at the first chapter (and listen to the beautiful theme song my musician friends composed for background to your reading!), and let me know if you’d like a copy. :) http://www.welcometoshale.com/works/the-heretics-guide-to-homecoming/

    No matter what happens on your retreat, I hope that island gives you enough open space to expand and imagine and play–and to let the adventure happen one moment at a time!

  3. Emilie, How ironic to read your discovery about the importance of having an open and curious mindset no matter what your day looks like or where the world takes you! I came to the exactly same conclusion over the last few days! I glumly I set off on a trip to be reunited for just a couple of days, not in Boston but in the middle of nowhere two hours’ away—-and by train no less, a heavy commitment—-I decided to keep my mind open for adventure. Of course it found me because my mind was prepared—-like an open door. On the train I met a fascinating man from South Africa who is preparing a radio podcast bridging African with the rest of the world. I dove deep into the archives of Mount Holyoke College and took a local bus to visit Emily Dickinson’s home nearby. Everywhere I went I discovered something new both external and especially internal! Even back home when I feel despondent or simply bored I try to shake up my routine—-take a different route home, write a long lost friend, try a new recipe or just dig deeper and peer under the skin of my life. Travel is easier but adventure is always waiting in front of us if we look deeper to find something new.

    • Emilie says:

      Sounds like an incredible journey, Elise. I love those chance encounters where you meet someone fascinating.

      And that’s a good point about mixing things up even at home. It’s so necessary sometimes. Now that it’s swimming weather over here, I’ve been getting into the ocean every chance I get. I always find it thrilling. Maybe because it’s a wee bit cold or because I’m usually the only one at this insanely beautiful beach so it feels really special. Or maybe it’s because I was always a timid kid and jumping in the ocean feels “out of character” or something so it just makes me feel really brave. Heh. I don’t know, but it rules. :)

  4. Heather says:

    Fiction suggestion for you – Fredrik Backman, either A Man Called Ove or The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of a Window and Disappeared. Or both!

  5. Joe says:

    Hi Emily and friends,

    Found two great pieces of fiction to loose oneself in “Cat Scratch Fever” by Tara K. Harper,deyray books This story is of biotec with a forbidden telepathic connection to cats on a teraformed world. Tisa is captured by rouge artist who use people as living canvas and the story builds from there.
    The other is the story of a Female warrior whose family is destroyed by space pirates and the length that she goes to seek revenge on those who have done this injustice, little dose she know how far this path will lead her into “Fury” Delray books.
    Relaxation is the place we find where the harmony and melody that reminds us of why we work so hard to create. The music of our lives is like a good rock opera. We build to a crescendo, then comes the ballad,and in the finale our emotions are drawn to a peak that fades like smoke of an extinguished candle. The smoke lingers on even as we light the next candle and build the next song.

  6. Karen J says:

    Emilie, my book suggestion for you is The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern. Have a wonderful time!

  7. Mana says:

    For the book suggestion, I’d go with “little bee” by Chris Cleave; you’ll finish it quickly ’cause it’s so goood!!! I absolutely loved it and though you already have a plan for these quick 3 days, I’d suggest a Vipassana retreat (u need around 12 days available) for whenever you need a longer period of isolation and brain soaking… after that retreat even your voice sounds different; someone else suggested more or less what it is like, only she didn’t name it directly. For now, the book itself will transport you to the characters’ realities and that itself will be an amazing disconnection :) ENJOY YOURSELF, LOVELY! Surely we will be all looking forward to receiving you back!

  8. Tanya Henderson says:


    If you life fantasy I suggest anything by Michelle Sagara West
    If you like Crime Scene with a touch of paranormal anything by Kay Hooper

  9. Marco Barbero says:

    Hi i prefer walk whith my dog in the forest,i love play kayak and kennyonning,but sometimes a need of meditation!!!

  10. Katie Anderson says:

    The best laid plans are flexible! Have a fantastic retreat!

  11. Ellen says:

    This all sounds wonderful Emilie, and Sienna puts it so beautifully. On the novel recommendations topic I highly recommend ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. I read it two years ago and it remains the most beautiful and heartbreaking book I’ve read in that time.

  12. Craig Kulyk says:

    I’m stoked that you are doing this! Can’t wait to hear about it. So many good ideas already, I’ll throw doing a puzzle into the mix in case you find that as relaxing and chill as I do;) I like to bring a lot of options of things to do and choose what I feel like when I’m there. Usually I don’t end up doing very much but I like to know I have options.

  13. PennyH says:

    I came across something that pushed all of my buttons, like magic, this year. I basically signed up for an adventure art-cation – destination style. I’m heading to the Blue Ridge Mountains in September – The main purpose is to art – they are supplying the gear (although you can bring some of your own “must have” items too) – and you get to try all kinds of things- making a stamp, acrylics, making a journal, watercolor, plein aire painting, an art scavenger hunt in Gatlinburg… plus we get to do some things to art about – zip-lining, monster trucks, single-engine plane, hiking, yoga … in fancy cabins with gourmet food and an open art room – for those who want to nip in extra. Yes, it looks like they’ve built in time (sometimes as wait time) and other free time – so I can go along for the fun, try lots of stuff, be married to nothing, and enjoy being me and trying new things. If the weather is good, I think I’ll ride my motorcycle down there too… I can’t wait to zen-adventure-art out!

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