Women In Focus
If anyone truly understands the power to change, to design a life full of possibilities, it’s Carla Coulson.
Carla says the biggest obstacle of her life was the first 35 years. Running a business that didn’t fuel her passion left her emotionally depleted and longing for adventure and connection. Who knew all those years ago saying YES to herself would lay the foundation to her stellar career as a Paris based photographer and publisher of 8 books with Penguin and hundreds of feature articles in magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Gourmet Traveller and Collezioni.
Today, Carla calls Paris her home and spends most of her time working as a creative life coach, helping women all around the world to reconnect to their creativity, passion, personal power and purpose. And it doesn’t always have to be grand and world-changing, Carla says. It just has to bring deep personal satisfaction to you.
Read on as Carla talks about love, joy and how creativity has given her the opportunity to connect with herself and the army of women who are also saying YES.
Over to you Carla…
Your job can be driven by results and outcomes. Your work is your legacy. How do we find value in our work, rather than in our job?
My advice is always do something that brings you joy or where you feel a sense of true purpose and deep satisfaction. There is a lot written about doing what you love and I have had the fortune to do that in both my photography and coaching careers, ultimately if you have a strong sense of creating something worthwhile, serving a group of people whose lives will be impacted by your work, that brings an immense satisfaction that never feels like a job. It’s like mainlining life, you feel like you have a reason for being on this planet and everything becomes clear. You have a deep sense of belonging, to yourself, to the community and to this glorious planet. Life feels good.
What were your obstacles, setbacks, triumphs or joys in your road to defining your work?
I think the biggest obstacle for me was the first 35 years! Not having any true guidance or tools to understand what it was that I liked or how I could design a life and go make it happen. The idea that I could co-create my life, have a true purpose that I was deeply connected to, was foreign to me. Like many people I started figuring it out when big life problems started happening that I could no longer ignore. I thank the obstacles, the setbacks for pushing me out of my comfort zone, causing me sometimes to break down so I was forced to change how I did things. I now love adversity because I know there is a chance for growth.
The first greatest joy was when I said yes to myself and I said no to the way I was living and had the courage to walk away from a comfortable life to go find the right life for me. For the first time I started asking myself what was it that I liked or what could a new path look like? Then I allowed myself the luxury to go and check it out. The joys have been numerous, moving to Italy and Paris, becoming a photography, gaining self-love and self-esteem, realising you alway have space for new friends and love, life can begin again in a heartbeat, making a life being on the road, feeling alive and seeing other people’s lives influenced by that is an immeasurable joy. That we are all connected.
What has been the game changing moment in your work/life?
I’ve had lots of game changing moments in different ways. Having my first book published was a huge game changer but being introduced to the world of coaching opened up an incredible world I never imagined existed. Learning how our thoughts become things and everything we do influences our outcome has been a huge game changer. Becoming conscious of how I do life has allowed me to peel back all the chaos and focus on what I truly want. Learning to stay in my zone of genius as much as possible where the joy is instead of in my zone of competence or incompetence has changed my life.
What specifically in your work makes your heart beat a little faster?
When I see people step out of a lifetime of holding themselves back by their stories and bring love, joy and creativity into their lives – their joy is my joy. Every woman I have worked with who has got herself back or found the courage to live her dreams feels like why I was put on this planet and that makes my heart beat fast! Watching one life transform and how this impacts many other lives is magical and it really allowed me to understand that the individual has the power to change the world by transforming themselves first.
We are always so keen to start new projects. Sometimes the goal isn’t to start something, but it is to end something. What have you started but most importantly, ended?
I feel like the past twenty years has been ‘ending’ letting go of learned ways of doing things that were never mine. My endings have been throwing off the shackles of society and allowing myself to be a little braver, more vulnerable, say what I mean without feeling it’s bad and letting go of a lifetime of guilt. My beginning has been letting go of things having to be ‘hard’ or done in a certain way and I ask myself the question that Tim Ferriss often uses which is ‘what if it was easy, how would I do it’? This has allowed space for many new projects and I thank covid that we could be a little scrappy instead of trying to make everything always look perfect. I’m starting projects with other people and this feels good, I feel a deep sense that we need more community and humanity as well as creativity and I’m currently working with others to try and bring these three loves together.
As you move through your body of work, coaching, writing, photographing, creating – what values have you learnt along the way and importantly, what have you learnt about yourself?
Even though they are all slightly different I have found similar values across all of them. I guess I’ve learnt to be me, to truly be me to realise I’m connected to something bigger than myself and that the world is a magical place if we choose to see even the smallest things as a miracle. I’ve learnt that for the first part of my life I was walking around in the dark and creativity has given me the opportunity to connect to myself, get to know who I am and have the courage to be that person. Connection has always been an important value for me, I understand the incredible power in vulnerability and creativity is one of the most powerful and underrated tools on the planet. Photography and creativity if you dare to dive in deep will teach you who you are and many years later I can see the photos that I took were often a reflection of how I was feeling or what I was thinking at the time. I’ve learnt that allowing myself joy is not an indulgence it’s a spiritual act and it’s the thing that brings me what I want in life quicker than pushing hard against life and trying to control everything.
As creatives, it is so challenging not to compare ourselves to others. At what point did you stop doing this (if you have) and start looking to others for inspiration?
Like most creatives I went through a stage particularly at the beginning of my photography when I needed to look at other photographers and artists to learn and this was super helpful. I remember about 7 years ago I went to an exhibition and I felt so deflated that I asked myself what was the point of taking photos when there were so many amazing photographers in the world. That was the moment I stopped looking outwards and really started to listen to myself and started asking the bigger questions about what brings me joy and allowing myself to follow those whispers instead of thinking always that it needed to be more, that what I loved wasn’t enough. That’s when my true rudder kicked in, we all know what we like but mostly we think it needs to be something else. Allowing myself to go take photos of the beach because it brought me joy, released me and from that day onwards even if I’m photographing a flower or graffiti or the way light bounces off a building, this is what I like and that is enough.
What advice would you give to women who are looking for beauty, wonder, awe and joy in the world, but can’t seem to find it?
Slow down and connect to gratitude. Society has trained us that things need to be big and exciting and always have sparkle to be of worth. Instead I’ve learnt to find beauty everywhere and I would invite them to start a game with themselves and really look at the details. Taking photos with your iPhone means that you have to start choosing the bits of life that you like, an arrangement of shapes, architecture, a colour catches your eye and all of a sudden you are brought into the present and you start to see things you like. I would invite them to see everything as a miracle, the way a spider weaves its web, the way a calf is born and can walk soon after and that you are deeply loved even if you don’t feel it. Gratitude catapults you into abundance, when you are grateful for the small things, there are so many whether it’s a warm bed to lie in or the sunshine on your face, you are immediately out of scarcity and from there your heart is open and that’s when magic can happen.
Who are the people you are helping with your work, and how are they part of your conversation, and not just subjects of the conversation?
The women I’m working with are women who have lost their confidence yet still hold hope that life can be really good and that they too can have their slice of it the way they wished it was when they were young. Working in a group is one of my greatest joys and Yes Yes Yes has become a community of women who share their experiences and each woman that dares to express her story teaches or inspires another to believe in her story. I like to think we are a community of women and our fireside just happens to be a zoom screen and although we aren’t together, we are intrinsically linked through the desire to live a better life. When a woman decides to show up for herself she joins the conversation of other women around the world doing the same thing and she is contributing to change in her life and ultimately in the world and that is a conversation I love to be part of.
What keeps you curious? What are you curious about right now?
I’m curious about humanity and the wonders of life! I could add many other things to the list, all things natural, creativity, travel, new places, animals and subjects I don’t understand. I love to understand things so my curiosity comes alive when things are new or I don’t understand how something works. I’m curious about knowledge, learning and other people’s lives, the connection to the universe, how energy works and all cultures. I love to travel and for me taking a new street or going to a new cuntry is a chance to learn or see something new.
Where do we go from here? What sustains you in these troubled times?
I had just flown to Australia from Paris in covid times and was in a quarantine hotel for 2 weeks. The trip was weird and it felt like a sci-fi film of immense control and lack of freedom. My knee jerk reaction was fear so I consciously reach for the opposite. I chose to see it as an adventure and instead of contracting, I ask myself ‘what can I learn?’ What we need in these times is more humanity, togetherness, love, compassion, creativity and community. Covid has taught us that isolation is an unnatural way to live and so is fear. The media just focuses on fear even when there is so much good going on, fear is an amazing way to control anyone so it’s convenient if we are fearful.
I still choose joy, changing my state of being when I feel frightened or negative with fun stuff like music, dance or comedy. I believe the way out of this is togetherness and letting go of judgement and blame and embracing creativity, which keeps us in the present. Taking responsibility for ourselves individually and knowing we can make a difference. Humanity is amazing and that’s what we need right now, to be compassionate and kind to someone else even if we don’t agree with them. Tolerance can unite us.
I ensure my glorious army of women continue to say Yes to themselves by remaining conscious and consciously choosing what’s right for them. Reminding them we are not powerless, it’s our reaction to things that determines our outcome, choosing to believe in what they want and making that happen. By asking themselves ‘what is this teaching me? How can I do life better?’
Allowing themselves to find joy, embracing creativity to remain grounded in the present, the danger always is in the ‘future tripping’ and the unknown. By encouraging them to see even in this crisis these words by Albert Einstein “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Images Susan Papazian