Showing Up For Life (Before It’s Too Late)
By Leslie Martini
Kip Hollister, 56, a successful business woman from Dover Mass, experienced the unthinkable recently. Her 23-year-old son, Chase, one of her four children, died unexpectedly.
In the nine months since the tragedy, Hollister’s eternal optimism, deep-rooted sense of purpose, and commitment to Chase have not only pulled her through the death of her child, but have presented her with an opportunity to help others.
“My son’s death has woken me up to being fearless,” Hollister says. “Chase has given me the greatest gift…to not fear death.”
Even before Chase’s death, however, Hollister was viewed as fearless, launching Hollister Staffing, a prominent New England based women-owned, full service recruiting firm, in 1988, which then went on to survive three recessions in its 30-year history. It was the second recession that left Hollister wrestling with feelings of unworthiness and exhaustion, even questioning her role as a leader.
“My son’s death has woken me up to being fearless”
“My entire life has been one of seeking within and asking ‘who am I’ but when the second recession hit and we almost went bankrupt, I had more at stake,” she recalls.
That second recession was her wake up call, and she began the process of deep self-introspection through coaching and retreats in order to “detach my identity as a CEO and work on being a human,” she says.
When the third recession hit, Hollister had enough capability to handle it with what she refers to as a “mindset of optimism and detachment.”
Opening a business at age 26 with “no clue” served as a petri dish of training in self-awareness, with the best training coming from the feedback she continually sought from her staff. Over the next several years, Hollister attended the Hoffman Institute, the Landmark Education Program, Blue Energy training and received her Deepak Meditation Certification.
“When I came back from Deepak training in 2012 and told our CFO we were building a big meditation room, he looked at me as if I was out of my mind,” she laughs.
Teaching meditation to employees was a tough sell.
“No one would show up,” she recalls of the first sessions. “Maybe one person.”
Scant participation didn’t deter Hollister from instituting a two-day self-awareness retreat for all employees, and shortly thereafter, in 2015, she formally launched the Hollister Institute. The goal?
“To be a division of Hollister committed to working with individuals and teams on developing self-awareness and a keen mindset in order to lead a life of worthiness,” she says, “which by the way, is our birthright!”
Today, employees and the public flock to the meditation room and have the opportunity to partake in all the Institute offerings.
Lisa Kuykendall signed up for the three-hour Effective Communication seminar her first week at Hollister. “I’ve used the communication techniques in both my personal and professional life to engage much more easily and confidently in ‘difficult’ conversations,” says Kuykendall. “Being more cognizant of ‘what could be possible’ as opposed to believing the often worst case scenario my mind plays out, has really helped me be more authentic and honest in my relationships — which is very freeing.”
Hollister imagines a world where every company engages in this way, leading people through an experience that literally unlocks their minds.
“What potential could be realized for the individual, the teams and the organizations?” she asks.
Along with individual and team coaching, Hollister Institute offers weekly and monthly workshops for employees and the general public on mindfulness, meditation, communication and leadership.
When Chase died in October of 2018, Hollister was living and teaching the principles designed to shift one’s perspective. Chase had interned at Hollister Staffing, attended the two-day retreat, and joined the meditation sessions his mother taught.
“When the unimaginable happened to me, the death of my most precious, beloved son, my only son, I was already on this path and doing this work,” says Hollister. “But Chase’s death really challenged me to stay the course and practice what I teach.”
“We are all here on earth a short while, and I am committed to supporting people in their own transformation.”
Hollister committed to being more fearless in her mission of “transforming humanity” through the Hollister Institute, a commitment intended to honor Chase. While the wide array of workshops is designed to explore mindfulness and meditation, the Institute also focuses on transformation — teaching participants how to “show up to life” before it’s too late.
“We are all here on earth a short while, and I am committed to supporting people in their own transformation. The world is broken and social media is killing our ability to communicate,” she says. The Institute focuses on communication as its core programming and, Hollister adds, “mindfulness is in each experiential session as a way of being in this world.”
Hollister’s passionate message of “living life while we can” resonates beyond Hollister employees and into the world where men and women of every age and background including small business owners, medical professionals, housewives, corporate leaders, and teenagers live. By allowing her own grief to move through her, as she copes with the loss of her child, Hollister takes solace in knowing she is helping so many others who are struggling.
“Chase was so challenged by measuring up to the Jones’s at every turn. Not feeling worthy, not feeling smart enough. I am now coaching so many adults and young people through this,” she says.
One participant, Maria Smith (not her real name) who took part in the three-day Unlocking the Mind retreat says, “For me the retreat was simply an awakening. I realized that most of my life was spent comparing myself to others and feeling less than. By the end, I finally felt worthy enough. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos around us, but after the retreat I had the tools to filter out the negative talk, while still being gentle with myself. I am forever thankful for the most impactful three days that gave me insight into who I am and who I want to be.”
“Am I going to live in grief or am I going to lead with love and have Chase’s love pour through me to the world?”
The institute’s sessions range in attendance size from 10-50 people and emphasize the importance of choice, specifically making the choice to engage with life, leaving the fear and stress behind.
Hollister knows a lot about choices. After Chase’s death, she was forced to decide how to move forward and live her own life.
“Am I going to live in grief or am I going to lead with love and have Chase’s love pour through me to the world?” She asks.
Hollister chose the latter. In addition to teaching, she chooses to live and model the behavior that ultimately spreads into the world.
“I am here and I have my husband and my three daughters. I no longer have Chase’s physical presence, but I feel him working through me. He is now affecting humanity in the world. And because of him,” she adds, “I am more deeply living in my purpose.“
Many of the Institute’s interactive workshops ask participants to identify the things that hold them back from living. Two of the most common (and toxic) culprits are stress and negative thinking. Hollister contends that fear perpetuates a merciless cycle of stress and negative thinking.
Excellence Unbound is one of the Institute’s two-day workshops that helps participants lay the groundwork for a new mindset, one that allows them to live and experience life to their fullest potential.
For attendees like Amy Carlin, the decision to participate in the program, was she says, “a formative turning point in my life. During an intense and meaningful two days, my eyes were opened to how I was complicit in limiting myself to accepting ‘good enough’ in my life, and how I could exchange this complacency with what I really wanted — a life filled with joy and meaning.”
Hollister believes that self-awareness is an ongoing iterative process. Her courses are designed to help others have a deep and real experience of how to show up in the world.
“My intention is to live to be 104. I have a lot to do on this earth.”
“Anyone who goes through this leaves with a deeper sense of themselves which no book or college course teaches,” she says of the workshops.
While the mantra of living is at the core of the institute, the full transformation of the mind also means accepting that we are facing mortality. Hollister concedes that she used to be afraid of death. But today, as she thinks about her own mortality, she is no longer afraid.
“I don’t want to die — my intention is to live to be 104. I have a lot to do on this earth,” says Hollister. “But what I now know is that I get to experience heaven on earth, now!”
The choice to live and love serves as a contract she made with her son — it’s what prevents Hollister from pulling the covers over her head and succumbing to the grief. She is clear about allowing the grief, and honest about how often it presents itself. But she has learned that the grieving process is about learning to surrender to the grief and to love life…they are not mutually exclusive. Dealing with the death of her child, she is able to look at life through a new lens. It is through this lens that she is able to see a greater purpose.
“We have an opportunity to awaken to a new way of being in this world,” she says.
To not fear death is a powerful thing.
About the Writer
Leslie Martini, bucket age 23, is the author of two children’s books, Matilda, the Algonquin Cat, and Hamlet, the Algonquin Cat. She is co-founder of AllaMartinis.com, a freelance writing and promotions company, and an active member of ASJA, the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators, 826Boston and Writers Digest. Her work may be found at www.lesliemartini.com.
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There is such wisdom in Ms. Hollister’s philosophy. I need to think about several of the key statements. The survey is thought provoking. Well done!