The perfect storm is how I got here.

In my early adult life I considered myself a feminist. In my mind, that meant men and women were equals and should be treated as such. I believed women should have the same opportunities, rights and privileges enjoyed by men. I was never a militant feminist. Rather, I found myself playing up my masculine traits in order to compete in a masculine world. I was driven, focused, and goal oriented. That worked well for me to a point. However, in 2012 I found myself burned out, depleted and unfulfilled. And that was the beginning of an important turning point in my life.

In March 2012 I found myself completely exhausted and knew something in my life had to change. I had been losing weight – to the point that I was at the lowest weight of my adult life – and I was finding it hard to focus at work. Was I sick? Was it stress? I finally reached a point where I could neither deny nor ignore that something was seriously wrong. I paid a visit to my doctor and after two months of appointments, specialists, blood tests, and scans, I received a diagnosis. I had thyroid cancer.

The news hit hard. And while the doctor reassured me, “if you are going to get cancer, this is the best one to get,” her insensitive comment didn’t help me to feel better about the diagnosis. For the next year, my focus was first on education, then health and treatment, and healing. I had to first understand what I was facing and the myriad options for treatment; I then had to pick my treatment and a sustainable wellness path; and finally, I had to focus on healing – physically and emotionally.

In the very same month I began investigating the cause of my fatigue, I started a course designed specifically for women – it was a four-month “Mastery” course at the “School of Womanly Arts.” I learned about the school through my sister, who had taken the course years earlier. At that time, I remember her telling me about it and thinking to myself, “this is NOT my kind of thing and I am perfectly happy with my life.” But for some reason beyond my understanding, in March 2012 I felt a pull and curiosity to know more.

I signed up and as I sat in the first session – in a room full of 250 women – I felt like I had found my tribe. Among other things, the course was about realizing and claiming our innate power as women, living our lives with a sense of wonder and gratitude, and tapping into our deepest desires. But most importantly, the course was about building community and sisterhood – it was about women helping women flourish and live our best lives. This concept was utterly new, exhilarating and terrifying. I had never before experienced women in such a positive way.

And so, it was the perfect storm. Two months into the course, I was diagnosed with cancer. The rug was pulled out from under me. I was vulnerable, scared, and broken open. And within the space that opened up, a new way of being became possible. I opened up and told my story. I reached out for help and a community of women rushed in. I created my own personal cancer support group. I learned that I didn’t have to go through this challenge alone. I saw that I am at the center of my story. I am the creator and meaning-maker.  Having cancer and being able to fall apart within a community of loving, supportive women was the most transformational experience of my life and, as a result, I am much stronger today than I ever could have been without that experience.

Since then I have thought a lot about yin and yang – the opposite and interconnected forces in nature, and in particular the balance of feminine and masculine energy. Traditionally, we think of the feminine as emotional, supportive, empathetic, compassionate, nurturing, and intuitive; whereas the masculine is strong, independent, assertive, rational and in control of emotion.

At some point in time, society began to favor masculine traits over feminine, and we see the imbalances play out today. However, we need both these forces working together to create balance and unity. I experienced this firsthand and I am learning that there is a need to balance the yin and yang within myself, and within society as a whole. The more we can celebrate the strength, power and beauty of the masculine and the feminine – starting with ourselves – the more equitable our society will be.

For nearly 20 years, my career was dedicated to environmental conservation and leadership development across the globe. The challenges we face as a society are monumental and will only accelerate in the years to come. However, what I have come to understand is that what is more important than saving the planet, in fact the only way to shift the way we interact with our external environment, is to shift our internal environment and awaken to the divinity that exists within each of us.

My desire is to see a radical transformation in the way we live, love and lead. Our planet and the people that inhabit this world need more nurturing. And as a coach, it is my desire to create a space for women and men where they can let down their guard, fall apart, and integrate all parts of themselves. This support took me beyond survival to a place where I am able to thrive. From this place, we truly can change the world.

Robyn Dalzen