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The transformative power of nature: Michelle Leong Francis’s story

In celebration of International Women’s Month, Michelle Leong Francis, a proud participant of Outward Bound Canada’s Women of Courage program in 1996, wrote this blog post to share her story of transformation through nature. Although OBC no longer runs Women of Courage as part of its transition to youth-focused programming, its impact on women’s lives endures.

woman with a helmet looking at her hand in the woods

From her childhood adventures to her solo wilderness experience during the program, Michelle explores how connecting with nature fostered her resilience, self-discovery and courage to face challenges as a woman. This journey of growth, shaped by wild spaces and introspection, has empowered her to embrace her authentic self and answer the call of purpose:

The child of meager beginnings

The doves cooing through the dawn breaking up the night, the cicadas’ alarm, and the terrifying excitement of childhood adventures, with feral and latchkey kids all speak to a time when nature was our refuge, a place where we could be free from the daily grind and truly connect with ourselves. The communal nature of the creeks tire swing, whether evading parents, escaping siblings, or seeking respite from household trauma.

As I reflect on those moments and the journey they inspired, I realize the profound impact wilderness has had on my life. Nature was a healer, a great equalizer, but don’t not get it twisted and disrespect her she would not hesitate to make an example of you and hand you your ass.

people looking at a map with a camera in the forest

Growing up, wilderness adventures taught us invaluable lessons beyond the simple exploration of it all. They taught us critical transferable skills to survive:
– Resilience
– Teamwork
– Discomfort Adjustment

Each encounter with nature was a learning experience, whether it was hunting for crayfish, navigating impalement while playing manhunt, or facing our fears of double riding.

The Big Kid Adults

As adults, it is easy to lose touch with our inner child and the simplicity of those lessons, while distracted by winning, raising superhumans and being on the hustle ad grind of life. However, amidst a career transition and personal challenges, I found myself drawn back to nature, seeking solace and clarity under the canopy of a Weeping Willow onlooking the white water of Burks Falls.

During that transformative journey to become a Women of Courage, I realized the power of unlearning societal expectations and rediscovering my true self – especially during my solo. It was a process of confronting insecurities, biases, and uncertainties, but also a journey of immense growth and self-discovery. The wilderness became my teacher once again, guiding me through moments of vulnerability and helping me reclaim my inner strength – reconciling my response to life’s harsh realities.

One of the most profound experiences in the ‘solo’—a 12-hour period of introspection and connection with nature where you journaled your thoughts – was rereading my exaggerated letter and plea with my creator to spare my life. It was during this solitude that the letter to myself took on a very therapeutic tone, acknowledging my fears and doubts while finding the courage to face them head-on. It was a spiritual journey, a reminder that amidst challenges, all is well, and everything will be okay.

The wisdom in eldership

This wilderness excursion was not just a trip; it was a catalyst for personal evolution. It challenged me to confront conflicts, embrace discomfort, and emerge stronger and more resilient – for an example, I had only to this point in my corporate career worked with or under male leaders. To be in the wilderness with eleven women I had not had the opportunity to ‘learn’ was deeply unsettling and triggering. It taught me the value of learning, unlearning, and relearning—essential skills in navigating life’s deep and at times choppy waters.

I am awestruck for the lessons learned and the growth experienced through wilderness and nature immersion. They have shaped me into a more bold, compassionate, and authentic warrior, ready to meet life’s challenges answering the call of purpose and resilience and prepared to move her own mountains when needed.

As I pack for my next adventure, this time as a Interpretive Guide, the leader and not the learner, I am proud of my journey, my response to life rather than being controlled or paralyzed by its actions.

I AM … My Warrior – The Women of Courage. I Move My Own Mountain.

About the author:

Michelle Leong Francis is not only a broker, certified adult educator and one of the Top 100 Canadian Entrepreneurs, but also a captivating storyteller and international speaker. She has been recognized for her commitment to sustainability with the Sustainability Award and the CHFA Agent of Change & Diversity Award. A first generation Canadian, she is a nature enthusiast and CEO and founder of Living Green Communities. Learn more on her website.