Sophie Stephenson is a teacher, facilitator and faculty member of Time to Think. (Listeners will recall that I interviewed Nancy Kline, founder of The Thinking Environment®, in episode 39 of the Compassionate Leadership Interview.)
Sophie’s CV includes The Royal Navy, The Prince’s Trust, the Australian wine industry, and a masters in teaching from Melbourne University. After 10 years in Australia, she returned to the UK to start her own business, The Thinking Project. She had spent a lot of time working in large teams, but says that in the Thinking Environment she found ‘her thing.’
Nancy Kline says of Sophie “her delight in life permeates it all.” Sophie says that right from being a little girl she has had “a sense of the sheer wonder of being alive.”
Her LinkedIn profile states “I help brilliant women develop unshakeable confidence so they can make the impact they want without burning themselves out.” For Sophie a big part of confidence is having a really good felt sense our own boundaries: she says boundaries are not what keep people out but what allow us to feel safe enough to let people in. Burnout often results from internalising assumptions that we are not doing enough or we are not enough.
Sophie loves working with women: she believes women are key to helping us transform our ways of working and the world we are living in. “We need that embodiment of compassion, kindness, wisdom, and treating people like they matter.”
Sophie offers a range of courses and retreats. She says it is the people that make them so special. Her courses attract people who are already interested in how they create the conditions for themselves and others around them to thrive. Then she tries to create a place and a space where people can open up to who they are.
Sophie has always written (and read). She sees herself primarily as a teacher, and to her writing is just an alternative way of communicating. She doesn’t see a tension between her courses and her writing. She loves them both.
In Sophie’s December 2021 newsletter she includes a link to the Rosa Guayaba film Sawalmem. It asks “What is one word from your ancestral language which changed your life and that you can offer to the next generation to heal our relationship with the [natural] world?” Her own answer question to that question borrows from the Zen Buddhism tradition: “you have enough (as you are, right now).”
Sophie’s proudest achievement is working for herself for 12 years. It would have been easy to revert to strategy and operations in an organisation, but instead she allowed herself the time to develop a business around what she loved.
A lesson that Sophie has had to learn in her career is not to base her success criteria on the views of others. She now has the confidence to forge her own path, and is more discerning about whose opinion matters to her.
So many people have inspired Sophie on her journey, including Thich Nhat Hanh, Nancy Kline, Brene Brown, Tara Sophia Mohr. The common denominator is that they are all teachers that are working on being vulnerable and authentic. Equally she is inspired by everyone she listens to.
Sophie reads at least a book a week. She recommends that aspiring leaders don’t read books that promise to make you a better leader, but books that might make you a better human. She loves “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute, also “Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet” by Thich Nhat Hanh. “The Way Out is In” (Plum Village) and “On Being” (Krista Tippett) are two of her favourite podcasts.
Sophie’s tries to live her life as an act of self-care. She doesn’t see self-care as a separate activity. In particular she doesn’t let herself get too busy.
Her advice to her 20-year-old self would be to stop looking outside herself for the things she will only find inside herself.