Ash Ambirge In Real Life

Shireen Bawnlavery and Ash Ambirge

Most of you know I went to a business retreat in Costa Rica last August, hosted by Ash Ambirge, of the Middle Finger Project.

The day had finally arrived. After months of anticipation, three flights, a dark night alone in San Jose, another flight in a puddle jumper, a ride with mad taxi driver, and a sweaty walk up the hill... I had arrived at first day of the retreat. As we climbed the stairs to the villa, we saw notes taped to the handrails, reading, "Did you know Ash is blonde now?!". This was so ASH. She greeted us at the top of the stairs sporting a slick platinum, blonde do and an elegant white and gold dress.

Big glowing smile. Bold helloooo... Shireen! and a squeezy hug that said, you belong here.

It felt like I was meeting a long time friend. Then after getting *laid* by The Los (Ash's fiance), we entered the main room and took in the charming latin men offering us cucumber mint martinis. 

Slowly, all the women arrived from their own long journeys, all of us having made our own sacrifices to attend. Like old friends, we all chatted and laughed until after dark, drinking and hanging out by the bar. Here's a quick video I took. Long after we were supposed to wrap up, we were buzzing with excitement.

Wow. We knew we'd be wrapped in the luxury of an infinity pool, tropical breezes and gourmet food. But Ash exceeded our expectations. Over the next few days, she brought in a crew of masseuses to soothe and restore us (masterminding all day can get pretty intense). We were chauffeured back to our hotels when the taxis went on strike (as they do in CR). And on the last day, Ash even gave us a luxurious parting gift: sparkling Swarovsky pens. A generous and thoughtful touch, many of us being writers.

The second morning, drinking freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee, Ash kicked off the #maskoff ceremony.

She proved herself a true leader by being the first to do what she asked us to do: share something private with the group. A truth that you keep quiet about in the professional space. It was a brilliant way to break down barriers and create bonds.

I can't talk about what happened during the ceremony because, you know... what happens in Costa Rica...but if you were there, you'd have realized that we're all alike and we're all just human. We struggle and sometimes wonder what the f*** we're doing. We face scary obstacles. Successful people included. Ash included. 

Most of you know about the hardships Ash has overcome. She's had shit thrown at her. Just like you have. She's been broke, homeless, and without family. She couldn't write to you and *see* you the way she does if she'd always lived a charmed life.

The Los, her fiance, told me he's never seen anyone work so hard.

Even when she's gazing at the Costa Rican sea or stomping grapes in Italy, I'd bet work isn't far from her mind. (So why is it some of us work so hard and never achieve her success? What's her secret? Well that's for my next post.)

Here's what I observed. Ash was warm and generous and gracious. And of course loud and bold and witty too. She donned a white swimsuit and joined us in the pool, cocktail in hand (obviously). She made us laugh. She listened to our stories. She brought us together to help us create real life connections. I don't believe the goal of this retreat was to turn a profit. I believe it was a strategic move to get to know her target market. She has a vision and it means so much to her that she finds ingenious ways to get what she needs to propel her forward.

Isn't that clever? Instead of blatantly marketing to us, she brings us together for a magical event while simultaneously learning exactly what we want and how to sell it to us. By not being the centre of attention, but be being the observer. This is just my perception, but true or not, how absolutely brilliant. Twenty of us made friends for life. We've maintained an online professional support group that we all treasure. And Ash walks away with insights that could only come from spending quality time with us.

Ash Ambirge in pool at Costa Rican Business Retreat with Shireen Bawnlavery
Ash Ambirge in pool at Costa Rican Business Retreat with Shireen Bawnlavery

Ash once said her mantra was: "Excuses are for your competition. Period."

Ash Ambirge has suffered. Faced hardship. Cried. Made mistakes. Fought battles. She's got a big heart. She's a creative genius. A force of nature. She know what she wants and she's going for it.

You might choose not to work as hard as she does (I sure don't). But you can work as intelligently and as creatively as she does.

Next post: What's Ash's secret?...

The last day of the retreat, Ash treated us to lunch at Emilio's, a rustic open air restaurant overlooking the ocean. This was where the Stinky Bitch brand was born, which proves that great ideas can happen when you're not actually working. (Hint: PLEASE time to play and give yourself space for spontaneous brilliance.)

Pura Vida!!