Ali discusses the dynamics of starting a business at a young age. She shares the need for authenticity, showing up as yourself, and building up the muscle of self-trust in being a young leader in the industry.
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Holistic approach to your business a conversation with Ali Phillips
Who is Ali?
Ali Phillips began her career after founding Bust a Move Dance, one of Australia’s first inclusive dance companies for children, teens, and young adults with disabilities in 2009. She was only 17 at that point in unparalleled experiences in the dance education and business space. While also establishing herself as a represented leader, Ali discovered a passion for creating inclusive communities. Currently living in Toronto and specializing as an embodied leadership coach for dance and fitness studio owners, Ali is widely known for her ability to disrupt and challenge the status quo. Teaching dance will always be her first passion and empowering those around her. Secondly, facilitating hard conversation around social issues, and third, tapping into the energetics of self-trust has allowed her to support young professionals, business founders, and CEOs, not limited to the dance space to embody their unique approaches to leadership. Her why is to recognize the potential in herself and others so that they have the freedom and choice to create the authentic life they deserve to live.
When we show up as our authentic self, we give other people permission to do exactly the same
Being in an industry where you’re not encouraged to speak your mind or encouraged to be different when you are can be very jarring and very intimidating. And so there’s this kind of energy of like, shh, like just shh, that’s a bit too much. Like you’re just a bit too much for us. And it’s very different and we don’t really know how to deal with that. And so you either choose to continue or, as so many people do, they tend to conform. Then it gets to 10 years down the track and they go, oh gosh, that was that sliding door moment where I could have stood in my worth, and now I’ve kind of lost myself. And it’s not to say that I’ve got it all figured out, but I consciously and continuously decided to make choices that may be put me outside of the in group or that showed that I was kind of like this “outsider” or a black sheep. When you decide to take that role and assume that position, there are sacrifices that come with that, but I believe that being authentic is always the right path—always.
Showing up as yourself is never a sacrifice
I started my business at 17. I was very young at that time. At that time you don’t know too much. So at the time, it did feel like a sacrifice. I didn’t have the awareness. It was a conscious choice to run with the business, but a lot of my friends didn’t have businesses. I needed to uphold that responsibility. I had to deal with consequences, even though I had to speak on behalf of my teachers. And it was just at that age. It felt like a sacrifice, but then looking back and being how I am now, I wouldn’t change it. I think there’s at the time maybe it feels like that, but I definitely am aligned with that. It’s always for the best.
Starting a business young
At 17, I could have not run with that title of business owner. I could have said, oh, I’m a dance teacher or I run a small community, a community program. I felt in my value saying I’m a business owner and there is this level of confidence that comes with this ability to say, I run a business, and whether or not you’re speaking about 18-, 19-year-old dancers who decide for themselves to be their own business and their own brand. Be confident in saying that because what happens is when you start to say it, you start to affirm it. You start to believe it, live it, you start to operate from that place.
Building the muscle of self-trust
And so if I spent the first five years being like, oh, I’m a dance teacher, maybe I wouldn’t have taken my role and the position as seriously, and that wouldn’t have prepared me in my mindset to go off to things that I wanted or to make hard decisions on behalf of other people or just take myself seriously. I think titles, as much as we can get attached to them, I believe everything has high and low expressions. So the highest expression of calling myself a business owner is that it supports my ability to believe in myself, to speak from a place of value. The low expression of that may be that it might’ve gone to my head. And it totally did at some point. I was making decisions from a place of ego. At that point, I had no idea, but either way, I think there’s much validity in being confident with the titles that you give yourself and not getting too attached to them, but knowing that they come from a place of worthiness, so I love that.
Something that I had to develop at a very young age because I was running a business, and this can be applied to independent solopreneurs, not someone that has an actual studio or space is that I had to develop a very strong internal trust muscle at a very young age. The company that I started is a dance company for people with disabilities, and it’s still very niche, but 12 years ago, it was very, very niche. There were a lot of people that wanted to give me their advice, give me their 2 cents, have a say, and contribute to how the business was run. I had to get really clear on my values and the way in which I wanted to run my business and be really grounded and empowered. I was able to say yes to the things that felt very aligned. I was able to set boundaries.
So this is not just applicable to people that run brick-and-mortar businesses. This is if you are independent as well, where is your trust muscle? What are your values so that you can communicate your boundaries because I believe that our values are a physical expression of our internal trust because we need language and communication to be able to set boundaries? But if you are constantly looking outside of yourself for answers or you’re easily swayed, like you make a decision and then someone says something, and then all of a sudden you change your mind, or you’re over-analyzing everything, it’s an indication that you just don’t trust yourself yet. There’s always room to improve, but just right now, I would encourage you to get really clear on how to develop that strong trust muscle because that’s something that I have had with me for a very long time. That even supports the decisions that I make that didn’t end how I wanted it to either. I was able to know that I made the decision, I’m happy to deal with the consequences because I made that decision.
Be mindful in communication
Everything has high and low expressions. So communication was absolutely and has always been a strength of mine, but sometimes when I’m in alignment, I can operate at the highest expression of my communication, which means really respectful, really honest, really aligned. One of the greatest challenges I’ve had is that I’m very much in my masculine energy. I can be incredibly aggressive. I can be very intimidating. I can be very abrasive and, through my communication, break barriers. People don’t want to work with you if you are not a nice human being if you are not acknowledging someone else’s opinion before jumping in and getting really defensive or very resistant or very reactive.
As a dancer growing up, I didn’t take the professional route. I went straight from comp kid to business because I was 17. So I was very young. I didn’t go into the professional dance world, but I had enough of a taste. And then the business was the thing that kind of led me into the pre-professional professional world. I wasn’t mindful. None of the decisions I was making were mindful or conscious or aware. I didn’t know that it was ego at the time, but now I understand it to be just a bit reactive. I think communication is one of the greatest skills that we can have. Again, setting boundaries, using our voice, asking for what we want, apologizing and taking accountability, and taking responsibility. I would say, even though communication is a strength, I would also say it was one of my greatest challenges because I let my reactivity kind of get the best of me. I’ve learned through my mindful approach and through meditation and spirituality just to calm down a bit and be a bit more conscious.
The best and most effective way to communicate my connection to mindfulness is the idea of space. I think our minds are cluttered. Our worlds are very cluttered. There’s a lot of stimuli. There’s a lot happening everywhere, phones, communication, work, physical environment. Being mindful feels like space; space between my thoughts to slow down a bit, space between reacting and communicating, taking a breath, having space between conversations, having space even in your physical environment, like there’s less clutter. And when there’s less clutter, you can see clearer. You can think clearer. You can separate yourself from what’s happening so that there’s more awareness. And so when I adopted a very personal meditation practice three years ago, that’s what I noticed. It was like whoa, there’s more space between my thoughts. And for someone that doesn’t understand that, ’cause I don’t want this to be inaccessible, what I mean by that is if you close your eyes and picture your mind as like a whole set of boxes and the boxes are all tightly pieced together and there’s no room in between them, how do ideas and thoughts move? You’re communicating from this really boxed-in, cluttered place. And if you allow space, it just feels slower so that you get to decide what’s important for you and what’s not important for you.
Creating space from distractions
And so breath work and meditation helped with that because all you have is your breath in meditation and nothing else. And it’s this process of filtering out thoughts and coming back to your breath. We need to unplug from the distractions in our lives: the distractions of the phone, the distractions from overanalyzing, the distractions of comparison, of needing to speak, there’s so many distractions. Mindfulness supports our ability to find space between those distractions
Allowing thoughts and emotions to pass through
The benefit of bringing space to your thoughts and separating yourself from what’s happening in your mind and detaching from the stories that you make up is freedom. That’s actual personal freedom. That’s what it is. And my thoughts are separate from me. We don’t see it that way because, well, first of all, there’s no guidance around it and we have to figure it out on your own and you learn from books and whatnot, but there is like an energetic composition of things like glass, and this is clearly not me.
But our thoughts are also energetic compositions. We just don’t see them because they’re invisible. We associate with our thoughts way too much. We make up stories about ourselves all the time. I even made a post yesterday and this can be applied absolutely to performing artists as well, in that emotions are just energy in motion, but we don’t allow them to move. They come into us and we feel them. And then we makeup stories about them and then they get blocked. And when they get blocked, they grow. And then if it’s something to do with some sort of performance and someone says, you didn’t do that that well today and you feel this sense of rejection, but you hold onto the rejection and then you make up stories about the rejection. The next time anyone says anything about performance, it doesn’t matter if it’s the same performance, something different five years later, if you have not allowed that energy and that emotion to move through, then you’re going to get that same rejected feeling. And you’re going to circle back to that same story that you made up. We need to start to move thoughts through, move emotions through. I like to consider myself this empty vessel that is just allowing emotions and thoughts and experiences to pass through.
Why I chose this niche
I am an embodied leadership coach and my audience are choreographers, leaders, crew directors, anybody that’s teaching others how to perform, studio owners, studios that are not limited to a brick and mortar, company directors, school owners, independent dance artists, and creative solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, business owners.
I chose this niche because it’s who I am. That’s the path that I feel the most connected to. I feel like I have the most experience as someone that has run a company and had the experience of running a business of hiring people, of letting people go, of managing people of inspiring people, of bringing people together, of having to do all the management side of things. There are leaders out there who want to use their businesses as vehicles for social change, for incredible impacting contributions. I am my client. I am my own client. I coached myself through my distraction, through my fear. I leaped into the unknown. I moved countries. I’ve left my business. I abdicated. I’ve micromanaged. I’ve come back to being present with it. I’ve had to take space. I’ve messed up. I’ve inspired. I’ve done it all. So I’m prepared and equipped, and I understand what it’s like. I understand the experience. I can be empathetic and compassionate, but I’m also highly accountable too. I’ve created stuff because of this masculine energy that I think for a lot of artists is an underdeveloped part of their energy as creatives.
The mindset shift
I have two sayings that are like guiding lights for me. One is who we are is how we lead. And the other one is the way we do one thing is the way we do all things. And so I do believe that leaders are anyone who sees the potential in someone else and wants to uplift, but what comes with that is the deep need for self-awareness. And when you are self-aware and when you understand who you are, then things like delegation happen. We don’t need to think that we need to do it all, that we need to carry the entire company on our backs. Believe me, I did that. It is so unsatisfying. You don’t need to have a business partner, but have people involved in your vision. But without awareness of the things that make you great and the areas for improvement, you’re going to be in your own way, and your business is going to be quite limited.
So this idea of who we are is how we lead. Who we are as a business owners, a leader is not separate from who we are. Sometimes I think we say we separate them, and when we separate them, we compartmentalize who we are as people. And therefore we’re not showing up as our whole selves.
I’ll give you an example, values. I don’t have a personal set of values and then a professional set of values. I don’t believe values are contextual. I don’t believe they change with context. And so my three values are intuition, curiosity, and connection. I understand that values shift and change, but that’s what they are and they have been for the last year. So that’s how I show up in my business as well. And I’m very grounded in those values.
And so when something comes along and I feel like I’m out of my depth because I know where my strengths lie, then I can ask someone else to help me. But if I didn’t have that awareness, then we’re going to bottleneck our businesses. So that’s the first one is who we are is how we lead. And the second one is the way we do one thing is the way we do all things. And this goes back to compartmentalizing. We don’t realize most of the time that how we show up in our personal relationships like intimate, romantic relationships is exactly the same as how we show up in professional, how we show up with family, how we show up with ourselves. And so we try and really separate. Well, my business has nothing to do with my personal life. It’s like, yeah, but the thing that they have in common is you and you are your business. My business is a physical extension of who I am. They’re not separate. We may have different marketing and branding and different colors, but if I’m running my business, then my business is who I am. And so how I speak and how I show up in my personal relationships is a clear indication of how I’m showing up as a leader. It all comes down and back to self-awareness
I remember I was listening to a podcast with Oprah and she was being interviewed. She was saying that when she was starting her talk show, a lot of producers were coming to her and telling her about what was going on, like what the other talk show hosts were doing. And she was like, I don’t want to know. I believe in what I have. Anyone can do anything that they want, but I literally, I’m going to choose tunnel vision. I definitely really resonated with that. And not everyone will. Tunnel vision can breed naivety and ignorance and all those kinds of things, but as it relates to my business comparison is probably one of the greatest distractions that I have in my life. It is just the most debilitating thing. And so one of the ways that I’ve really unplugged from my distraction of comparison is by getting really clear on what makes me so unique and so awesome.
And I know a lot of times we say focus on your weaknesses and bring the weaknesses up. I prefer to focus on my strengths and leave my weaknesses, focus on what makes me amazing and be really, really awesome at that. I know as a coach that I am highly accountable, that I bring a tough-love approach. That’s what makes me different than other coaches out there because I’m going to tell you exactly how I see it. I’m going to be the most accountable. That’s what you’re paying me to do. So, yes, I have the experience and I’ve got the passion and, but what I really focused on and how I continuously show up is my high-level accountability and my tough love so that when I see other coaches and their approach, I’m not like, oh my God, I should be doing that and I should be more compassionate. I’m like no, no, no. Remember what makes you special and what makes you unique is being highly accountable and having a tough-love approach. And that doesn’t mean that we can’t also be other things, but if we understand what makes us, what our secret medicine is, then we can really stay grounded in that. And that can bring a sense of confidence.
My coaching influences
I’m very new to the coaching space even though I’ve been teaching for 12 years. The only program that I’ve been in, I was in this amazing program called Kaboom. It was run by Preston Smiles and Zion Kim. That is the only exposure to coaching that I have had. I have group calls with them every week, and they’re an amazing organization for coaches that are wanting to get really clear on their offering. But other than that, I don’t have a personal coach that I work with. I will, however, say that I am obsessed with Brené Brown. I’ve read all of her books, I’ve listened to all of her podcasts, and I really took what she was saying, and then I filtered it through my experience and my consciousness and have really created my own product. She’s been such a huge, huge influence on me as well.
I’m laying my foundation. I’m putting myself out there, but I would definitely within the next six months to a year, I’m going to get really clear on who I’d love to work with because I believe coaching is so invaluable. It’s invaluable to have someone see you and bear witness to you and hold you accountable.
How you can work with me
I have a few soul callings. There are three amazing ways to work with me currently. One is that my whole life started with this, with BAMD. My dance company, working with people with disabilities. I started it when I was 17 and I am turning 30 this year. I have a very specialized set of skills in this area. The first way that people can work with me is I have a 10-week dance and disability teacher training. We go through anything from personal values to your why discovery to really get clear on your unconscious bias and how you see disability to creating lesson plans and teaching choreography and creating management and encouragement plans for the classrooms just so that at the end of the 10 weeks as a teacher, you can walk out feeling like I am so confident with who I am as a teacher, what my values are so that I can present myself as a business so that I can walk out of this training is like I know my value. I know exactly what I bring to the table. I know what makes me an amazing teacher, how I was taught, and how that informed how I teach whether or not I’m keeping those, or I’m going to shift and change. I’m going to be in a different way, whatever it is.
So studios who are wanting to feel more confident in welcoming dancers who are disabled into their spaces, this is great. You can do it as a full team and a full company or individual dancers can also go through this. So that’s very disability and teacher-specific.
The next thing that I’m really passionate about is cultivating more holistic cultures within dance spaces. So growing up my dance studio was such a beautiful space. My bossiness was totally nurtured. I could speak to my dance teacher about anything. It was really friendly. What I came to realize and through having conversations with other people is that’s not everybody’s experience within the dance space. I started having these conversations and fell into the world of culture code and culture development. And so I now support studio owners in getting really clear on what their shared values are as an organization. And when I say shared values, you could have a value of inclusion, but you and I have a different definition of what inclusion is. So it’s really important for organizations to have shared values and definitions and have everybody contribute to those definitions so that the teachers and the staff feel a sense of responsibility and ownership, and then how they translate into tangible behaviors. So what it looks like so that everybody in the organization can give and receive feedback.
I think feedback is something that we shy away from, we get really anxious around, but feedback helps us grow. And we need to be able to receive feedback regardless of how it’s delivered, but also work on our delivery of feedback. And I want studio owners to be in the loop. I would love to have proper feedback loops within dance spaces, where the students and the community can give owner also feedback and vice versa so it becomes a flat system. So that’s also something that you can work with me if you want to cultivate a more holistic culture and create more feedback within your spaces.
And then finally, yeah, I work with business owners, one-on-one in a coaching capacity to support business owners in unplugging from the distraction in their life, whatever that looks like. For me, it’s a comparison. For other people, it could be money blocks. It could be family conditioning. It could be Instagram and social media, whatever it is, to get out of their way and unplug from distraction to build a really strong sense of trust so that they can increase their income and their impact. So 10-week teacher training, culture co-development, or one-on-one coaching.
My shifting money mindsets
I didn’t understand money energetics till about three years ago. I have subscribed to not the starving artist, more so like, oh, why do I never have money? Why do I never have money? I make money. Where does it go? Why can I never save? These stories because they are just stories. I can’t save. I’m not a good saver. I never have enough money. The starving artist is one story. You might not subscribe to that, but you might be like, ah, I can just never keep the money. I think it’s important to travel back in time, all the way back to childhood, and reflect on the stories that you heard about money. And it’s not like a bedtime story when your parents sat you down and told you a story about money. I mean how did your parents talk about it? Was it open communication about money? Was there guilt around money? Was it a hush-hush conversation? Money’s rude. Don’t talk about money. Were there conversations of making sure that you save everything because something might happen and you need to have money? Some people get money and then spend it straight away because they’re scared that they’ll never have enough, so they just need to spend it. But then there are also people that never spend because they have this story. That’s like I need money for a rainy day and hoard money. So how money shows up in your life is an indirect relationship to how you were shown money growing up.
But once again, we could rebel. It could be either the same, and so you’re doing the same as what your parents did or your guardians or it could be the opposite. So if your family always saved and they were really, really fastidious and quite frugal or stingy, if your parents always held onto money and they never spent it, then you might do the complete opposite and spend all the time. Either way, adopt a more mindful approach to life.
I have done a lot of reading and adopted my own approach to money energetics. And what I mean by that is I believe that money is like radio waves. The radio is always on, but until you actually tune in, you’re not listening to it. Kind of like electricity. There’s electricity everywhere, but until you turn on the switch, you don’t know that you’re in frequency with it. Money is the same. Money is everywhere. Are you just in frequency with it?
And so when I discovered this idea a couple of years ago, it was a conscious practice rooted in a discipline that any time I started to doubt my ability to make money, to keep money, to save money, I knew that it was a story and I counteracted it with the money mindset affirmation, and my money mindset affirmation is that money flows to me easily and effortlessly. And I say that every day of my life, and I do this with my clients. They make up their own one and every single day and any time there’s any anxiety or stress or worry, once again, just like anxiety in life, regardless of money, we need to make sure that we are not identifying with our thoughts and we’re doing something to counteract it.
Dear, younger me, you are enough.
The advice I would give to 16-year-old me is you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. You are enough as you are. My 16-year-old self had a deep wound of rejection. It showed up on Tuesday. My boyfriend and I were lying in bed. He said something, and I was like, oh, there she is again. She feels rejected. And so I go back to her and I say, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. You are enough as you are. I think that that would have cut years of pain and suffering of my life.
There needs to be a level of forgiveness. Forgiveness is such a beautiful tool for our ability to grow. I had a very humbling experience about a month ago where I had a falling out with a friend seven years ago. And she reached out to me and she handed me my ass on a silver platter. And she sent me a seven-minute voice note with so much compassion, but so honest, just how much I’d hurt her, how much she was carrying wounds. And it was such a healing experience for me to forgive myself for how I acted in a positive version of myself, but know that that’s a part of me that still exists and that no matter how much I’ve expanded and how much I’ve blown, there was a level of forgiveness of like, yes, I did those things. I took accountability and it was a really beautiful experience, but that a level of forgiveness for myself is really important so that we’re not attached to the stories and so that we can grow and we can evolve and we can expand so that we can live the most and get the most out of the life that we’re living.
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