Chocolate Villa. Four Days. Twelve Women. Glorious Enlightenment.

Chocolate Villa. Four Days. Twelve Women. Glorious Enlightenment.

I’m walking into this palatial mountain home in Heber Valley, about to meet the twelve women I’d be spending the week with. The only thing I knew about them was that we were all in the same moment- we wanted more. We just didn’t know how to get there. Chocolate Villa is the brainchild of Merrilee Buchanan and a group of friends who built a retreat that helped women executives figure out their “next.” The women here in my retreat are from all over the world, they’re software designers, philanthropists, vice presidents of financial institutions … and me. You can see where I’m a little intimidated.


Building the bonds of friendship.

Merrilee gathered us together in a pleasant, practiced way that told me she’s done this before. A lot. And this is true, she teaches these principles to female executives all over the world, including the United Nations. It all comes from an understanding that women process information differently. They approach their careers with challenges men may not experience. I’ll be honest – I come from a career in media where women are still clawing their way up. We don’t stick together, and we should. I’m used to holding back a little, but that initial hesitance was calmly demolished by the circle of women who shared stories, admitted disastrous moments and applauded their successes.


“Shuddup! I’m not crying!”

I was genuinely surprised at what took me off guard. One of my favorite exercises was standing in front of ten numbers on the floor, then visualizing where I was in the pursuit of my goal, in this case, building my position as a Pinterest influencer. I was at a two- still trying to figure out where I should put in my energy. The others helped me walk through the process and make my way up the numbers. But there’s something about that number ten- it’s terrifying! Am I ready? What happens then? Sharon not-so-gently nudged me on to ten. “How does it feel?” Sharon asked. “Ummm…” I shifted uneasily on the ten. It signified that I’d reached my influencer status. It meant a whole new level of our career opening up. It meant…  I started crying. “I feel relief. I can take care of my kids. Zoe can have a college fund. Zachie can have a trust to make sure he’s cared for, protected.” It’s these kinds of shocks and surprises that make this week so memorable. You experience emotions you hadn’t expected and it makes you understand yourself – the issues that insist on confusing you, the things that are holding you back – you get them. You finally understand what you want and how to go after it


Putting it all together.

Then, there’s the pondering. There’s so much information- so much revelation every single day that you need time to absorb it. Along with some excellent manuals, books, notes, and worksheets, there’s time.  It’s deliberately placed to let you catch your breath after 12 hours of information. Yeah, there’s a chef that makes extravagantly wonderful food. The lodge is huge and comfortable. There’s a pool and a hot tub. Because you need the time to go through everything you learned that day, take notes, think about what it all means in your life. Trust me, every day is a revelation. The most powerful part of the Chocolate Villa experience goes back to these women. Women that occupy high positions in government, the business world, entertainment, and more. And every single one of them was there for each other. We explored ideas and fears that would be kind of painful to share in the outside world. But we were all safe together. Gathering information from their copious life experience helped me so much with mine. And since the week has been over, I’ve spoken with at least half of “the girls.” While I walked away with my mind crammed with new information and enlightenment, I also gained a … a gang, for lack of a better word. We check up on each other. We follow through to see how everyone’s doing, we support each other.


I finally “get it.”

So here’s my big moment of enlightenment: we were working with an Aikido master who was teaching us the “ancient” art of breaking boards to overcome our fears. I was kind of sucking at it until he said the magical words. “You’re looking at the barrier, Erin. Ignore it. Look past it and focus on what you really want. The barrier really isn’t there at all.” So I took a deep breath, focused and broke that board into pieces like it was cardboard. And this to me is the ultimate message from Chocolate Villa. They’ll teach you to look beyond your fears, your boundaries, your barriers. And when I broke that board, I felt invincible.

What about you?

Are you ready to become invincible? Chocolate Villa’s next retreat will be shortly after the new year in 2020, plenty of time for you to get ready, make your boss pay for it (more info on how to do that here) and prepare for what will be the most powerful four days of your life. Find your “next.” It’s time.

3 Incredible Days That Will Supercharge Your Career

“What’s next?”

“Uh, what?” I’d just finished what I thought was a TedTalk-level promotional report for a new client and there was something about the way he asked me the question that stopped me cold.

Now, for his company, the next step was going to be a series of small videos showing the fabulous tastiness of his restaurant. But it hit me: what’s next for me?

At some point in even the most focused career, we flounder. We shift around our options and mull the possibilities. And sometimes, we just sit there. Yeah, I’m raising my hand because I’m in that third group, where apparently my most decisive thought about my career’s future is, “Huh?”


This is where Chocolate Villa’s executive women retreats come in. The retreat really has nothing to do with chocolate – aside from the spectacular cake the villa’s chef makes. But it’s been a pivotal moment in countless careers. Merrilee Buchanan – the founder – has gently guided, coached, and sometimes prodded professional women into their next step with her consulting firm. With a dual background in organizational development and behavioral health, Merrilee brings years of experience and perspective to Villa Leadership to help companies open the next chapter to their success. Need more convincing? Merrilee’s coaching is so powerful that male business owners in regions like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt pay to have her come coach their female executives. If Merrilee can make CEO’s see the importance of women-focused coaching on that part of the globe, I’m guessing she’s terrifyingly effective.

Why a women’s only retreat? The short answer is, women think differently. There are pressures many men in the workforce don’t face. The way women communicate and support each other – when guided in the right atmosphere – changes who we are when the barriers are let down for a change.


(Image credit: Pexels)

Tracy, a marketing executive for a global consultancy firm, says she still uses skills she learned at a Chocolate Villa retreat eight years ago. “It’s like core strength! There are times where you’re just going to be off-balance, like sitting on a yoga ball with your feet off the floor. But you have tools now that when you feel yourself getting off-balance, you know how to get yourself back up.”

“What’s my superpower?” Carol Storey is a licensed clinical social worker, “I came away from the retreat with the intention to leap from my current clinical work to opening my own business. My superpower was more confidence in myself. I have this. I can do this.”

“There’s this natural trust that happens,” Meagan, is a Villa consultant, “I have been able to become much more vulnerable, honest and real in these past ten years, working with Merrilee and developing these ideas and tools.”


(Image credit: Rawpixel)

This is important: the retreat works, the attendees say, because they’re able to let down their guard and be honest with each other, sharing their hopes and fears, trying to find a balance when life is pulling them in every direction. Many of the women keep in touch with each other – years later –  checking in on progress and sharing successes, encouraging each other when forward movement seems so hard.


“We see that a lot,” agreed Merrilee, “when you’ve come away from a retreat where you’ve really allowed yourself to be open – your heart and soul bared, almost –  there’s a strong bond between you and these other women, these other executives who understand the pressures of the business world.”

Now that I’ve been to Chocolate Villa- four glorious days of an experience that was not only career-changing, but life-changing-  I’ll have a lot to tell you next week. In the meantime, you can learn more about the Chocolate Villa retreat and some of Villa Leadership programs here and here.

What's New

Day 4 – The Chemistry of Confidence – Villa Confidence Boot Camp

Day 4 – The Chemistry of Confidence – Villa Confidence Boot Camp.

Did you know there’s an actual biochemical component to confidence? Truth! The way you feel and how you react when you’re in a strong, confident position goes right down to your chemistry. Let’s have a look…

BTW: If you’ve missed any of one through three of the Confidence Boot Camp days, find them here, here, and here.

Are you ready for more? More in your career? In your life? Here’s the place: ChocolateVilla’s executive women’s retreat, March 8-12 in gorgeous Heber Valley in Utah’s prettiest mountain range. This is four days that transforms you. I speak from experience. The fall retreat gave me a clarity of purpose that I’d been struggling for – something I couldn’t seem to put together myself. And I came away with friends I’ll treasure for life. Living the Villa means that you’re still supported after the retreat ends. There’s friends, follow-ups with the entire group, and the knowledge that you’re not on your own. Learn more about the retreat here, and I have some advice about how to request that your company pay for your participation here.