This interview with Ella DuFrene is part of my 2021 Autumn Adventure Tour‘s Entrepreneur Interview Series. This trip promotes small businesses along the East Coast, shares interviews with my past and current clients, and highlights my upcoming business mastermind.

Transcript:

SPEAKERS

Ella DuFrene, Megan Taylor Morrison

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Hello, I am here today with Ella DuFrene in Asheville. She is an amazing new friend of mine and entrepreneur. We actually met in Costa Rica, and I will tell you more about that in a minute, but for now, Ella, thanks so much for being with us. I’m really excited to interview you, and you just look so artistic and hip.

Ella DuFrene  

Ah, thank you, Megan. Yeah, I’m super excited to be part of this interview with you and I look forward to diving in.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You are an art therapist. When I hear that, I’m like, “That is awesome.” But I remember when I first heard that term, I was like, “It sounds awesome, and I don’t really know what that means.” So for people watching, what is art therapy?

Ella DuFrene  

Yes. It’s not a very common form of therapy, even though I think it should be. Art therapy is basically a form of psychotherapy. It’s a master’s level profession that basically involves using art as a form of communication and self expression. The reason why I think art therapy should be popular and everyone should know about it is that I think it’s our most primitive form of communication and self expression. If you want to know anything about humans, about our history, about our story, you have to look at the arts. It’s not just the visual arts. There’s culinary art, dance, music, architecture, literature, etc. I mean, we are innately creators. Everything that we see around us is an art. Our imagination is what has brought us to where we are now. Art therapy is similar to psychotherapy in the sense that we do use talk. We verbally use words to express ourselves. But where it’s different is that in addition to talk, we have an added outlet for self expression. That could be painting, sculpting, drawing, music, movement, etc. Art therapy involves exploring the symbols and the metaphors within our artwork. As art therapists, we believe that art has a way of tapping into our unconscious. Through the creative process, we can gain insight and deeper understanding of who we are.

Megan Taylor Morrison   

I can imagine that your work has never been more important than in the last two years. Of course, I know that it’s always been important, but there’s especially been a lot going on in these times that people need to express. So tell me what, what’s the most inspiring? Or what is the thing that’s, that’s inspiring you to do this work now at this moment in time.

Ella DuFrene  

Yeah, absolutely. I think the pandemic has definitely been a huge motivation for me to change my approach in my offerings. I went totally virtual. I stopped working in hospitals or clinics and went into entrepreneur mode, full force toward my business. I started offering my services online, which made it more accessible to people. I started to cater my services to people who were struggling with anxiety and stress. When I was looking around me, the main concern that I was seeing is that all this uncertainty was causing an extreme amount of stress and anxiety in people. And so I started to really focus my business on mindfulness, stress relief, relaxation, and utilizing art as a way to help people to access their rest and digest, the parasympathetic part of our nervous system that helps us to relax and calm down. I wanted to give people the tools to be able to do these things on their own. I’m also trained as a yoga teacher, which has a big influence on my practice. I teach people about meditation and breathing, always incorporating the creative process. So perhaps, for example, we’ll do a breath painting. I do exercises that allow people to tap into their inner child or inner creative wisdom and play. Because we need play.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Absolutely, absolutely. Sometimes you hear the word therapy, and it’s like, “Oh, this has to be used for healing or trauma.” But as you’re describing it, I’m thinking, “Wow, who couldn’t use some art therapy, like in their life?” Even people that are like, “I’m totally, you know, emotionally stable, and I’m good, everyone has stress.” I would argue that everyone could do with an extra dose of play and joy and relaxation in their life.

Ella DuFrene  

Yes, that’s a good point. I’m glad that you brought that up because there is no artistic skill required to engage. It’s about the process. You don’t have to be an artist in order to reap the benefits of art therapy. I think the easiest way to understand the benefits of art therapy from the standpoint of someone who isn’t an artist is that creativity, the act of making, in itself helps us to get into flow states. That is where we’re so completely immersed in the activity that we’re in that we lose track of time. I’m sure that our listeners have experienced this at some point or another in their lives. This is the time when the heart rate really slows down, the body goes into rest and repair, and things happen in the brain. I’m not a neurologist, so I won’t talk too much about that. But I know science has proven that entering flow states is very important for our mental health and well being.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Nice. Well, I want to talk about how we met next. Given that this is an interview series that’s meant to support entrepreneurs, I think that people hearing about how we met and what we do could be helpful. And then I want to ask you some more questions about your entrepreneurial journey, including advice that you would have given to your younger self. For those of you watching, Ella and I met because we got to be roommates at this amazing masters retreat in Costa Rica at a place called the Imiloa Institute. Every year Imiloa invites seasoned retreat leaders to essentially wine and dine but because it’s an Ayurvedic vegan retreat center, there’s green juice instead of wine. We got to know each other and I was so intrigued by the retreats that you run. Can you tell our viewers about the retreats that you lead every year?

Ella DuFrene  

Sure. I feel like I have to start from the beginning and tell the whole story of how it kind of happened in order to explain what the retreats are about. It really all started about 10 years ago. I started going to this place called The Hostel in the Forest in Brunswick, Georgia. It’s basically kind of like an eco village. Some people think it’s like a hippie community. It is a little hippie. There’s a garden, there’s a glass house where you can do yoga and meditation. There are treehouses and a labyrinth. It’s just a very spiritual place where I think young people come to find themselves. That’s what I was doing 10 years ago in my early 20s. I was there trying to find myself, living in this community and eating vegetarian meals that we cooked and ate together. And you know, it just triggered something. It really changed my life. I realized that I was craving that all along. I was craving a sense of community, a sense of sharing, of being able to live with the earth. And so that’s really where the wheels started turning, when I was going to this place as a work trade. I would go and I would stay for a week or two on staff. The staff is constantly changing. It’s a very special place. I was asked to rake the labyrinth and run some art therapy workshops for retreats, which I happily did, because I had just finished my studies as an art therapist. So it was, you know, a way for me to practice. I raked this labyrinth for probably about 12 hours, six hours for two days. When I got to the middle of the labyrinth, I had a vision. I realized that I needed to open a retreat center. Of course, I didn’t have any money. I had no resources at the time to open my own retreat center. So I said, “Okay, I need to do retreats at other people’s retreat centers.” At the same time, I was going through a major burnout and depression. Within my first year of graduating as an art therapist, I was working at an eating disorder clinic, drug addiction rehab center, homeless shelter, hospice, and running a private practice. So you know, a lot. That’s a perfect recipe for burnout. And so going to the hostel was kind of how I would ground myself. So that’s how it all came together. It was me going through burnout, realizing I needed to open a retreat center and create this space, because other people were probably going through the same thing that I was going through, which of course they are. And so I dropped everything, I quit all my jobs, all my contracts, and I moved to an organic farm hostel in the jungle in Colombia. And that is where my retreat started. My madre tierra creative arts and yoga retreats, where I brought people into the jungle to reconnect with the earth, reconnect with their creativity, to be pampered (of course, have meals prepared for them), and just really get grounded and centered. And so that’s kind of how it all started. I had no idea what I was doing. Aside from the fact that I was an art therapist and had experienced working in group settings with my peers and teachers. I did have experience running groups, but I had no experience running a retreat business. But yeah, that’s the story.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Wow, amazing. And now you have a retreat in Colombia and Costa Rica. And it is about people getting to reconnect to their creativity, lower their stress levels, get pampered, spend time in nature. Did I miss anything?

Ella DuFrene  

Yeah, reconnect with the earth. Reconnect with the wild, adventurous, playful part of ourselves that kind of dies when we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life. The inner spark, the inner light, that playfulness. Reconnect and then be able to bring that back with them to wherever they are, right, because not everyone has the opportunity to drop everything and move to the jungle for a long time.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Fair enough. Unfortunately.

Ella DuFrene  

Unfortunately. Nowadays, I wouldn’t be able to do that, either. The retreat gives people those tools, and then just helps them to remember. Once they can remember, they can bring those things back into their daily lives. And you probably need another one like every six months to a year just to reboot.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Oh, man, I hear that. Let’s talk about your business superpowers. A lot of people out there want to start a business, are in the early phases of starting a business, or they want to start retreats. I find that there’s no one right way to do it. Each entrepreneur has their own way that they found success and their own strengths that they play into. What are your business superpowers?

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Ella DuFrene  

I think my business superpower is that I am very hard-headed. I’m very stubborn. Because like I said, I had no idea what I was doing when I started my business. I went to art school and I went to art therapy school. I never went to entrepreneurship school, marketing school, or business school. No one ever taught me how to run a business. But I think that, combined with the fact that I’m also probably like a pretty terrible employee. I mean, most of my past employers would probably say that’s not true, but I’m not very good at just following protocols, especially if they don’t make sense. I like doing things on my own terms. I like doing things my way. I work well with other people, but that can also be a struggle. Sometimes, you know, there’s a control thing there that I’m still working out. But I would say my superpower is my determination, my stubbornness, the fact that I rarely give up. I do not give up. If I have my mind set on something, it’s going to happen, whether it takes me 3 years, 5 years, or 10 years. I still don’t have my retreat center. It’s been six years since I had that vision, but I am still working on it. It will happen. So I don’t know. Is that an answer? Is that a superpower? 

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Oh, it totally is a superpower. Can you take us into a specific moment when your stubbornness really paid off?

Ella DuFrene  

Megan Taylor Morrison  

I think it’s every day. I think it’s every day because honestly, it can be so discouraging to be an entrepreneur. It’s non-stop. Whether you feel like it or not, you have to keep going. I have been able to find the balance where I say, “Okay, I’m on the verge of burning out. Let me take a break.” I have a good balance with that. But yeah, I mean, that little voice in your head that says, “What if you fail? What if actually, you’re not good? What if you’re not as good as you think you are?” You know, that little voice inside? I would say at least for a split second every day, I question myself and my abilities. I don’t know if that’s true for every entrepreneur, but it is for me. It’s there and my stubbornness to keep going gets me past that moment.

I love that you’re normalizing it, because I think no matter how big you get in business, you always question yourself. We can’t speak for everyone, but that’s true for you, and I know it’s true for me. This is my third year making six figures through my business, and I still question myself every week. And it’s just a matter of being willing to show up because that’s the one thing all successful entrepreneurs have in common. They show the fuck up.

Ella DuFrene  

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Showing up. Waking up every day and being like, “Alright, I know that little inner voice is there, but I don’t have time for you right now. I got shit to do. Like, you’re gonna need to go away.”

Megan Taylor Morrison  

You’re certainly not going to drive.

Ella DuFrene  

Right? Right, I hear you. It’s that fear. Just today, I did this series for pastors. There were 12 people. It was a four week self care series. And, you know, out of the 12 people that participated, I think eight people gave me five star stars, three people gave me four, and then one person wrote some actually really mean feedback? And boom, there goes the critical inner mind, like, “You see, oh, maybe you’re not that good.” Starting to question yourself. And so yeah, I think that the power, the strength to say, to rationalize, “Well, not everyone is gonna like you, not everyone is gonna like your business.” Take it with a grain of salt, but also look at what you can improve. You know, and that’s it. You keep going. Don’t let every criticism you hear stop you. I had a vision of myself 20 years from now. I am like, “Ella, if you listen to all of this, and you let that stop you, you’re gonna look back 20 years from now and say, ‘I let other people’s judgments stop me from doing what I love.’”

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah, and what nine out of 10 people thought was pretty damn good to excellent.

Ella DuFrene  

Right. But even a small thing like that. When you’re young, when you’re a kid, a small thing like that can stop you in your tracks.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

I mean, even as an adult. I recently had a similar situation where we were trying this new program. There were 30 people involved. After the first call, the only one person that sent us an email was someone that did not like it. So then you’re like, “Whoa, did other people really not like it? Did we do this wrong?” It really took a lot of inner calming and self soothing to be like, “Okay, it’s not abnormal for the one person that doesn’t like it to be the loudest.” We need to normalize that and be like, “There’s always someone that won’t like it”, and move forward. But it does take a lot of self care and compassion to get through those situations. This segues perfectly into the next question. When you first started your business, let’s say in the first year or two, what was the most challenging part about being an entrepreneur?

Ella DuFrene  

Hmm, well, overall, not having any marketing education whatsoever is definitely challenging. I think believing in myself was the most challenging part. Believing that I could actually do this. And I think that goes back to what we were saying about the fear of failure. There you have it, folks.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah, cuz especially when you’re starting, you don’t have that much evidence that you will succeed.

Ella DuFrene  

Exactly, exactly. There wasn’t that much evidence that I would succeed. There was none at all, in fact. I had no experience of running my own business. Moving through the fear of failure and believing in myself was definitely the biggest challenge. I had to allow myself space to grow without having to be the best. I had to accept that I’m learning, I’m making mistakes, and that I’m constantly getting better in the process. I fail all the time. If you’re not failing, you’re doing something wrong.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Right, exactly. So how did you get through that? How did you take care of yourself? What did you do to grow through it?

Ella DuFrene  

I did look for support. I looked into my network. I looked around  for resources. I asked for help and talked to people. I’ve had multiple business coaches and mentors. I reached out to people and asked them, “How do you do this? How did you do it?” I got a therapist and went to therapy. I would not be where I am today without having done that. And I still have way more room for growth. Let’s just get that straight. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the people that rooted for and kept me accountable. This includes my family and my friends that supported me by coming to my first couple retreats when it was just the beginning. And then, just doing it over and over again.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Right there with you. How about now? How has entrepreneurship been in the last year for you? What’s been the most challenging piece of it?

Ella DuFrene  

I think one of the most challenging pieces has been being the face of my business. Figuring out social media. How much or how little do I want to show of myself? How much do I want to disclose? It’s a very vulnerable thing to be the face of your business. It took me a long time for me to even show my face on my business page. If you go to the beginning of my Instagram, you will see that I don’t show myself. I was very reserved about that, which is very funny and interesting, because I used to do theater and dance. I was a performer and loved being in the spotlight, but there was something different about the vulnerability of being on social media. And so, yeah, I think the most challenging part for me is the constant having to show up, and the constant content creation. Sometimes I just want to be a hermit. I don’t want to be on social media for the next month. You know what I mean? It just takes a toll on your mental health, being on social media so much. And so I’m very mindful of that. It’s about finding the balance. Most people probably would not guess that this is challenging for me because I come off as a charismatic person that likes to be in the forefront. But yeah, I’m a little shy.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

So how have you been working through that, as you’ve been building this amazing business of yours?

Ella DuFrene  

Taking breaks. I take social media breaks. So I’ll be off of it for 3-4 days at a time. I try to see it as an extension of my art. I try to see it as a craft and be creative and playful with it. I also revisit my intention and mission, going back to that whenever I feel like I’m tired of social media. I remind myself why I’m doing this, that it’s not just for a show and it’s not just a performance. I’m helping people.  Keeping up with my social media presence is a constant thing, so balancing by taking days off and reframing the way I think about it helps me deal with it.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah. You can take social media breaks. There’s not one right way to run a business. And, you know, you can let your followers miss you a little bit. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sometimes, right? So I love that you’re presenting that as, “I do this, it’s okay, my business is still working, it’s not necessary.” Let’s talk about the most valuable tools and systems you have in your business. This is something that a lot of entrepreneurs love to geek out about, because a good tool or a good system really can make business so much easier and more fun. What are those for you?

Ella DuFrene  

Well, number one, Google calendar. If it’s not in the Google cal, it’s not happening.

Ella DuFrene  

Google calendar is my number one tool. It’s the first thing that I look at after I wake up, before I do my morning practice. I would be anxious if I couldn’t look at it. Everything is on there. I used to be one of those people that writes everything down in an agenda, and I thought I would never ever change that. But after my last agenda outdated itself last year, I never got a new one. Yeah. If someone makes a meeting with me, they have to send me an invite. Otherwise it’s not happening. So yeah, that’s been a great tool. Another is Asana. I use that sometimes for my retreats. If I’m running the retreat with multiple people and working with a retreat center, then I’ll often use Asana so that we can keep tabs on all the tasks. There’s also the iPhone.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Totally. Never underestimate iPhones.

Ella DuFrene  

iPhone 12! You know, I bought this cool ring light thing that I’ve been using a lot. I do use editing apps like Photoshop and illustrator sometimes. I’m getting better at video editing. Making videos, there’s a bunch of cool stuff on iPhone that you can dump into the gram. I also use Canva a lot for marketing, making my flyers and stuff like that. Gosh, I’m sure there’s more. I’m just like, not even thinking about it because we use so much technology.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Yeah, I mean, I love that you’re underlying the basics. My iPhone is probably one of my favorite business tools. It’s the way I take great pictures. I can edit pictures on it. I can make movies on it. It makes life pretty easy. And yes, Google calendar. I’ve never used Asana, but I’ve heard good things about it. I use Canva to make the welcome packets for my retreats and graphics for social media. It’s just a great go-to and I train my virtual assistants in it so that they can use it. It’s pretty awesome.

Ella DuFrene  

Yeah, absolutely. And I say the iPhone too because for a long time, I was like, “I don’t want to invest. It’s too expensive.” Don’t do that to yourself. Just get the latest version of iPhone, it’s worth it.

Megan Taylor Morrison  

I bet an iPhone advertisement pops up right in the middle of this. That would be so great.

Ella DuFrene  

I want payment for this advertisement!

Megan Taylor Morrison  

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Ella, for being here and chatting with us about your business, your systems, your wisdom, and especially the value of being stubborn, persistent, and gritty. I can’t underscore that enough. It’s been really fun to chat with you.

Ella DuFrene  

Thank you, Megan. It’s been great. I love these conversations, so keep me posted for anything else that you have coming up.

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