I have a friend. Her name is Ellen Atkins. Ellen is such an inspiration to me because she has pushed past fear and resistance in huge ways in order to live her bliss. In her early 50’s, Ellen went on a mission to uncover what brought her joy and she founded The Suburban Monk. I wanted to share a bit of her journey with you, in the hopes that you, too, might re-ignite an old dream or vision for your life that you’d long forgotten or felt you were too old or too stuck to be able to realize. Or, perhaps it will be just the thing to allow you to start dreaming about the life you truly want to live.
Because we only get ONE.
SR: When did the idea for Syd and The Suburban Monk originally come to you?
EA: It was during a huge void in my life which–I found out later–is where the magic happens. I quit my 30 years in the corporate world and wasn’t sure what was next. I felt lost. I started to focus on anything that brought me joy. I cut out quotes, colors and anything that shifted the way I felt and taped them on my wall (yup, didn’t really know about Pinterest then or if it even existed)!
Then I saw these big laughing monk statues. You know, the kind with the big bellies. I loved them and ordered some. I would dress them up, duct tape affirmations to them, take pictures and send them to friends. My friends would crack up and it was becoming a thing. Time flew by and I felt that spark of joy again. Actually, it was more than a spark. I was SO happy. During this time, I started to meditate and the name The Suburban Monk (TSM) came to me. I didn’t know what TSM would do but knew that I was going to create a biz called TSM. Isn’t it the best name? Love it.
In dressing up the monks, I kept thinking, “I wish it was easier to dress them. I wish there was a place to hold quotes or affirmations.” One day I thought that if I ever make my own statue, it would have a thumbs up on it. I love mixing playfulness and spirituality. Just the word spirituality can seem so, so serious and that is not me. So, I started dreaming and one day thought, “I am going to start my company by making a thumbs up buddha-like statue.” It seems pretty crazy to me now and you can only imagine what my extended family thought (from Type A CPA Virgo to dressing up statues…)
SR: How did you know this was the path you needed to take?
EA: I felt happy again. Time flew by and I was having so much fun. At this point, I had to follow my bliss. Every time I came up with a great idea from my “brain”, something would happen so that it wouldn’t work. I now believe the Universe conspired to shut it down. My goal was to bring back my joy and not think far into the future or have too many expectations. But magical stuff started to happen, parallel to me working on Syd. At this time, I dove into all things spiritual and metaphysical. My very first time meditating (and I am talking sitting still for 2 minutes), a red cardinal pecked at my window. He was always around (and still is). I actually had to name him because he was always pecking. His name is Sparky. My family even knew him because every time I was working on Syd or my spirituality, there he was.
I had sessions with intuitives that blew me away (yes, they are big in my life). I was learning about energy and if I got discouraged and tried to quit, the Universe would have a huge order come in or a magical story would happen to give me the inspiration to continue. I look back now and see how guided I was. These occurrences could not happen without a huge force bigger than me at play. Hence, I just knew this was the right path.
SR: How long was it between the “dream” for Syd and him becoming a reality?
EA: In 2009, I decided to make the statue. I had a prototype in 2012. It was a long and winding journey but it needed to take that long for me but I am sure others could have done it quicker.
SR: How did you come to the decision to quit your job as a CPA? How did you push through the fear of the unknown and start TSM?
EA: I had the “perfect” job. I made great money, the day flew by, I was well-respected but kept having this feeling like there was more to do in my life. I would ignore the feeling because I was scared and another 2 years would fly by. Finally, I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and know I never had the courage to see what else was out there. I now see it as my soul had bigger plans and kept knocking. The fear was huge but that visual of getting to the end of my life and to never have answered that call was bigger.
The toughest part of starting my own biz? Isolation. That was SO hard. I was used to a big company with people and staff meetings and an IT department. Some days I would put all my statues around the dining room table and make believe we were having a staff meeting. I would say, “Who wants to go first? Ok, Syd go ahead.” Yup #truth. Plus I had no mentor. I was carving an unclear path. It was so hard. But clearly so worth it.
SR: What do you wish you would have known before starting?
EA: NOTHING!! If I knew, I wouldn’t have started LOL. I remember when the statue was ready. I was so excited and then the sculptor said, “Now you need someone to make a mold.” I was stunned. A mold – all I could think of was Jello but seriously, another huge step. Ugh.
SR: How important has it been for you to have others supporting you along the way?
EA: I didn’t feel I had a lot of support. But I did have Raven (a Tarot card reader/intuitive who helped me edit my blogs etc.), Jennah (my brander etc., also a Clairvoyant), and different very part-time people but I longed for someone that could really be a mentor. I also had my husband who truly was my biggest support. I would cry on his shoulder and he would tell me I was already a success. He is such a doll.
SR: How did/do you deal with the naysayers who didn’t believe in your vision along the way?
EA: In the beginning, it was so hard. I was surrounded by professionals in my family. You know, doctors and lawyers etc… No one talked about angels or channelling and I felt judged, whether it was just in my head or real. It was hard, but I couldn’t stop because there was a huge force pushing me on. It isn’t an issue now. When you are aligned with your purpose, it doesn’t matter.
SR: Did you EVER want to give up? Why? If so, how did you keep going?
EA: Yes, I did want to give up pretty often. Sometimes I didn’t do anything for months at a time but would always come back. It was just so hard being alone and not really knowing what I was doing. A lot of the steps of the journey were a challenge. One time I was sure I was done and then an order came in for 11 Syds. This was so big at the time. (Interesting the quantity was 11, one of my special numbers). I walked out and told my husband but the problem was that I couldn’t find a manufacturer. He brainstormed with me and said we would figure it out and we did.
Another time I was sure I was done, I decided to go for a Reiki session with a random person and she said, “I don’t know why I was pulled to bring my Tarot cards. Should I throw some?” I told her I was thinking about giving up on a business and she looked at the spread (I still have a picture) and she said “Look at these cards: Destiny, etc… Look, I am not telling you what to do, but just look at these cards.” I thought, “OK I will give it more time.”
Another time, I went down to my altar and prayed for someone to help me that didn’t cost money because I was sure I was really going to give up this time. The next day I went to Kundalini [yoga] and after class I turned on my phone and there was an order for 100 Syds and the guy wanted to coach me for free. He went to an Ivy league college, was famous (can’t give more details) and a graduate of Tony Robbins’ school plus was obsessed with Syd. He met with me weekly for free. Each time something magical happened and I stayed.
SR: Do you have any regrets about your past life in corporate?
EA: Not at all. It gave me such good skills and self-esteem. Maybe I didn’t need 30 years (although clearly I did) but I do think it all unfolded perfectly.
SR: For those out there that have a dream in their heart but few resources (money, time, connections), how would you suggest they move forward?
EA: I would pray and ask God or the Universe (whatever you call it) to help you. Show signs, bring people and make it clear. Just don’t give up. If I could do it, I swear you can. Read and listen to inspirational people on the same path like Wayne Dyer. Just please “don’t die with the music still in you”, as he used to say. We need your gifts that only you can bring.
SR: You are clearly “living your bliss”. If you could go back in time, what would you change about your life–if anything–and why?
EA: Maybe I would have read the War of Art [by Steven Pressfield] sooner because my resistance and procrastination cost me a lot of time. But it all worked out.
SR: How do you “turn it off”. Meaning, how do you avoid burnout because I’m sure you could work on TSM 24/7! As an entrepreneur, how do you set boundaries around your time and what are your favorite ways to take care of yourself?
EA: This is a struggle because TSM and my life are so intertwined. I am lucky now to have an operations person who takes a lot of the load. But it is a challenge. I take courses like OBAAT class, Kundalini, have new interests and write and post about them all. That is where my life and career are intertwined. It is a challenge for sure but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I retreat to my window seat a lot to reset.
SR: Do you have a “process” for taking on new projects (like the mala bracelets) or do you just trust the universe?
EA: I do believe I am used by the universe BUT have gotten smarter in some areas. If I want something like TSM hoodies, I make some for me (lol) and as I wear it, I think about whether it makes sense to sell them. I now understand the time, money and energy that can go into one simple innocent idea. People always text me about what I should make and I think, “They have no idea” (but please don’t stop!!!) and I am more careful. The malas came right through me as a huge energy and there was no stopping it. Same with the Affiliate Program and a bigger launch for “Where in the World is Syd?” I have another huge launch but will make sure it is the right time. So yes, I do trust the Universe but also am getting smarter.
When I was an accountant, I would write out a biz plan from A-Z and make sure it all made sense. I don’t do that any longer. Maybe I should, but if I have a strong sense, I go with it.
SR: Ok. One last question. What advice would you give people about living their dreams? Quit their day job? Keep it and work their dream on the side? Go “all in”? Seek help? Find partners? Go to school? What do you wish someone had told you before you started with Syd?
EA: A quick little story. We were in the Redwood Forest a few years ago. A message came through and a follower was upset and said, “You have a lot of followers but we all can’t do what you did. You quit your job but I am a single parent, need money, etc. I think you are doing your followers a disservice.” I told her I can only speak my truth. I was so fortunate to have a husband that could support us while I quit my 6 figure job and found my way. I was very lucky but I also said that she can still get up early, come up with rituals and make shifts in her life which can open the doors to this new life. She was so appreciative. We do what we can. Everyone is different so I don’t know if going back to school is right for one person or what is the “best” way. We are all so different. Our paths are meant to be different. I would say pray, look for signs, keep your eyes open, listen to your intuition and never ever give up on your dream. If you have a Syd, put him out and let him be your support while the doors open up to you finding your way.
Again, there is nothing anyone could have told me. My journey was one from my heart along with something bigger than me so I just had to live and watch it unfold. I feel so very blessed that I was able to create a life that makes sense, feels good and is so much fun to live with Syd as my sidekick. I truly am such a lucky person.
Well, my dear Ellen, I don’t know if you are lucky or if you created your own luck, but one thing is for sure: we are better off having Syd in the world, and he was born out of your dream for your life. Thank you so much for never giving up—even when it got really hard—and for showing us that if we trust in the universe, ourselves and our dreams, and work tirelessly to bring our gifts into the world, that nothing can stand in our way!
Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.