I sat down with my "surf wife," Vanessa Cornell, who founded the wellness community, NUSHU. Vanessa embraces adventure and pushes her limits as part of a much bigger path to self-awareness and being true to oneself. Like Sara and me, she is a mom of many and has tried to juggle her family's needs with her own. In my own (initially reluctant) journey with NUSHU, I am learning to quiet my brain to the noise that keeps me from moving forward, to go easy on myself when things get tough, to be a better listener instead of a fixer, and that you can't fix the unfixable. Still, you can choose how to let them affect you. I am a better mother, wife, friend, and co-worker for it. Vanessa talks more about her journey below.
What is your connection to Salt + Snow?
Kathy Thomas is my surf wife. She was the first pioneer in this new trend of 40-something women discovering surfing as a gateway to reclaiming themselves. She and Sara have kept that pioneering spirit alive with the launch of Salt + Snow. What they are creating is so much more than a clothing brand. Their brand embodies what they are both about and what so many of us aspire to: you can be a mother and a wife and show up for those you love AND show up for yourself and the adventure inside waiting to be expressed. Fun, joy, and challenge are essential to our human experience, and it takes community sometimes to inspire us to grasp it. That's what Salt + Snow is doing. For these reasons, NUSHU was honored to partner with them for our surf retreat. The alignment feels perfect.
Why did you start NUSHU?
I've been blessed with five kids. I had them quickly. After being pregnant and breastfeeding for eight years straight, I frankly fell apart. I was a classic perfectionist and a good girl, showing up for everyone else stoically and selflessly. I never considered what I liked, what I wanted, and what I needed. This breach opened up the idea of getting to know me again and tapping into and connecting with who I was. When I discovered an inner landscape I didn't realize existed, I had all this creative energy that needed an outlet. I felt compelled to share my exploration with others.
You pivoted a bit; what made you realize this was where you needed to head?
The whole process was about following my heart and staying true to who I was and who I was becoming. So for many of us, our businesses or work become our vehicles for self-realization. This has been so true for me as a Founder.
Please elaborate on the NUSHU Groups and what they are designed to do.
NUSHU Groups are simply a structured and facilitated space to show up as you are, without any masks, pretending or shame. The groups are facilitated and are about eight to ten people, with prompts to reflect on and then share with the group. There is no advice-giving, fixing or judgment. Instead, it's a straightforward but powerful structure that allows people to do what they crave deeply: to connect honestly with other humans.
Early on, I told you I didn't believe in the "hocus pocus," yet here I am two years later. So what about the Groups that resonate with such a variety of women?
It's just this fundamental thing about being human. We all have a variety of thoughts and feelings, and it's pretty acceptable to share the "good" ones, but what about the "bad" ones? What about the ones that we feel like we could be better about? As humans, we need those things to be witnessed, validated, and accepted. It's fundamental to our overall well-being and mental health, and yet there are so few places we can do that. You don't have to be spiritual or woo-woo or into group sharing to benefit from NUSHU Group. You must be a human with the basic need to connect and feel seen. That's everyone, really.
What is one of the hardest things about being a facilitator?
The hardest thing about being a facilitator is the thing I love most. In every session, I'm the one who receives the most teaching from everyone in the group. As a facilitator, you must know your fears, worries, triggers, and tendencies. You must be aware and compassionate about them to ensure you hold a clean space where your stuff isn't creeping into the group. In those moments of realization where my stuff comes up, it has sparked a lot of internal personal work. It's super hard and complex and sometimes painful, but it's what I live for.
You rock climb, surf, and travel extensively. How does adventure fit into your life and your well-being? NUSHU? Motherhood? Wifehood?
When I started coming out of the fog during my dark night of the soul, what I began to feel for the first time in a long time was truly alive. That's when I started surfing. There was nowhere I felt such an intense presence as when wiping out on a massive wave or paddling into one. I see so many metaphorical parallels between physical challenge and fear and internal emotional challenge and fear. I'm fascinated by it. I love putting myself in the space of fear, hanging off the side of a 200-foot cliff, because I can see and explore things about myself that I don't have access to when I'm in the space of comfort and ease. My curiosity is boundless, and adventure and challenge push those boundaries for me.
You talk about surfing a lot. I know you love it, but how do you use it in your practice?
As you know, I believe there is a surfing metaphor for everything. There truly is. Being in the ocean teaches us so much about how little we control, how much energy we waste fighting what is so much larger than us, and how we can use our skills not to conquer the wave but to ride it up and down, kind of like the ups and downs of life. I also get a lot of downloads - insights and clarity - when I'm sitting out in the lineup watching the ocean. Our attunement to the ocean's constant movement and rhythm lets us know where to paddle for the next wave. Being in that full presence where my thinking brain, my monkey mind, is offline, that blank space is where all my best ideas are born.
What best advice could you give someone about getting out of their comfort zone and trying something new?
Solve for safety first. I'm fascinated by fear, and I push myself into that space regularly, but it's only effective when my nervous system is regulated. I may feel stretched, but I feel fundamental safety and agency. I'm not into high-risk. I'm into high fear, low risk, where my rational mind knows I'm safe even though I have an emotional fear response. That place interests me, and curiosity comes online, not terror.
So you get to decide what's out of your comfort zone and how far out of your comfort zone you want to go where you still feel like you can bring curiosity online. I push myself out of my comfort zone daily in my work, but just a little bit. Those little bits add up over time, however, to feeling confident and comfortable doing things that maybe a year ago would have scared me.
How do friendships and bonds with other women factor into what you do at NUSHU?
It's everything. All I want to do for the rest of my life is be in a deep and loving, and honest community with other people. Since I had my awakening where I realized that my whole life, I had never shown who I truly was to anyone; now, it is my daily practice to show up fully and honestly, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. My relationships have completely changed as a result. I have so many close and deep friendships that have been formed over short periods in this space of absolute raw honesty. I realize now how starved I had been for this. Now it feels like the air I breathe it's so important to me.
What is the best part about being an entrepreneur? The hardest?
The best part is how alive my mind feels. The hardest part is that sometimes it feels so alive that it's on fire. I had not anticipated the swings between total clarity and deep doubt that I would cycle through again and again and again as an entrepreneur. Just when I thought I had something figured out, I would again be plunged into doubt. When you're charting a path as an entrepreneur, no one is there to tell you whether to go left or right. Instead, you must search deeply to make that choice every time. The winding path of entrepreneurship comprises thousands of these little choices, and each asks you to question who you are and what you want. It's an intense process, but I wouldn't give it up for anything.
Where do you see NUSHU going in the next five years?
If I only had a crystal ball! As a rule, I don't plan that far ahead. I focus on taking the next best step that my heart tells me is right and true for the moment. Do I want NUSHU Groups to reach more people? Definitely. Do I want to retain the flexibility to grow and learn and explore interesting ideas? Yes. My work in this world is way bigger than me, something I can't fully understand that is being expressed through me. I'm just a little pawn on a vast chessboard. So I focus on remaining open and attuned to whatever feels like it needs to be expressed through me and not blocking it.
Salt or Snow?
Sunrise or Sunset?
Martini or Margarita?
Anything with a group of women I love.
Bucket list adventure?
Surfing the perfect wave
Salt + Snow Selects to Pack for Your Surf Retreat:
Through the power of authentic community, NUSHU holds a safe space and creates a supportive environment for those seeking to live authentic, inspired, and joyful lives. We envision a world where the healing power of NUSHU Group is available and accessible to all.