In Zoe’s words …
Who/what inspires me: Authentic, courageous leaders; wild beautiful places; gentle, open-hearted people; humanity.
Motto: Life is for living.
Advice: Cultivate magic. Follow your ‘yes’! Relax …
It was 2005 and Zoë Routh’s life rocked. She’d just launched the coaching business that she’d dreamed of. She’d met her soul mate. Her weekends were filled with extreme fitness events and her holidays were jammed with adventurous outdoor challenges. Then she got sick. And kept getting sick. One morning she tried to drag herself out of bed to compete in a triathlon and couldn’t.
She and her partner Rob took 10 days off on the chilled out beaches of Byron Bay in an attempt to recuperate. He proposed. Zoë was elated. And yet exhaustion consumed her. She eventually dragged herself to the doctor. At first she didn’t understand the complex medical jargon. But, after phoning back for further explanation, one word stood out: cancer.
At what should have been the happiest time in her life Zoë faced her biggest battle. Ten years on she looks back on her life since then and realises how much cancer has taught her. While she still strives to achieve, she’s let go of the pressure, the competition. While she thrives on success, she also relishes life’s simple pleasures, the moments of pause, the times her heart beats in tune to the miracles of nature. And Zoë has become passionate about imparting what she’s learned with the world – about showing others how to blend their definition of success with a life that nurtures.
One word stood out: cancer.
After receiving the cancer diagnosis Zoë underwent a trachelectomy – a procedure that would remove all of her cervix but still provide a chance at a pregnancy. She underwent four doses of chemotherapy. She shut down her business and other commitments. “I just focused on trying to be well,” she says. “I spent lots of time on the couch watching bad TV and whole days in hospital being flushed with chemicals. These fluids were so toxic the nurses had to put on goggles and rubber gloves to touch them – and here they were hooking it up to my veins.”
She asked the surgeon what else she could do to fight the cancer ravaging her body. “Nothing,” came his response. But Zoë was unconvinced. She began ploughing through books on alternative healing, nutrition and positive visualisations. She launched her own crusade to health. And two years later she was healthy enough to begin trying for a baby.
She launched her own crusade to health.
Month after month came a crushing disappointment. Zoë could not fall pregnant. She embarked on IVF in a bid to start the family she and Rob had dreamed of. With no fertilised eggs in the first round of IVF, Zoë faced total disappointment. During the second round Zoë discovered her body was producing too much oestrogen as a reaction to the cancer drugs. She’d have to wait another three months to try IVF again.
In the meantime Zoë’s sister was diagnosed as a cystic fibrosis carrier. Zoë and Rob had themselves tested. Almost unbelievably they too both carried the gene. Even if they did fall pregnant, their child would have a one-in-four chance of the condition. They opted for the additional expensive and laborious process of genetic testing.
The time came again, Zoë’s hope soared. Her eggs were collected but, while she waited the five days for the embryo growth and testing, she was struck by salmonella poisoning. The chance at new life was dashed once more. They had one more attempt at IVF regardless. But, on Zoë’s 40th birthday, she got her period. She knew her chances at motherhood were over.
She knew her chances at motherhood were over.
“I’d been through five years of hospitals, drugs, surgery and questions,” she says. “But the good news was that my husband and I had talked about a future with or without kids and knew that both futures could be good. We made a commitment to each other that if we weren’t spending our money on our children’s education, we’d spend it on travel.”
Zoë went back to work part time with the outdoor leadership company she’d dedicated much of her working life to – Outward Bound. She later took on a job with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation as the program manager where she served for five years. Buoyed by the thrill of helping others, she restarted her coaching venture, Inner Compass. She relished the chance to help business executives to overcome ever-increasing demands and live lives characterised by wisdom and compassion. She joined the Thought Leaders Business School to support her growing leadership practice.
“These days the pressures on executives are quite different – the world has globalised, we’re all interconnected, change is radical and there’s this expectation that executives now have this self-awareness and emotional intelligence as well as strategic ability,” Zoë says. “There’s also been an interesting shift from a family point of view. Women have long felt the need to be superhuman but now this has also transferred to fathers who are trying to balance work with being a good husband and being a good father. People find this challenging – there are only so many hours in the day.”
“Women have long felt the need to be superhuman but now this has also transferred to fathers who are trying to balance work with being a good husband and being a good father.”
Eyes open for miracles
So what does Zoë advise? She advocates the ‘self-first’ principle – the notion that you can only be of service to others if you’ve taken good care of yourself. “You need to fill up your well – take radical self-care, eat well, exercise, look at your nutrition, have a really powerful mindset so you enjoy what you’re doing,” she says. “You also need to become authentic – to think about your values and what you want to get out of life and show up and live that life. And you’ve got to know your ‘why’ – to have strong connection to purpose.” Zoë’s business is dedicated to helping people work out that process.
Zoë has also long been a believer in the healing power of nature. Even as a kid growing up in Canada, she felt the lure of the natural world. She remembers sitting around a campfire watching the reflection of the moon glitter upon the lake surface, or playing in the snow and gazing up at the stars. “When you get out in the wild or in some place vast something just shifts inside you,” she says. “Everything just drops away and you remember that life is beautiful.”
While Zoë used to crave the big things – summiting mountains, canoeing for weeks down churning river-ways, embarking on gruelling overland treks – she’s now also content with life’s smaller offerings. “There are these small miracles in my garden, like the way orchids shoot out flowers like artwork from the dirt, or how a wren hops along like a gift from nature,” she says. “I think (a happy life) is about learning to look at the world with eyes of awareness so we don’t rush through the days filtering out the miracles. It’s not necessarily about slowing down but about the pause. We don’t need to be a meditating monk on the top of a mountain, but we do need to look with our eyes open to the miracles around us.”
Find out more: To find out more about Zoë visit her website www.innercompass.com.au
“When you get out in the wild or in some place vast something just shifts inside you. Everything just drops away and you remember that life is beautiful.”