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  • Writer's pictureMark Wilkinson

How my own personal development retreat reminded me of what really matters in life

Updated: Oct 5, 2023


Good times with friends really matter if you want a long life.

I recently finished delivering my first ‘Life Re-creation Retreat’, a small but significant milestone. Two women kindly travelled far across the country to trial it and their positive feedback suggests I’ve something many other people will benefit from too. It was always my ambition to launch personal development retreats for small groups when I relocated my coaching and training business to my hometown of Falmouth in autumn 2021 (after twenty years in Bristol). The spacious and settling home of my late parents (now happily mine) makes for a great venue, as two summers of glowing Air BnB reviews attest.


The purpose of the retreat is to enable people to re-create themselves and empower them to create a life that will deliver on their hopes and dreams and enable them to flourish. It’s driven by my wish to enable others to benefit from wisdom I’ve gained after many years striving for goals, with only varied success: that life really can yield something close to what you want providing you put in the work, persevere, and make the changes in yourself that life often makes a mandatory part of the contract. A certain amount of flexibility and patience helps too.


A key session the retreat builds to on day two involves an exploration and reflection of what really matters going forward, and what no longer serves that should be ditched and even sent up in smoke to reinforce this (we literally do set fire to post-it notes). It seemed only right that since it was my retreat I should participate as fully in the exercise as my course participants. What came out surprised me. Despite thinking I’d got my life back on track I’ve not been giving due attention to the things that really matter to me and bring me greatest happiness.


What shouldn’t have surprised me is that they correspond to those things that frequently come out top in research on happiness, longevity, and well-being (which I’d been studying to incorporate into the course). That is keeping regular connection with a small group of close friends, regular social interaction, enjoying feeling part of a community, and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. Other factors among others include having a purpose in life, effectively neutralising stress on a daily basis, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise and rest (Dan Buettner's current Netflix series 'Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones is an inspiring reminder of why these things count and is must-see viewing).


For me one of those simple pleasures is having a coffee in my favourite, and very social café ‘Provedore’ which I hadn’t visited in months, in favour of saving a few quid by having a coffee at home. Developing the business was inevitably up there too because I do enjoy work and worry about saving enough for a pension. But as longevity research suggests I’d been guilty of getting my priorities wrong. My work and my health routine, to which I give so much attention, will all be for nothing if I don’t make the social, and perfectly affordable, quality of life investments that make life worthwhile, and can lead to a longer lifespan.


I’m now re-prioritising, re-connecting with old friends, putting more effort into my social life, exploring opportunities to learn and to give, and making time to incorporate more simple pleasures, such as dropping into my favourite café for some proper coffee and friendly conversation every week. Attending my very own retreat has helped me see the error of my ways and that it is this constellation of small things, and not just work, that really matters in life.


If you’d like to work out what really matters to you in life and what you need to liberate yourself from through coaching or one of my retreats please see my website or just drop me a line.

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