Emmy Smith of Milsen Smith had been working in consultancy with Shine for about a year, looking at their branding, website and content. It was as her work with them was coming to an end that she decided to attend their Shine at Lyme course. Since then she has been breaking new ground, shining her brightest – and summoning Madonna in her darkest moments. In four months she has turned her dream of being a documentary producer into reality having landed an opportunity to pitch to Channel 4.

Because I’d already worked with Shine for a year, I’d heard stories from lots and lots of other women for whom it had been life changing. So I was expecting something life changing too. But as I sat in the car on the way to Shine, I started to wonder why I was going, because I wasn’t really sure I wanted or needed my life to change.

Fundamentally, I thought I had a good balance; I run a business that allows me to be with my children when I need to be and I’ve been happy with my success so far. I thought that having worked with Shine and having listened to so many women’s stories, you might have had to be in a bad place for Shine to be hugely effective and that wasn’t the case for me.

By the time I got there though I was excited by having a few days away from my ‘every day’; I’m also quite curious about other people and was looking forward to chatting with the other women. They turned out to be incredibly impressive, for all sorts of different reasons. Every person was completely unique and fascinating, and even at times when there were wobbles, I just thought they all were very, very strong.

I’m happy with the process of analysing myself, although often I don’t understand what the fuck’s going on! I am very comfortable doing it in the presence of others as well, so I think I’m lucky in that respect. When you’re going through something like Shine, I think it’s made easier if you are ok with that level of exploration in front of others. To truly open up is greatly beneficial, I don’t see how you would really move on in that situation if you decided to close down.

I felt it was much more of a gentle process on day one than I was expecting; I thought I would feel this massive, big, life changing moment and but that didn’t happen.

But then things changed. One of the exercises that had the greatest impact on me was where we were sent outside on our own and asked the question, ‘if there were no limits, what would you do?’ It was cold and beautiful outside because it was snowing, and I looked around and stilled my mind. I just remember this kind of thought popping into my head which I just hadn’t really ever imagined was possible. That was when a seed of possibility first started to emerge.

Equally, learning about my gremlins was a really fascinating and impactful experience for me because it really taught me why my gremlin was there in the first place. If I think about what I’ve done since that time, that gremlin experience was one of the most beneficial. When my gremlin pops up and says, ‘you can’t do this, because you’ve got no experience in this,’ I now very happily bat it away.

On day two I became very clear about what I wanted from my life. And throughout day two, that feeling and that sense got stronger and stronger, and the idea of what I wanted became clearer and clearer and clearer. I got really excited by that, more and more and more, all the way through day two.

I suppose that was my life changing day. And then, by the time day three came, when I thought maybe I’d have gone to sleep that night and checked back and changed my mind, I woke up feeling even more convinced than the day before.

I definitely saw it happen to others, but I think everybody’s journey is very, very unique to that process. So I saw some women who had things that they were already thinking about affirmed and so it was possibly just a more gentle experience for them altogether. Some people probably wouldn’t get full impact until maybe a while after they left. Everyone’s different.

As an end to the programme we received feedback from the other attendees and were given a ‘character’ to summon when our gremlins raised their head. It was hugely powerful because we all told each other how we felt about each other – so you saw yourself through other’s eyes. That was very revealing to me and when I went on to do the things I promised I would, there were definitely moments where I took that to make me stronger.

My given name was Madonna; somebody who always, always embraced success and went out and got it, no matter what. Since Shine there have been some scary moments that I put myself through and actually, rather than being terrified, I just really enjoyed every single one of them, because I thought, ‘I’m Madonna. I’m just going to Madonna the shit out of this.’ It completely changed how I felt about the situation. Turning it from something that was terrifying into something that was actually quite funny and fun. And if I ballsed it up, it didn’t really matter.

I had made a commitment to become a documentary maker and pitch my ideas to the TV networks. Up until that point I’d been a film maker, but never a documentary maker for all sorts of reasons.

I thought nobody would take me seriously, because I had no track record. So I made a commitment to say bollocks about it and start pitching – and to reach out to anybody who could help me!

There happened to be somebody on the Shine course who worked for Channel 4, and so I appealed to her for help in introducing me to somebody who could give me some advice on what to do.

Interestingly, it took me three weeks post-Shine to reach out to her, because my gremlin came back with a vengeance immediately after Shine. After three weeks, I realized I was being totally ridiculous and decided to make a move. ‘ Whilst I sat in my car waiting to pick my children up at the school bus, I knocked out a quick email on my phone, rather than spending hours and hours crafting a message. I just whipped it out before they got off the bus, and she came back almost instantly with some lovely thoughts and suggestions.

To cut a very long story short, she didn’t just put me in touch with somebody who could help me, she put me in touch with the Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 and this woman said she wanted to meet me. So a couple of weeks later, I found myself outside the Channel 4 buildings and I met this wonderful, scary, interesting, terrifyingly bonkers, brilliant woman who told me everything about my pitch was wrong. In fact, much of it was illegal.

In the past, faced with that criticism, I would have definitely started to crumble. But because I was now Madonna, I was finding it a blast! This woman was so fantastic, and I was so lucky to be there. And by the end of the meeting, we had arranged that she would suggest somebody to help me craft into something that wasn’t illegal and make it into a better pitch, and to re-pitch it.

I’m now a month or so down the line from that meeting, and there have been lots of other challenges that have cropped up on the way but none of it matters to me anymore, because it’s an external challenge. It’s not an internal barrier that I’m setting for myself.

If people were considering – or even wavering about going to Shine, my advice would be to just go! Even if you don’t think you have to, or you’re not sure what you’re expecting, or you’ve got life stuff getting in the way, it doesn’t really matter. Just go, because if you are fortunate enough to either be offered it through your work, or you have got some money and you want to invest in yourself, I didn’t see a woman there who didn’t get something huge out of the experience. So go. Just go. That’s the only thing I would say. There’s nothing but good that will come from it.