When former collegiate athlete and competitive skydiver, Sydney Williams, unexpectedly found herself on the other end of a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis and grappling with unresolved trauma from a decades-old sexual assault, she set out on a mission: turn her pain into power. Two hikes across Catalina Island and 80 miles later, she founded Hiking My Feelings to help others tap into the mind-body connection and healing power of nature that helped kick her self-limiting beliefs and disease into remission.
With more than 10 years of marketing experience with Fortune 500 companies and emerging brands, she serves up her “truth juice” storytelling to break open tough conversations with practical and powerful content and experiences. Over the years, she’s been featured on the SXSW stage as well as in Huffington Post, Psychology Today, US News & World Report and numerous other publications. Today, she travels across the country empowering others to summit their personal mountains on their way to becoming Well Beings. We are so excited to share our inspiring interview with Sydney Below:
1. What inspired you to pursue your unique path?
Getting diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes was the best thing that ever happened to me. That diagnosis forced me to reconnect with my body and start addressing my health for real, and in the process of doing so, I was able to discover that diabetes (as well as a whole host of other mental and physical dis-ease) was a physical manifestation of the unresolved trauma from a sexual assault I survived 12 years prior. If it weren't for that diagnosis, I wouldn't have learned the four factors that affect my blood sugar (food, diet, meds, stress) and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to take a good hard look at where my stress comes from. I quit my job without a backup plan and chose to prioritize my health first and foremost, and that's when Hiking My Feelings had the space to show up in my life.
2. What skills did you have, and what skills did you have to learn or are you still learning in pursuit of your goals?
I was working in PR/marketing for more than 10 years prior to my diagnosis. It's abundantly clear now that every move I had made professionally leading up to Hiking My Feelings was actually preparing me for the journey I'm on now. Every client project trained me for this - the skills I learned while planning a marathon expo "tour" directly translate to planning my own tour. Running email marketing for NBC gave me a lot of different styles to work with when framing up my own email strategy. The public speaking and coaching I did early in my career and later as a competitive skydiver prepared me for the speaking part of this tour. The skills I'm still learning? Well, we're building this plane as it's flying, so I'm learning something new every day. I'm learning how to be more patient, more present, and more passionate in everything I do.
3. What was the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome on your journey?
I haven't spoken about this very much, but the hardest obstacle so far is without a doubt the reaction my family had to me living my life this way. I haven't spoken to my family since the first tour started back in October. It breaks my heart that they aren't part of the biggest adventure of my life, but I firmly believe that the only way we get through trauma is by talking about it and shining a light on it so it's not scary anymore.
I know not everyone heals this way, and I can't force my folks to face their trauma so they can heal. I hold the vision of our collective healing every time I share this story, even if it's the story itself that causes them so much pain.
If there's one note I can give to parents of sexual assault survivors: it's not your fault. Assuming you didn't assault your child, you're not a bad person, and ultimately, you couldn't have stopped this from happening. What survivors need is for their family to be brave, and put their own pain aside. Survivors need folks who are capable of showing up for them, believing them, and offering their support.
For survivors who are receiving anything less than that kind of support from the people closest to them, I highly encourage establishing firm boundaries for yourself so you can heal free from the guilt that may be projected onto you by your family members who are still unable or unwilling to face their own trauma. Get free. Heal yourself.
4. What keeps you inspired?
I am constantly inspired by the resilience of humans who, against all odds, rise above the hand they've been dealt and create a life they love. That's the path I'm on, and it's not a smooth ride all the time, but this is hands down the most beautiful chapter of my life so far. I'm the healthiest I've ever been, I'm sharing my story which helps me heal and gives others a new perspective that may help them heal as well, and I'm doing all of this with someone who loves me unconditionally, my husband Barry. He was the first person I felt safe enough sharing my whole story with, and that was 11 years after the assault happened. We had been together for seven years, married for five before I found the courage to face this trauma that I had buried so far down. I quite literally would not be here if I didn't meet Barry. I wouldn't be where I'm at geographically, I wouldn't have found the courage to face my deepest darkest trauma head-on, and I probably wouldn't be here, alive today. Every day I wake up next to him, I want to be the best version of Sydney I can be.
5. What lesson have you learned in your pursuits of your dreams which you would share to empower others?
You can always change your mind. About a job, about an adventure, about a decision you made as recently as just a few seconds ago. Everything feels so black and white sometimes, especially with how we talk to ourselves. Give yourself permission to take your time when it comes to personal growth and understanding how we tick. It took you years and years and years to build the life you've built. If you wake up one day and want to change it, know that A) you can and B) you can take your time. You don't have to have it all figured out right this very second. A lot of the things that lead us to joy are practices we have to establish every day. Play the long game.
Stay in Touch with Sydney at:
@sydneyunfiltered on instagram
@hikingmyfeelings on instagram