Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, avid traveler, dog mom, coffee lover, and book addict, Holly Courtright, who balances a down-to-earth attitude with gentle humor, backbone and integrity. A Real Estate Advisor and Certified Executive Coach, Holly began her adult life as an academic and has lead an adventurous and colorful life full of amazing travels, wonderful employment and volunteer opportunities, and has an eclectic vault of experiences that she draws on when working with her clients. With over 15 years of coaching and goal-setting experience, Holly empowers her clients to navigate the market as a participant in the process rather than a bystander. With a focus on shifting mindsets and the development of communications skills and strategies, she believes that an open mind will always serve you well. Creatively strategic and curious by nature, Holly is always looking for her next lesson. She adores a challenge and is always ready to embrace change and embark on new adventures. She has traveled to over 30 countries, is very active in numerous sports, coaches girls softball in Langford and sits on the Board for the Esquimalt Farmers Market and the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce. Holly says she is an interesting example of how an individual can be both introverted and extroverted, cautious and impulsive, relaxed and intense, and emotionally attached and sometimes detached. Just like most humans, Holly is enigmatic in how all these opposites come together to create a unique person and she accepts herself and embraces all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make her who she is. And to that we say YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I don’t think a person becomes a Girl Warrior based on what they do but rather how they make others feel. So, what makes me a Girl Warrior would be different depending on who you ask. I believe that we will always find great success – personally and professionally – working on three things with unbridled tenacity – our curiosity, committing to our commitments* and listening more than we talk. I work on these three things each and every day with the goal of finding opportunities. Any opportunities. I believe my greatest battle plan is to just keep saying yes.
The funny thing about Girl Warriors is that there will always be people who don’t think you deserve the title at all. That’s ok. I believe it is worth asking why and then after some reflection, change or don’t but don’t dwell. I’ve learned that concerning myself with them reduces my capacity to grow, learn and change and nobody wins battles by staying put.
*I owe this turn of phrase to a very persuasive orator named Darren Jacklin who is worth checking out.
Your parents divorced when you were four. How did that set the tone and inform your future relationships?
I’m not sure that it did to be honest. I think that often divorce at a young age is much easier to deal with especially when your memory is as bad as mine. I swear I wasn’t even alive before the age of 10 as I can’t remember anything.
The one thing that my parent’s divorce has reinforced for me is that there is little value in remaining in a circumstance that makes you unhappy. That is not to say that there is no need to put some effort in – of course you made a commitment, and you should work to honour that. The big take away for me is to realize that you marry a person in that moment. You marry who they are right then, and they marry who you are right then. People grow and change and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the compatibility fades and often more damage is done to force it than to just call a spade a spade and move on.
Why is it bad to peak in Grade 6?
It is hilarious to read this question posed in this way. I got straight A’s in Grade 6 and my academic prowess went downhill from there. Honestly, downhill is an understatement – it was like a jet plane out of fuel catapulting towards the Earth with the poor pilot, me, lacking a parachute.
This, like many things, in life set the stage of expectation. It becomes so much easier to give up when the expectation seems so far beyond reach, and so far beyond what you care about. I just didn’t care about my grades and that is all Nina (my mom) cared about. I know now that it came from a place of love and a desire to see me lead an “easier” life than hers, but it didn’t matter to me. What did matter was the quarterly disappointment when the report card wasn’t straight A’s – mind you, it didn’t matter enough for me to try harder. It only mattered enough for me to be angry that she cared so much. So, I cared less. I think this is how kids work a lot of the time.
As an overall human, did I peak in grade 6? No, of course not – if that was the case I would still be fashionably incapacitated wearing Northern Exposure sweatshirts with coloured turtlenecks and matching slouch socks while reading “Flowers In The Attic” for the 50th time. But, those 3 report cards with all A’s really cemented my feelings of inadequacy for years to come. Now I recognize how ridiculous it all was but there were a lot of report cards that followed Grade 6 that were a very tough pill to swallow for Nina and a particularly good opportunity for me to behave like a total asshat.
How did participation in sports, in particular, basketball and softball shape the person you are today?
I have always played sports. What both of these sports taught me is most importantly, how to control these ridiculously long and octopus like limbs of mine. Coming in at a close second is how to be aggressive without being violent and how to question authority without being disrespectful. You can go after things aggressively regardless of if it is a rebound, a tag at 2 or a promotion but you don’t have to do it with ill intent towards others. There is a balance that must be struck. There is a moment that every athlete faces when you are absolutely stomping the opposition – what you decide to do in that moment, I believe is a defining moment in determining what is important to you. Do you ease up without being obvious or do you surge forward? I’m the ease-up type.
Now I coach U12 girls softball and my goal with them is not to be amazing softball players. I don’t care if we win or lose, and I care a zero if they make mistakes. For me, the most important moments are during warm-up, in the dugout and after the game. Sports develop our attitude about ourselves and how we treat others. Especially how we treat others that we want to beat. My goal is that they all become the ease-up type.
What happened when you became a college dropout?
I had to start paying rent.
Seriously though – me a college drop out is too kind. I shat the proverbial bed at College and they gave me the boot. I didn’t drop out as that implies it was my decision, I guess in a way it was as I tried about 0% but if we are going to get down to brass tacks here – had to go. I wanted to go but that is somewhat besides the point.
All that being said, Nina was convinced that attendance at College was the key to my success and she was exceptionally unhappy to hear that “I decided to take a break.” Yeah, I lied. Funny what you can get away with when you control the narrative. So, I really did have to start paying rent – Nina wasn’t dicking around. She was going to make me go to College one way or another.
Sorry Nina – I went and got a job, 2 jobs actually. “Dropping out” of College actually set me up for my future. In retrospect it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I threw myself into lifeguarding. I worked 2 lifeguarding jobs, took instructor courses for advanced aquatics and first aid and proceeded to work on and off in recreation for the next 20+ years. It paid for my travel addiction, put me through College (when I was ready), University, a Masters degree and saved me when my goal of becoming the Caucasian, female version of Gandhi didn’t work out.
There is always time for College but if you aren’t ready for it, life is what teaches you the lessons you need to succeed. I went back, did well and in the end, I graduated with Distinction from my Masters in Human Rights program. What happens today doesn’t have to determine what can happen tomorrow.
How did you learn the difference between those with money and those without?
I was making bank at my lifeguarding jobs thanks to being a College dropout. So, I did what any self-respecting 18-year-old would do with cash dollars in their account. I decided I would go on an adventure. I went on a 2-month trip to Europe. Back then, nobody really thought much of it. I don’t recall any sort of hoopla about safety or anything. Maybe it happened and I was just oblivious to the whole thing but anyhow, I bought my ticket and off I went. I ended up in the hospital with intestinal gastritis in Rome. In retrospect, I can’t believe I wasn’t scared out of my wits but the overwhelming emotion that I recall was irritation. I had to do a prison break type exit from the hospital in Rome complete with hoarding my bananas and stowing away medicine to take with me.
I made it home, I was extremely sick. I am not sure I have the tenacity now to survive that “adventure.” The insurance company wouldn’t guarantee Nina that they would reimburse us for the flight home because the hospital in Rome was not recommending, I leave. I was leaving – it was hell on Earth. Ricky Martin’s world cup song playing on repeat for days on end was more that any human could possibly handle. I will never forget the train ride from Rome to Frankfurt thinking I may die but knowing that we couldn’t afford to fly me home direct from Italy and just in case the insurance company wouldn’t pay, this was the best solution. This is when I really realized the difference between how those with money lived versus those without.
What’s the connection between bowling, mascara and the first selfless thing you ever did?
I bowled with Nina on Thursdays. I have no idea how this came to be a thing. I am surprised in retrospect that I ever agreed to join but Thursdays were our day – we watched Friends and then went bowling. What a crazy memory – I was the youngest person in the bowling alley by 20 years. I could very well have been a supporting character in the Big Lebowski – the bowling alley was filled with cigarette smoke and for the first time in my life I watched Nina pulling on a butt and coming to life. She was so full of life, funny and joyous. She used to put on mascara to go to the bowling alley and I really believe that watching her put that mascara on was the only reason I kept going. Sometimes I think that participation in that bowling league was the first selfless thing I ever did in my life.
How did the trip after Nina’s death change the trajectory of your life?
I had returned to the land of post-secondary before Nina got sick. I dropped out when Nina died. I moved back to North Delta as the executrix of her will and tried to organize a house and a car and a brother that still lived at home. I went back to lifeguarding full time and just…managed. By now I was teaching advanced aquatics courses, so I dove into that and managing the estate. One day I woke up and I thought – I hate me. I was sad and stressed and behaving badly. I was a total dick to my friends and family, and they let me get away with it because they felt sorry for me. I had some real money for the first time in my life. Enough was enough. I needed out. Now.
That trip changed my life. I left because I couldn’t deal with myself. I didn’t like who I was and how sad I was. 9/11 happened a month after Nina died and the world changed. I didn’t change. I didn’t care about 9/11. I didn’t care about anything. I was miserable and felt that I had been dealt a shit hand and I made sure everyone knew it. Then, I didn’t want to be that Holly anymore, so I left.
I was gone for 11.5 months. London – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, London, Portugal, Spain, Portugal, Canary Islands, Antigua, Trinidad, Tobago, Monserrat, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala. I worked in Lagos, Portugal for 3 months. I got on a boat and spent 3 months working as a deck hand on a broken-down shit heap of a boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean through the Panama Canal, went to jail in Panama, got out, adventured through Central America and arrived home in time for Christmas as an entirely new person.
Travel is where I go to reconnect and disconnect. Travel has taught me independence and how to problem solve. It has taught me what struggle looks like for other people in the world and in reality, the biggest thing it taught me was that sometimes you just gotta shrug your shoulders and deal with your shit.
Why do you regret not finishing teacher’s college?
I love teaching. I have found many alternative outlets for my love of teaching over the years, but I do have regrets about not finishing Teacher’s College back in 2005/06.
Now, it is important to realize that with every wish to change the past, you must also accept that it would likely change the trajectory of your life and alter your present, so I am careful about how I consider regrets in my life. BUT – I love the engagement process of teaching and seeing the lightbulb moment in those learning new things fills my cup right to the brim. I replaced this need with teaching advanced aquatics and first aid for a long time and now I coach girls’ softball. It isn’t the same, but it fills my cup in the same way.
I also recognize the challenges that teachers and administrators in the public school system face. I drive under a pedestrian overpass daily that has a sheet hung from it that says, “Save school music” or something like that. What!! How is this a thing? What are we doing as a society that our children are protesting budget cuts instead of playing, creating and learning? Nothing about this sits well for me. We keep chipping away at our public education system – removing sports, music, art – what kind of education is that? We gripe about how much time children and youth spend on screens, yet we take away the funding to provide them with activities that don’t involve one. It is absurd and I believe we will come to regret these short-sighted decisions. Our children deserve better than this. That is why I regret not finishing…I wish I was more a part of the process that teachers play in shaping our society and leading our children through the process of change that comes with growing up.
How did you go from wanting to help the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami to getting your Masters in Human Rights at the University of Sydney to riding a Zamboni?
In 2004 the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit. By this time, I had been working and teaching emergency response for quite some time. I immediately thought – I want to go and help. I have extensive experience in first responder training, and I must be able to help somehow. Nope. Nothing. I tried every avenue open to me and I could not find any way to assist in this huge disaster other than donate money. I could not believe it. Someone with the skills, training and availability was not needed to assist while I watched the unimaginable devastation. I was so pissed off!!
It was then that I decided I would find a way to work for the Red Cross. Another disaster like this wouldn’t happen without me being able to help. I volunteered with the Red Cross teaching Earthquake awareness in elementary schools, I got my first aid instructor certification to accompany my advanced aquatic emergency awards, I took disaster management courses through the Justice Institute and I started applying for jobs.
Out of sheer anger at not being able to secure a job in the industry I wanted to work in I applied for a Masters in Human Rights at the University of Sydney thinking that I would upgrade and get a job at the UN or some other fancy organization. I moved to Australia in 2007 and completed my MA in Human Rights in 2008. I loved Australia. I worked as a bartender at the Bondi Hotel while I went to school and I felt at home for the first time in my life. En route I took some time to travel with my then partner to Peru, Argentina, Chile and we visited New Zealand during my studies. I graduated with distinction after writing my dissertation on Climate Refugees and how climate change was affecting small island nations. We travelled through Thailand and Cambodia on our way home.
The financial crisis hit in 2008 so human rights was not the top priority when nobody had any money. I ended up working for a non-profit specializing in Child Rights for $20/hour. I got laid off due to funding issues but my eyes were opened to a whole new world about who really benefits from the non-profit sector. This was no longer my dream. I no longer thought that this was the way to change the world and although I did finally feel that someone wanted the donation of my time…it was at the expense of making money. I was pretty much in the same place as I was before I did my Masters but now I was irritated at different people.
So, I got a job driving a Zamboni. I wasn’t a very good Zamboni driver and I hate being cold so it really wasn’t the best fit. This was not working at the UN and it was the smelliest job I have ever had. Turns out hockey dressing rooms are not like a vacation at the Ritz.
I was applying for every job you can imagine and I was either under qualified due to no experience but the right education or over qualified due to too much education. YES!! TOO MUCH EDUCATION. So, I was stuck driving the damn Zamboni.
How did 20 years spent working at local rec centers turn you into the person you are today?
My time in Recreation gave me the reprieve I needed from certain expectations to figure out that I could do whatever I wanted. Not in the silly way that motivation quotes tell us, but in a realistic way. In a way that requires goal setting and time in and work. I worked my way up the ranks in Recreation. I forged some unbelievable friendships that helped me get through some tough times. Recreation is an area of work that everyone should be so lucky to work in. I have worked in Recreation on and off for the better part of 25 years and the experiences and friendships I have made because of it are something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Working in recreation is like participating in team sports – difficult to explain the full scope of the long-term effects on your life but I would be totally remiss if I dismissed them as inconsequential. These experiences and the people I connected with during my time participating in them have definitely shaped who I am today.
Why did you become a Real Estate Agent? And an Executive Coach?
I finally left Recreation to start a Real Estate business. This may seem like a weird transition, but I got out of a bad relationship and decided, much like when Nina died, that change was the answer. I bought and sold 4 properties in 2 years with a Real Estate Agent and decided I didn’t want to pay him to do this work anymore, so I decided to just go and get my license. I thought, “how hard can this really be?” Turns out it is much harder than I thought it was going to be. I never planned on becoming a Real Estate Agent but that is where I’ve landed for now and I really do enjoy it.
I also went back to school and took my Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching which I love. The best part about coaching is watching the wheels turn and the amazing transformation that can happen for a client in such a short period of time. I will admit that many times my approach is a bit…atypical. But what I have found is that through my coaching practice I am able to embrace all my superpowers. There is honestly nothing better than signing off after an hour with a client and knowing that they are empowered in whatever goals are right for them. After coaching, I go to bed at night thinking about how my clients are implementing strategies that are going to change their lives. That is better than working for the Red Cross or the UN. I have found a very good balance in what a consider to be very valuable professions. There are times that I still wish I was camping in the middle of the Amazon protesting deforestation but I remind myself that I still have time.
What are your Girl Warrior Superpowers?
I do what I do when I want to do it and I like it. I have a few things that I cook well and the rest of the time I eat cheese sandwiches and I don’t care. I am single and I am totally fine with that. I apologize when I am wrong and am not embarrassed to say I don’t know or that I have made a mistake. I manage my finances well and love to travel. I am an adventure and culture junkie and can spend all day in a museum reading every placard and all night in a booming nightclub listening to music I have never heard before drinking beers alone and be totally fine. I love company and I love being alone. I think I am a good example of how opposites attract – in this case, it is just opposites in the same person.
My greatest love is diversity. I love it in people, and I love it in my life. I care a zero out of ten about change. I embrace it and love it and look forward to it.
Where do you feel most at home?
This is an unintentional trick question. I can honestly say that I feel the most at home with Cedar, my dog. No matter where we are – that is where I feel at home. She is my comfort and my safe space.
Where I feel the happiest – I mean relaxed, chilled out, happy – well that is on a very hot beach drinking a very hoppy beer.
I guess the real question here is, what is “home”? Is it a place, a feeling, or the company you keep? I think it is different for everyone.
What do we need to know “for sure” about the damaging nature of the self-help industry?
That it is an industry and operates like any other profit-oriented industry.
I have watched this industry develop and change and I do believe that we are in the most damaging “self-help” time. This is likely a very unpopular opinion but I believe that much of the self-help floating around is being spouted by under-qualified mega-personalities that tap into the emotions of disconnectedness that we feel as a result of technology. The problem is so much of it is accessed through the very thing that is causing the disconnection. So, instead of promoting things that will work towards re-building relationships, instead we are being programmed to rely on what amounts to robots on a screen telling us we are “good enough” and “perfect just the way we are”.
We are slowly eliminating accountability from our lives. Self-help teaches us we are entitled to our opinions and we are, but we also must be accountable for our behaviours that result from those opinions. The way that the industry works now, it relies on click-bait and hooks you with the self-help that suits your viewing history rather than the self-help you may actually need.
What’s the most important life lesson Nina taught you?
Do not apologize for who you are but do apologize for the things that you do wrong. These are not the same things.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
Invest in Bitcoin and Tesla – haha. Seriously, I would say that but the big piece of advice I would give myself is to always take pause. Think before you speak and seek understanding before you respond. Work to minimize regrets by respecting the capacity and boundaries of others. Lead with a curious mind rather than a judgmental one and always, no matter what, do what feels right in your heart not in the moment.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Look inside for inspiration. You are all the inspiration you need to be amazing.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
Moms. I don’t have any children and so I can’t possibly understand parenthood in the way that a mother or a father does. I am constantly blown away by moms and motherhood. The caring and connection and the selflessness that goes into that relationship between a mother and a child is something that I can’t even begin to comprehend.
Next on my list is my late Auntie Lois. She passed recently, during COVID – it was relatively anti-climactic as it seems everything was during the COVID times. It is so unfortunate that we were unable to hold a proper service for her – I am sure she wouldn’t have wanted one anyhow and to be honest, I don’t know how many people would have come. However, for me, she was an absolute trailblazer and a rockstar. She was in the navy when women in the navy were not common. She was a lesbian when lesbians weren’t common(ly out). She was a lesbian in the navy when…well, is that even ok now? I’m not sure. The best part about her is that she was not a rager – she just went about her life and did her thing with her chin up. I admit that I am sure there were many challenges that I am unaware of but that was the best part about her – it was not about her. As a kid growing up – post the Grade 6 straight A debacle, I got to visit her every summer and she treated me as a grown up with valid thoughts, emotions, and opinions. She made me feel important and smart and like I mattered, and my opinions mattered while at the same time testing me with why I thought the things I did.
My Auntie Lois epitomizes the phrase, “not all superheroes wear capes.”
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Honestly, I have no idea and I am totally fine with that. There came a point in the trajectory of my life when it became intertwined with the people around me that I care about rather than just all about me. So, where I am in five years’ time will depend on my decisions but also on where those important people are.
Of course, I daydream about many different futures and all of them have amazing aspects to them. I would love to live in some tropical paradise running a beach pub with sweet tunes playing to the backdrop of gorgeous sunsets and free flowing rum; but, if that is my future, that means that several things will have happened to get me there and many of those things make me sad. So, I recognize the interconnectedness of everything and how it goes into determining Holly in 5 years and I chose to focus on today and today’s decisions, so I don’t lose sight of how important it is to live for each individual day and not just the days ahead.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
Baby goats (hello – how is their jumping around being all crazy not the most adorable thing you have ever seen?) and delusions of grandeur.
A lack of empathy – there is quite the span here. Trophy hunting, testing on animals, child soldiers, abusive relationships, corruption, laws that govern personal freedom over our own bodies or relationships, elder abuse…the list goes on and on. It depends on the day and the time of the month (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) but all the things that reinforce my belief that as a global society, we have a lot of work to do.
What books are on your nightstand?
Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth
Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson
Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga
Describe yourself in five words.
I only need 3 – firm but fair.
If a song were written about your life, what would it be called?
That is future me’s problem.
You can learn more about Holly and all things Real Estate on her website.
And for all things Coaching head over to ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM with Holly Courtright.
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