Emily Rose Antflick is a Toronto resident, world-traveller, educator, design lover and risk taker. In 2015, Antflick changed her life when she changed her career. This year, Antflick is putting that change into action, as she hopes to launch her very first coworking space for women, called SheCoSystem.
On April 4, Antflick is speaking at The Thrive Summit, an event that encourages guests to explore their whole person – on all levels – to provoke growth in all aspects of life, personal and professional.
Here is Antflick’s story.
1. How did SheCoSystem come about?
I registered the business in October, but was dreaming it up before that. I quit teaching high school mid-semester in 2015 because I was really burned out. Instead of waiting for June to finish my contract, I left in April and took the summer to seek inspiration and SheCoSystem is what I came up with. I knew that I wanted to empower communities of women and then this came to me!
Before SheCoSystem, I was in and out of the classroom for about 10 years. I worked at The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) teaching ancient history, I taught abroad, I worked for a non-profit in Washington, DC, I did some experiential education programs in Australia, I worked at a school in Bali called The Green School, that focuses on sustainable principles, and I did my Masters of Education from 2005 to 2007. It took me about three years of actual classroom teaching to know that it was not where I wanted to be.
2. How did you come up with the name SheCoSystem?
My background is in environment; I studied permaculture – an approach to mimicking nature’s patterns to create systems that are the most abundant with the least amount of waste. It’s all about looking at a thriving ecosystem, like a rainforest, that works together for a result that is both super resilient and super abundant.
When I wanted to create a place for women’s success, my permaculture background came to play. We always hear about the ecosystem in the workplace but we never actually focus on it.
SheCoSystem is a play on the word ecosystem. It’s the idea that women, female business owners and working women more generally, can excel when we are interconnected with diverse people from various networks. This will create more resilience for ourselves and our businesses.
3. Did you always know you wanted to create a space for women to work “cowork?”
No, didn’t always know this. Whenever I was in those moments when I was thinking of my career and where I wanted to go, I always talked about myself having some kind of a space in the long term. A school? A retreat centre? When I stepped away from teaching, I realized that this was my vision of success.
Socially, I am always having people over. I love hosting. My family has a cottage and I am always having cottage parties.
The focus on women and work was really brand new.
I am a Community Leader with G Day, a non-profit that celebrates the right of passage girls experience between childhood and adolescence. I brought a G Day event from Vancouver to Toronto. It was a full day festival for girls and the adults who came together to celebrate with them.
Speakers and presenters were a huge part of the event, most of them female entrepreneurs. Here, I realized how thrilled these young women and girls were to have each other and be with each other in the same, safe space. I kept seeing that again and again. G Day was the entry point.
Then, I started getting involved in women’s events and networks; I was realizing that women are very happy to share a space. The seed started to be planted here.
I started hosting women’s retreats and support circles and I saw that other women really valued it.
I found myself using the term “holding space” all the time, too. Something just went off at one point, and I realized this wasn’t about bringing people together. It was about bringing people together all the time to have opportunities to connect with inspiring women with people who are working in a space designed for that purpose.
4. What’s the best part about knowing you are creating a space for women to curate ideas and develop businesses, make connections and feel inspired?
This is where I want to spend my time. I am my target market. I am creating a space where I really feel at home. I love that about it, that I am finally able to do work that is so aligned with my values.
This is the first project where I feel I can use all those skills that I have from my background to benefit people.
SheCoSystem has been hosting weekly meetings since October 2015, giving people a sense of what this space will offer. It’s market research for me and a way to encourage people to use my space once it launches. They’re held every Tuesday from 10am to 12pm at Artscape Youngplace on Shaw St. in Toronto.
You literally just have to create space for women to get together to see this is something that these women value. These women can get out of their home offices and connect. So that feels really good, seeing the women connect with each other on an emotional and business level; they share clients and hire one another. It’s really heartwarming.
5. What kind of topics do these meet-ups focus on?
We arrive and do a quick check in. It’s an opportunity for me to explain what I am doing for the space for anyone who is new. I write a word or a question on the board at the front of the room and start with a grounding meditation.
The theme on February 2, for example, was how to find clarity. Sometimes, it is about work, other times it is more personal.
We then have about 90 minutes to work – people might work alone and others will work together. Someone always acts as a mentor; offering their help.
At the end, we do a 20-minute holistic wellness session, which can mean yoga, dance, nutrition, writing, etc.
It’s pretty much the same formula every week, but every week is different. There are always new people, so things are open ended.
6. SheCoSystem has five core values: Community, Openness, Accessibility, Sustainability and Collaboration. Why are these values so important, not only to SheCoSystem, but to the development of professional women and professional brands?
They are the coworking values; a global movement that was started in San Francisco over 10 years ago. When I wrote those values on my website, I was identifying myself with the coworking movement.
When I stared to think about what the coworking values were, I realized that these are actually feminine values, too. When you think of a feminine paradigm, it’s all about openness and accessibility, and sharing. I decided that it was important to own those values from a feminine perspective. This is just what women do! This is how we work! We have been forcing ourselves for 150 years, if not centuries longer in other cultures, to not have access. Now finally, we can access this workspace whether we’re moms or not. We all have access to this power. It feels like we’ve gotten to a points as women that we can stop fitting ourselves in the masculine paradigm, which to me includes values like Competition, Getting Ahead of the Next Guy, the Race to the Top; all these values that to me just don’t work.
By embracing the coworking values as women, we are opening up a new way to look at the working world and to ultimately to feel more at home in the working world.
I had trouble in the beginning identifying myself as an entrepreneur because I didn’t like the “you gotta be a shark” ideal. These values to me, as a woman, define how to succeed.
7. What was your first job?
A camp counselor, it’s a lot of people’s first job. I went to summer camp as a kid my whole life.
8. How has your first job helped you in your own business, today?
It was the first time I got to organize groups of people and create programs that engaged them and helped them to grow. When I talk about whether I am the CEO or Manager of SheCoSystem, I call myself the Camp Director. I want to get the spirit going. I want to be the cheerleader creating engaging programs for everyone. That first job as a camp counselor did shape who I am. It lead me to education.
Specifically, I was a canoe tripper and I had to create a safe enough atmosphere so people were prepared to take the kind of risks that I knew would lead to transformative growth. The biggest growth will come from stepping out of your comfort zone, which allows us to challenge ourselves in a safe way to be able to take risks and get out there. By the end of the canoe trip, people were all dirty, having fun and relaxed.
SheCoSystem creates a safe space so women can take risks that will transform their lives and improve their businesses. I want people to feel ready to takes risks.
9. Are you a one-person show? Or do you have other staff to help you out?
A one-person show, with a lot of friends. I ended up hiring a coach and consultant for the next few months, to help me with a few strategic priorities that I’ve been working on. I need to work towards a deadline, I need a timeline. I want to feel like I have a team to help me to do that, to plan the year at a glance. She’s helping me by consulting, coaching and project managing.
I have also contacted out certain pieces, I have someone helping me with a logo and I am looking for collaborators.
The weekly meetings I host are with a network called Women in Biz and by collaborating with the organization, I am sharing SheCoSystem with thousands of women.
The events I throw are also in collaboration with other women. I have short-term partners.
I’d love to have a team, but financially it’s not happening yet. I am just continuing to send out messages to the universe and hope that the right person pays attention. Because collaboration is one of my core values, it doesn’t make sense to do this alone. I am definitely looking for support.
10. What is a day in the life of Emily Antflick like?
SheCoSystem is also a wellness space. Though it’s not yet listed on the website, self-care is really important to the brand. I get to model that, I have to model that. I have to practice what I preach. I can’t spend all my time working!
I have made a lot of time from self-care.
I dance with a belly dancing troop in Toronto and I am also a facilitator of a program called Dance Our Way Home, a freestyle dance journey for women. There is no choreography, as it’s about getting women to move emotion through their bodies.
Dancing helps relieve stress and allows me to let go of emotional blocks. There will be times when I am struggling over something at work. My head can’t get there, and I go dancing, and something will unlock in my shoulder or hip or whatever and I get some new clarity. I am able to process something in a new way when I am moving.
I am still cycling, too. I’ve always been a cyclist.
11. What is the hardest part about being a business owner?
Getting past the self doubt and understanding that what you have to offer is valuable to the world. The hardest part for me is the emotional side of it, the amount of risk you are exposing yourself to. It’s an act of creation owning a business and it’s a vulnerable place to be.
12. What has been the most rewarding experience so far?
Not one moment that shows up, but:
I started the meetups in October 2015 and in December that year, before the holidays, we all had lunch together, we all hung out. I incorporated an exercise where we wrote holiday cards to ourselves. It was a fill in the blank card highlighting what we were celebrating about our 2015 experiences. At the end, I invited people to share and so many people talked about becoming a part of this SheCoSystem community. It’s knowing that I’ve created a safe enough space to let their entire, emotional, authentic selves out. It was a beautiful moment where everyone was recognizing how they were growing. I loved having that time with the group to celebrate.
13. What’s the plan for SheCoSystem in the next year?
I want to launch a crowdfunding campaign before I open the space and I want to have more monthly events that focus on wellness and work, or a combination of the two.
I am really hoping to get in a space at the beginning of September 2016. I just want it to be a beautifully designed space. I am a bit of a design geek and I love thinking of the actual physical space.
I foresee a lot of mutual, beneficial collaborators working together to get the space active. I see a year of just bringing the Toronto community of women together, bringing our best selves to work.
14. Your career paths have come full circle – you are teaching in an environment you’ve created. How does this make you feel?
I have always believed that the best learning comes from outside the classroom. It does feel like everything has come full circle. I always tried to do things that were a bit radical with my teaching, but it got to a point that operating within that institutionalized structure was too limiting.
SheCoSystem is the way I’ve always wanted to be as a teacher. Part of the burn out that I experienced before I left teaching had a lot to do with my personal life. My relationship was falling apart and I felt very disengaged. I had to show up and fake it in front of my students. That drained me. I love that now I still get to teach and inspire people but I get to do it in the most authentic way.
In late January, our theme of the week at a meetup was how to crush self doubt. I put that on the board because I was really doubting myself at that time. I could present that as an issue instead of pretending that it was not one. I was completely honest and authentic and I could talk about my financial stress and be open with it. This helped me to move through my self doubt and allowed me to continue with my day. However, it also opened up the space for the other women in the room. I could never do that in teaching. You can’t cry out to a room of teenagers.
Even the theory I did in my Masters of Education was about democratic and transformative education, but I never got to apply this in the classroom.
The skills I am using today are what I wanted to use in teaching and now I can finally be the teacher I want to be.
15. What do you want our readers to know?
I welcome your readers to come and check out SheCoSystem, our meetups and events. It is a space and it isn’t just for female entrepreneurs, it is for all women workers. I want to create a space where people don’t have to go through the experience that we had to go through in the last generation, where we first had to go through the corporate world, see that it sucks and then try to get out of it. A lot of women are talking about corporate burn out.
SheCoSystem is also a place for people just coming out of school, to start their business and grow their ideas in a way that aligns with themes. It’s an opportunity to be around people who can give you resources. We don’t want to force ourselves into a box that doesn’t work.
I want younger women to recognize that this exists, it’s here, at the beginning of their careers.