8 Things I Gained From Within 2018

Reflections from the first leadership retreat for women in design

Jamie Cabaccang
Apr 10, 2018 · 9 min read

Where do you find the top women leaders in design practicing yoga, meditation, art, mindfulness, vulnerability, self-reflection and resilience together? At the Within retreat! Founded by the lovely Mia Blume. It is the first leadership retreat for women in design sponsored by InVision App, Google, Facebook and Shopify.

I am so honored to be a part of this select group of women and the only attendee from Microsoft. Mia hand-selected a group of 60 senior design leaders in tech out of 1,500+ applicants. There were design leaders from companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Shopify, Lyft, Amazon and Target to name a few. We spent a week in the beautiful Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. The whole experience was so meaningful and well designed!

The first Within 2018 retreat attendees. Photo by Greyson MacAlpine.

When you receive the invitation to attend, GIRLFRIEND, YOU MUST ATTEND. Consider yourself one of the luckiest females in the industry. I promise you, you will be so happy you did and so will the people around you.

As much as I have all the excuses for not being able to go because I’m very busy as a Design Manager for the Microsoft Incubation team, as a mother and also as a reiki practitioner, my journey this past year of illness, self-discovery and self-love has taught me to take the time for myself as it will only help me feel more fulfilled from “within” which has a positive effect on how I show up in my work-life and personal-life. Here’s a brief description of the retreat from the Within web site:

“Accomplished women. A beautiful environment. Space to connect, reflect, and discover. These are the key ingredients of Within, an immersive four-day experience for a select group of senior design leaders in tech.

Purposefully intimate, participants will exchange ideas, learn new methodologies, and practice mindfulness to access intuition, wisdom, and creativity. Our intention is to enable women to return home feeling their most resilient — equipped to live and lead from Within.”


When I saw this, I was like “oh heck yes”. These are “all my thangs” combined into one retreat.

Mia Blume, Founder of Within, standing while the ladies cheered her on in gratitude and love.

After a week spent at the Within retreat, I’ve gained a lifetime of learnings and people in my life. It’s difficult to list them all but here are a few:

Together, we did a five mile hike in the beautiful desert. Palm Springs, CA

1. I am not alone. And I am not cray. Being a female in tech, especially a female leader, has it’s challenges. As much as I know everyone faces challenges no matter what gender you are, it’s clear from the people I mentor, from my own personal experiences and hearing stories from women ranging from new Design Managers to Vice Presidents of Design that gender inequality is still a significant issue. The past four days, we were hearing similar stories and discovering patterns which truly validated that I am not the only one experiencing these things and the challenges we face, in most cases, are the “norm”. It’s not just me. We’ve acknowledged the problems. We’ve coached each other through them. But there’s still plenty of work to do. More reason to continue the discussions, educate others, build allies and drive for change. I don’t want my daughter to experience what I’ve gone through. It motivates me to change the norm.

Our beautiful patio where friendships were made at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs, CA.

2. Reality check: No matter what title people have, they are all human. I honestly needed that reminder. In a workshop where we defined our own Personal Values, we had to partner up, share our stories and provide feedback with each other. While it began as a normal conversation and I was able to provide insightful advice to my partner, as soon as I found out she was a highly accomplished thought leader in one of the largest, well-known companies, there was a piece of me that turned on the “intimidation” switch and all of a sudden I didn’t feel worthy enough to give her advice. But after hearing her story among other amazing women in our coaching circles, I realize we all face similar challenges no matter what title you are. In fact, the need for support and mentorship becomes less and less the higher you move up. We are all humans and humans need each other.

Bag full of swag at the Within 2018 Retreat. And there was more.

3. When Mia says leave extra room while packing, LEAVE EXTRA ROOM. Remember the time Oprah gave away all of her favorite things and it felt like it went on and on like forever? That is what happened to us at the retreat. Upon arriving, we were greeted with a handwritten card from Mia, a huge bag of amazing swag and throughout the four days, we received very thoughtfully selected items. Beautiful items that you would actually want and use! A couple of my favorites is the perfect meditation pillow we used for daily meditation, lavender and lemon essential oils with a USB oil diffuser and a pink sachet filled with crystal quartz and pyrite from our reiki session.

4. I have gained a lifetime of sistership. Even with the event photographer and the reiki practitioner. I went into this retreat knowing no one at all. And now I have new friends, mentors and a new support system. And let’s be real. I am the introvert type who actually finds small talk draining and I’m just not good at it. Instead of “hi, how are you?” I truly enjoy the “how are you REALLY doing?” talks. It was so nice hearing where the ladies live and work but it was even more amazing hearing their stories and getting deep in conversation. We all knew this was a safe space to be vulnerable and share our deepest issues. I left the retreat so energized and I’m actually having withdrawals post-retreat. The talents, the energy and unspoken language that we all had is like no other.

Indigo & Shibori Dye Workshop at the Within Retreat

5. Embrace the process. Believe in perfectly imperfect. I witnessed the revelation of one woman (who I met at the retreat and we now call each other sisters) who was so intimidated by art, especially surrounded by designers. We were in the Indigo & Shibori Dye Workshop together. We had to learn to trust in the process and even though you don’t know what to expect in the end, you know it’s going to be fine. After the workshop, as we admired everyone’s dyed cloths hanging together, she said she learned to embrace the imperfections and that together, they were even better! And THAT is perfection. What a great metaphor that we can even apply this way of thinking to our own work and lives.

6. My story so far has made me resiliently me. I’ve been faced with adversity in my professional and personal life. From giving, giving and GIVING to everything and everyone but not giving to myself. I even allowed myself to put up with demeaning managers and it was a reflection of my own self-worth. I put up with that shit. And I was pouring from an empty cup. I was so depleted that I was chipping away at my own cup! The stress has led me to a chronic illness. But I’m overcoming that and I’m in remission through holistic healing methods, self care and a positive mindset. Instead of playing the victim, I choose to see these as learnings and opportunities. And now I have clear values, self-worth and BOUNDARIES. It took shipping multiple award-winning products and a disease to get me to realize this. And it has driven me to finding an even higher purpose. Hearing these inspiring women during the fireside chat “Resilient Leadership” reminded me that I am who I am today because of my adversities. I am a resilient woman who has overcome some tough challenges, who does all things with love and compassion for humans, who chooses to spend time on the things that bring me joy and leads my team by being authentically, “perfectly imperfect” me.

Bohemian outdoor seating for fireside chats, real talk and stargazing at the Within Retreat.

7. There is such a need for healing and many are open to reiki. Being a reiki master practitioner myself, I was over-joyed and grateful for Mia having reiki as a part of the retreat experience and for the reiki practitioner, Kat (my new found soul-sister), for sharing this gift with others. Reiki has been transformative in my own healing experiences and it is a perfect complement when you are trying to heal yourself holistically. We tend to focus a lot on how we can improve our impact, leadership or stress but what about getting to the root cause of all things and improving our mind, body and inner soul — all of what makes us whole? This was a leadership retreat focusing on our inner selves, our values and it gets deeper than the usual topics of how to manage people, time and stress. Reiki is wonderful for helping you manifest your authentic self and finding your higher purpose.

Don’t compensate who you truly are. It will only bring situations and people you don’t want into your life. Living your authentic self will manifest the very meaning of your purpose and the people who will support you in your journey.

8. Leading authentically is much easier and you’ll lead your team far more honestly and effectively than trying to fit the mold of a persona you’re not. There aren’t very many of us women in leadership. It’s rare to find someone to be an example for you or mentor you. Naturally, what’s modeled to us is either an inspiration of how to be a good leader or a learning of how “not” to lead. We’ve heard stories this past week of women having imposter syndrome and it takes so much energy and most times it works against you. I’ve turned down being a manager three times (from being asked by three different managers) because I didn’t want to be THAT manager. Now that I am a manager, I bring a very unique set of qualities. And I embrace them. I come from a place of compassion and mindfulness. And being a designer at heart, I think of ways to design the experience of how I manage and how people experience me as their manager and peer. My leadership qualities are authentically mine. And I hope I can encourage and inspire others to lead authentically.

Mia, I am so grateful for this experience of a lifetime. My heart is filled with gratitude for you and living your higher purpose. What a positive beginning for something so beautiful. I hope to continue to be a part of this movement. Clearly, we need more of this.

I highly encourage you to sign up for the retreat of a lifetime at Within.

I am so inspired to bring more of the wellness and mindfulness into our tech community. Join the Techies + Wellness Facebook community.

For updates and to learn more about me, check out www.jamiecabaccang.com or follow me on Instagram and LinkedIn.

To stay in-the-know with Microsoft Design, follow us on Dribbble, Twitter and Facebook, or join our Windows Insider program. And if you are interested in joining our team, head over to aka.ms/DesignCareers.

Jamie Cabaccang

Written by

Transforming lives through technology and Reiki. Pinterest Design Lead. Inventor. Artist. Reiki Practitioner. Gypsy Soul. Founder of Techies + Wellness.

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

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