Several years ago, life coach and author Anne Barry Jolles created a map of a walking trail near her Plymouth home to help guide people through self-reflection exercises and marked the path with beach stones painted with inspiring words. She has since taken her Grace Trail resiliency model to the masses by hosting numerous workshops, webinars and retreats. Most recently, she came out with a book called “Grace Trail: Find Your Footing & Move Toward the Life You Were Meant to Live.” We sat down with Jolles to find out how she got where she is today and how she seeks to inspire others to think more positively.By Maria Allen
To answer that question, I have to share what a life coach does. A life coach works with clients to create lives that are meaningful, purposeful and enjoyable – according to each person’s own, unique definitions. “Life” includes home, relationships, work and play. Life coaches do not tell you what to do or give you specific advice. They help you to find your own answers that work uniquely for you. I decided to become a life coach because I love working with people who want to live their best lives, do their best work and are willing to make the effort it takes to get there. I am impressed by how courageous my clients often are as they take on the challenges necessary to live more satisfying lives. I really respect people who are willing to move out of their comfort zones.
What type of people usually seek the help of a life coach?
Life coaches often focus on specialty areas or niches, but I prefer to be a generalist. I work with people all over the spectrum, ranging from those who may be extremely dissatisfied with their lives to those who are living a good life but want to make it great. Life coaching is fairly mainstream now as compared to 15 years ago when I started. In the future, I believe most people will need coaches like me as life becomes more complex and competitive. You need another set of eyes and ears helping you to pick your way through the clutter and design a life that matters to you. The type of person who seeks the help of a coach is a person who does not want to “settle” with his or her life and is willing to do the work required to make the tough decisions and necessary changes.
How did you find “grace”?
I like to say that “grace” came and found me. More than a decade ago, my family hit some tough times; both of my parents passed away within six months of each other, we were parenting teens with home, medical and school struggles, and I was changing my profession to become a coach. Alone, each of those struggles was enough but together they knocked me off my feet. I kept saying, “I need to step into a state of grace”. I didn’t even know what I meant by that, but I knew I was searching for a place that was calmer and more peaceful – sort of like the eye of the storm.
That was when I saw the five words within the word grace –
Gratitude, Release, Accept, Challenge, Embrace.
And I started asking the five questions that flowed from
G: Even though life is difficult, what can I be grateful for?
R: What do I need to release or let go of?
A: What do I need to accept in my life?
C: How do I want to challenge myself now?
E: What can I embrace as possible?
I found that every time I asked and answered these questions, I felt better- with more clarity, more energy, and better able to focus on what mattered most at that moment.
What do you love most about the Grace Trail path in Plymouth?
I love the Grace Trail in Plymouth for its natural beauty and the fact that it is full of life – both wildlife and people walking the trail and just enjoying the area. More and more, people are telling me just how much the Grace Trail means to them. And, I also hear this from people all across the country who have read my book, “Grace Trail: Find Your Footing and Move Toward the Life You Were Meant to Live.” You don’t have to come to Plymouth to walk Grace Trail. You can walk it anywhere, any time or with anyone just by asking the five questions. People are making their own Grace Trails.
Do you have to be spiritual/religious to walk the Grace Trail?
Not at all. You can interpret the five questions any way you want. My definition of “grace” is very pragmatic and can be easily accessed by people from all walks of life searching for joy, hope and resiliency. It speaks to everyone using basic concepts and universal wisdom. Grace Trail speaks the language of the heart.
Is it okay for people to take the rocks they find on the trail?
When I initially started putting large rocks along the trail with the five words on them, they got stolen quite frequently. So I began collecting smaller beach stones and putting them next to the large stones with messages on them. I encourage people to take a stone for inspiration if it speaks to them and is what they need to hear.
Keeping the trail stocked with stones is a lot to keep up with these days as more people discover the trail and take the stones, which is a good thing! Others who benefited from the Grace Trail have started leaving stones of their own with messages on them. It is really rewarding to see that people are not only taking but they are giving back. There are many people who keep an eye on the Grace Trail and help out in so many ways. I call them “keepers of the trail.”
Is the physical act of walking an important part of the experience?
Yes, there is something magical about walking in a beautiful natural setting and asking and answering these powerful questions. Nature seems to distract us from our worries and allows us to dream a bit. The physical act of moving forward brings hope to us. However, it is not essential to physically walk. You can sit anywhere and simply ask the questions and walk the trail in your mind. Plus, the questions all work well in group discussion.
I saw that local singer/songwriter Joe Merrick has a song called Grace Trail? Are the two things related?
Joe Merrick coincidentally started seeking grace in his life years ago, around the time that I first devised the five concepts of grace. I then shared this with him and others in one of my workshops that he attended. When I created the actual Grace Trail, Joe wrote an original song, sent it to me and I loved it! He really captures the essence of Grace Trail. But of course he would… he is such a talented guy.
Where have you hosted Grace Trail workshops?
I am running workshops and speaking frequently, which I love. I recently was hosted by 3 Daughters Jewelry Store and Nicole Cafe in Plymouth to run a workshop at the cafe. We sold out. It was a lot of fun and very enjoyable.
Another thrill was when I ran an actual Grace Trail for two weeks in Barnes & Noble in Hingham. People came and walked the trail throughout the store. I also presented a show called “Tales from the Trail” there, with Joe Merrick singing his original song. “Tales from the Trail” is an engaging presentation I offer, in which I showcase a collection of stories about how the trail came to be, tales of people walking their trail and sharing their experiences with me. I hear and add new stories every day, so it’s never the same show twice.
I ran a Grace Trail for the International Coach Federation of Connecticut for a full house and enthusiastic crowd. And in December, I was invited to run a Grace Trail through the Massachusetts Conference for Women Vendor market area where 13,000 women had a chance to experience Grace Trail. It was a phenomenal success.
Where do you hope to take the Grace Trail in the future?
I want see Grace Trails pop up all over the world! My mission is to spread inspiration, optimism and resiliency throughout this challenging world. Grace Trail elevates hearts and allows people to engage in conversations that matter. I believe that the Grace Trail is one way for people to cope and access hope in these crazy times.
Copies of Anne Barry Jolles’ book can be purchased at the gift shop 3 Daughters Jewelry in Plymouth. To download a Grace Trail map or to find out about upcoming author appearances, visit GraceTrail.com.