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How hard is it to write a personal development course?

Merja: Hey everyone, it’s Merja here. Today I’m with Lisa Payne who is the managing partner of the Sumiloff Academy of Human Integration. She’s also a senior Integration Mentor specialising in Enneagram profiling. She’s been described by her clients as an Emotional Archaeologist. Lisa, welcome to this episode. It’s good to be here with you!

You have some questions for me today so let’s do it!

Lisa: It’s lovely to be with you here today Merja. I do have a few questions for you!

You and I have finished work- and when I say “you and I”, I mean mainly you- on creating and revising the 4 People Within®️ transformational course, the INFX Unveiled healing course, and the Integration Mentor program where you train other Mentors to do the work that I’m doing, and to do the work that you do. And so, we’ve just finished a really intense 18 months of doing this. What’s I mean is, you create all the materials and I read with you on a Monday. We do a sense check and see what it sounds like out loud, and then do some editing as we go along.

It’s been a really interesting time for me, I know it’s been a really interesting time for you too, and we finished last Monday. It’s like we’re at the end of something, and I sat there afterwards and thought “ Wow! That’s been my Monday morning for the past 18 months.

It all of a sudden hit me how much work has actually gone into it, and the people who purchase and get to see the courses only see what you give to them. They don’t actually see the work that has gone on behind it. And because you’re such a private person, you don’t big up yourself. You more or less stay behind the curtain and you get on, and you do the work. So, the reason I wanted to do this was because I wanted to celebrate you.

I think it’s really easy- I know this is true for me- to move from thing to thing to thing to thing. You finish it and you move on. And one of the big principles of the Integration Mentor Program is that we celebrate our wins, and also look at our challenges. So, what I’d like to do today is to talk about the wins and challenges that you’ve had while doing this, because whilst you’ve been doing this, real life happens!

So! I’ll jump straight into the questions. To anybody listening out there: don’t be offended by anything that I say! Merja and I know each other really well, so I can get into these questions with her.

My first question to you, Merja, is what the f**k is wrong with you? (laughs)

Merja: Thank you for this question! (laughs)

Well, I’m a worker. I am a creative person. One of my top values is freedom of thought. Which means that wherever I go I bring myself with me. It’s not just psychological entertainment, it’s actually how do I apply this? What is this process I’m going through right now? How do I apply it in everyday life so that I can continue my own personal integration and transformation?

Over the last 18 months I’ve worked on 72 modules and each one takes about 9 hours from start to finish. Then there’s the mentoring training that I’m doing with the students, my own 1-2-1 work (which I do very little of these days, but probably still much more than most coaches out there!), as well as our online communications and emails. and I try to do as much as possible myself because I want to be available as much as I can for people who are reaching out, and I can’t always do that but I try.

Over the last 18 months anybody who is, for example, in our Facebook groups has noticed that I haven’t really been there much, but now I’m back and you’ve probably seen a massive difference! Which is simply because I now have more time.

So, what the f**k is wrong with me? It could be any number of things, but I would say I have an inherited way, which is being industrious. My mother is one of the most industrious people I know. I have been fortunate to inherit that. With that industriousness comes creation of courses, books. I have a book deal with a publisher, and I’ve had it for years, and I just haven’t gotten to it. There are all these different things that ‘should’ be done and now I find, after redoing and finishing these particular 3 courses, that I have another 2 or 3 courses that haven’t been redone yet. I won’t be doing anything more this year, BUT incidentally, we ARE doing something else that I’m really excited about!

Currently the team and I are working on creating an online personal development safe house. Effectively it’s our own social media platform. A lot of our clients are no longer on Facebook. There’s so much ‘stuff’ there that’s not conducive to our mental health and it’s not conducive to our personal development. So we’ve decided to have an alternative available, which is going to be invite only, and also very well moderated. It’s a safe house, which, I think, says it all.

L: With INFJs and INFPs in particular, we need that focused place to be able to go, which cuts through the other crap, so that we’re not having to wade through all that to see what’s relevant for us. Is that accurate?

M: Yes, yes, exactly. Focus, and also there’s so much bullying going on online. I’m over it! I’ve been over it for a long time. Anyone who knows me personally, or who is a friend on my personal profile, sees how little people do it with me on my wall these days, because I’ve been having boundaries for so long. But I want to offer that space of safety to those who perhaps are not in a position to set those boundaries yet. It’s not an easy thing to do. Especially with your family, or with people challenging you online, on your own wall.

We don’t have to agree on everything. But I also don’t want to be attacked because somebody has a different opinion, and I wanted to offer that sense of safety to those who need it.

L: Thank you for that. It makes total sense to me because I’ve always found that with your work, and with your approach as well, that there’s this protective layer around people. There is a lot of trauma out there, and we don’t know what other people are going through.

It can be incredibly triggering when somebody from out of the blue, who you don’t know, and when you’re trying to do your healing and development work, attacks you. You want that safe place to be able to go to, and to know that you can let your guard down and what happens there, stays there.

M: Yeah, I think the idea originally came from a client, a student, who actually said “I’m moving away from this platform. Do you have anything else available?”. And I just said “We don’t right now, I’m sorry to see you go.” But then I started asking around “ Would you be interested in this? How are you feeling on Facebook? How are you feeling on social media?” The algorithm and everything just keeps you hearing your own opinions back to you all the time. It’s tough. So, yes, that’s where it came from.

L: But let’s get back to celebrating you!

I want you to know that, from me, the work that you’ve done has absolutely changed my life. In 2016 I was in such a bad place and I started following your work, and then I became an Integration Mentor student. In 2021 I am in such a different place. The tools, the Inner Parenting, the 4 People Within®️work, to me, has been transformational. So, having that work out there, and with the comprehensive revisions that you’ve made, it’s a new course. You’ve put your experience and your knowledge that you’ve gained since first writing it, and you’ve really put even more flesh on those bones.

I don’t know where I’d be now if it wasn’t for this work. Obviously I would have gone in a different direction, but I can’t state enough that this work is transformational. And it’s been transformational for me. And I know it’s not easy for you (Merja) when you’re actually going through it.

So now I’m going to segway. But first, and you don’t have to answer, do you have any comments about what I’ve just said about how I’m celebrating you?

M: Yeah, anytime I hear this type of feedback, I feel like crying. It feels like relief, and that may sound a little bit insane, but I’m good with that. It’s almost like I feel the relief of you becoming more of who you are. It touches me in my heart.

People, such as yourself, who take this work and implement it, and run with it: look at where you are! Yes, it’s life-changing work, but YOU'VE done the work. It’s a real symbiotic effort that we put together. So thank you. Thank you for sharing that. It’s humbling.

L: The 2nd question I’d like to ask you is: when you were writing the 4 People Within®️, the INFX Unveiled, and the Integration Mentor Program, and doing the revisions, what was the hardest part? Let’s start with the 4 People Within®️. Because it is such a transformational course.

M: I think the hardest part was when I wrote about PTSD. The writing was ok. I could feel the PTSD creeping up because I was sharing some personal stuff on that course. I Inner Parented myself through that and moved on. But when it was time to record…and I was recording the PTSD module…I started to get the post traumatic triggering. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t even leave the recording room, I locked myself into that room. It sounds like an overreaction, but I was so sure that if I left that room that I would be killed. My problem was that my phone was in another room because I can’t have the phone in the recording room, so I couldn’t call Peter straightaway to come and get me. I think that was the hardest thing about that. It was to get out of that room, get the phone, call Peter to come and get me. It took me a couple of days to recover from that and start recording again.

L:I think it’s going to resonate so much with people who have PTSD because we hear terms bandied about all over the internet. And people just use them as shorthand, right? But those who really do have PTSD will resonate so much with what it is that you’re saying.

So correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s like you’ll have PTSD and then you’ll still feel like you have to do this. When you’re in the middle of it, obviously, you can’t do that but when you get even a little bit of the edge where you can start to see the light, and then you have that impulse of “I have to get back into it! I have to do this!”(get back to work). And here’s me saying “Hang on a minute Merja! This has just happened to you. Give yourself some space. Give yourself some time for this!”. And I hope that’s been useful for you.

M: It has, absolutely, at times, been useful. And then at times, because I’ve learned to use work as an anchoring point to reality- what reality actually is, as opposed to what the PTSD is telling me. So, you kind of have to play it by ear and see which works. Do I need time, or do I actually need to work? So, yes, it’s both.

L: That makes total sense.

I have the same question about the INFX Unveiled. What was the hardest part of the revising of INFX Unveiled for you?

M: I think for the INFX Unveiled it was that I wanted to bring in the 4 People Within®️ concept into that healing course designed for INFJs and INFPs, but without losing the heart I had given to that course years and years ago when I first wrote it.

It originally didn’t have the 4 People Within®️ aspect in it but when you know, as an INFJ or an INFP, the 4 different people that actually reside within you, then the whole healing process is much faster and easier. It’s not easy, but it’s easier. (laughs) So that’s one thing. I hear the INF struggles and I know about the healing journey that we need to go through, I hear that so much.

Simultaneously, I’m no longer where I was years ago, when I first wrote it. So, I didn’t want it to lose its essence, the heart that I had given it, whilst still improving on it.

L: Yes, that makes complete sense to me. Other people probably don’t know this about you, but you’re always trying to give more value in the work that you do and sometimes there can be too much in something. Then it's like “what do I need to take out so that it gives the value but it’s not completely overwhelming as well.”

M: Exactly! And that’s the problem: the embarrassment of knowledge that comes with having done this work- coaching and training and mentoring people for 25+ years, and because I continue my personal development work every day, I don’t think I’ll ever ‘arrive’- there’s always more. That is how I’m wired so it can be challenging for me to work with the stuff I was working with years ago.

One of the reasons I wanted to do the Integration Mentor Program was for exactly that reason. There are amazing people, amazing mentors who are supposed to be doing this work. It’s their passion, it’s their purpose. They can work with that beginning to medium level with people, as people are beginning to know their 4 People Within®️and starting their Inner Parenting journey. And then I can work with people who have been doing it for a longer time, and with people who want to become mentors and coaches themselves. There’s a natural progression that happens in everyone’s life. My progression doesn’t make any other work less important, it’s just that I myself might not be there to do it, but I will make sure that somebody who cares about it as much as I do will be there.

L: That makes total sense. And you’ve answered my next question, which was going to be about what was the hardest part for the Integration Mentor Program.

So, what was the most surprising thing to come out of the process as a whole?

M: That I can ask for help, and not just that I can ask for it, but that I’ll get it.

L: And that is monumental!

M: Yeah, it is for an INFJ, it is for any person who’s struggled with a difficult upbringing where things weren’t clear. When you’ve had to grow up too early you learn not to ask for help.

So I think it was not just asking for help, but also receiving it, allowing myself to receive the help, which was the most surprising.

L: That resonates! That resonates right in here with me, in my heart.

Conversely, what was the easiest part of all of this?

M: I’ve literally never had writer’s block ever in my life. You’ve probably seen that I’ve never had to struggle with the writing so if I haven’t met a deadline it’s because something else has been going on that I’ve had to attend to. So, there are two things in life I don’t do, and people absolutely hate me for these two things! They are writer’s block- I don’t do it- and jet-lag- I don’t do it!

L: So, Merja- the Personality Decoder, impacting people’s lives one at a time so that they can then go and do the same for others- thank you so much for this time. I know how precious your time is and how difficult it can be letting the light in to a bit of you for everybody else to see. But I think it’s really important for people to understand who you are behind the work. The work is really important, but the person who is creating the work is even more important. Merja, I salute you! Thank you so much for everything you’ve done, and continue to do!

M: Thank you Lisa. I can’t tell you how much my Inner 3 year old loves to hear those words! I hear you and I accept your feedback.

L: Fantastic, and I am so pleased! Here’s to fun and joy and happiness for the rest of the year!

This article is taken from a live conversation between Merja Sumiloff and Lisa Payne. Watch the video here:

I’m Merja Sumiloff. I’m the Personality Decoder and I show my clients and people who come to me how to heal and grow your relationships without massive disruption to your day-to-day life.


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