Soul Sparks Change Everything – What’s Yours?

by Alli Polin on March 10, 2015

Soul Sparks Activate Leadership

I’ve always been an actress, but post college, I haven’t always had the confidence to audition. I’d take class after class; on camera class, monologues, scene study, you name it. I’d tell myself that I needed another class and I’d be ready to put myself out there more. However, the moment I found my courage, it became an unstoppable force that led to a soul spark I’ll never forget. 

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference writes about Soul Sparks in his new book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon defines a Soul Spark as:

“Soul sparks are those small ignitions of inspiration that fan into big changes, new directions, or fresh works. They come from deep down inside. Make your body and mind shake with excitement. These are soul sparks.” 

As a coach, I often help other tap into their soul sparks, yet Jon challenged me to share one of my own soul sparks.  This is the story of when my quiet side hobby of acting, married my career in change management and adult learning.  The experience was beyond exciting and has stayed with me for many years.

My team was engaged to create a real-time business simulation as the capstone training for new pharmaceutical sales reps. We were hot and heavy into the design and a few of us needed to travel to attend a critical meeting in Chicago.  My manager asked me to go…

Earlier that week I went to an audition for Craig Lucas’ Blue Window with a professional theater company in Philadelphia.  The day she asked me to attend the meeting, I found out I had been called back for one of the roles. 

I quickly calculated two options:

1) Miss the call back and feel like I’d never be able to have a full life and professional success – that it had to be either/or.

2) Tell my manager about the call back and ask to miss the meeting.

I chose to be vulnerable and tell her about my audition.  Heart beating out of my chest, I started the conversation and within a minute, without hesitation, she told me that I needed to be at the audition.  The meeting would be covered.  No debate, no digs, only 100% support. 

My manager flamed the soul spark within me. She listened, trusted, and understood that this audition was connected to my heart and soul. The best leaders never stomp on someone’s heart and expect them to breathe life into the work; it’s an impossibility. 

I won’t keep you in suspense. I went to the call back and did not get cast.  However, I went to another audition and did.  My soul was on fire and like any spark, it created a flame that spread. I had more energy and showed up with more passion at work because I was honoring my life, not only my professional climb to the top. 

I was at rehearsal one night and a light went on deep within me.  What if we cast actors in our live business simulation?  It was an off the wall, totally out-there idea that I was sure could work, but it would be a huge risk for me to bring it forward.  What if I’m wrong?  What if I look like an ass?

I asked myself a series of these what-ifs until I asked the questions that really mattered:

What if this idea freakin’ rocks?  What if it could completely change the game? What if I don’t say anything… isn’t that really a bigger risk?

I can still picture sitting down with my manager to pitch the idea.  I can see her face, her eyes closed as she deeply listened, remembering the outcome… let’s pitch it to the client. 

Let’s cut the story off here.  Nearly six months later, our team pulled off the largest theatre based business simulation training in history.  I led the theatrical components, while my colleagues focused on other critical aspects of the learning design. It was incredible – what I like to call the magic mix.  Together we accomplished something that literally never had been attempted before. 

I was energized and pinched myself daily.  I was working closely with talented and accomplished professional actors and directors; a dream come true.  I was stretching my creative thinking and pushing my leadership skills to the limit. It all happened because I looked to my heart, my love of acting, and followed the spark.

Here’s What I Learned about the Power of Soul Sparks

  • Soul sparks happen when you’re willing to fully show up as you.
  • Vulnerability and courage enable you to not only take risks, but remain deeply connected and accountable to your choices.
  • Soul sparks are like a wave that carry you forward, in flow.  However, like a surfer, you will find many waves to ride and celebrate over your lifetime, not only one.
  • Your creativity is unleashed when you take the pressure off the big moments and look for inspiration everywhere. 
  • When you follow your soul spark there will be times when you are having so much fun you can’t help but secretly smile, thinking, “I’m getting paid for this!”
  • Ultimately, knowing the feeling of a soul spark helps you to find the start of your next.

What if I decided I needed more classes? More time?  What if I was too afraid to audition out in the “real world”?  

I never would have imagined that going to one audition would change my path and the paths of so many others in the process.  It was one night of bravery that led to one of the most meaningful professional experiences in my entire adult life. 

Go pursue your soul spark without fear.  Every road leads somewhere.  See where yours takes you to lead on with purpose, vulnerability and go find your truth.

I wrote this post as a part of a community initiative to celebrate the Activate Leadership book launch and the power of soul sparks.  Have you had a soul spark?  What’s your story?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz March 10, 2015 at 7:29 am


What a great example of a Soul Spark and what can unfold with encouragement, vulnerability, and a willingness to step into it. Your lessons learned are so vital. When we embrace our sparks, many waves can unfold. We just need to be willing to take the step and we need a community that encourages us to do the same.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful Soul Spark story!



Alli Polin March 10, 2015 at 7:37 am

Thanks for your inspiration, Jon! I’m confident that Activate Leadership will be a powerful book for millennial leaders and across generations.




Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ March 10, 2015 at 7:37 am

Bravo Alli!! The courage to show up and try — with your manager — led to a fullness of life that you would otherwise have sacrificed without even trying.

Soul sparks — what a great phrase Jon. It underscores a basic truth in life: If you don’t make the attempt toward a dream, you are choosing to stay.

Great post. Very engaging story.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™


Alli Polin March 10, 2015 at 7:39 am

Many thanks, Kate! I think it’s a beautiful term that Jon uses and I sat with it, in reflection, for a week or so before writing this post.

I love how you put it too, Kate, in the context of choice. We can follow our soul sparks or make another, potentially far less fulfilling choice.




Cynthia Bazin March 10, 2015 at 8:06 am

Absolutely LOVE this Alli! Thank for sharing this amazing example! Sounds like Jon’s book Activate Leadership is a ‘Must Buy’ and will change the lives of so many! Thank you!!


Alli Polin March 10, 2015 at 8:11 am

Thanks, Cindy! I always appreciate Jon’s work and insights and I think his book will spark people into action… one of my faves far beyond just thinking about doing something. 🙂


Johann Gauthier a.k.a MR.Renaissance March 10, 2015 at 10:55 am

Dear Alli!
What a pure gift of joy and amazement you are! Seriously, I literally had SO many goosebumps reading you … and feeling your words and emotions … Wow! I want to thank you for this from the bottom of my heart! I SO loved your story here of breaking your own frame and taking a leap of faith. Gosh! Are you EVER on fire!
Thank you SO much for sharing your story with the world. Thank you for being you and for inspiring all of us to live authentically!
Much hugs and love


Alli Polin March 12, 2015 at 8:13 am


Thank you so much for your comment! First of all, it’s incredible how much positive energy and potential-filled vibration you bring to every interaction. Thanks for sharing some here 🙂

I think one of the powerful things about soul sparks is how even after we think they’ve faded, they are there for us to tap into. Simply mentally reliving this experience brought it to life once again.

Appreciate you!



Samantha Hall March 10, 2015 at 11:22 am

What a BEAUTIFUL and creative example of a Soul Spark brought to life Alli!

LOVE this post! What’s important to note is that when it comes to these sparks, they are a NATURAL expression of who you already are! It’s not something feigned…it’s not counterfeit. In fact, it’s not something we can really pre-ordain at all! It’s something we FEEL inside and if/when we pay attention and take NOTICE of those inspirational sparks, it leads us on a beautiful path of discovery that manifests a living, breathing part of your own soul in the process!

Great story. Great example Alli.


Alli Polin March 12, 2015 at 8:16 am

I’m doing a workout program where the instructor is fond of saying “you can fake a tear, you can fake a smile, but you can’t fake sweat.” You can’t fake a soul spark either. It comes when you’re open, vulnerable and courageous enough to follow it and see where it goes.

Big yes on “a NATURAL expression of who you already are!”

PS. I love the way you put it. It truly is a beautiful path of discovery.

Thank you for sharing your insights here! Grateful!


Chery Gegelman March 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Great post Alli! I ove your story, your courage and am so glad you had a boss that was supportive! And Jon’s words perfectly describe it – Soul Spark!


Alli Polin March 12, 2015 at 8:18 am

I had a few remarkable bosses in a row during this time in my life. All women who I admire and learned something different from each of them.

Love the way Jon named it! Acting on the inner knower, deep in our gut… a soul spark!

Thanks, Chery!


Terri Klass March 10, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Thank you so much Alli for sharing your Soul Sparks story and transformation! There are moments in our lives that we know we need to take hold of, even if we are afraid.

When I made my switch from working internally for an organization to becoming a consultant, I was petrified. How would I make this work out financially and professionally? I approached my boss about it, fearful that she would lash out at me. I rolled out my saga and reasons, very concerned that I was burning a bridge. She looked back at me and said, “You can work for us as a consultant. We will be your first client.” I was thrilled. I was still a bit scared. But I had to expose myself to move forward.

Well done Alli!


Alli Polin March 12, 2015 at 8:21 am

Really appreciate your story as well, Terri. Must have been tons of knots in your stomach before that conversation, but you knew it was the right path… and so did your boss.

It’s not only being vulnerable with others, but vulnerable with our own hearts and listening and responding to our own truths.

Thanks so much, Terri!


LaRae Quy March 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm

I had no idea you were an actress, Alli! I can see where you would be awesome! You have a lot of emotional intelligence and that has enabled you to be such a great coach!

Love that phrase, Soul Spark! And I totally agree with Samantha—”these sparks, they are a NATURAL expression of who you already are!” It’s being authentic about pursuing work that has both value and meaning.


Alli Polin March 12, 2015 at 8:23 am

I really miss acting. I’ve thought about going to auditions here but I’d stick out as the American in the cast and I have an super lousy Australian accent 🙂

I’m totally down with the way Samantha put it too! Authenticity is key. You’ll never feed your soul when you’re walking someone else’s path.

Thanks, LaRae!


Karin Hurt March 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Ha, One more thing we have in common, acting 😉 I love the concept of caring for our soul sparks. Can’t wait to read the book!


Alli Polin March 12, 2015 at 8:24 am

Must be why we love getting up in front of groups! 🙂

Caring for our soul sparks – yes! Instead of letting them slip on by…

Thanks, Karin!


skipprichard1 March 12, 2015 at 9:44 pm

Congratulations on your acting! And I love the “soul sparks” label because it really hits at our purpose.


Alli Polin March 16, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Thanks so much, Skip! It’s true… soul sparks are only found when we look within.


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