KarenPery.com | What’s Your Unicorn?
leadership retreats, surfing, Malibu, leadership training
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What’s Your Unicorn?

Let me tell you a story about Emma and a 9 foot inflatable unicorn.

Emma was the first participant to say yes and sign up for the 2016 Into the Fire Surf Retreat.

Gary and I got to know Emma in the months leading up to Into the Fire between chatting on Facebook, sharing notes, and sending posts on Instagram. Not only was Emma the only participant who traveled all the way from London to Malibu, she came to the States for a month prior to the retreat. Emma immersed herself in everything we sent for and about the retreat. She basically completed a self-study graduate degree in Into the Fire. (We love that about her.)

A few weeks before the retreat, we sent questions to all of our participants, including:

Do you have any requests that will make Into the Fire the best weekend of your life? No requests are off limits. We create Into the Fire with you and for you. Let us delight you!

Emma responded to our questions, but made no requests.

And since she replied early and because we’d been connecting all summer and knew why she was coming and what she wanted for herself, we wrote back: are you up for a challenge?

This question is not intended simply to gather information to keep you safe, happy and healthy, this is an invitation for you to ask for ANYTHING – not just for ITF, but for life, for the future you are creating. Dream, play, give us a challenge. Be indulgent, specific, and have fun with it! 

Gary and I encouraged her to be open, both to ask and be willing to receive. She took a few days and sent us back a detailed list. Among her requests…

Surf an inflatable unicorn! LOL! I had to put that in there.

Now here’s where it gets really fun.

Some of the items on Emma’s list were easy, some were already built into the retreat but surfing an inflatable unicorn was not.

Her request spoke to my heart.

I made myself a promise: if one more person registered for Into the Fire, I was personally buying an inflatable unicorn to fulfill Emma’s wish.

We received Emma’s list at 2:42pm on a Wednesday afternoon. At 5:30pm that same day, our final participant enrolled and a 9 foot inflatable unicorn was in transit to me from Amazon Prime. I didn’t tell Gary that we needed to work a giant inflatable unicorn into our agenda until he arrived in Los Angeles a few days before the retreat, and then we did.

In the Book of Leadership According to Karen Pery, one of my core and guiding principles of developing leaders is you have to be yourself.

Imagine a great team, for you it might be sports, for me it’s a restaurant. Everyone has to know their job, be committed to a shared vision of success, own their strengths and perform their role to the best of their abilities while communicating with others and paying attention to what’s happening around them for the team to succeed. The chef gets the best from her suppliers to create her menu, the host keeps the reservations moving, the wait staff deliver orders to the kitchen and takes care of customers’ allergies and celebrations, the dishwashers keep the plates and glasses clean so the customers can eat the food the cooks make from salads to dessert. At the end of the night, when the team has worked together and everyone has done their job, the restaurant has happy customers who’ve had a great experience, everyone gets paid and the restaurant continues to serve.

Everyone has to do his or her part.

You’ve got to be you and I have to be me.

Occasionally being me sometimes requires a leap of faith from others because I see possibilities where most do not. As a leader it’s my job to share the big vision, communicate and build trust so people will play along with me.


Once the retreat was in motion, our hours were filled and at the end of the days we were exhausted. We decided the inflatable unicorn would appear on the last day of the retreat, but neglected to plan out the logistics.

On that last morning, I asked my husband for suggestions on how to transport our unicorn.

“It’s easier if you leave it,” he said. Our cars were too small to drive the inflated beast and the retreat had been extraordinary without it. It was one more thing and we didn’t need it.

Determined, I packed it in my trunk anyway, along with a portable air compressor. Gary texted our amazing assistant Margarita to meet us at the gas station, since she had a bigger vehicle and could maybe meet us at the beach with our rainbow hued friend in tow.

“Can we inflate this here?”

The station attendant said no.

“You might have to let this one go, Karen.” Gary discouraged me from getting too attached to what I wanted, but I was committed.

It was time for a Hail Mary (which in our case was a Hail Margarita).

Margarita got it done.

As our retreat participants sat on the beach waiting to begin the last day of the retreat, Gary, Margarita and I ran to greet them like a group of Baywatch lifeguards carrying the inflatable unicorn that Emma had wished into existence.

I told them the whole story, starting where we offered to honor requests to create delight, and how none but Emma asked for anything, and she only did after she was pushed.

I shared how the last participant enrolled and in doing so, helped bring the magic.

I asked how often we miss opportunities to create joy and meaning simply because we don’t ask for what we want (especially if it seems silly or indulgent) or worse, we don’t ask for anything at all?

Emma and I threw ourselves on the inflatable unicorn to catch a few waves before the Zuma Beach lifeguards kindly asked us to remove our toy from the ocean. Apparently it wasn’t safe to surf a unicorn near surfboards and swimmers – not safe, but totally spectacular and we loved every ridiculous minute!


Truly, my greatest joy was seeing Emma realize that she could ask for anything she wanted and by extension, so could we all.

You never know who will say yes.

Everyone’s got a unicorn. What’s yours?

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