I truly just fell into the work of producing the multispeaker events called Celebrate Your Life—my soul’s calling. I am behind the scenes, producing and creating these magical programs, bringing together the world’s greatest spiritual visionaries and teachers for entire weekends. When you’re cocooned and immersed in that energy, there’s nothing like it. Transformation happens. Healing happens.
I created the company with my mom, Ariel Wolfe (who made her transition in June 2009), with just a phone in her dining room on this old, rickety desk. We had no idea we were creating a business. She was a former classical pianist-turned-psychotherapist, and I was an actress whose career was falling apart. I was 32 years old and at a crossroads.
I had been working in this bookstore for $4.50 an hour, and one day my boss turned to me and said, “There’s this book that I think is going to be really well-received. This guy handed it to me out of the trunk of his car, and I love it. I’d like to do an event with him.”
I’d had some past event experience, so I said, “Sure, I’ll do the event.”
That was in 1994, and the book was The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. It was one of the first books, alongside Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch, that broke publishing industry records. We got ahold of James just as it started to hit the New York Times best-seller list. We had him in for a lecture, and it was standing room only—1,500 to 1,600 people. It was just an explosion!
Then James’ wife Salle called me and said, “Time Warner just published my audiobook, The Celestine Meditations. Would you do an event for me?”
I looked at my mom and said, “Well, I don’t have any money, and I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Listen,” my mom replied. “I’ll loan you $1,500. We’ll set up a phone line here in the house. I’ll get you a little computer. Let’s just do the event.”
“Okay,” I responded. “What the heck?”
When I went to place an ad in the local newspaper, the man asked, “What’s the name of your company?”
“Company?” I responded. “Let me get back to you on that.”
Sadly, we had just put our dog to sleep, so I said to my mom, “Let’s call it Mishka Productions.” It’s in honor of this beautiful beam of light, our family dog Mishka, who looked like a white wolf.
I placed the ad for Salle’s event, and again, we had standing room only. What happened in the space was really magical. I started to get letters about how people’s experiences with the Redfields changed their lives, and I thought, Wow, this is amazing. It rang true to my soul, to my heart.
Then a friend mentioned, “You know, Carlos Castaneda is making live appearances.” Castaneda was this very elusive, mystical man who wrote Journey to Ixtlan and all these magical teachings.
I had no business background. I wasn’t even set up to take credit cards. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I called his office and I said, “Hi, I’d like to produce an event with Carlos Castaneda.”
Time Warner Publishing asked me to create a few more events. Then one day we got this phone call. My mom answered, and she was all excited. She put the caller on hold and said, “Liz, it’s Wayne Dyer. I think you should talk to him.”
“Who’s Wayne Dyer?” I asked.
When I got on the phone, this booming voice said, “Hi. It’s Dr. Wayne Dyer.”
“Hi, I’m Liz Dawn,” I replied.
My mother’s in the background saying, “He’s really big! He’s really big!”
Then of course we started meeting people. Doreen Virtue fell into our laps, as did Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra.
While I was growing up in New York, my mother had been director of a summer camp in Connecticut for 16 years. She understood how to organize 200 or 300 campers and a hundred or so counselors and make it work. I intuitively understood marketing. We just fell into being this amazing team.
Many people have told me, “I’m so envious—you had such a great relationship.” But it was rocky growing up. My mom married three times and each father was worse than the one before, so we had to work through that after her last divorce, when I was about 25. She embarked on a lot of intensive personal development then and became a psychotherapist as a result. I was very angry because of all this garbage I’d been through as a kid, but she was willing to go into a therapist’s office and hammer things out with me.
Later, when we started our business together, we still had a few issues to discuss. I have a big personality, and I had to learn not to roll over my mom on decisions. I had to learn to be more respectful, more honoring of her needs and who she was in the world—a brilliant woman and a brilliant spiritual teacher. (She was really my first spiritual teacher—she was a wild, kind of hippie mom. When I was 16, she had me meditating and taking spirulina.) Our relationship blossomed.
From 1995 to 2002, we did one event a month. We’d bring in Wayne for a workshop. The next month, it might be Gregg Braden. The month after that, Neale Donald Walsch, and then maybe Cheryl Richardson or Caroline Myss.
In 2002 we created the first Celebrate Your Life conference and brought together about 20 visionaries—the who’s-who of the spiritual community—in one place at one time. Celebrate Your Life events became so popular that they all sold out. We also started doing smaller events and having conferences in other cities. In 2017, after all the challenges going on with women’s issues, I offered our first International Women’s Summit, which had always been a vision of my mother’s. We’re holding another one in March (see box for details).
A lot of millennials come now. They’re more thoughtful than I was at their age, and they want to better understand what’s going on with their lives, to dive deeper. That’s one of the reasons we created our intensive retreat programs in Sedona.
People who have never been to events, who wouldn’t have had the courage to step out of their comfort zone, come to these programs because they’re seeking. Half the magic is the speakers, the other half is the soul tribe connection. Best friends have met at our events. People have begun intimate relationships. The collective energy of everyone coming together in community is transformational. There’s nothing like the magic that happens here.
Celebrate Your Life’s next event is the International Women’s Summit on March 7–10, 2019, in Phoenix, Arizona. Speakers will include Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, activist and Love Warrior author Glennon Doyle Melton, Wild author Cheryl Strayed, and No Matter What! author Lisa Nichols, who appeared in the movie The Secret. Visit celebrateyourlife.com.