Crying isn’t something I do a ton of. Teary eyed over a touching commercial or thinking about something special, yes. Full blown sob, no.
That wasn’t the case this week. I’ll be describing what I’ve experienced over the past few days as “heart openers” – moments that broke my chest open and released emotions I didn’t know were lingering just below the surface.
On the Spot
There are two things that completely traumatize me: meetings and public speaking. I try my best to manage my anxiety around these things and have made strides over time. But when I was put on the spot by a leader at work meeting, assigning me to a presentation in front of 140+ people, any coping skills I had flew out the window. Heart Opener 1: Release of pure terror about having to do something that is literally what my nightmares are made of. I somehow made it through the rest of that day in a fog, holding back the flood of tears. I became incapacitated from sobbing on the way and upon arriving home.
Joel changed his plans so he could come home and be with me. I cleaned up my face as well as I could and we headed into town for dinner. On the way to town, we happened upon a kitten lost on the side of the road. I didn’t know then, but this would be my third heart opener, which I’ll talk about shortly.
That kitten was exactly what I needed. It was the perfect distraction. It forced me to remember what is important and that I have so many places my heart can rest – like when I’m holding an affectionate, purring kitten. Divine intervention came to mind. It felt too good to be true in that devastating moment for me.
I continued on as I always do. Worked my butt off, including an event I worked on Saturday, which luckily turned out to be heart opener number two. I threw together the presentation and practiced it over and over again. Our CFO surprised me by stopping by my office, and after recognizing my fears, became an unexpected public speaking coach. He used to be in my shoes (utterly mortified), but forces himself to practice so he can speak in front of people comfortably. He gave me tips, he met with me to do a run through the morning of, he introduced me before I presented, and off I went. I think it went well (I’m a terrible judge of myself because I “black out” during presentations) and we gave each other high fives when it was over.
This heart opener has a few parts. Feeling the DEEP fear I have for public speaking burst to the surface. And surviving the presentation. Letting the fear flood out of my heart was painful and felt endless. But I lived. The pain I was feeling transitioned into pride, knowing that even though I didn’t give a Mel Robbins level speech, with shaky knees and racing thoughts, I stepped up and did it. I faced my nightmare. It’s still a nightmare, but it lost a little bit of its scariness. I was also able to connect with someone who I never expected to connect with and am better off for it.
Sense of Community
As I mentioned, I worked an event over the weekend. Weekend events are OK – but better when my buddy, Romina, is there. I expected it to be a typical event, people come by our table, take some freebies, chat a bit, leave. There was that, but it felt different.
The event was called “Take Back Our Community” and was hosted by two local men from Friends of Health the Family, Inc. who want to make our community a better place. The event’s focus was a “celebration of our neighborhoods, a renewal of our spirit of togetherness, and a reorganization of our progress in supporting our town, our neighborhoods, our homes, and our families.”
Heart Opener 2: Creating a new friendship with the organizers and feeling welcomed into a community that isn’t necessarily “mine.” Mike and Cory were attentive to our needs, thankful we were there, and their passion for our community was palpable. Attendees were receptive to our information and even if they didn’t stop by, they thanked us for being there. We were one of few vendors, so it meant a lot to them that we showed up to offer our support. I didn’t feel worthy of the gratitude we were receiving, and I forgot I was working. By being there – you were part of it. Welcomed with open arms.
We watched so many impressive performances by youth and adults from Waterloo. Proud of where they live. Wanting to live in harmony with their neighbors. Encouraging youth to find outlets that keep them off the street – away from drugs and guns and violence. This heart opener ran deep. With love for the African American community, the joy they spread, and the sense of unified community among them that is extremely unique and admirable. I felt privileged to be accepted into that community without hesitation on their part, when I easily could have been the “enemy” in today’s societal climate.
Now it’s time to get to the found kitten I named Percy (because he purred so much). Who won my heart immediately and broke it to pieces when we parted ways.
As I mentioned, I feel like it was divine intervention meeting Percy. This is Heart Opener 3 for more reasons than one: First, to break my fear thought cycle; Second, to remind me where my heart lies at the end of the day; Third, to serve as a reaffirming sign for something Joel and I had just started talking about.
We scooped him up from the side of the road. He was very small and malnourished, so we took him home and fed him. I called my sister who has farm cats and asked if he could stay with them. We took him over and he seemed to fit right in. He was fearless, curious, affectionate, and loving. He ate some food and drank some water while we were there. But each day, he seemed to get more ill. When I went to pick him up three days later, we was visibly sick and couldn’t walk well.
I thought he had passed away in the car, but upon getting home, he hadn’t. He was his happy, cuddly self. He wanted to be with me. So as I bawled, I called Joel to help me determine whether to let him pass away or take him to the humane society. We decided to take him to the humane society in hopes they could help him. Before Joel got home, I wrapped Percy up in a towel and held him close, walked to the backyard and petted him. Told him he was loved. I held him all the way to the humane society. With red eyes and tears all over my face, I handed him over. They must have thought he could recover because they did not put him down, but he did pass away overnight.
It’s amazing what an impact animals can have on us. I knew him for such a short time, but all animals are sacred in my book, and he didn’t deserve to die. But that happens. It’s just the way things are sometimes.
This heart opener was needed. Amid the fear flowing out of me, I needed love and hope to combat it. I loved this little one and hoped he would get better. Even though he didn’t, he was a significant sign for me and I’ll never forget him.
Here I am on the other side of these moments. Head above water. Still breathing. Changed. These moments were so saturated with meaning, they stood out from the day to day. They challenged me and scared me and warmed me and humbled me. They happened. And for that, I am grateful. My heart is open in three new ways. That’s significant. That’s needed. For all of us.
I recently had the great honor of taking a trip to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the nonprofit health care clinic I work for. I felt very undeserving, having been with them for just under three months, but beyond grateful nonetheless.
My husband and I have always been interested in politics. We often have conversations about American history, current political events, and our favorite Presidents. We’ve also talked about visiting D.C. at some point, so I felt kind of bad that I was making this trip without him! He was happy for me and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll make it back together.
Before I left, I was mapping everything out. Where I was staying, where the Capitol was, where the conference was. I then happened upon maps showing the National Mall. My excitement shot through the roof when I realized I’d be just 10 driving minutes from the White House! And from the White House, I could walk to the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial – two things I said I had to see before leaving. Any doubts I had left me in that moment because I felt so lucky to be taking this trip.
Getting to D.C. was a breeze. Round trip I was able to see four new airports I’d never been to. I had downloaded transportation apps before I left – Super Shuttle, Uber, DC Taxi. Uber was my favorite but Super Shuttle got me from the airport to my hotel. When I arrived in D.C., I had just 30 minutes to get checked in, freshened up, and driven to my first destination. I got there right on time, was inspired by the conference’s opening session speakers, and met others from Iowa who work at other community health centers before heading to a (long) dinner with them. After waking up at 4 a.m. and traveling for eleven hours, I was SO TIRED. Although I enjoyed dinner, getting to bed felt better than it had in a really long time.
My second day was the one I was fearing the most – meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill. Although I was just there to observe, not knowing what I was walking into was bothering me. I figured if I didn’t puke or poop (which I didn’t), I’d be golden! Sadly, this the standard that helps me put high anxiety situations into perspective. Anyway, the day ended up being amazing, I felt bonded with the Iowa folks who attended with us (because we were all nervous as heck), and walked away with a new perspective on how politicians and Congress work. I got to experience a view of the inner workings of our congressional system in a way that many will not have the privilege of doing.
Here are just a few photos I snapped inside some of the House and Senate buildings (I didn’t want to be too touristy):
As a reward to myself for a successful day, I planned to sight see that evening after reading D.C. at night is a must-see – which was so true. During drinks with our colleagues, I mentioned to my boss that I was going to catch an Uber to the Lincoln Memorial (look at me sounding all fancy). I was surprised when she said she’d like to join me! And I’m so glad she did.
Here’s a quick recap of what we saw and how it made me feel:
The third day was great, but won’t be interesting to most of you. It was conference day, back to back educational sessions. My head was bursting with new ideas by the end, which is exactly what I wanted and needed to happen.
Overall, the experience was just wonderful. From what I saw and learned to the people I met and bonded with. I felt very proud to 1) be an American, and 2) be a community health center advocate.
I’m happiest that this trip lit the political activist fire within me. I’m learning politician names, parties, districts. I’m paying attention to their words vs. their actions. I will say I’ve already been disappointed my one of the Iowa politicians I met. The words he spoke and the character he portrayed DO NOT match up with his recent actions. I was sad this happened, but it has led me to take some additional steps to stay informed, hold these people accountable, and take action in getting others to VOTE people like him out.
I’ll share a couple of the additional steps I’ve taken so far before closing:
I have been alluding to good news on my Instagram account (linked at the bottom of this post) for the past couple of weeks and I am excited to finally share what it is!
I got a new job! I'm leaving my corporate health care system marketing position to start a brand new, never before held community relations role with a local non-profit health care clinic. I am so excited! I'll be a one person department, create my own job description, and develop a marketing strategy from the ground up - adding structure to their currently disjointed efforts (my absolute favorite thing to do!).
I followed my heart and found a job that I believe will feel less like a job and more like a mission. I've never felt comfortable in corporate settings. I'm thrilled to be "going back to my roots" with a smaller health care organization. I started my career with a city-owned, critical access hospital, so I'm very comfortable wearing 20 different hats and diving into what needs to be done. I'll be perfect for my new role.
I must say though, although I'm not cut out for the corporate world doesn't mean my time within it was wasted. I learned so. much. I did so. much. I was supported so. much. So many opportunities and resources were at my fingertips. The room I was given to grow is unmatched. I wouldn't be able to move into my next adventure confidently without everything I have learned from working for a health care system. I'm forever grateful.
Finding a service-based position with an organization that cared for the underserved was really important to me. I was so lucky to find this opportunity. I knew immediately that I would be a great fit. I couldn't stop thinking about how I could be of service to them and to their patients. It was pure agony waiting for their call after I interviewed. I accepted their offer immediately. I had never felt more sure about wanting a job in my life.
The decision to leave my current job to embark on a different career path has been difficult, but I know it will be worth it. I'm trying really hard to be intentional about the choices I make - including who I give my time to and what I spend my time doing. The older I get, the faster time goes. We spend so much of our precious time at work, I wanted to make sure my time was being well spent among a population that I've cared deeply about for a very long time. I've been extremely blessed throughout my life, it's time for me to turn around and help the next ones in line.
Here's to initiating change in hopes of better things to come - even when it feels really scary. I've already been reflecting on what I've learned in my career thus far and how I can bring my best self to my new role. That's the best part about change to me. Looking inward to apply past learnings to new situations.
If you have any tips on how you bring your best self to work or to your day-to-day life in general, I'd love to hear them!
I'm a natural leader who has no desire whatsoever to be a leader. Does this sound familiar to you? Tell me I'm not alone.
I've been looked to as a leader all my life. If no one else is stepping up, I will. It's a sickness, really. I can't help myself. Need a President of a council? You got it. Chair of an event? I'm there. Group leader for a project? My spreadsheet is already laid out.
It just happens. Over and over again. But the craziest thing about it is that I don't want to be doing it at all! Playing the leader is something I accept as my fate, not something I seek out. And I get mad at myself about that. I've been given the tools to be a leader. Somewhere in my DNA a leadership gene is embedded in me. There are people out there who would love that type of gift and here I am wanting to drop it from my hands like a hot potato. To me, it feels less like a gift and more like a curse.
I'm happy as a worker bee, flying under the radar, with little weight tied to the tasks I accomplish. I'm not a negotiator or a presenter or a manager of people. I'm a writer and a designer and a manager of projects.
There's no ladder to climb in my 10-year plan. I think that's what bugs me the most about being seen as a leader and not wanting to be one. I'm happy here. As I am. But others see potential in me. They tell me over and over again that I could do it...and that's when I dig my heels in, "yank my hand back," and remind myself that even though I can do it - doesn't mean I have to or should.
To me, it's not worth it. The extra work, planning, dealing with drama, ANXIETY, etc. Not interested.
Dealing with this "issue" has been a continued learning experience for me. But as of late, I've been paying more and more attention to it, trying to figure out how to move forward. In most cases, I land on:
My new year has been off to a very busy start due to a large ad campaign I'm working on. My planning schedule is six Excel tabs and four supporting Word documents deep. The phone calls, emails, and confirmation memos have been flying. In total, I miraculously scheduled twenty physicians to have their photos taken in the span of five days. The biggest portion of my shoots wrapped up yesterday. Although I always love the rush of these big photo shoots, I earned the glass of wine and 30 minute bath I enjoyed at the end of the day.
The stress that I carry when I coordinate these campaigns is immense. I hadn't slept well for weeks before last night. My chest was tight, weighed down by the to do list that was around one hundred items strong in the beginning. My mind wouldn't shut off. I was putting the puzzle pieces of the campaign together, destroying the puzzle, and starting all over again.
The aforementioned stress spurred a really important moment for me - reaching my tipping point. I couldn't do everything. I just couldn't. Something had to give, just when I thought I had learned to master the to do lists that existed for both my personal and professional worlds. My daily routine at home was doing light housework, DIY projects, budgeting, cooking, etc. (I am becoming a real June Cleaver!) My daily routine at work was keeping on top of every detail, communicating and re-communicating, checking things off, moving projects forward, etc. I had a nice thing going. But sometime last week, I intentionally threw a wrench into my well oiled machine.
I had to give up "adulting" in at least one area of my life for a little bit. And because my professional life supports what I do in my personal life, I had to choose to be an adult at work. The wonderful thing about this decision was that at home, I could be anything I wanted. Do or not do anything I wanted. For me this meant staying in bed longer, no personal planner, no housework, minimal cooking. I am very lucky to have Joel who agreed to my making a conscious decision to postpone my responsibilities at home. And you know what? When I let go of some of the things that before I swore "had to be done," I felt so much lighter. And at the end of my shoots, Joel told me he couldn't even tell I was stressed. (That's big, because if anyone knows when I'm stressed, it's poor Joel!)
At certain points in our lives, some things just have to give. When those times come, we have to allow it to happen...and we can't feel bad about it. Intentionally making space in our lives when and where we need it is not weakness - it takes strength. And when we make these decisions for ourselves, to give up trying to "do it all" at all times, it makes us even stronger. Self care people, self care. If we don't take care of ourselves, we can't take care of anyone or anything else.
I plan to resume all regular adulting activities next week, but how nice it felt to let go of the reins for little bit!
Oh, and here's me on my last day of major shoots - happy to be running the shoots + happy it was the last day = genuine happiness!!
There's something to be said about the phrase, "The truth will set you free."
I needed some freedom in my soul. And being honest was the answer. Being honest is something I am not very good at because I'm so polite. My husband may have referred to it as "painfully polite" once or twice. I smile through most things and go out of my way (waaaay out of my way) to help make things better for others. I'm someone who would rather be hurt myself than see someone else hurt and will support someone's direction, even if I think it's terrible.
I also let people walk on me a lot. Let them trample all over my truth. But I've hit a breaking point. That point was right around the time of my last post. Perhaps I had a slight mental breakdown...but I felt like it led to some life-changing revelations.
After feeling I was in the lowest of my lows, I knew something had to give. I couldn't keep letting others drag me into their negativity for the sake of being perceived as "polite." I also couldn't keep allowing myself to take the backseat in my own life to please everyone around me. It was time to get honest. With myself, and most certainly with those that were dragging me down.
I had some really difficult conversations with people I really respect. And you know what? It made things better. The clouds parted. I felt relieved and mutual respect was gained. Addressing the negativity honestly shed light on things the other people didn't even realize existed, or were getting as bad as they were. And I even stood up for myself and what I wanted. That felt good. Steps to make things better were discussed, hugs were dealt, and even better, I felt the atmosphere shift for the better almost immediately.
The honest conversations that I forced myself to have with...myself...were the hardest and will be on-going. I felt very empowered by being "the bigger person" that I wanted to be (leading with action) and by sticking up for what I needed (living my truth). But, after my honesty soaked soul-cleansing...there were points when I felt a little too empowered. In those moments, Tim McGraw's song 'Humble and Kind' came into my mind (God bless that man). I'm now trying to find balance between being polite and being honest. Being kind and having a spine. Being who I am and sticking up for it.
How do you think being a little more honest could help you right now? All I have to say is that if there is something really bothering you, don't let it fester, don't take it out on others, don't take it out on yourself. Acknowledge that something is wrong and consider whether or not a little honesty with someone else...or yourself...is needed. Live your life with gentle honesty in all of your interactions, big and small. I'm sure going to try.
I hate the word 'panties' so much...but this phrase was the best I could think of following a super stressful presentation that I just finished.
I've expressed my introverted tendencies on the blog already. So it should come as no surprise that public speaking is NOT my specialty. I've known about the presentation I gave today for an excruciating 4 WEEKS. In the weeks leading up to it, I haven't been able to think about much else (even with a full home renovation on my hands). The last week has been the worst. Every day and night the presentation was all I could think about. I was trying my best to "channel my anxiety into excitement" as the pros tell you to do...but that's hard. I considered claiming to have a family emergency, car accident, or health issue just to get out of it. I was that nervous. I didn't bail, but boy was I very tempted.
This morning I kept changing my internal dialogue to be a little more positive and spent the hour before the presentation meditating. Both items helped. But no matter what I did - I knew the nerves would inch their way back in. They did, as expected, but I believe I spoke English and hit all the high points. In summary, I don't remember a word I said, but I didn't die. I got two rounds of applause and three hugs afterwards. I don't know if that was because they felt so bad for me or if they liked it. I'm leaning towards the "they liked it" direction, but my constant self-doubt refuses to let me feel completely satisfied. What's new?
Point being? Some days you just have to "put your big girl (or boy) panties on" and do the things you don't think you can do. It would have been as easy as sending a "cough, cough, I'm sick" email to get out of the meeting today, but that's just not what grown-ups do. We don't have that luxury (if you care about your professional reputation to any degree).
In one of the videos that I watched today (to help calm my crazy nerves), there was some really great advice that was along the lines of "there's no right or wrong way to present, there are different styles." How I presented today was "my style" and there's value in that, here's why:
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
― Dr. Seuss