For some time now, nearly 5 years to be exact, I’ve been sharing my journey here. I haven’t been as active in recent years because my coaching business has been growing and thriving (yay!).
Recently, I’ve been engaging in more speaking gigs, something I LOVE to do, and people have been asking more about my story. While I’ve shared bits and pieces of it, I thought I’d take some time to share one particular piece of my story, and that is the answer to what people ask me most, “How did you get so resilient?” Well, here we go.
I think it all begins with genetics, like so much of our lives. My ancestors, both lines on my mother’s side, and one on my father’s, were part of the Pilgrim migration in the 1600s. All landed in Massachusetts. Dad’s family went south to Rhode Island while Mom’s both headed to Maine. As I always say, wimps didn’t make that voyage alive, so those who lived through it produced individuals like me. We take what life deals us, find a way to work through it and carry on, most of the time without whining.
When I was 7 years old, it was discovered that I was legally blind in one eye. It moved like a healthy eye, so until I had my first eye exam in school, nobody had guessed. Luckily, having never had stereo vision, I didn’t know what I was missing. It’s never been an issue. It was never something I dwelled on. I played basketball in junior high (I was 5’8″ after all and a good blocker), I took tennis and ballet lessons, and learned to drive a car successfully. It never occurred to me to question my ability to do anything. It was truly a non-issue and I’ve never minded wearing glasses.
At the age of 13, again during a school exam, it was discovered that I have scoliosis. This required surgery to fuse bones onto the lower part of my spine to prevent further curvature. I was admitted to the hospital in September, had the surgery in October, and spent the next 6 months in bed with a body cast from my chin to my knees. Whatever. Again, it just was what it was. There were three girls per room, we watched school on closed circuit tv and had a great time. My amazing parents made the 20 minute drive every Saturday and Sunday to spend their days with me. I had frequent high school friends who would also come up, and made a bunch of new friends in the hospital. We even had visitors like the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins! A truly fun time for me. When Spring arrived, I was slowly rehabbed until I could stand for 30 minutes. That was the milestone for being able to get rid of the heavy cast and get a ‘walking cast’ that is lighter. The next step was to learn to walk all over again. That took some time, and in the midst, I sprained both ankles, causing me to use a wheelchair for two weeks, delaying my recuperation.
Once my ankles recovered, I could continue my learn-to-walk exercises. Only then could I take a weekend trip home. By June, I was released and returned home wearing a visible Milwaukee brace for a year. Yes, people looked and I would sing that old song “Everybody’s looking at me”….. The next school year was one of transition. In my hometown of Hingham, MA, they combined the students from two junior high schools into one high school, so half of the student population was unknown to me. Imagine this all happening when you’re 5’8”, insecure and wearing a back brace and glasses. Let’s just say this wasn’t a year of highlights. But by 11th grade, the brace was gone and I started looking ahead to college.
This period of my life was uneventful. I fell in love, quit school at UMASS/Amherst because my boyfriend had graduated and moved to Florida. In the middle of a February blizzard in Western Massachusetts, Florida and my boyfriend sounded a lot better. So, I quit college, much to my parents’ dismay. Life in Florida was fun. I broke up with my boyfriend, married a man too far my senior and divorced after 2.5 rocky years of marriage. Once again, on my own deciding what direction to take. As luck would have it, my employer offered me a transfer to Seattle and sent me out to see it one dreary rainy March. I instantly fell in love and accepted the transfer! Never looked back. Seattle is my city, where my soul soars!
Two years later, I married again and instantly became wife and step-mother as my husband had custody of his children. This seemed like the answer to my dream of becoming a Mom….something I’d always held as my #1 goal in life. Things didn’t work out that way. While I did all of the child rearing, and my husband complimented me on that, I never truly developed the close bond that I’d hoped for. When we divorced, I lost them all. Alone again.
There was some good during this time. I did finally graduate from the University of Washington with my BS degree in accounting – another major accomplishment on my list of life. I began work at Microsoft as a Financial Analyst. Life was good for a while until the marriage fell apart.
Looking for my next move, I decided to quit my job at Microsoft, leave Seattle for now and move to D.C. where my sister lived with her husband and daughter. I thought being near my niece while she grew would be lovely. And it was! I had some great jobs, traveled the world for work, even lived in England for some time. But I learned I was not cut out for accounting. It’s far too mundane and repetitive for me. Seeking a more suitable career, I enrolled at George Washington University for my Masters in Human and Organizational Learning. Life turned around with this move! THIS was the field I was destined for! Things improved dramatically. I graduated, went to work for a major non-profit and had the best career experience of my life, working with an extraordinary team, learning and growing. It remains the highlight of my career.
But, once again, life threw me a curve, well several actually. In 2010, my Dad passed away suddenly. In 2011, my long-term relationship ended, and in 2012 a leadership change impacted my happiness at work. At one point, I had to have major surgery that required a 2 month bed rest at home. With nobody to stay with me, I had to take care of myself. Without the best neighbor and friend in the world, I would have been completely on my own. That was a major aha for me. How could I have lived in a town for 13 years, have family nearby, and yet nobody made themselves available to even drop in and visit? I was a good person and a good friend, so this was telling. There were 4 very special people who each made one visit, but 2 months of bedrest is a long time! So, here I was, in a town I’d come to hate, alone again and looking for a new job opportunity. I simply felt lost. I was depressed and without much support. I’d never felt more distressed and alone in my life. Resilience was needed. Things did not come easily. I struggled to find a suitable new job and more and more, the idea of returning to Seattle came to life. I’d always assumed I’d move back for retirement, but now, I thought, might be the time. So, I tried to land a new job in Seattle, without success. Finally, one morning, March 3, 2013 to be exact, I awoke to the definite message that now was the time to return and things would just work out. That’s all it took. I immediately put in place a plan to leave D.C. and return to ‘My City’ as I’d come to call Seattle.
By April 1, my house was on the market. By April 3, I had a buyer and gave notice at work. By May 3, I walked out the doors of my employer for the last time, readied myself to move, closed on my house and IMMEDIATELY got in my car for the drive back to the West. People often say how brave I was to do this. To me, it was a matter of survival. I wouldn’t have had the life I want in D.C.. We were not a match – not in a single way. So mile by mile, I returned to my city. Seeing the mountains and evergreens brought tears to my eyes. I was home! I had no clue what I was going to do, but I knew whatever life was to bring, it would be here. Resilience.
Once here, I secured some contracts and started my career as a leadership development consultant and greatly enjoyed this work. The opportunity came to join a team doing outplacement work for a major tech company. That was when I discovered my love of career coaching! It was the start of my business pivoting to career coaching. So, now, here I am, living the life I’d dreamed, albeit without a husband and children, but guiding my own life, in control for once, and having a great time doing it. I work with college grads, helping them get their career off on a great start in the right direction. I work with mid-career professionals seeking a new job or a new career. And some of the most fun work – working with soon to retire individuals and coaching them through any obstacles or concerns they have about life after the 9-5.
Yes, resilience. I know I’m not done yet. There will be more challenges, and I’ve only shared the major ones. There have been many in my life. But each one is an opportunity to overcome, to learn and grow and know that no matter what, I’ll find a way. And you know what? I come out better and happier each time. People always comment on my positive energy and ability to make them feel better and more optimistic. I think when a person has been through as much, or more, then you learn to smile and appreciate all the good gifts that life brings your way. To me, that’s the only way.