They say death is the great equalizer because regardless of your income, nationality, gender or age every human being still has that one thing in common: we all die. But illness is not an equalizer, neither is the dignity we show to the ill or to their exhausted and overextended caregivers and families.
I once lived in a community where there was a boy with a very rare and debilitating disease who fought for his life. Both he and his mother were often covered by the local news highlighting his condition and their determination to beat the odds. It was a feel-good story. Fundraisers happened on a regular basis, the local radio celebrities and sports teams got involved, networking events and small businesses all pitched in to help fund experimental treatments far from home. He passed away at the age of 17 this past month and it was all over the local news and in the newspaper and all over social media, celebrating his heroic battle with an outpouring of love for a mother who never left his side.
In that same community, one of my closest friends was a foster mom to a boy with a rare and debilitating disease who fought for his life the whole 16 years that she got to raise and care for him. They were not in the news because of confidentiality issues. There was no news coverage, no community uproar, no sports teams getting their pictures taken with him. There was a rally by a local network of small businesses to get a very necessary wheelchair accessible minivan. That’s it. This amazing boy made it to the age of 18, he walked across the stage to a high school diploma, celebrating every precious milestone. His passing devasted my close friend who had to learn to live again outside of the caregiver role. There were no news articles about his passing, no citywide call for support for a grieving mom.
How many people are there that suffer horrible diseases and die without fanfare? How many mothers have buried their children this month without a citywide outpouring of love? I can’t help but see the inequity. I don’t think that it’s fair that a child who dies from cancer somehow matters more than a child who dies from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Every time I see a fundraiser for a particular individual or their family I can’t help but see how unfair it is that one gets what everyone needs and deserves.
I know the media has its own agenda for showing us sensational stories that move us. I know they can’t show us every human being that is fighting a disease on the news every day. But as a society, maybe we each need to go up to someone who is suffering and tell them that we see their battle, we hear their cries of pain, and their time on this earth, no matter how long or short, matters. Maybe instead of sending $25 to a GoFund Me campaign we can adopt a family with a critically ill member and sit with them as they battle every day for dignity.
I know one thing for sure, we all want to be seen, heard, and know that we matter. All of us. So how can we as a society make sure that every single one of us feels that? How can we make love the great equalizer?
I dedicate this to my friend, Kim. I see your grieving, I hear your pain, you matter.
Have you ever been enthralled by a leader’s energy and completely wrapped up in their brilliance that you ultimately start to lose a little bit of yourself? There seems to be a safety in being in service to someone else’s vision that can blind us to what we are missing out in our own lives.
This Could Be You
I’m going to tell you the story of one friend whose name I have changed. Know that I have seen this happen to many other women. Too many. In fact, I think we’ve all taken on this role to some degree at some point in our lives.
Sally is new on her entrepreneurial journey. Her kids are in school full-time now and she is ready to redefine her career with the freedom of working from home. One day, she takes a workshop with a modern-day guru—a female Tony Robbins, Gabriel Bernstein, Brene Brown, Susan Evans, Martha Beck type person. She is completely in alignment with their mission to change the world and the way they go about it, so she signs up to be a certified teacher of their program. Invests money in their training and immerses herself in their system. This is all well and good. These people have amazing insights and methodology to share and there’s a lot of benefit to the world to practice what they preach. She’s found her calling.
The Handmaid Trap
Problems start to arise when Sally doesn’t take what she’s learned and make it her own. She doesn’t become the star in her own life. Instead, she is the servant to the star, teaching for the star, using the star’s name on all her handouts, following the star’s rules of conduct, living within the limits of the branding. And, inevitably, resentment starts to slowly seep into Sally’s heart. But the resentment makes her feel guilty because she owes so much to this guru who taught her everything and exposed her to so many opportunities, to say anything about the limitations of servitude would be biting the hand that feeds her.
Without even realizing it, sometimes the guru sets the handmaid up for failure by having her so dependent that the handmaid can never leave. But, if and when she does leave, it is not a smooth goodbye. There is an incestuous network around the star and Sally knows she has to unplug from that whole entourage as well if she is going to make it on her own.
I know some servants who stay in the handmaid role forever, I know some who leave one guru and move on to another, but Sally managed to break free and rebrand and make a name for herself. She went within and did a lot of soul searching and work on herself and eventually became a thought leader in her own right. Shining like a brilliant star, weary of employing handmaids.
Writing as a Handmaid
As a writing coach the handmaid energy comes up most often when I see someone who has written several chapters in several anthologies but has not yet dared to write her own book. I also sometimes have clients come to me for help with their stand-alone book, finally ready to break free, but waver and choose to pull out of our engagement because they decided instead to invest in a trip to serve alongside their guru at a retreat or a conference. But mostly, I have clients who just need a little extra help when writing their book to realize that they have original and important messages of their own and they don’t need to be quoting today’s other gurus. It can be difficult at times to find a balance because as women we thrive in collaboration and community, but community should never be at the expense of being your true self.
Becoming the Star
Part of my life’s mission of giving women a voice involves holding up a mirror to the handmaid and asking her to see the star inside of her. I want all women to know that we are all born with a unique gift for this world and to put it to use. Sometimes our life’s purpose is to end a cycle of abuse as we raise our kids, sometimes we are here to offer amazing services or products in a career or as an entrepreneur, and sometimes we are here to lead by example and impact people we will never even meet in a way that might change their life.
And so, I offer to you now, check-in with yourself and see when you might be living in the handmaid energy with some relationships and explore how you can make a change. Be true to your calling and rise up!
I put my second child, my daughter Victoria, on a plane yesterday. Today, I grapple with waves of sadness and grief. Why? Because I like her. Because we had a beautiful, loving, close, grounded, and fun time together during her visit for reading week. A veritable retreat from everyday life, and an oasis from the hustle of both our worlds.
Having four children has taught me more about life and the people in it than anything I could have learned in the psychology degree I have always regretted not finishing. This week’s lesson is one of being the observer instead of the fixer.
It’s not easy to go from the mom making sure your kid eats their vegetables to the mom of an adult who buys their own groceries and orders their own Uber and chooses whether to drop a class they are struggling with in University. It was my plan all along to raise a self-sufficient adult, and Victoria was the most reluctant of all my children to stand up to my suggestions and make her own decisions which made her independence that much more pride-inducing.
She’s grown up. She’s smart and funny and caring. She’s the type of person I’d actually want to be friends with if I were 20 years old too. How amazing is it as a parent to say, “I like my child!” because, let’s be honest, there are times when we are raising our children that despite a deep-seated innate love we don’t really like them all that much.
And now the grief.
I have decided that I am going to start writing about the grief of motherhood on a regular basis. There is no way that for the amount of love a mother has for her children that she doesn’t grieve to an equal extent the losses that inevitably show up in our lives. From the last time they ask you to read them a bedtime story, to the heartache of not being able to take away the pain of unrequited love, to the empty nest and all the challenges in between, motherhood is one long exploration of the grieving process.
My tears yesterday were about Victoria leaving for University after a great visit as much as they were for the loss of her childhood. I miss having her easy nature around in my everyday life. I miss her relationship with her younger brothers. I miss being the one she told all her sorrows and celebrations to every day before she left for school.
I often wondered why so many people were resistant to change in their life and now I see that change and growth are very closely related with loss. It doesn’t mean that something great doesn’t come in its place. I look forward to watching Victoria become a professional who has an impact in the world of mental health. I look forward to witnessing her having her own family one day. And, having lived through these lessons with her and her sister and brothers, I can be there for her own day as she grieves the losses that motherhood will bestow upon her life.
Not long after the ultimately humbling experience of going through a divorce at 29 years old and winding up a single mom of a two and four-year-old, I found myself out shopping in a very busy department store. I had not regained my self-confidence. I felt like a failure. No one goes into a marriage thinking it would someday end. I am sure my state of mind showed in my body language in that store. An older lady with deep wrinkles in her cinnamon colored skin made her way around me between clothes racks and I promptly said, “Sorry.”
She spun around and faced me and looked me squarely in the eyes and replied, “You have every right to be standing here. Do not apologize for existing. Own your place in this world.”
Wow. I have to say that was the first time in my life I was given explicit permission to exist. I often refer to myself as a recovering approval addict, and that stranger was the catalyst for my recovery.
How many times do we as women apologize in our everyday life when we have no culpability in what we are apologizing for?
If I leave my home in plenty of time to make it to an appointment and an unfortunate accident causes me to be late, why do I say, “I’m sorry I’m late!” when I didn’t cause the accident? Because women have been conditioned to be nice and self-effacing in the name of manners. It is so much more empowering and just as polite to say, “Thank you for waiting, there was an accident on the highway.”
Where else in your daily life can you catch yourself saying sorry when you mean to say thank you, or no thank you. Where else in your life do you need to stand in your power and own the space you stand in?
Not long after writing this post a friend of mine sent me this video, may it inspire you to say Not Sorry.
Limiting beliefs and Money Mindset are words that get thrown around a lot in business. They mean something different when you sit back and really take in the life lessons you have faced when it comes to money, and it would benefit all people, not only those in business, to have a good look at their money beliefs.
Just like the rags to riches archetype, I grew up in a working-class family that moved a lot from one rental to another, which means my parents changed jobs a lot and never benefited from the working-class pension-plan dream for retirement. I, however, studied nursing and became a professional and owned my own house by the age of 27. I had more financial security at that age, and more so ever since, than both my parents and my sister.
My biggest limiting belief, encouraged and nurtured by my family of origin, is that I am bad for making more money than my family. I am on a high horse, a rich bitch who thinks she’s better than everyone else. That kind of belief very quickly gets into the way of creating a profitable business and sabotages success.
Ironically, my husband grew up in a middle-class family that owned their home and had a pension, and though we are financially surpassing his family of origin he would never in a million years consider us wealthy or rich. It drives him crazy when my family makes those comments. It’s all relative.
My first years of being in business were a struggle financially, like with most start-ups. But even when it was time for my company to be profitable (because I had laid down the foundation, was known in my circles and had an amazing service) I always just broke even. It took working with my business mentor Lisa Larter and having her model a healthy money mindset for me to see where I was leading myself astray. There was absolutely nothing wrong with making money.
Having worked with Lisa for over four years now I have gotten to know her to be an authentic, caring person. When my mom passed away, she checked in on me more often than my closest family and friends. Despite having more money than I do, she does not live on a high horse or think that she is better than anyone else. I don’t think money has made her a bad person if anything it has afforded her to do more for her self-development and to be in a position to help others.
And that is where my mindset changed. I can choose to play small to appease the feelings of my family or I can play big and offer my children better opportunities, work on my self-development to be a better citizen of the World, and help those who are disenfranchised by no choice of their own. Choice is a very important word here, because as Maya Angelou so wisely said when you know better you do better. I know hard work pays off so I do the hard work, and very often that hard work is taking a hard look at yourself and seeing what you need to change in you.
What is your money story? Is it possibly holding you back from greatness?
On July 13th, my friend Heidi gifted me with a hike in the mountains in honour of my mom passing. At the age of 17, Heidi lost her mom when she’d been murdered by her father. She understood my loss. Heidi asked me to choose a hike I had never been on before. I chose Ha Ling Peak because I have never hiked to a peak and so desperately wanted the accomplishment of reaching the top of the world. I knew Heidi was athletic enough to push me to complete a hike that was double the elevation I had ever climbed. We were joined by her friend Kari and my friend Susan who knew the trail very well having hiked it 88 times before because this was the hike where she has mourned the loss of her brother for the last nine years. These friends understood grief.
The climb is a relentless elevation with no reprieve or flat spots. We stop frequently to allow my heart rate to come down and stop the ringing in my ears. I’m exhausted a quarter of the way up. But I have a goal in mind, I push through the pain in my thighs, the burning in my calves, and the chaffing on my heels. I can smell my mom, and the birds are singing all around me like they did the morning she died. I know she is with me here on this path. Keep pushing, Tammy. I’m convinced that if I can just keep pushing to the scree and see the summit I will find the energy to complete the trek.
My friends are the perfect hiking buddies and amazing cheerleaders. They make sure I’m safe and hydrated and going at a pace I can sustain. As we start again after a short rest Susan says, “You can do it, with grace.” At least, I think that’s what she said. All I really hear is grace echoing through my brain. My business coach used the same word last week when I was setting an audacious goal. “Give yourself a grace period.”
Staring at the ground in front of me. One step. Another Step. What does grace mean? Why am I being told to surrender to grace twice in one week? My heart answers my questions. When are you going to do what you need to do for yourself? You can’t push past the grief. You can’t just take a cry break and then pretend that everything is okay. It’s time to stop trying to impress others and time to stop being the strong one. Don’t hide your grief to shelter the ones you love.
My body quits so I rest and then get back up to try again. But it won’t go. It betrays my mental plan of pushing through. I have a goal in mind, a summit to reach, an end in sight. Literally, I can see the end. But my body just won’t go. And then my mind catches up. And then my soul screams at me that I am meant to stop here.
I made it to the scree. I can see the peak. And I stop. I send the three others on without me and I sit at the base of the last three trees where the treeline ends. I meditate on the mountain side with the loud roar of the wind in my ears and the sun drying my sweat to a salty powder on my face. I open my eyes to see how far up I have climbed. Priceless. Something I don’t get to do every day. I look around and am filled with gratitude for the bee visiting the flower at my feet and the chipmunk that crosses the path just a foot away from me. What an absolute gift to be in the present moment and see this view of the world.
I learned so much on this journey. I learned that, according to my Fitbit, I can climb 183 flights of stairs up and back down again. I learned the gift of stopping and looking around. And, I learned that I can’t rush through grief, there is no end date, there is no summit, and I am not done.