Jenny: Raising Conciousness

I once walked out of my Boston office, and directly into to my doctor’s office, convinced I had a brain tumor. Over the month prior, I would have random dizzy spells, terrified I was going to pass out in a very public and likely dramatic way, probably when I was wearing a skirt. My anxiety was a little demon perched on my shoulder all day, every day, telling me I was likely dying. After a consultation and follow-up appointment, I learned that I was grinding my teeth enough to jack up my inner ear and give myself symptoms of vertigo.

In addition to recommending a night guard to help with the teeth grinding, my doctor recommended stress management for the anxiety – “something like” yoga or meditation.

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Yoga at the pond with Jenny and her yogis.

A quick google search, and I decided to go to the closest class I could find: Jenny Smyth’s compassionate yoga in a dance studio on a Thursday night. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure where the instructor was, until Jenny welcomed me with a big smile and introductions to everyone else in the room. Jenny wasn’t what I expected.

What I expected was a repeat of my yoga experience in Washington, DC. In my twenties, I tried a yoga class with a friend at a somewhat fancy gym. I wish I could say I was hooked immediately – but I wasn’t. The class felt like a competition to see who could be the most zen.

So, while I’d read all the articles about the virtues of yoga, I was skeptical it was for me.

Jenny’s class was totally different from those gym yoga classes. In that first class, Jenny coached us through a position she herself couldn’t do “perfectly” (eagle pose). She joked about not being a skinny-minny yoga pretzel woman. It made my plus-sized-self feel more comfortable about trying things I wasn’t sure I could do – because trying means you can’t be failing Jenny’s class.

In the 6+ years I’ve attended Jenny’s classes, I’ve learned that she used to work in corporate America. She knows the realities of office jobs, the dangers of sitting down so much, and gently reminds us to stretch and move all week – not just in her class. She found her way to yoga because she needed yoga. She learns – and then shares what she is learning with her students.

Jenny approaches yoga not as a workout, but as a journey. Her teachings aren’t just about warrior poses, but about clean eating, new music, running her own studio, meditation and how she interacts with the people around her. She’s using her positivity to raise the vibrations of everyone around her.

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I’ve wondered – more than once – if Jenny is psychic, or if she has some mystical training where she watches us all walk in before class and can tell what we need that day. The weeks where I carry stress in my shoulders, we always seem to spend more time in poses focused on our shoulders. When I am feeling the need for a little more fellowship, Jenny seems to talk a little more in class. There is power and inspiration in witnessing someone do what they were clearly meant to do. Sharing yoga is Jenny’s calling.

Jenny tells us we’re wonderful – and because she is wonderful, we believe her. Her classes run long, because she wants to share the joy she finds in yoga with us for as long as she can. When she says namaste at the end of class, she looks each of us in the eye, and means it. Yoga seems to make Jenny come alive, and she encourages each of us to find what makes us come alive, too. And while that go-to Howard Thurman quote can feel like self-help mumbo jumbo, yoga with Jenny is a reminder that we have to look inward before we can see what the world needs.

namaste

Soapbox: Go Jump in a Lake

More than half of working Americans leave paid vacation days on the table at the end of each year. Paid time off is a benefit, considered part of your overall compensation – and not using it is the same as walking away from money. I’m on a mission to preach the benefits of taking your vacation time – and the obligation we all have to use up that benefit so we’re more engaged, energized and creative at work.

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I’ve found that using my out of office messages is a great way to remind people that my vacation is just that… my vacation. Joining the ranks of creative out of office messages means my coworkers look forward to my being away – and I remind them what I’m doing so they know just what they are interrupting for a “work emergency”.

Warning: Using your out of office messages in this way may result in more emails upon your return, since more people email you just to see what you’re sharing!

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For our annual family summer vacation

Canoe believe it? I’ve gone to the lake for the week!

If you’re going through an oar-deal that can’t wait until I return on July 23rd, please contact abba@dancingqueen.com

It’s a true emergency, text my cell at xxx-xxx-xxxx. 

In the meantime, anchor yourself with one of these pebbles of wisdom:

  • Be clear
  • Reflect
  • Not be shallow
  • Stay calm
  • Be full of life

 

For a day out of the office volunteering

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Company Cares Day – one of my favorite things about working for my company. I’m joining 7,000+ colleagues across the country to giving back to our local communities. Follow along on social media using #thishashtag and #thathashtag.

I will respond as soon as I am back at my desk. Thank you!

 

A few days off to reconnect with a great friend 

Nothing to stop this from being the best day ever. ~U2

Twenty years ago, I spent a year abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I am taking time off through Monday, June 25th, to spend time with my flatmate and to see U2 in concert.

Send me some fun email to read once I’m back in the office: tell me about the best concert you’ve attended?

It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away. ~U2

 

Allison: Shaping the world with stories

This July, I’m sharing stories of firecrackers: women I know working different paths to speak up and light up the world.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~ Joan Didion

Allison is my oldest friend. Not in terms of age, but our shared history. We go way back – all the way to early elementary Sunday School in Dallas, Texas. Choir together in junior and senior high school, shared friends, church youth group, discussing the merits of Scarlett vs Melanie, Rhett vs Ashley…

Allison is the person woven throughout all the facets of my childhood. With all that history (and some dirt, if we’re honest), I feel uniquely positioned to confirm that Allison has always been a storyteller, performer and 100% herself. I mean, she once got a high school beau to reenact the gazebo scene from The Sound of Music – complete with leaping from bench-to-bench while singing “I Am Sixteen”. That is impressive.

After we both left Texas to go to separate colleges, we settled down in new (and northern!) cities. Allison in Chicago, me near Boston. Yet our friendship benefited from the rise of social media, and we have been able to stay in touch over the years. While our friendship has roots in our early, more innocent days, Allison’s sharing of her own stories has cemented our connection as grown-ups.

“Everybody is a hero in their own story.” ~Maeve Binchy

Allison’s honesty and humor shine through in her annual Christmas cards – which have become a highlight to my family’s holiday season. My wife texted me last year that “Allison’s card arrived today!” and that she had already opened it. Rather than a Norman Rockwell-esque photo shoot each year, Allison pulls back the curtain and shares her real life, laughing through the challenges life with four kids can bring. My favorite so far?

A picture of her newborn son, “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” printed the front. The honesty? Well, this was this picture of her son. Not sleeping. And not so peaceful. But so honest and real to what was happening in Allison’s life that year. IMG_4137.jpegI think about that every year, while the pretty holiday cards come in, and everyone’s life seems picture perfect. Once I had my own baby, it became a reminder that no matter what it may seem like, everyone’s gorgeous baby cries and doesn’t sleep sometimes.

When one of Allison’s sons was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), she looked for stories from other families in similar circumstances. She searched for books reflecting the experiences and daily life her son was experiencing. And she couldn’t find any. As she says, they just hadn’t been written. Yet.

She is now writing these stories into existence for her children and for others with similar experiences. A boy named Peter is the central character these stories, loosely based on her own son and other children she’s met with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I know that once those stories are published, they will help families having similar experiences just as much as that Christmas card continues to help me. (If anyone is or knows of a publisher, send them to Allison’s website!)

“We must all become storytellers of a future we want to share…” ~Bono at the UN

Allison’s stories are always entertaining, and she is now using her own stories to change the world around her. In addition to her children’s book series, her longer blog entries are hopeful, positive and always keep it real. In one of my favorite pieces, Tomorrow, Shine On, she challenges us to each “To be a light. I dare you.” And while that particular essay is a heavier subject matter, Allison is telling the stories of a future she wants to bring into being.

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The July Firecracker series is inspired by the question “Why aren’t more people speaking up?” in response to the more recent news headlines. A somewhat simple question with complex and complicated answers for each of us. It sparked me to think about how I contribute to the world I want to live in, whether it be sharing my voice online, volunteering, or continuing my own political activism. As I reflected on the ways I choose to speak up, I noticed that almost everyone I know is using their unique voice and passion to be of service to others. It also gave me the idea to spotlight the powerhouse women I know who are changing the world from where they are. People and purpose are part of the fuel helping each of us lead meaningful, and happy, lives. If you know of someone speaking up with their own unique voice, please share their story with me at workyourhappy@gmail.com.

Becky: Answering the call to help others

“Why aren’t more people speaking up?”

A peer recently asked this question on an active discussion board in response to the more recent news headlines. This somewhat simple question has complex and complicated answers for each of us. It also sparked my own reflections on how I’m contributing, whether it be sharing my voice online, volunteering, or continuing my own political activism. As I reflected on the ways I choose to speak up, I noticed that almost everyone I know is using their unique voice and passion to be of service to others. It also gave me the idea to spotlight the powerhouse women I know who are changing the world from where they are. People and purpose are part of the fuel helping each of us lead meaningful, and happy, lives. And, we all speak up in different ways.

This July, I will share stories of different paths to service, starting with my cousin Becky, and her family.

Some of us don’t choose how we will be of service  – the path chooses us.

When Becky and her husband, Chris, welcomed their third son, Luke, into their family, they realized quickly that something wasn’t right. Luke was struggling to breathe, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. I remember getting updates from Becky’s mom that Chris and Becky were commuting between their New Jersey home to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, trying to find out what was happening and what they could do – for weeks. For weeks, they did a juggling act between home, hospital, work and rest that seemed just about impossible as an outsider. A few years later, Becky told me she just switched into one-day-at-a-time mode and was so glad her family and friends were close enough to help with everything at home that she and Chris just couldn’t get to.

Luke was eventually diagnosed with a rare disease: Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). With only one person in 6.3 million being diagnoses with CCHS, ‘rare’ may be a bit of an understatement. CCHS is a condition where everything is great when Luke is awake – but he stops breathing when he is asleep. At just a month old, he had a tracheostomy and needed a ventilator any time he fell asleep. Imagine that situation for a newborn – you know, since newborns sleep the majority of the day!

It’s also important to point out that not only was Luke’s diagnosis a rare one, he is also one of the lucky ones. CCHS has a range of symptoms, and while Luke is able to lead a mostly “typical” life when awake, some CCHSers need to be on a ventilator around the clock, may have learning disabilities, seizures, neuroblastoma (a rare cancer), blue spells, cardiac pauses – and more.

“Sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.” 
― Mike McIntyreThe Kindness of Strangers

At a time when most of us might see success as making it through each day, one at a time, Becky and Chris started reaching out to help others. While it hadn’t even crossed my mind to think about the possible implications as my wife and I started our own families, they shared details with us (and my brother), so that we could be tested and prepared if the cause wacchs.s something genetic (it is) or hereditary (it wasn’t). And then they went big: Becky stepped up and co-founded of the CCHS Foundation. Through funding research, connecting CCHS families to one another, raising awareness, and sharing her story, Becky is changing – and saving – lives.

 

I’ve known Becky my whole life. She always wanted to be a nurse and has always been a caregiver. As I’ve had the privilege to witness Becky and Chris’ journey, the word that always comes to mind is “grace”.  In a situation when it would be completely justified to pull in and focus on her family, Becky chose to give to others. She is an advocate for the support and resources she wished she had. When I asked if I could write this and share her story, her response was that she did what any parent would do. I’m not sure that co-founding a foundation dedicated to medical research is what we’d each do in a similar situation, but I love that Becky thinks it is. She is speaking up for families who will find themselves with a newborn who needs additional care every time the fall asleep. An unexpected purpose found Becky, and Becky found people who she needed – and who needed her.

To learn more, please visit (and consider donating to) www.cchsnetwork.org.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy.
It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,
to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson