Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Victim or Victor? It's a Choice

I've never been one to do things the easy way. It's not that I come to an Robert Frost-ian intersection with the options of a smooth highway and a dirt path covered with rocks, snakes, and who-knows-what-else and think "Oooh, that looks fun!" But somehow or other, I often end up on the more challenging path.

True, when it comes to recreation, I'm more likely to take the dirt path and experience all of the scenery along the way. Four-lane highways get you from Point A to Point B, but life is more often in the journey, which makes two-lane back roads much more fun. Perhaps that's why I like Jeeps. I want to be prepared for the road ahead. Or I think I look bad-ass driving a bright yellow Jeep in a tank top and my hair going all medusa in the wind. I digress...
The challenging path is generally more interesting, for better or for worse.

Life's bigger challenges somehow take me off road whether I'm primed or not. The rocks don't bother me too much, but the snakes? I'm with Indiana Jones on those fanged suckers. I could put together a compelling powerpoint presentation, bullet list, or Lifetime movie of the week detailing the snakebites.

People who have known me a long time tend to ask, "Do you ever do anything the easy way?" Trust me, I'd happily erase several of the snakebites from my memory. But I'm not here to regale you with tales of woe. Just to acknowledge that they exist and they're a part of me as much as the titanium screw in my toe.

Here's the thing. I may not have chosen the road, but I can chose how I deal with the results. I can be a victim. I can wrap myself in the comfort of resentment and self pity. I can harbor anger and live in fear. I can focus on the past and wallow in it. But I don't.

Every experience is a lesson. Yes, the experience of eating an ice cream sundae and learning that they taste really good is the preferred variety of "experience = lesson." But life ain't all ice cream and cookies (dammit).

For some things, it's just a matter of moving forward. Trusting people and knowing that not every relationship meanders into negative territory. Knowing that I've made it through challenges before and I can do it again. I like to remind myself that even on the stormiest of days, even though I can't see it, the sun is still behind the clouds as bright as ever.

For other things, it's a matter of making something positive out of a trauma by using the experience to help someone else. And sometimes your own personal actions can reach far beyond your intent. My son @ is a surviving twin whose brother N died the day they were born -- 14 weeks early. That's a scar that becomes less jagged, but doesn't go away. I had the choice to be "that poor woman who lost a child" or find a way to honor my sons, @'s amazing fight and the memory of N.

I learned that prematurity and infant mortality were major issues for the March of Dimes. I participated in a walk event in 2004 and decided I might be able to make a difference if I shared my story. Public speaking was definitely not in my comfort zone, but I wanted to honor my sons. Crying in my back yard certainly wasn't going to make a difference. My first speech was at black-tie dinner in front of several hundred people. I nearly threw up, cried, and ran -- simultaneously. (If you knew me as a kid, you'd know I was the quiet one at the back of the room hoping not to get called on by the teacher.)

Several speeches, press conferences, and events later, it's no longer difficult.

I decided I could make a bigger impact if I got some people at work involved. Mind you, I'm not an executive or even a senior manager -- I'm a cube-dweller among 50,000+ employees. We started with 12 people in 2005 and now have 350+. As of this year, our corporate headquarters team has raised more than $1.3 million. My head spins when I think about it.

Last week I was invited to speak at the March of Dimes National Field Staff Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about how I turned a personal experience into a corporate team. The speech went well. My son was on stage with me and even answered questions during the Q&A.

After the speech, people thanked me for sharing both my personal story and helping them understand how they might start corporate teams. It was fairly overwhelming. I thanked them right back. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in such a venue. I am grateful for the opportunity to share the experience with my son. I am grateful that something I did for very personal reasons has had an impact.

The simple act of participating in the annual March for Babies walk event lets me honor my sons; it's a special day for me and @ every year. Everything that has come from that? Well, it's a miracle. But it all comes from choosing not to be a victim, choosing to find something positive in the hardest experience of my life. Sometimes that's the unpaved road that you take because you want to, but where it takes you can be amazing. I'm glad I made that choice.

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