Like most girls growing up, I had an ever-changing list of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The list was chock full of the usual suspects: ballerina, actress, singer...I think magician was even a consideration around the third grade. But as nature would have it, I’d soon learn that I didn’t have much talent for singing, or dancing, or pulling a rabbit out of hat, and those occupations eventually fell from the list. There were two professions, however, that never wavered and made the top of my list each year: mom and teacher.
After graduating from college with a dual major in Elementary Education and Special Education, I began working as a teacher. I soon met my future husband and on our first date we discovered that we shared a mutual desire to become parents. We married three years later and immediately began trying to grow our family. All seemed to be going just as I had planned as a child.
In the beginning, I was surprised each month when I failed to yield a positive pregnancy test. But as the months passed, my once initial surprise grew into absolute devastation. Over the next 3 years we endured 7 failed IVF’s (3 resulting in miscarriage.) I became angry, depressed, and hopeless. I frequently found myself on the receiving end of pitying expressions from friends and family as they gently broke the news that they were expecting. I found myself reacting with overzealous enthusiasm so as not to reveal my secret pain. I would then dart to the nearest bathroom to sob. Meanwhile, my husband and I were also anxiously waiting to be matched with a child through adoption. We began experiencing conflicting information and delays from our agency. My hope of ever having a home full of children began to fade and my passion or enjoyment for just about everything faded right along with it.
After a heart-to-heart with my father and a refocusing on the unconditional love and support of my husband, I realized the pity party I had been throwing for myself wasn’t changing anything about my circumstances. In fact, it had wiped out everything else good in my life.
A Bright Signs Learning Customer
There was more to me than infertility and it was time to start living again in spite of it. I took the attention off of what I could not control, and began focusing on what I could. With that, I started investing in myself, one day at a time. I began by simply exercising again. Then, I turned my attention to my tutoring business. I took on new students and I continued to improve my sign language interpreting. I found so much joy as I developed in my professional career, and took pride in developing the skills, games and techniques necessary to teach students to read and love learning.
In August of 2010 we got the call we had been waiting for: we had been matched with a beautiful baby girl. That Fall, my husband and I flew to Ethiopia and our world changed forever. I was finally a mom. I could physically feel the fullness in my heart when I held my baby girl. I knew without any hesitation that if I was called to become a mom through adoption again, it would be my greatest honor and my blessing. As irony would have it, I would discover merely nine days later that I was pregnant (naturally) with our son, Jack.
Having waited so long to become a mom, each day with my kids was like living a dream. Using the skills I honed during that time of professional investment, I began making educational home videos that I would play for my children when I was cooking dinner or taking a rare shower. These videos included sign language, phonics, art and calming music, and my children loved them. We would also play basic educational games together. Both of my children began reading by the age of 2, which attracted the attention of friends and strangers alike. After several inquiries wondering how to buy my videos, my husband and I decided bring these videos and flashcard sets to a larger audience by creating our company Bright Signs Learning LLC. I’m proud to say that Bright Signs Learning now is a thriving and award-winning business that has brought the joy of learning to kids across the world.
Looking back at my infertility, I wouldn’t change any of it. It forever altered the way I live my life. I learned to control that which I can control and to let go of the things I can’t. I am now the mother to four beautiful children who each came to me exactly when and how they were meant to come.
Reinvesting in myself during my darkest hours resulted in the birth of my company. I am proud that my children get to see me in the role of mom AND entrepreneur. It is never lost on me that each and every day I am living out my childhood dreams of being a mom and a teacher.
Photo Courtesy of ravanelliphotography
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019