Recently, I spoke at a Women’s Leadership Summit in Salt Lake City. The conference theme was “Her: Story, Movement, Life.’ The topic they asked me to speak about was ‘Find Your Strength’. The attendees ranged in age from college students to older women with successful careers.
They wanted me to talk about how I found the strength to be one of the only female executives in the ski industry. How I quickly climbed the ranks, promotion after promotion, to be the Chief Innovation Officer/SVP of Media and Partners for an half a billion company. How I found the courage to leave my high-paying job and follow my strength to start a company.
What I ended up talking about wasn’t the end product of the strength, but how that strength was once extreme pain.
As I’ve written before, my childhood was rather chaotic. At the age of 10, we had a massive break in our family that resulted in the stability in our family structure fracturing. My way of dealing with it, as a 10 year old, was to try and be perfect. I wanted to be perfectly thin, beautiful, athletic, etc. But that pressure I put on my 10-year old self was impractical, unbearable and almost deadly.
“I just want to be beautiful. God, please let me be beautiful. I don’t want to live. I have thoughts of suicide. I hate myself.”
These are words from my junior high journal but I think I wrote these same words every night for more than 10 years. I hated myself, but it was a silent hate that no one saw. If you were to ask anyone about me, they would say I was happy and probably an over-achiever. I was one of the fastest runners in the state. I was friends with everyone. Excelled at everything I did. And was happy – or so they thought.
On the inside I was dying. I don’t know exactly when it started but there are moments that stand out to me:
· Like the time in the 5th grade when I stuck my fingers down my throat to make myself throw up, which continued into my early 20s
· Like the time in the 6th grade when the boys called me pizza face because of my acne
· Like the time in the 8th grade when the bullies stuffed me in a trash can and threw me down the stairs at school
· Like the time in the 10th grade when my dad took me out of 3rd period choir to tell me that he was moving out
· Like the time when I drank my way through college so I could be numb to just how much I hated myself
But luckily, by the grace of God, I never tried to commit suicide. Somehow, somewhere, I had a little flicker of light inside me that told me I was strong. This light started to grow when in my early 20’s I got a job traveling as the spokesperson for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay.
The theme for the Relay was ‘Light the Fire Within.’ Torchbearers (11,000 of them) were nominated by someone writing an essay on why they thought that person should carry the torch. As I traveled the 30,000 miles around the country, I met inspirational people that had overcome the unthinkable, yet still lived a life that was full of hope and inspiration to others. Through their life they were inspiring others to ‘Light there fire within.’ It was on this journey that I saw that what once I viewed as a weakness, tragedy or fault in me was something I could lean on to fuel my strength.
That young girl who experienced extremely difficult things growing up, had to experience them to become the person that I am today. That perspective changed everything in my life. I was reminded that “Life is not happening to you, it’s happening for you.”
One of the most rewarding things about public speaking for me is meeting people from the audience. After my talk was over, a women in her mid-20s approached me. With tear-streaked cheeks, she told me that her entire life she’d been told she was nothing. Her family told her she had no strengths. She was worthless. She wasn’t going to amount to anything. She even said she’s always believed them, but deep down she always had a little flicker of light, much like the one I had.
No matter who you think you are, know that you are enough. If you struggle with any feelings of self-doubt, know you are good enough. Know you are amazing, because you are you. You are needed on this earth, there is no one like you. Your pains are your gift.
I believe that much of the pain I experienced in my life helped me to gain strength to start SisterUp. I know what it feels like to not feel good enough. I know what it feels like to believe that you don’t have any strengths. I know what it feels like to need support. It is this empathy, this compassion, that fuels SisterUp.
One of our favorite quotes at SisterUp is “If you don’t do you, you don’t get done, and the world misses out.”
Are you in Salt Lake City? Are you coming to our SisterUp One-Day Workshop? If so, you will meet local women entrepreneurs that turned their heartache into a way to help others. Check out our speaker lineup.