Each week, after sending a Friday Forward, I receive many thoughtful, moving messages from people about how the topic resonated with them. Often, they’ll share a personal story related to one of the themes.  These stories are what encourage me to keep writing each week and leave me feeling that I am making a difference and an impact.

After sending out last week’s “Calm is Contagious” post, I received a note from one of our AP team members, Cassandra Scarbeck, detailing her experience with how that lesson helped her and her daughter through a frightening battle with cancer many years ago. I was moved by her story and believed that others would be too, so I encouraged her to share the note via our company’s Slack channel. She did and several meaningful and vulnerable conversations ensued. In addition to giving us all some perspective, her story helped a few other employees who are dealing with some difficult situations with their own children.

Through years of engaging in and observing formal leadership training, icebreakers and team-building sessions, I’ve noticed that, when given the opportunity, people want to share more vulnerably and authentically. Sharing our stories has the power to help and connect with others in a meaningful way. It often just takes someone to start the conversation and set the tone for the entire group.

I believe that one of the reasons this doesn’t happen more often is that we are immersed in a world of carefully curated social media posts that spotlight the top five percent of our lives. This lens tends to omit the struggles, frustrations and realities of life, a phenomenon is causing us – and arguably a whole generation – to compare their actual lives against a storybook version of someone else’s. Sadly, I believe this discourages vulnerability and creates a false set of expectations.

I encourage us all to take a lead from Cass and share more vulnerably – both to help ourselves grow and to help others who are likely to learn more from our trials and tribulations than they are from our successes.

Cass’s story (shared with her permission):

Calm is Contagious is truly a powerful virtue and holds such importance in the midst of far from optimal circumstances. People really do take their cues from their leader.

I watched this play out in a different arena 5 years ago when I started my role as my 4 year old daughter’s health advocate after she was diagnosed with cancer. Inside I was terrified about what lied ahead for her with treatment, side effects, the what if’s and all the logistics and life changes that inherently had to happen as a result of this bombshell. Things like having to pull her out of school to avoid getting exposed to potentially deadly germs, having to quit my job in order to be her full-time caregiver and the financial hole we were instantly plunged into. On the outside, I projected a much different picture. I never let on to my daughter that her life was in peril or that I had no idea how we were going to get through the next 29 months of chemotherapy. Instead, I calmly explained in age appropriate terms what she needed to know when she needed to know it.

I prepared her for the pain she would face just before the procedure always being honest but letting her know it would be over quickly. As a result, she faced each procedure with amazing lack of apprehension. When I knew what changes would occur in her body as a result of the treatment, I prepared her for things like weight gain, face changes and hair loss. Rather than cry or worry, her response was, “Ok, cool!” When her hair started falling out, I began preparing her for a head shaving with a dear friend of mine who had done the same for a high school student and had her explain what she did and how they made it a fun experience. When the day came, I went inside my closet and cried my eyes out, but then I wiped my tears and came out and put a big smile on my face and said… you’re gonna be great, you are gonna rock your wigs, and when your hair comes back it’s going to be even more beautiful. The thing is… she believed me and smiled and giggled through the whole experience as her dad and brothers took turns giving her a mohawk before the last strip was taken off her beautiful bald head.

Part of how she responded to all of this no doubt naivete. But so much had to do with the cues she took from my outward response to every situation in front of us and the trust she had in me as her mother and advocate. Never once did I let her see fear or sadness overcome me. In contrast, I noticed some parents in the waiting room and in the clinic with panic, anxiety and anguish written all over their faces. When their kids had to come in for procedures, you could see them mimicking their parent’s emotions. They clung to their parents in fear and didn’t want to go back to their treatment room. Meanwhile, parents like me, who were calm and unapprehensive had children who were happily engaged with other children or volunteers making crafts, playing games or engaging in musical therapy. The smiled and joked with the nurses and doctors and walked out high fiving the receptionists.

Our kids were all having similar experiences in the same place, battling the same enemy at the same time, with the same team of warriors surrounding them. But, I couldn’t help notice the differences in behaviors of parents and children and how they were linked. Thanks for another great reminder of the impact our actions have on others. Our kids are watching. Our team is watching. Our staff is watching. Let’s all strive to keep calm and kick ass!!!


Quote of the Week

 “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Brene Brown