Chief Alignment Officer
I had never heard of the term “Ikigai.” Marisa Murgatroyd explained that it means “reason for being,” and that in the culture of Okinawa, Japan, the Ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning” or “your sense of purpose.” She cited scientific evidence stating that individuals who are clear about their Ikigai tend to live happier, healthier, and longer lives. I decided instantly that I wanted this for my life, and I made the decision to invest in the Start With You Program! I had already developed clues about my purpose, quit my soul-sucking full time job, and taken steps to open a life coaching practice. However, despite taking dozens of courses, and engaging in countless soul-exploration exercises, I was still struggling to connect the dots between the seemingly random life experiences which had led me to start my business, and articulating a message that would resonate and draw customers in.
In one of the many exercises in the Start With You program, I recalled the day in my kindergarten classroom that I declared, “I want to be smart and successful!” I decided that day that I wanted to make good grades in school and to make my parents proud. I wanted to get a great education and achieve a successful career, make lots of money and have a family.
And that little girl did just that! She went on to graduate as valedictorian of her inner city Washington, DC high school and received a full scholarship to attend Howard University. Being the first in her family to ever attend college, she made everyone proud, graduated from college with honor, went on to become a certified public accountant and is enjoying a successful business career. She married her soul-mate, and together, she and her husband created a comfortable life for their two daughters. Forty years later, that little five year-old realized she had achieved all of her dreams and then some. Yet, her seemingly perfectly polished life was falling apart. With wobbly knees, she walked into her boss’ office, opened her mouth, took a deep breath and finally spoke the words her soul had been longing for her to share.
“I can’t take it any longer,” my then forty-five year old self announced to my boss. My father, who was suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s Disease, had moved in with my family. I had become his primary caregiver, and tried my best to take care of him in a loving and supportive environment. All worked great for about the first year, but things were gradually becoming harder to manage. He was having increasing difficulty with walking, talking, eating, dressing, and doing anything independently. I prepared his meals, washed his clothes, and changed his bedding on a regular basis. I had help, but the bulk of the responsibility fell on me. There were doctors visits, medical procedures, medical equipment orders, bills to pay, and many challenges to navigate. Speech, occupational, and physical therapists were in and out of our home on a daily basis. Despite these interventions, things continued to decline. Before my eyes, I watched my once strong 245 pound father decline to a shell of 150 pounds and dropping, incapable of doing anything for himself. I was in over my head, and needed time to figure out what to do.
Around the same time, my family was navigating another major challenge. It was the summer, and we had recently taken a road trip to Chicago. We had a wonderful time enjoying the sights and sounds of Chicago, however, we noticed that we had to stop with unreasonable frequency for my then sixteen year old daughter to use the restroom during the road trip. The day after we returned home, I called our family practitioner to schedule an appointment. I thought we would leave the appointment with a prescription for an antibiotic. Instead, we were rushed to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Emergency room. It was all a blur as we met with one nurse, then another, then one doctor after another and then a full medical team. It was quite alarming to have so many white lab coats in one room – we felt that either we were tremendously blessed to receive so much medical attention or something was terribly wrong. It turned out to be both. My daughter had a blood glucose level of 13.1, well above the maximum healthy range of 5.6 or below for someone her age. Although we questioned and fought tooth and nail, eventually we accepted the staggering diagnosis. She had type one diabetes.
“How could she have diabetes?” my husband and I insisted. Neither one of us had diabetes. She was an avid field hockey player and appeared to be in the best shape of her life. She was the one member in our family who maintained a healthy weight, while the rest of us struggled. We attributed her weight decline and her excessive water intake to her active sports life. The rest of our family had jokingly considered playing field hockey so we could find a comparable weight loss solution. She was supposed to be the healthy one!
It turns out type one diabetes is a genetic auto-immune disease, and it means that Kiarra’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin to process the carbohydrates she consumes. Type one diabetes can start slowly, but eventually the pancreas stops generating insulin altogether. It is irreversible and there is currently no cure. It absolutely broke my heart to watch my sweet daughter process this life changing news. In an instant, she learned that she would have to prick herself to check her blood sugar levels at least four to six times per day; count every carbohydrate she consumes; and inject herself with insulin upon waking up, going to sleep and after every meal. If she didn’t maintain her levels in a safe range, she could face imminent even life-threatening risks on a daily basis if her blood sugars dipped too low or spiked too high. We learned that she has an increased risk of developing just about every medical condition imaginable from high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, organ and nerve damage, vision problems and gum disease. At a time that she just wanted to be a “normal” teenager, she now had this new life reality that would be anything but “normal.”
Despite this overwhelming news, we were thankful for many things. The diagnosis could have been worse. We were also thankful that we found out before her condition had caused her to fall into a diabetic coma, which often is the case with a type one diagnosis, since there are not the usual signs most people associate with diabetes. We received the best medical treatment by a world class medical team. Lastly, we were given the reassurance that as long as Kiarra managed her condition, she could live a full and healthy life without limitation. She could even continue to play field hockey! After a three day hospital stay, we were sent home with all the education and training to navigate this new way of life for Kiarra and our entire family.
So as I sat in my boss’ office that September afternoon, I shared all of the overwhelm I was experiencing trying to take care of my ailing father and keeping my daughter and the rest of our family healthy, while managing the demands of my position. I had requested a flexible schedule, perhaps telecommuting, flex days, part-time schedules, and many other options. My boss was super cool and a mentor to me, however, the truth of the matter was that the culture we worked in was not progressive and did not support flexible work arrangements to empower a talented workforce to juggle home and work demands. The two hour plus commute back and forth to and from work only made matters 1,000 times worse. I felt like I had to choose between the work I loved and honoring my family, which seemed an unfair choice. I didn’t have the energy to look for yet another position and negotiate the flexibility I needed – although the circumstances were different, this was not my first struggle with work life balance. I was quite frankly, exhausted!
The truth is I knew I needed to leave my career long before that afternoon in my boss’ office. I had had one experience after another that spoke to my heart and told me I needed to make a change. Yet I kept ignoring the signs because I was too afraid. I lost my mother and my aunt to lung cancer, my maternal grandmother in a sudden car crash, and my paternal grandmother when a criminal broke into her home and sexually assaulted and killed her. Each of these experiences tore at my heart and beckoned me to make a change. To get off the treadmill of working in a career that didn’t support me in honoring my family, no longer excited me and didn’t allow me to be me. I felt so stifled in my business career and I knew that there was something greater that I was supposed to be doing. I had a fear of failure and public ridicule of losing the seemingly perfect life I had created. The fear I was no longer wearing the cape of success that the little inner city girl had envisioned so long ago kept me stuck in a place I knew I had no place being.
So, at the end of my rope, and feeling like I had no other options, I finally listened to the little voice within. Ignoring my head and listening to my heart, I surrendered to the call. The call to finally put myself and my family first. I have always been a person of faith, and I believe all things are divinely ordered. Once I finally stopped resisting and was ready to finally lay it all down, I finally found rest and restoration.
When we are finally ready to surrender, we surprisingly open up a whole new world of possibility. Joseph Campbell once said, “We must let go of the life we have planned, to accept the one that is waiting for us.” In stepping away from life as I knew it, I stepped into a whole new world of transformation. I was finally able to focus on taking better care of myself and my family. I started yoga and meditation. I enjoyed walks in the park. I focused on my passion for personal development, read books, took coaching classes and ramped up my graduate courses in pastoral counseling. I tended to my father’s growing needs, was present to nurture my relationship with my husband and to help both my daughters with challenging school years.
Most excitedly, I took action on a long-time dream and created a business for myself coaching others to redesign their lives in alignment with their highest priorities.
By joining the Start With You program, I learned so much about my Ikigai and so much more. I was able to piece together these seemingly random pieces of my life and understand WHY they mattered. I realized that creating my business was an act of obedience to what my life was teaching me. In letting go of my previous views of success, I was able to see new possibilities. Creating my business was an empowered step to support my family and manage my life on my terms and not someone else’s. Ultimately, it was a way to serve others and be a part of something greater than myself.
As a result of the Start With You program, I changed my business title to Chief Alignment Officer. My Ikigai is to help people to listen to what their lives are trying to teach them, to explore and entertain new possibilities and to take inspired action. My clients are empowered by getting clear on what they really want in life, and gaining the confidence and clarity to go get it! I finally feel like the architect who is designing my own future by helping others to do the same, and it feels so good to finally be in alignment with where I believe I was divinely created to be!