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Sunshine Mixed with a Little Hurricane (and Nikes)
I have lived through so many hurricanes, I've lost count.
My guess is that you have too, though it seems to me that these harsh storms are rarely shared. And to me, that means the process of releasing, healing, and then unleashing our own potential gets stymied. My point of view on life and leadership is that we have to acknowledge these storms and walk the path of healing from them, so we can bask in the light and welcome others to truly shine theirs.
Rejection broke my heart.
I’m left with the pain, after the hurricane. –Jazmine Sullivan
Hurricane: At my youthful prime, going out to the club with my friends wasn’t joy-filled, even though I loved to dance. While we stood at the bar, before hitting the floor, some guy would come up and use me to get to my friend who was (according to my inner critic) far prettier than I.
Hurricane: When I was a teenager, my feelings would bubble, as is rather normal. But on occasion, my outbursts would be met with the silent treatment from a close family member. Weeks would go by where I would be ignored in my own home, and my nervous system bugged out. I had to break the cycle for my own sanity – and at the time, I didn’t know how to name what was happening.
Hurricane: Upon starting a new job in a new industry, I was given advice to "fake it till you make it" and stop asking questions. In other words – don’t be me, but be more like my boss – who would rather nod her head in staunch agreement, than admit she didn’t know what she was doing.
Hurricane: By the time my grandma was at the end of her life, unhealed trauma among the family led to disfunction and disintegration of extended family connections. So much so that my immediate family found out my grandma passed away TEN DAYS after the fact – even though she was in the care of my aunt – and there was no funeral to celebrate or honor her life.
Life on multiple fronts left me with a hurricane of emotions. The hurricanes spun and spun, often as slow-moving fronts that seemed to linger, and not far behind it, was yet another one. These hurricanes involved a whole lot of negative self-talk, frustration, disappointment, sadness, and willing my tears to hide back into the ducts from which they came.
[Related: The Mountains We Climb]
I share these weather patterns with you, because it’s important we acknowledge what it is we’re carrying with us, so we can learn how to keep the past from hijacking our present. I share to also show you that whatever storms you have weathered, it’s possible to walk a path that finds you on the sunny side of the street WAY more often.
Being able to find sunshine and levity in the eye of the storm? That’s what I call tenacity.
Knowing that when the whole thing blows over, you can put your face toward the sun and appreciate the calm? That’s what I call hope.
When it comes to the career arena, rejection comes in so many forms; not getting the promotion, not getting the interview, not landing the client, not being asked to present your own work, not being invited to the dinner. And for me – the career arena felt like my best chance at finding acceptance and validation, which meant that for years I put the vast majority of my energy in this part of my life. But I experienced so many storms there too.
Because at the end of the day, they key question in all of my storms came down to this.
Do I matter?
This abandonment wound permeates every part of my life, and it’s something I’ve worked on day in and day out for as long as I can remember. I’ve come to learn this is a wound that so many carry. And it doesn’t have to mean you grew up without a parent physically in the house, or that you lost a loved one suddenly. It can come from tiny cuts and bruises that happen on a regular basis – also known as "small t" trauma.
For well over 30 years of my life, I was going out into the rain without any protection, or tools to combat the elements. I felt triggered just about every day and didn’t know how to process my feelings. I had no idea how to actually shift my narrative and see the truth that was buried under all of my conditioning, hurt and trauma. For years, I was getting beaten and battered by the harsh winds coming both internally and externally.
Finally, I picked up a rain hat, rubber boots, and a jacket and eventually hopped in the car and drove right on through. So much of this had to do with awareness and exposure – because I just didn’t have the tools. It’s such a big part of why I do the work that I do, because I want others to learn how to move and sway, in the storms of life.
But this doesn’t mean the hurricanes don’t keep coming.
[Related: The Upside of Trauma (Yes, It’s Possible)]
A pretty big storm came through in my recent past. This one wasn’t your Level 1 storm, where you can still count on water and toilet paper to be well stocked at your local grocery store despite the extra foot traffic. No ma’am.
It was the type of hurricane that put me into true PTSD – which was completely unexpected and something I had never experienced.
My abandonment wound was triggered to the point that my body got into serious flight or fight mode. My brain was not functioning fully, and my body was literally emptying my insides, ready for the fight of my life.
You see, someone that I trusted deeply and knew for over fifteen years of my life acted in such a way that every cell of my body wondered – does it matter that I’m here? Am I safe? It didn’t matter if my brain was trying to be rational and tell me to chill out. My body took over as if I was being attacked by a tiger (cue Waking the Tiger – an incredible book about somatic healing).
But let me tell you what was different about this hurricane:
I didn’t abandon myself.
I didn’t brush it off or "make it okay." I didn’t make excuses for my friend, and I didn’t go against what my body was telling me what to do – which was to physically remove myself from the situation. I used my tools to not get completely swept away in the swirling debris.
I leaned in on my community, trusted friends, and husband.
I leaned in on my gratitude and journaling practices.
I leaned in on my growing faith that I was supported by much greater forces.
I leaned in on the power of spending time in nature.
And I leaned in on finding the sun, even in the middle of the storm.
I used my power to give myself what I needed.
I was knocked down, but I wasn’t staying down for NOBODY.
At the time this happened, I was far from home. But I didn’t get on a plane to leave – I chose to create a new agenda, which meant I gave myself permission to do whatever I needed to take care of me. To quote Jay Z’s grandmother on the Lemonade album:
I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.
If I’m honest with myself, I saw this storm coming. I even named it with this friend because I felt emotions bubbling. But what was meant to be happened FOR my greatest good. Though I’m not gonna front – this storm lingered for a long while. Processing it took time. Accepting the truth of who my friend was capable of being at that moment was a journey. Finding forgiveness, letting go, grieving, and honoring my lessons had its own roller coaster ride.
But now I am grateful. Grateful for the lessons from that storm, and the breakdown that came with it. Because as it always does; the breakdown is what led to the breakthrough. And the breakthrough led to an elevated version of myself.
Now I’m looking in the mirror like DAMN. How badass am I? All the hurricanes I faced gave me the strength to handle this one. And the choices I made to get the tools I needed, massively paid out.
This speaks to a concept used in coaching; when you’re facing something new, or a challenge that feels unsurmountable, the key is to remember you’ve done difficult things before. So I ask you – whatever you are currently caught up in – when have you faced strong headwinds in the past? What hat and jacket did you use to get through it then?
What’s Nike got to do with all of this? Let me shift gears into pure JOY and synchronicity!
The Nike connection.
Not long ago, I met an incredible woman, Whitney, who has so many talented gifts. One of these gifts is that she literally TRANSFORMS sneakers. And when I say transform, I mean the original version is just unrecognizable!
She takes NEXT LEVEL to the NEXT LEVEL.
There was something that pierced my heart when I saw what she did with broken down sneakers and revived them into something completely vibrant, with a story to tell. I literally said to her:
My new goal in life is to afford one of your custom creations!
And don’t you know through her generous spirit, and bright light she said – I got you girl! And well, momma didn’t raise no fool! So I gave her a pair of Nike wedges that were actually gifted to me over a decade ago. The shoes were dope, but I knew they had so much more potential.
When I saw what she did with these sneakers I was speechless. And when I saw what inspired her… well I knew it was meant to be. And go figure…it is actually hurricane season at the moment.
Badass on the move.
So let me give you some advice, my friends. When the hurricanes come, take every tool you got to stay on the ground, and don’t EVER forget that you can find the sunshine. And not just AFTER the storm, but in the midst of it.
Lace up those pretty little shoes (or whatever it is that makes your heart happy), walk tall, and stand proud! Because whatever you’re going through – it’s gonna lead you to your breakthrough. Just don’t forget to grab your boots and hat as you make to the other side – it sure makes the journey a hell of a lot easier AND more likely that this lesson won’t have to come around again.
At the core of building resilient teams is giving your people the tools to handle the storms – not just the external ones, but the internal ones as well. This is fundamentally about tending to mental health and emotional wellbeing. The leadership coaching and culture transformation work I do is at this deepest level – whether we are addressing inner critics (narratives), redefining success (ie. what will authentically motivate), or addressing unresolved history (ie. broken trust).
I don’t apply band-aids, I help heal the wounds.
Tosca DiMatteo supports businesses to create people-centric cultures and individuals to experience transformational change to live their truth unapologetically. For details, email her at email@example.com to get started or schedule an exploratory call here.