As we go through life, we often run into unexpected and challenging situations. It could be a work challenge like taking on new responsibilities or adjusting to a new manager. It could be a family shift like welcoming a new baby or the loss of a family member. Both positive and negative changes can be a cause of stress.
Recently, I had the privilege of participating in one of our Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association events sponsored by Pfizer in NYC. Each panelist told their own “resilience story” about a time in their life when they were faced with incredible obstacles and overcame. Words on a page do not do their stories justice.
The first panelist was captain Leslie Smith. Over a period of time, Leslie experienced multiple blood clots resulting in a loss of her left leg and vision in both eyes believed to be due to exposure to a chemical toxin while stationed in Bosnia with the US Army. While she could have made a choice to get angry and depressed about the situation, Leslie went for a different approach. With each loss, she connected with Veterans who had suffered similar losses and encouraged them. Through serving others, she experienced a healing process in her own heart as well. She now dedicates her time to meeting with veterans across the US and says that she wouldn’t change what happened to her as she now has a platform to help so many more people than she could have before the injuries. It reminded me of the story of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost an arm in a shark attack. Bethany has been quoted as saying she now has the opportunity to embrace more people with one arm than she ever did with two.
The second panelist was Anthony Helou, Pfizer medical affairs colleague, who served as a past global health fellow, Pfizer’s international skills-based volunteer program. Anthony shared his experiences from his six-month assignment in Tambacounda, in the eastern part of Senegal. He spoke of several challenges associated with his assignment, including extreme climate and living conditions, contracting malaria himself and witnessing human hardship on a daily basis. Hearing him speak brought me back to one of my own experiences in Africa where I volunteered in makeshift medical clinics in Ghana. While I was only there for two weeks, unfortunately I also experienced children dying from malaria in our clinics as they were too far gone for treatment by the time we arrived. I remember being overwhelmed by the vast need. Anthony shared advice as to how he kept going while he was there. He stated that each time he watched a child die, he got himself up and going the next morning telling himself that he might save five other children that day. By the end of his assignment, Anthony’s efforts executing the Mobilize Against Malaria program had an impact on the health of 76,000 people, including 12,000 children under the age of five, who now have timely access to effective medicines without having to travel long distances. He also actively supported the first-time election of a woman as a community health worker in rural Senegal.
Rounding out the panel was Ceci Zak, a healthcare industry executive and past HBA president who in a period of 15 months endured some of life’s most stressful and difficult situations, including the loss of a parent, divorce and losing her job. One of the ways she dealt with those challenges was to spend time away from everything in the Amazon and really reflect. She crafted a 10 year plan on what she wants to accomplish and who she wants to become, which helped her refocus on the things that matter most to her. She spoke about how when you are faced with extreme challenges, it’s important to take the time to nurture yourself and then give back to others.
Hearing their stories shifted a lot into perspective for me. The common theme that ran through the stories is that giving back to others can be one of the best ways to move beyond your circumstances, but that it is also important to take the time you need to grieve and allow yourself to rest and refresh. I leave you with a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that states “Never confuse a single defeat as a final defeat.” No matter how tough the situations are that you have gone through, it is possible to overcome and thrive again.