Grit and Grace: Taking Chances, Saying Yes to Adventure and Knowing when to Quit
Posted May 18, 2018 by Prairie Wife - 5 comments
Note: On Wed I gave a talk at our local Rotary Club. Several people asked for a copy of the speech so I thought it would be easier to share it on here.
First let’s talk about Grit and Grace…
Those of you that already know who I am, may have seen this phrase on my blog PrairieWifeInHeels.com. I’ll get into the whole blogging story in a bit. But I wanted to start off explaining what that phrase Grit and Grace means to me.
It’s that powerful combination of determination and strength coupled with compassion that works together so perfectly to form what I strive to be every day.
It applies to women, wives, mothers, men, husbands and fathers…pretty much everyone!
Grit and Grace It’s the ability to face fear and uncertainty with your head held high and moving forward bit by bit. When I hear the phrase grit and grace I always envision a pioneer woman standing on the prairie, perhaps with a child or two by her side, gazing into the distance as a black storm rolls in.
Who here in Wyoming can’t relate to that?
Next up I want to explain what I mean by taking chances.
I think when someone says “take a chance” many of us envision a person getting ready to jump of a cliff, or not wearing their seat belt or quitting their job to move to Aruba and make and sell homemade coconut jelly for a living.
And while these things would indeed be taking a chance (though not necessarily ones I’d support if you were my friend) they aren’t realistic choices for most of us.
When I say take a chance I mean do that thing that ties your stomach in knots.
Visit (or perhaps move) a city you’ve never been to before but always dreamed of. Sign up for that adult ballet class, submit your short story to a magazine. Or here’s another off the cuff example…
When someone calls you up and says hey, I’d like you to come speak at our Rotary Club say yes…even though it may scare you a bit.
Taking a chance doesn’t have to be making a huge life altering decision, it can be saying yes instead of no, and it could become the first step of what will turn into an Adventure…
Speaking of adventures, I encourage you to go on as many as possible.
Once again, I don’t mean running off to Aruba, though that would be an Adventure that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about saying yes to marrying the Cowboy or Cowgirl of your dreams. It may be taking off 4 days from work, turning off your phone and doing whatever your spouse or children ask of you, no matter how crazy. Perhaps it’s signing up for your first ever 5K race, or actually going to that support group meeting for people who have family members suffering from Alzheimer’s.
To me, going on an adventure is doing something that you’ve never done before. Participating in an adventure takes a certain amount of commitment and effort, and here’s the hard part…often times adventures have an unclear ending…and sometimes they turn into a beginning.
Which leads me to my last point.
Knowing when to quit.
When I say the word quit I can see people cringing.
Quit has such a negative connotation. But, to me it’s not a negative word.
After all, when someone tells you they’ve quit smoking that’s cause for a celebration.
Quitting, especially when it’s a decision made with thought rather than based solely on the heat of the moment can be pretty dang amazing.
And it can open you up to change and adventure you would have never dreamed of.
Speaking of dreams.
I’m often asked how a city girl, born and raised in Milwaukee, ended up living in the middle of nowhere Wyoming married to a Cowboy with 5 kids.
It’s one of those crazy things, and the first big example in my life of taking a chance and going on an adventure.
When I was 12 my family came out to Cody, Wyoming for a Yellowstone vacation.
I fell in love with the mountains, the wide-open skies and the wind (I may regret that one a bit now)
I told my parents this is where I’m going to live…they laughed and patted me on the head and forgot all about it. When it came time to apply for college I picked the University of Wyoming. When I was accepted my parents became a bit nervous. I didn’t know anyone in the entire state, I had no money to travel and tour the campus before school began, AND I was only going to be 17.
Thankfully they didn’t share their concerns with me until much later and with the blissful ignorance and confidence of youth I took a chance and charged ahead. My father flew in and stayed with me for an afternoon, long enough to settle me into the dorms, set up a bank account, and give me a few hugs before he left to catch his plane.
Within the first few hours on campus I met two lovely ladies who continue to be my closest friends and I settled happily into a pattern of work and school and friends.
The Summer home in Wisconsin between my Freshman and Sophomore year, I met a boy. We fell in love and he moved to Wyoming with a friend to be closer to me. Things were wonderful and as we drove back to Wisconsin for Christmas break we chatted about our plans for the future.
In Iowa his truck hit a patch of black ice and to sum up a story that is too long for today, he didn’t survive the accident. Less than a week after his funereal I packed my bags and headed back to Wyoming. I was paying my own way through school and couldn’t afford to miss more work than I had previously planned.
I debated sharing this story today because it’s not really an uplifting one…but here’s the deal.
Up until this point I had never had to dig in deep to do anything.
Yes, I took a chance and moved to Wyoming…but as I said before I was blissfully young and foolish and totally up for the adventure.
This experience was the first time I learned the true meaning of grit.
Those of you that have experienced loss like this know what I mean when I say that time went on and life became easier to live.
The next Summer I met a green eyed Cowboy at the beer tent of Frontier days. He asked me to marry him that night and while I didn’t say yes to that particular adventure I did agree to go to an Aerosmith concert with him.
I graduated from college two years later, moved to Cheyenne and began teaching first grade. It was the job of my dreams, and what I had been working towards my whole life.
The next time The Cowboy asked me to marry him I took a chance and said yes…as anyone here who is married knows, what followed was one heck of an adventure!
We started off right with an outdoor Wyoming wedding (risky I know) and despite an hour delay because my brothers forgot our grandmother everything turned out just fine. We charged forward ready to begin our lives together.
A year after we were married we were blessed with our first child, only to suffer a miscarriage at 6 weeks.
Once again it was time to dig in and find that grit, and the grace to congratulate all my friends who seemed to be announcing their own pregnancies almost weekly. We kept on moving forward and when our son JD was born we ignorantly jumped into the biggest adventure of our lives…parenthood.
I always say, nothing brings you to your knees quite like being a mother. I recall sitting there sobbing and exhausted, unshowered and holding a colicky 4 month old while my husband looked on in utter dismay and panic.
“I don’t know what to do” he said “I figured you’d know it all.”
We muddled through that first year of parenthood and had our daughter a year later.
A few months before her birth my husband was offered a change in position that would lead us here to Casper. It was time to sit down and have a hard conversation. Until this point I had been doing the working mom gig. Teaching part time and sharing childcare with my co teacher (at no cost to either of us). I was living the dream a mom and a teacher with a job I loved. Moving to Casper would mean trying to find a new teaching job that would cover the cost of day care for two young children, not to mention finding a day care we trusted. Frankly I was torn. I had worked so hard to get that degree and I truly loved teaching. After a few conversations with my husband we decided that it was time for me to quit teaching and stay home with our family.
Oh my, was that a season full of taking chances and going on adventures. I went from a city girl living within walking distance of everything I needed (and by everything I mean Chinese Food, donuts and DQ) to living 30 min from town on 10 acres…from a working mom to a stay at home mom. From living in a town surrounded by family and friends to living in a new place where I didn’t know anyone. Last but certainly not least I went from a husband that was home every night to one that was gone 4-5 nights a week.
To say I was terrified would be an understatement. That stomach in knots situation I described before was a daily occurrence.
But I took a deep breath, smiled and waved goodbye to my husband each week and found that grit and grace. I made myself get out of the house and explore my new town. I challenged myself to take a chance and give my number out to one new person a week in an attempt to make friends. I vowed to begin consistently working out for the first time ever to drop that 40 pounds of baby weight (living within walking distance of DQ when pregnant is both a blessing and a curse).
As the pounds fell off and the weeks passed I made friends that have now become our family.
Were there bumps in the road, absolutely…but when the moments were tough I gave myself permission to wallow for a day (or two) and then got back into the swing of things.
We welcomed our third child into our lives and settled down for a year of pretty great times.
And then it happened again.
I had another miscarriage. It came out of the blue, completely unexpected after three easy pregnancies in a row. Like last time we took a deep breath and decided to keep trying, and we were pregnant again relatively soon…only to loose this baby too.
You may wonder why I’m sharing yet another sad chapter of my life with you. Wasn’t this supposed to be an uplifting talk about living a great life of taking chances and going on adventure?
It is, I promise you.
But I think it’s important for you to know that we become people of grit and grace not because we’ve lead a perfect charmed life, but because of the hardship and the challenges we’ve had. You can’t see my stories of pain and loss when you look at me, but I assure you they are deeply a part of who I am.
The losses I’ve shared with you have taught me so much about grace and compassion. These losses have allowed me to share what I know, standing here on the other side, with others that are in the middle of that hard road now. Having grit and grace means offering hope and comfort to those that need it. I’ve learned that taking a chance, being vulnerable, crying in public and reaching out to others can ensure that positive can come from your pain.
As you can see by this picture my husband and I were blessed with two more children for a total of 3 boys and 2 girls. Sometime after the birth of my 4th baby something kind of strange started to happen.
My friends began asking for permission to give my phone number out. It began with a friend of a friend that had trouble nursing, a woman that was struggling with her husband being gone…and soon I was spending hours a week on the phone helping other moms with their questions and concerns.
Out of the blue one day, my neighbor and friend suggested that I begin a blog. She thought it’d be better for people to head to the internet for my support rather than giving my phone number out to strangers…and she knew I had previously submitted a few articles to magazines that were well received and published, so I would be just fine with writing.
I did a few months of research and decided to take a chance and go on an adventure…and oh my was I totally unprepared for the road ahead!
PrairieWifeInHeels.com was born.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with blogs, it easiest to think of them as an online magazine. I create three articles, or posts, a week and people can visit the website and read them, or sign up for our newsletter and have the posts arrive in their email.
Because the blog was my invention, I was able to pick whatever I wanted for the content. My sister who is an extremely intelligent businesswoman, and the one I went to for advice before I went live (or published) my first post, advised me to create a mission statement, a purpose for the blog if you will.
After a few days of thought I decided that our mission is to offer support to other women (and their families) through humorous, honest and heartfelt blog posts about our experiences. Our goal is to encourage others to lead their lives with grit and grace so they can discover the “Prairie Wife” within.
Once I had developed a mission it was easy to create content. If I was unsure if I was on the right track with a blog post I was writing I checked it against our mission. If it didn’t match up, I didn’t write it.
From fashion and makeup how to’s to parenting advice and humorous posts about the joys of pregnancy we pretty much covered it all. My sister and a few friends contributed posts to the blog. Which I loved, it offered a different perspective from my own, and that was important to me.
A few months into this journey I decided that I needed to do more to share other perspectives and stories with my readers. I’m a nosy person by nature. I’m the one that as soon as I meet people begins to ask questions about who they are and what they do…I just love learning from others…and I knew that my readers would benefit too!
I began by interviewing neighbors and family members. We covered my sister’s battle with stage three breast cancer at the age of 38, my neighbor who homeschools her five children and my other neighbor who is an award winning local artist. Soon readers began to suggest other women and we covered things like home birth and over seas adoption, the loss of a child and infertility, and alcoholism. These Prairie Wife of the Week interviews were amazing, and they began to really impact the blog. The numbers of monthly hits (or people that visit the blog) were rising in the 1,000’s.
My readers liked that I asked the questions we all want to know, like how much it REALLY costs to adopt a child, and what should (and shouldn’t) you say to someone who just lost their child to Cancer.
I took a chance and reached out to a few celebrities to see if they’d participate in the interviews…and they said yes! From Lifetime Reality show Stars to makeup artists to the stars and best selling authors it was a huge coup when their assistants emailed me back.
You may have picked up on the vibe that anything I do, I do it all the way! I treated it not like the fun hobby it was meant to be (in my husbands mind at least) but like a business. I knew I had readers that expected a certain amount of consistency and quality from me and I was going to meet their expectations no matter what!
I was writing 4 posts a week and on average it took about 2 hours to write, edit, find pictures and promote each post. The interview posts took over 6 hours to create between communication back and forth, doing the interview, writing it up, editing, finding pictures and promoting them. That means the blog was becoming a part time job (that I didn’t get paid for) and I found that I was spending more time than I should saying “hold on mommy has to work” or asking my husband to let me write for a few hours at night instead of paying attention to him…he tried to be gracious, but he was only home three nights a week and was getting a bit frustrated.
I was struggling, and finding the balance between my mom life, being a good friend, and being the wife, I wanted to be AND a blogger was not happening the way I wanted it. Sure, I’d have a few smooth weeks, but then life would happen (barfing kids or the holiday season) and I’d be stressed and rushing around putting out fires.
My husband took a chance (and all of you men know what I mean when I say this) and called me out on it. He explained he was 100% supportive of my hobby “the blog” and even the money that I had put into it (to create the website and buy the domain name) but that it was taking over and beginning to do more harm then good. A few brave friends echoed his opinion and I took a long hard look at myself.
They were right.
I went from 4 posts a week to 3 and decided to do my interview segments monthly rather than every two weeks. I cut myself some slack and acknowledged that every once in a while, I may miss that 6am self-imposed posting deadline or even skip a post here and there.
And you know what, it was OK.
I didn’t loose readers, and because I was less stressed what I was creating was better than before. When I needed to take a break for the birth of our 5th baby I simply posted on the blog so people visiting would know when I’d be back. Slowly but surely, we had more and more hits and the blog began to grow in popularity enough that I was no longer anonymous. I began to truly look at PrairieWifeInHeels.com like a business and a brand and because of that around year 3 companies began to reach out to me.
They offered to send products and have me do reviews in exchange for another product to give away to my readers. This is the bread and butter of the blogging game. When you have giveaways it draws new people or traffic to the blog. Hopefully those people stop by for the giveaway and stay for the great content they see. The more traffic you have the more businesses approach you wanting to work with you…and so on and so forth. People offer to pay you to write posts around a topic or even to embed a link to their website within a post you’ve already written.
Thank goodness for that mission statement. If I was unsure if I should say yes to a business I simply looked at that mission statement to see if they fit. While it was hard to turn down that $200 14k gold facial I knew that it was something that was not a good fit for most of my readers, so I turned it down. I have full transparency on the blog and clearly state in a post if it was paid, or if I received product in exchange for a review. I also have a set letter that I send to businesses that are interested in working with us that clearly says “this is our mission” AND it says if we don’t like their product I am NOT writing about it. Why should my readers spend 5 minutes of their time reading about something I don’t like?!
About the time that things really started to take off with the blog a few of my friends joined in with me to create a parody video. Some of you may have heard it…I won’t force you to listen to it today but you can find it on YouTube
The video took off and in less than 24 hours had over 5,000 hits and currently has over 20,000 hits. For the rest of the world this is nothing, for a blog from WY this is huge! We ended up doing an interview on KISS fm with DJ Nyke and the video kept on getting more and more notice. I was loving it and so were my friends and it gave me more confidence to keep on pushing forward with the blog.
The momentum from the video led to even more traffic on the blog and a few speaking engagements, including one for the annual Wyoming women in Agriculture expo.
At about this same time I had my regular check up with my OB. Sorry to the men in the room I know you’re cringing, but this won’t be too embarrassing for you I promise. When I went over my family history I mentioned that my mother had recently undergone treatment for breast cancer.
My dr paused and looked at me.
I knew that due to my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis at 38 I was already supposed to be extra vigilant about monthly exams. Technically I should have been receiving yearly mammograms from the age of 33 on (now it’s actually recommended to start 10 years before your closest relative was diagnosed) but I was constantly nursing or pregnant which doesn’t allow for an accurate reading.
Within that moment of silence my 4 month old daughter began to cry, without a thought I began to nurse her while looking at my dr. I was feeling a bit puzzled at her silence.
The conversation that followed was one that stunned me into silence. An unusual occurrence…
The result of the conversation was the statement from her that it was no longer “if” I was going to get breast cancer but “when”
She began to talk about surveillance options and going on tamoxifen, a drug that would put me into menopause but reduce my risk of breast cancer (and increase my risk of osteoporosis and uterine cancer). I interrupted her and blurted out…
“Can’t I just chop them off?”
She looked me in the eye and said, “let me make some calls.”
What resulted was a whirlwind of phone calls to my mom and sister an hour and a half long meeting with a genetic counselor and a trip down to Denver to meet with a Cancer risk and reduction specialist.
It took months to gather all the information, and as I sat there looking at pages and pages of printouts, and thinking about the hours of conversations I’d had with professionals I decided…if I had to fight Cancer I was throwing the first punch.
I took a chance.
Like any other human on the planet once I made my choice to undergo a preventive mastectomy. Which means a mastectomy before you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, I headed to google.
And found nothing helpful.
There were lots of technical posts that explained about the removal of tissue from your collar bone to your armpits to under your breast. Let’s not beat around the bush here, in case you aren’t aware a mastectomy is an amputation. And lots of Plastic Surgeon articles about reconstructive surgery and how to pick the right implants (and of course all the terrible things that can go wrong along the way). I found several good housekeeping articles about women in the 50 plus category that had a mastectomy and were still exhausted a year later. Even one article about a 20 something that had a preventive mastectomy (I was filled with hope when I came across that one) only to read that her worst fear was “having my boyfriend give me a sponge bath.”
For the first time in this process I was filled with fear.
I knew I couldn’t use my arms for weeks, what did this mean for taking care of my family of 7? How long until I could drive, what about cooking? The surgeries cost half a million dollars (that’s if everything goes well)….what?! Would insurance cover it? It’s not one surgery but 3 over the course of a year…with no using your arms after each one for weeks at a time. How do I explain this to my children?
My brain was going 100 miles a minute. Sure, I kept it together on the outside. I let a few select people know the plan so I wouldn’t be bombarded by questions I didn’t have the answers to. I wrote down pages of questions and sat down for hours with my Breast Surgeon and Plastic Surgeon while they patiently answered every single one, and drew diagrams too…
I decided that if I, a college graduate with a pretty firm understanding of anatomy and with an amazing support group was feeling this overwhelmed, that I was sure there were thousands of other women out there feeling just as bad, if not worse. I made the choice to share my journey every step of the way, week by week, including pictures, in the hopes of making someone else’s journey easier.
I won’t bore you with all the details of my journey. You can head over to the blog in your free time and check it out if you want. I will tell you that those posts have had thousands of shares, and at this point hundreds of women have reached out to me for support, to say thank you, and to let me know that they shared these posts with their families and it helped in more ways than they could say.
A few weeks ago was the two year anniversary of my mastectomy surgery and I wanted to read an expert from the post that I wrote…
Two years ago I underwent a Preventive Mastectomy.
Two years ago I began, not the first step, but certainly the scariest step, of what would be a year long journey.
As I drew closer to the two year mark I began to reflect on what I would write.
For me, part of that process was looking back at old blog posts and thinking about my journey as a whole.
Reading it again brought a lot of emotions back, holy cow there were some hard days and weeks…
I still vividly remember the weariness that came with each surgery. The overwhelming feeling of knowing I had to start all over again, back at square one each time. Feeling uncomfortable in my skin was my new normal.
And I’m proud to say that I proved to myself over and over that I could tackle the obstacles that were in my way.
I took a chance and shared my story and you would not believe the adventures that happened after that!
All the new traffic brought some great opportunities including working with Verizon and guest posting on Dr. Laura’s site.
I was a guest on a radio show in Colorado talking about my mastectomy and as a result spent almost 2 years working as their senior producer for that hour-long show. It was a job that I could do from home, in between running around after the kids. It was my first real job since teaching and it was nothing I ever expected. There was a steep learning curve but the challenge was thrilling (and the little bit of fun money it offered was great) and in retrospect I can see it was all to a greater purpose.
My work with the radio show led me to accepting a part time job for a local artist here, helping manage the gallery and media appearances. This resulted in some segments with K2 news which then turned into almost weekly Prairie Wife segments, which some of you may have seen.
The blog started to pay for itself as well as a babysitter one day a week so I could workout and work and be more present the rest of the time.
It’s been all about finding that balance.
Eventually I ended up quitting (in a perfectly friendly and non-negative way) both of those jobs so that I could spend more time with my kids AND focus more on building my brand, PrairieWifeInHeels.com
To date this has been one of the scariest choices of all.
It was one thing to off handedly mention “oh yeah I have a blog, it has been really fun” and another to say “I want to take this somewhere bigger, I want to build this and spread our message of grit and grace as far as I can.”
Within a week (you guys I can’t make this up I promise) of taking a chance and quitting my “for sure side job” to work on building my own “brand” K2 radio reached out to me about not only writing a few posts for them a month BUT also appearing on air weekly.
Let me tell you, it took all my natural birth experience to breath, and keep calm and professional during that meeting…but I pulled it off and I’ll just drop a small hint now that you may be hearing even more of me coming over your local air waves soon.
And boom, here we are all caught up to the current moment of me standing before you.
Encouraging you to take a chance, go on adventures and yes, even telling you that sometimes it’s a good time to quit.
I’m going to leave you with two quotes that struck a chord with me recently…
Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and start being excited about what could go right.
I don’t know exactly what’s next, but I am stepping forward with grit anchored in grace.