Depression & Suicide in Rural America: Joey’s Story

Who’s Joey?

Joey’s a white, 54-year-old male living in a small town in rural North Dakota. He’s been married for 29 ½ years to fellow Napoleon native, Missy (Sperle).

He’s the proud father of three grown children (Amanda, Megan and Elijah) and has an adorable 9-month-old grandson.

Joey’s the middle child with two sisters and an in-law to Missy’s 12 siblings.

He’s provided for his family as a restaurant owner and manager, retail manager and maintenance worker at the Napoleon Care Center.

Joey loves spending time with his family, especially hunting with his son, mowing the lawn and watching TV.

He’s described as kind, soft-hearted, genuine and sweet.

Joey loves people, but is shy.

He works hard not to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Joey can also be a prankster and a joker.

He has a strong Catholic faith.

Joey has suffered with depression for 34 years.

On December 9, 2016, Joey ended his life by suicide.

Battling Depression

This wasn’t Joey’s first attempt at ending his struggle with life.

Three times he overdosed with medication chased by alcohol. The last time by a fatal gunshot in the master bedroom.

“In the 35 years we were together, it was like a roller coaster ride,” said his wife, Missy. Joey was hospitalized for the suicide attempts. He saw doctors for decades and took a variety of antidepressants. He even had shock treatments, which worked for a few years, but, according to Missy, also affected his short-term memory.

Joey’s depression peaked when he was under pressure or conflict was present in his life.

“Joey loved his family so very much but I believe the suffering just got to be too much. He was so tired of the struggle to keep going,” shared Missy.

Suicide’s Effect on Family

Joey’s children felt deep guilt in the months after his death. “These days were very hard. The kids felt guilty because they didn’t call or visit their dad more often.”

Somehow they believed if they’d have reached out and visited more frequently his suicide could’ve been prevented.

Not likely.

Hilzendeger Family

Joey and Missy often talked about suicide because of his 30-year depression battle. “I knew the day would come where he’d accomplish it. However, I always figured it’d be by means of overdose and not by shooting himself on a day when all the children were coming home.”

Missy assured and comforted her children and told them what she’d say to any family who’s suffered such a loss:

1. This is not your fault. Depression is an illness like cancer, diabetes or alcoholism. It is no one’s fault and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Use available resources for helping you cope: support groups, pastoral counseling, therapy, physician visits, retreats, spa services-whatever is available to you and makes you feel better.

3. Stay strong. It may feel like you will never get over this. It is not easy and you will never forget. Each day does get better and you will learn to live with it. You have to believe God loves you and will help you through this.

Though she coaches her children and others to be guilt-free, Missy sometimes blames herself for Joey’s suicide. “We were together for 35 years and I just couldn’t bring him back from the darkness this one last time.”

However, Missy has never been angry with Joey for what he did. “We were together so long and I knew how much he struggled on so many occasions. I can’t be angry with him.”

She admits, though, she’s been disappointed that he didn’t fight harder, especially after they had their first grandchild. “He was so unbelievably proud of that little boy.”

Missy is comforted knowing that she and the kids did not miss any warning signs of Joey’s impending suicide. “He battled depression for 30 plus years. Though it was difficult, it was part of our lives for so many years.

I wish I could have him back, but for Joey’s sake, knowing how much he suffered for so long, I truly hope and pray that he is now at peace.”

Moving Forward

Joey is terribly missed by all. Thinking of him brings both a smile to Missy’s face and tears to her eyes.

She talks to him regularly, asking him to watch over the family and to keep them safe, always, but especially from the current pandemic. “I pray every day that Joey is at peace and is right beside God.” That was always his greatest wish.

Missy’s relies heavily on her immediate and extended families to cope and is deeply grateful to each of them for their commitment to her. “They’ve helped so much with everyday life since Joey’s death. I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without them and my faith.”

Her toughest days were the grief-filled ones the first four weeks after Joey’s death. “I cried every day, many times a day. I remember thinking I’d just lost my husband yet everyone is moving on like nothing happened.”

She returned to work and kept busy, yet when summer arrived, she was hit with another wave of grief. She was alone to tend to yard work-one of Joey’s favorite chores that he enjoyed so much.

I had a wake-up call. Life was moving on with or without me. “The pain of his death has not gone away. I have just learned to live with it.”

“It’s been 3 ½ years. Every day is anyone’s guess how the day will be. Some days I feel like crying when I hear a certain song or relive a special memory. The next day, I’m just fine.”

Wishing Missy and her beautiful family days of peace and happiness ahead.

Thank you for sharing your story so that others may have hope.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, please seek immediate help from a physician or mental health professional. In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For more information, visit the NSPL web site (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).

Pinochle Tournament

Keeping Legacy Alive

Joey loved playing pinochle https://bicyclecards.com/how-to-play/pinochle-2/, as do many in the Napoleon, http://napoleonnd.com/ North Dakota community.

To keep Joey’s memory alive, every March his family hosts a pinochle tournament in Napoleon with funds donated to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in memory of Joey Hilzendeger.

If you’d like to make a donation to the card tournament, send a check to Missy Hilzendeger 322 Avenue C East, Napoleon, ND 58561.

Or, you can donate directly to AFSP online in memory of Joey Hilzendeger. https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.page&id=1390&eventID=2043

The 5th Annual Pinochle Tournament is scheduled for March 2021. The day is not yet available.

What Can You Do?

  • Seek help if you are suicidal. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Leave notes of encouragement for Missy below.
  • Donate and participate in the Pinochle Tournament.
  • Send a donation in Joey’s name to AFSP.
  • Encourage loved ones to seek help.
  • Objectively listen and pay attention.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • SHARE this post with others struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts.
  • SHARE with family members left behind.

North Dakota Facts

North Dakota saw the nation’s largest increase in suicide rates from 1999 to 2016- 58 percent.

That was more than twice the national increase of 25 percent, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means that in North Dakota, which has the nation’s 10th-highest suicide rate, a person dies by suicide every 57 hours.

In 2019, 154 people committed suicide.

Guns are the leading means of suicide nationally as well as in North Dakota. They account for slightly more than half of all suicides in North Dakota.

Easy access to firearms, along with increased social isolation and lack of behavioral health services, are among the reasons cited for higher suicide rates in rural areas.

Learn More

https://www.theitem.com/stories/the-pain-of-suicide,339546

http://www.ndaap.com/uploads/2/6/4/7/26479511/reaching_zero_suicide_in_nd.pdf

https://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/suicide-numbers-keep-rising-in-nd-but-there-s-help/article_41deb409-b5b9-5efa-b48c-6b0d6efe7753.html

https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-sin-of-suicide.html

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/index.shtml

https://www.governing.com/gov-data/health/county-suicide-death-rates-map.html

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/01/30/americas-suicide-rate-has-increased-for-13-years-in-a-row

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/mental-health/suicide-rates-are-rising-especially-rural-america-n1050806

https://www.kfyrtv.com/content/news/Resources-in-ND-available-when-mental-health-and-suicide-grief-becomes-too-much-567637891.html

https://afsp.org/state-fact-sheets

©April 2020. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved.

This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

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5 New Things I’m Doing During Social Distancing

Long-Lasting New Habits

Social distancing due to COVID-19 doesn’t need to mean feeling alone.

Many are reaching out in record numbers to neighbors, long-lost friends and family.

Certainly, the Internet has helped with connectedness.

The way I’m going about my days during social distancing has changed.

Here are 5 new things I’m doing during this unique time of social distancing.

1. Attending On-Line Mass

Places of worship quickly learned how to broadcast services online, most using Facebook Live.

Our Omaha church did the same. It now offers daily online Mass.

https://www.svdpomaha.org/

During this Lenten season, it’s especially greatly appreciated.

Father Gama on the 4th Sunday of Lent

2. Going On Nature Walks

I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors.

Lately, I have a greater appreciation for the ability to be outdoors, even if in isolation, or 6-feet apart from others sharing the space.

The consistency of nature is comforting with the world’s volatility.

I marvel at the changing season and the beauty and solitude all around.

I watch the birds and squirrels from my office window.

And, I’m eagerly awaiting the blooming of the daffodils in our yard.

New life. New color.

While everything else seems to have changed. Nature’s seasonal predictability and the joy it brings hasn’t.

3. Playing Vintage Board Games

We pulled out this 1971 board game: Landslide.

Have you ever played it?

It’s based on the election process & electoral votes.

The game uses “votes” as if it were money, and the players bid for states –they can even attempt to steal already “bought” states from each other.

It’d be great to have a current version of this. #Hasbro #ParkerBrothers

Landslide is a Civics Lesson While Having Fun

4. Listening to Free Concerts

Entertainers of all types are hosting events online. The ones we’ve viewed have all been on Facebook Live.

Check out your favorite entertainers Facebook page, Instagram site or website to see when, and if, they’ll be online.

It’s a welcome break from all of the news stories.

https://www.garthbrooks.com/inside-studio-g

5. Cooking with Available Items

Sweet potato fries. Indian butter chicken. Fish tacos. Shrimp and grits. Chili. Homemade egg rolls.

Instead of running out to the grocery store on impulse, I’m forcing myself to use ingredients already in the pantry and freezer.

I feel fortunate to have food in ‘storage.’ And, I’ve used the Internet to guide me with recipes using what’s on-hand.

I have a host of recipes on this website (Click “Recipe” tab above.)

Or, click on one of these links. Each provides recipes after you input ingredients you have on-hand.

https://www.supercook.com/#/recipes

http://www.recipekey.com/

http://www.ingredientmatcher.com

Shrimp n’ Grits
Click “Recipes” Tab Above for This Recipe & Others

What new activities are you doing during social distancing?

Share.

Will they be life-lasting after this social distancing adjourns?

©March 2020. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Do you have a story idea or interesting person who’d be a great feature? SHARE details below.

Growing up Gay in the Midwest: Collin’s Story

Feeling Like a Fraud Living Someone Else’s Life

Meet Collin

  • 25-years old
  • Native of McCook, Nebraska
  • Son of farmers/ranchers
  • Older brother to two sisters
  • College graduate- BS Marketing Management
  • A 6-year financial services career professional
  • Omaha resident, and a
  • Gay man

Defining Gay

As a teenager, Collin understood the term “gay” to mean someone who liked men, often times was feminine and usually was seen as less than an individual for liking the same sex. He and his peer group said “gay” to jokingly describe something they didn’t like. It was “gay!”

In his household and community being gay was seen as a negative thing. “You didn’t want to become someone like them, meaning-gay.” The term was always used in a derogatory way.

He, himself, used the term to describe others in negative way, which he apologizes for today.

“I think it was such a normalized term to show a thing or a person is not like the rest.”

Signs & Symbols

Even while he and his peers were calling something/someone “gay” Collin wondered if he might be. He

  • Had an attraction to other men his age
  • Didn’t feel a connection to girls other than friendship
  • Read and researched “what it means to be gay”
  • Was interested in things classified as “gay” while growing up-like décor, landscaping, keeping a tidy room, etc.

I’m Gay

Collin acknowledged to himself that he was gay just before his 2013 college freshman year, although he kept this understanding to himself.

 “It was a pretty lonely feeling having admitted this to myself but not sharing it with anyone else.”

He was scared and had tremendous uncertainty about what his future held.

“I was in stress overdrive not knowing what lay ahead as a recent high school graduate already. Adding “gay” to the mix only compounded it.”

He hinted to his family but didn’t openly discuss it until June of 2017 when his dad flat out asked him if he was gay. “Yeah, yeah, I am.” To Collin’s surprise, the chat with his dad went quite well. He’s so grateful for this.

“My dad was a little more okay with it in the beginning than my mom, which is something I didn’t expect.

My sisters were pretty chill and so were all of my friends who already knew.”

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d have come out sooner, and get to enjoying my life a lot quicker.”

Filtered Behavior

Looking back, Collin acknowledges that his spirit and overall well-being were hindered as a teenager.

“I filtered what I said, how I acted, talked and dressed, which was upsetting.”

He just wanted to be himself without things like, “He’s gay or look at that homo,” being said about him.

Collin lacked gay role models but looked to his grandmother and a close family friend, neither let others determine their self-worth.

City or Country

Collin moved from rural Nebraska to its largest city to attend college and work. He never felt like he’d have to move to Omaha to be accepted.

However, he acknowledges that it’s easier for a gay person to be accepted, and perhaps happier, when they have gay friends and/or someone who understands them in a way they need to be understood.

He hasn’t detected any barriers to employment but does admit he catches himself filtering certain parts of his life with co-workers.

He tries not to be known as “the gay one” and fights thoughts about worth because of his sexuality.

“Even though I do this, not once have I ever been rejected or felt out of place by sharing my life with co-workers.”

Filtering is a deep-seated habit.

Not Easy

Collin admits there’s room for improvement regarding acceptance in Nebraska.

“I would like to walk down the street and not think twice about grabbing my partner Cody’s hand.”

Though he hasn’t felt unsafe in Nebraska, he has gay friends who have.

He’s an advocate of prioritizing mental health as high as physical health and regularly sees a counselor.

His visits are not for living as a gay man but for maintaining good mental health.

“Every part of my life has benefited from attending regular counseling.”

Rural Youth

Collin has a passion for listening to and guiding gay individuals, especially in rural areas. Here’s his best counsel:

1. Be yourself, if you can and it’s safe to do so. People will talk or look or maybe even make a snide comment, but being comfortable in your own skin is worth so much more.

2. Take steps to educate your parents, teachers, peers or friends on what it actually means to be gay. It’s more than likely not Ru Paul’s Drag Race in real life. Ignorance is a voluntary misfortune, and sometimes it only takes knowing one gay person to change that person’s perception.

3. Support other gay individuals you know who have yet to come out. Don’t belittle them, or go along with what your friends say around them. “This is the one thing I regret deeply from high school and early college years.”

4. It is okay to be different. Homosexuality is a part of me. It doesn’t solely define me. I have many straight friends and me being gay would be one of the last things they would use to describe me.

“Having said that, the one thing I’m most disappointed in about being gay is seeing others still treat gay people differently after knowing me, and accepting me for who I am.

Ahead

Today, Collin enjoys life with Cody, a paramedic in a pre-med and emergency management program.

He likes to travel, hang out with family and friends and tackle DIY house projects.

Someday he’d like to have a family, including children.

His greatest wish is that all struggling with their sexuality are somehow taken care of.

Adding, “I hope I never have to hear the word “faggot” or “gay” used in a demeaning nature to describe someone again.”

The most joyous part of his identity journey has been the individuals he’s had the pleasure of meeting, and those unexpected allies.

A wish, for all.

Cody & Collin. Traveling-his favorite pastime.

What Can You Do?

  • SHARE this story. You know there’s someone who needs to hear Collin’s story today.
  • Drop a positive message for Collin below.
  • Stop judging others. Start helping.
  • Have an accepting heart.
  • Even if you don’t agree with a gay lifestyle, love the person.

Resources

https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm CDC

http://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/resource_guide_april_2014.pdf HRC.ORG

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/LGBT-Resources.aspx American Academy of Pediatrics

https://lgbtqa.unl.edu/welcome University of NE-Lincoln

http://www.pflag-omaha.org/ PFLAG-Omaha

©March 2020. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

Do you have a story idea or interesting person who’d be a great feature? SHARE details on the form.

Are You an Alcoholic? Twila Shares Her Story

What Does It Take to Stop Abusing Alcohol?

When Do You Finally Hit Rock Bottom?

Is It When You

  • Run away from home?
  • Destroy a 22-year marriage?
  • Compromise relationships with your children?
  • Are required to undergo random monitoring to keep your professional RN license?
  • Complete multiple treatments for alcohol dependency?
  • Are placed in a sober living house?
  • Receive numerous DUI arrests?
  • Spend nights in the county jail?
  • Nearly lose your RN career, or
  • Are placed on a 24/7 monitoring program for an entire year?

No.

It is only when you are desperate enough to surrender and seek help that a changed life starts.


Meet Twila

Twila is an alcoholic.

She went through each of these experiences and losses trying to control her drinking.

Early Onset Drinking

Twila grew up in a rural North Dakota farming family the middle child with two brothers. In high school she participated in basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, volleyball and track, along with FFA-Future Farmers of America.

She was social outside of school. She started drinking at age 13.

Like many students in her area, she partied on the weekends, easily getting alcohol supplied by the older siblings of her friends. “We met on the section lines and gravel pits in the country. Sometimes I drank to the extreme.”

Her dream of going to college, getting married and having a family came true. And then it all fell apart as alcohol played a growing role in her life.

Alcohol was often a part of their married social life. “We entertained other couples with children so no one had to get a babysitter. We hung out with sports parents who wanted to have a few beers after the events. There were times I wasn’t done drinking when the event ended for the night.” But being a parent and having a job often curbed her drinking, when it needed to.

Fitting In

The effects of alcohol helped Twila feel like she was “fitting in and being a part of.” It helped her feel comfortable in her own skin. “I was never told growing up I wasn’t good enough or that I didn’t fit in. I told myself these things. I was always trying to be somewhere else, as someone else, doing something else.” Alcohol was her solution. It worked right up until it didn’t work.

Failed Self-Control

She spent many years trying to control her drinking so it would not go to the extremes. She felt guilt and shame by her behaviors around her drinking. “I knew I might have a problem when I drank to black outs or when my husband had to take care of me after I drank too much. We often had arguments about my drinking.”

She’d trick herself into thinking everything was okay because she still had things like a house, a car, a job, etc.

But she wasn’t.

Abusing alcohol cost her a lot, including her

  • Sanity
  • Peace
  • Purpose
  • And most importantly, her relationships with her children and her 22-year marriage
Twila’s greatest joy comes from seeing her children & grandchildren happy.

Rock Bottom

Twila’s desire to keep her RN job defined “rock bottom” for her. “I couldn’t compromise my professional career. It was the last thing I was holding on to. I’d already failed as a mother, wife and family member.” She often felt embarrassed for not showing up to work after spending nights in the county jail for DUIs. Losing her job was too much to bear.

Rehab to Sobriety

1st Time

Twila’s been to treatment for alcohol dependency twice-both at Heartview Foundation https://heartview.org/ in Bismarck, North Dakota. The first in January 2014. By this time, she’d run away from home, her marriage and her children. It was intensive outpatient treatment that lasted until March. She then attended an Aftercare program once a week. This was to last for five months.

She couldn’t stay sober.

Twila attended 12-Step Recovery meetings. She could string up a few months here and there. “I honestly didn’t want to stop drinking.” She wanted to be a ‘normal drinker,’ to control her drinking and to drink socially.

She was angry. “I was angry at the hurts I’d caused and at the life I’d destroyed for myself and others.”

2nd Time

Twila entered outpatient treatment again in June 2015 because her drinking had compromised her job. She took time off from work-the first time in 20 plus years. She still couldn’t stay sober.

Sober Living House

A third DUI in October 2015 resulted in Twila spending a couple months in a Bismarck women’s sober living house. “I couldn’t trust myself. Alone time was drinking time.” Consequences of that DUI required 24/7 monitoring for a year and random monitoring for her professional license. “The combination of these two monitoring programs slowed me down enough to do the honest inside work that 12-Step recovery asked me to do; as honestly as I was able to at that time.”

AA-Alcoholics Anonymous

https://www.recovery.org/alcoholics-anonymous/

AA is Twila’s solution. “AA has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. In addition, I’ve learned to be grateful and humble, and to be of service every day, especially to the next suffering alcoholic.”

There are three innate traits all addicts need to recover, according to Twila.

  • Willful surrender to the disease and to a program of recovery
  • Attitude of gratitude
  • Humility without humiliation

Twila believes the #1 thing all those in recovery need is LOVE. “In AA, it is said that we will love you until you can love yourself.” Those still actively using need “a chance to suffer enough to seek a life in recovery” and those incarcerated need “a message of hope that life can look different. That they can press the reset button anytime.”

North Dakota Resources

Twila participates in her state’s efforts to reduce recidivism https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recidivism and decrease incarceration for crimes involving addiction and mental health issues. Several of these organizations include:

F5

The F5 function key on a computer keyboard is the REFRESH button.

F5 https://www.f5project.org/ is a non-profit organization headquartered in Fargo, ND. It’s founder, Adam Martin, is a five-time felon turned entrepreneur.

The organization’s mission is to reduce recidivism and to erase the stigma of being a felon and a person with an addiction.

It preaches that one’s past does not have to define one’s future and that you are your own greatest asset. You can refresh!

Twila is actively involved in this growing organization that today has men’s houses in four cities. In addition, F5 has care coordinators and peer support specialists in eight anchor cities. And, holds jail/institution meetings at facilities in seven anchor cities. “Most of the people working with the F5 project have lived the experience either as a felon, as someone in recovery or as someone with a mental illness.”

Free Through Recovery

https://www.behavioralhealth.nd.gov/addiction/free-through-recovery

Free Through Recovery is a North Dakota community based behavioral health program designed to increase recovery support services to individuals involved with the criminal justice system who have behavioral health concerns.

Recovery Reinvented

In addition, it’s worth noting that North Dakota’s First Lady, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, https://www.governor.nd.gov/first-lady-kathryn-burgum a person in long-term recovery, has made tremendous impact on recovery efforts in North Dakota through her addiction platform.

Recovery Reinvented https://recoveryreinvented.com/ is an ongoing series of innovative practices and initiatives to eliminate the shame and stigma of addiction in North Dakota. They seek to find solutions to help people affected by the disease of addiction with proven prevention, treatment and recovery approaches.

One Day at A Time

Every night before she goes to sleep, Twila says prayers for those needing healing and forgiveness. She awakens with a prayer of gratitude and asks God how she should show up for the day.

Sending Twila prayers for strength in her continued recovery and patience and understanding in her search for purpose and self-worth. Deep gratitude for all she does for those seeking to refresh their lives.

Keep it simple. Remain grateful.

Additional Resources

https://aa.org/ Alcoholics Anonymous

https://al-anon.org/ Loved Ones of Alcoholics

https://drugabuse.com/alcohol/ Alcohol Abuse

http://www.aahistory.com/prayer.html Serenity Prayer

https://www.alcohol.org/faq/am-i-an-alcoholic/ Am I an Alcoholic?

What Can You Do?

  • Leave questions & notes of encouragement for Twila below.
  • Donate to the organizations listed above.
  • Encourage loved ones to seek help.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • SHARE this post with others who will be inspired & encouraged by Twila’s story.

©February 2020. Linda Leier Thomason All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission before using copy or images from this site. Images are available for purchase.

Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

How to Record & Understand a Year of Gratitude

I kept talking about practicing gratitude-being grateful. Seeing the silver lining. Slowing down. Counting my blessings. Cherishing the moment. Being content with what I have. Embracing what shows up in my life.

Then, I did.

In 2018 I committed to recording one thing I was grateful for each of the 365 days. Some days I struggled with limiting my recording to only one. Other days, I stretched to recall one. Regardless, each day received a gratitude note.

A month of gratitude slips.

It became routine: a habit. Then, a life-changer.

I dug out a book given to me a decade ago. I read and re-read it. It’s highlighted and dogeared. It’s a recipe for practicing gratitude.

Definition

Gratitude here is described as “the realization that we have everything we need, at least in this moment. It is stunningly simple. It helps us to return to our natural state of joyfulness where we notice what’s right instead of what’s wrong.”

If you’re reaching for ways to develop & keep an attitude of gratitude, read

Recommended Reading

Read on to find out how you can get a copy.

DATA COLLECTION

365 GOLDEN SLIPS

I cut 365 slips of golden paper and placed them into zip-lock bags by month. These sat in a basket next to my desk as a constant reminder not only to complete each slip daily but also to more fully recognize and appreciate events, behaviors, people, interactions, etc.

I became committed to appreciating this quote from the book: “Gratitude is like a flashlight. If you go out in your yard at night and turn on a flashlight, you suddenly can see what’s there. It was always there, but you couldn’t see it in the dark.”

What to Record

I didn’t limit myself to what could be recorded. The only rules were that just one item could be noted daily and that it could not be a recording of activity or an event and read like a journal. It had to be something unique about the day (or my approach or reaction to the day) that stood out and that I really appreciated and was grateful for.

Each day I made a recording, noted the date, folded the slip and put it in the container next to my desk.

Around March I began to realize how easy it is to forget things that happen on a daily basis that bring vast amounts of joy and enrichment to my life. Larger life events can often overshadow. For instance, 2018 brought some pretty seismic changes to our family life:

  • My husband, Ken, voluntarily switched careers.
  • Our son, Alex, married.
  • I doubled my client workload.
  • Illness and death of extended family and close friends.

Rather than focus on these major happenings, I recorded notes like, “admiration of Ken’s brain and intellect” and “cooling oceanside breeze on Alex’s wedding day.”

MONTH END REVIEW & RECALL

At the beginning of each month Ken and I would sit down and read aloud each slip from the prior month. We took turns randomly selecting slips until all were read and recalled. Some slips required explanation. Many brought delight as we remembered what was noted on the golden slip.[BONUS: Having someone to read and share a month’s worth of slips together is a real treat. But don’t let this stop you from recording on your own gratitude slips daily.]

DATA ANALYSIS

I used a research method-content analysis- to code all 365 golden gratitude slips. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/content%20analysis.

It is both qualitative (subjective, based on observation) and quantitative (objective, numbers).

Without getting too technical, I

  • Read each slip
  • Placed similar slips into the same group
  • Named each group like Marriage, Friendship, Immediate Family, Wellness, Etc.
  • Counted the number of slips in each group
  • Created sub-categories for large groups
  • Placed each category into 1 of 3 larger categories
  • Charted the slips by category

FINDINGS

Marriage

The largest number of gratitude slips (49) related to our 26 year marriage or my husband’s presence in my life. A sample includes, “pride in Ken’s hard work ethic and subsequent results,” “strength, faith and integrity through adversity and change,” and “honoring traditions like Ken’s standing the first Saturday of each May as “My Old Kentucky Home” is sung at the Derby.” [He’s a Kentucky native.]

Friends

We’ve lived in eight states. Making, appreciating and retaining friends across the globe are highly valued (30). “Social skills to make friends and develop life-long friendships.” “Friendships from work settings despite employer changes.” “Invitations to outings with new friends.”

Wedding Day Breakfast, Charleston, SC, July 3, 2018

Mother/Son

Alex, 24, is our only child. Time spent with him was mentioned 24 times. It is the greatest gift he gives me. On Mother’s Day I noted, “grateful for the title of mother.” “Honest/frank conversations,” and “Drive and dedication at his job” were also noted.

Immediate Family

Our immediate family grew to four in 2018 with Alex’s marriage. Again, time spent together was mentioned most. I’m was grateful for their wedding day and marriage. We’re all grateful for their home offer being accepted and the ease of their move-in.

Extended Family

Siblings, nieces, cousins, parents and in-laws were mentioned 18 times. Highlights: “Inclusiveness and traditions of Loon Lake, MN cousins, like their pre-meal prayer, ‘We love our bread. We love our butter. But most of all we love each other.’ “Adult women who become friends” and “uninterrupted travel time with brother from NE to MN.”

Other

Forty-four (44) golden slips simply could not be forced into another category and got placed in “OTHER.” Samples include, “safety of winter roadways, “service experts like window washers, snow removers, HVAC technicians, etc.”, “Nebraska volleyball players’ grit coming back to win from two sets down,” and “beauty and majesty of fireworks displays.”

Wellness

Access to medical care with kind, caring professionals was frequently mentioned (35). I have a progressive scoliosis. Access to warm water and massage therapy were often cited. “Motivation and commitment to pool exercise for maintenance of health and mobility,” “ability to rest and recover,” and “understanding need for self-care.”

Travel

I am curious and have gypsy-like traits. Thus, I thrive on travel (13) and immersing myself in new surroundings and cultures. I am most grateful for the means to travel.

Nature

Many of my/our travels include exploration of nature and the outdoors (11). Sample notations included: “Sunrises.” “Sitting on dock listening to sounds of loons on lake” and “full moon lighting our travel on I-80.”

Loon Lake, Minnesota

Personal Traits

Personal skills or traits appeared on 29 golden slips. These skills included traits like tolerance, compassion, sense of humor, emotional strength, ability to let go, forgiveness, life long learner, celebratory, etc.

Business Skill

Business aptitude or skills were noted 19 times. Problem-solving, analytical, group facilitation and connection, persistence, creative and artistic, communication (courageous, multi-generational, etc.) and organizational and planning are samples of the greater list.

Alone Time

Alone time only appeared four times during the year. History explains that. I hail from a family of 11. I enjoy being surrounded by people and activity.

CONCLUSIONS

  • There is always something to be grateful for. Recognizing this and pausing to understand gratitude were teachable moments.
  • I was grateful prior to this 365 day exercise. Committing gratitude to paper daily did, however, amplify the many blessings in my life.
  • My gratitude notes mirror my personal priorities. Almost half of the notes (46%) landed in “Marriage + Family.” Over a third (36%) fell in “External” and Eighteen percent (18%) were personal.
  • I was surprised by the number of personal and business traits (combined 48) mentioned on the gratitude slips. Clearly, I understand that my approach to both situations and people stems from the skills I possess and use. Experience (age) does lead to wisdom and insight.
  • Traveling fills my soul whether domestic or off-shore. Yet, it only had 13 mentions during the year. Perhaps, I’ve taken this blessing a bit for granted.
  • I have solidified my belief that most people are good and have good intentions. Forgiveness seems to come easier.
  • An attitude of gratitude is a daily work in progress. Admittedly, while raising a family, working and maintaining a life, it’s not easy to focus on self-improvement.
  • If I had a do-over, I’d have done this exercise earlier in my life. It’s never too late to start.

FUTURE

  • Keep understanding that to experience gratitude, I have to first be aware I’ve been given something (not necessarily a material thing).
  • Start each day being abundantly joyful.
  • Consciously count my blessings on a daily basis.
  • Realize there are trying times and discover the gift in those moments.
  • Be present and aware, especially during mundane, ordinary tasks.
  • Focus on needs not wants.
  • Notice and appreciate each person’s talents.
  • Live simply and minimally.
  • Keep expectations in check.
  • Give thanks every day, including at meal time.
  • Re-read “Attitudes of Gratitude” as needed to get re-focused.

Sandra from Sioux Falls, SD won the book! Congrats!

If you’d like a free copy of “Attitudes of Gratitude,” complete the form below and list the #1 thing you are most grateful for at the moment. List 1 item only.

CLOSED: A random winner will be chosen by May 1, 2019.

©Copyright. April 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected and images are available for sale.


Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
She specializes in undercover studies of communities wishing to attract visitors for economic impact. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.
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Why Having Cancer Can Be a Positive Thing

Cancer is Hard & Scary. It Can Also be Amazing

Two 57-year-old female professionals meet for the first time at a sushi bar in Omaha, Nebraska. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. It’s not. Kathy and Terry quickly learned they shared triple negative breast cancer.

At a patio table in the late day’s sunshine, they tossed medical jargon around like others discuss politics or sports. They laughed while sharing baldness tales. They empathized with one another while listening to how cancer affects loved ones more than themselves.

Repeatedly, they blasted the negativity of cancer information. Neither ever found a book or article that was “positive about what an amazing journey cancer can be if one keeps the right attitude.”

Despite this, these women stayed focused on the positive aspects of cancer during and after treatment.

I marvel at their strength, frankness and sense of humor. Each will inspire you, or a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis.

If someone you know or love is facing cancer, SHARE this story with them. Even if you don’t have a cancer diagnosis, these women and their positive approach to life are inspirational.

Meet the fantastic Kathy & Terry

Kathy Bressler

Kathy and Mike, her husband of 35 years, recently moved to Omaha from the Pacific Northwest. She’s the Senior VP, Chief Operating Officer for CHI Health. Their two married sons, a daughter and four grandchildren remain there. Her general health was “amazing” before her 2015 cancer diagnosis. Today she still describes it as “awesome.”

She should know. Kathy has both a masters and a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Family History

Kathy’s mother died from her second breast cancer at age 61. Her grandmother died from the same when Kathy’s mom was just 9 years old. This strong family history had Kathy doing monthly breast self-exams at a young age and starting mammograms at age 35. In 2002 she was genetically tested and was negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, I was genetically tested again for all of the genes known, and I was negative for all of them, again.”

Hearing You Have Cancer

“I had a very hot, sharp pain in my right breast on November 29, 2015. My husband urged me to be seen. So, I had diagnostics the next day.” Kathy’s general surgeon delivered the cancer diagnosis to her. “Hearing it is a surreal out-of-body feeling. I was probably less scared than my family and friends because I had so many things I had to do.” Her surgeon didn’t give her any prognosis. Instead, they got to work and jointly planned action steps “to take care of business. I was sad and scared for my family, more than anything.”

Bilateral Mastectomy

Kathy had both breasts removed 11 days after diagnosis. The tumor was so close to the surface that the circulation in her right breast was compromised. She spent six weeks in a hyperbaric chamber. Doing this five days a week, seven hours a day healed her.

In early February 2016 she started 22 weeks of chemotherapy and ended five weeks of radiation therapy in August 2016. She had reconstructive surgery to remove spacers and insert implants in April 2017.

A month later she contracted an infection behind the right-side implant and was hospitalized for five days on IV antibiotics. She also took oral antibiotics for another six weeks.

Today, she’s infection free and feeling “awesome.” She has oncologist appointments once every quarter. “She checks labs for abnormalities and any symptoms that might indicate a recurrence. Recurrence is my greatest fear.”

Head Shaving Party

Kathy’s family, friends and caregivers surrounded her with love and comfort upon hearing her diagnosis. Each continues to check in regularly. As one would expect, when hearing the diagnosis, they had the normal emotions of sadness, thoughtfulness and support.

They drove her to appointments and offered to help in other ways. “I tried hard to stay independent. It was nice to be able to let loved ones do something.” It made them feel part of her journey.

“I’d urge family members to learn about the diagnosis, don’t baby the patient.” Rather she’d encourage them to exercise daily and stay connected socially. She did both.

She’s a hot yoga fanatic. She did it every single day throughout treatment. “The people there were with me every day. I couldn’t have asked for more love and kindness.”

Kathy hosted a head shaving party for 53 people. “It was amazing to watch the emotion in the room. I was doing great. I know it was hard for everyone. It was a very special evening. Being bald was amazing and I love that.”

Gold Star

Hopefully any cancer patient has a list of those who provided comfort through treatment. Kathy does. Husband Mike was “positive and encouraging.” Her kids were amazing. Her daughter was like a nurse to her-hopping in the shower with her mom to ensure her safety when she was weak.

Her brother and sister-in-law and girlfriend, Jennifer, were rock solid in their support.

She’d award a gold star to her chemo nurse Krystal. Krystal took care of her every Monday for 22 weeks. “I fell madly in love with her. She could not have provided me more positive care.” Krystal became a good friend and a great teacher.

Blessed by Cancer Lessons

Kathy is an administrator in a large healthcare system. Her personal cancer journey has changed the way she leads.

It caused her to re-think about what their patients deserve.

She’s quickly irritated hearing stories about how other women were not taken care of in the way they should’ve been. She fully understands not everyone’s journey was amazing as hers was.

Today she:

  • Asks employers of cancer patients to be sensitive and let them keep working as able.
  • Tells oncologists to stay positive and encourage their patients to do the same.
  • Urges patients to accept the love and support of family, friends and caregivers.
  • Reaches out to newly diagnosed women.
  • Participates in a California study specific to triple negative breast cancer.
  • Serves on the Susan G. Komen Advisory Board.
  • Wishes for a world without breast cancer.
  • Feels beyond blessed to have experienced breast cancer. “I know it sounds odd but this diagnosis has changed my life for the better, in so many ways.”

Terry Owens

Terry, a recently retired Disability Management Director, was in excellent health when she learned she had breast cancer. Equally annoying was the fact that there was no family history of breast cancer.

“I was showering one July 2015 morning and felt a large lump in my left breast near the armpit. I called my gynecologist and therein began my cancer journey.” Several referrals and appointments later, she learned it had already become Stage 3. It wasn’t until after Labor Day 2015 she heard it was Triple Negative Cancer.

Self-Exams & Mammograms

A native of Northeast Arkansas with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, Terry is a mother of two adult children and grandmother to a 17-month-old. Baby Lyla is expected in December 2017.

She learned to perform breast self-exams at the Baptist Health Breast Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“They have videos and sample breasts with lumps for patients to palpate.” This teaches women what a lump may feel like on her body. Terry admits she was not vigilant about performing monthly self-exams, but she did perform them every so often. She did have mammograms yearly.

Steps to Wellness

Terry’s initial screening (mammogram and ultrasound) was in Arkansas. “The technician returned to the room with a pale and sick look on her face. I knew it was cancer even though she couldn’t confirm it.” Terry was alone when the gynecologist called to share the results and initiate a plan.

She returned to Omaha where she lived and worked. Her primary care physician referred her to a breast surgeon who performed a biopsy and reported the triple negative diagnosis.

She started chemotherapy in early September and became terribly sick, losing 12 pounds along with her hair 16 days after starting. She felt extreme fatigue.

In February 2016, she had a lumpectomy and began radiation, which lasted two months. [Her lymph nodes weren’t removed. Instead her chest, breast and armpit were radiated.]

Follow Ups to Health

After completing radiation, Terry was seen every three months and had repeated mammograms.

Today she’s seen every six months by a breast surgeon, oncologist and oncology radiologist. Like Kathy, she’s also participating in a research study. Hers is for patients who choose not to remove lymph nodes.

She’s happy to report she’s clear and returning to health.

Faith & Comfort

As expected, when hearing her diagnosis, her children cried. They offered love and support throughout. “Most embraced the hope of recovery and survival.”

Terry has a deep faith in the Lord. “He provided my friends and family, as well as my church family, to minister to me and take care of me. Even though I lived alone, someone was with me every time I had chemotherapy.”

Her best friends visited, brought food and kept house. Her children came. “I had enough drugs in me from Friday treatments that I felt well enough to show friends and family around Omaha. Unfortunately, I was always sickest on Sundays-the day everyone left to go home or back to school and work.”

Simple Bit of Food Advice

In their wanting to help, many brought food Terry couldn’t eat. Unfortunately, she had to dispose of it and sometimes didn’t have a prepared meal as scheduled. For instance, she couldn’t tolerate onions and garlic. So, she’d recommend asking the patient or her caregiver about food tolerance before you drop food off for the patient. She doesn’t want someone’s thoughtful and kind gesture to go to waste.

Superstar Chemist

Terry singled out the chemist who mixed her chemo drugs as a superstar through her cancer journey. “He was fabulous in giving me all kinds of helpful tips on caring for myself and managing the nausea, constipation and fatigue.” He even put stickers on her papers and directions for her medication schedules. Simple touches go a long way.

More Information

  • Click on the green live links throughout this article.
  • Pink it Forward
  • Susan G. Komen
  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • CHI Breast Cancer Support Group

7 Simple Ways to Help Someone with Cancer

  1. Treat them as normally as possible.
  2. Offer rides, meals (see above), chores, phone calling, etc.
  3. Plan an outing with flexibility in case patient doesn’t feel well.
  4. Keep your troubles to yourself. Your friend has cancer. Don’t ask her to fix your life at the moment too
  5. Stay positive. If patient is prayerful, pray with and for her.
  6. Stay in her life even if you feel like you don’t know what to do for her.
  7. Organize a scheduled support group around her. Schedule ride, food delivery, companionship, bathing support, etc.

SHARE this article. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

©Copyright. October 2017.  Linda Leier Thomason

All rights reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below. Rights Reserved.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Smile Hides Russian Orphan Life

Meet Mara

Mara shares in the happiest times of her customer’s lives. She helps select engagement and wedding rings, anniversary bands and other special occasion jewelry. She’s a jewelry sales professional for Greenberg’s Jewelers  at Omaha’s Westroads Mall.

But, while she’s helping others celebrate their happy times, few know the life she’s lived. Meet the incredible Mara Alyona Palmquist.

Russian Orphanage & Kindness

Mara’s earliest years were spent in Kalyazin, Russia.

Her strongest Russian home memory is of boiling water for her brother’s bath. “It took so long to fill up the tub. I had to boil the water and then carry the pot back to the bathroom. By the time I got there, half of it was spilled. It stands out to me because he was all I had. I always looked out for him, even at that early age.”

In Russia

When she was five, the State removed Mara and her 3-year-old brother, Vanya, from her alcoholic parent’s home and placed them in a Russian orphanage. She’s never seen her parents since, but longs to return to see especially her dad, whom she’s recently learned is still alive.

Though life was tough, her fondest memory is of kindness at school, particularly from her first-grade teacher. It was not hard to identify orphans in school. They wore jean skirts and jackets. The students were asked to draw a picture of whatever they wanted. “Everyone got a pencil. The teacher gave me a pen. And, my classmate next to me gave me stickers for my picture. I’ll never forget their kindness.”

In 2001, at age 11, Mara’s life was again filled with kindness. She and Vanya came to Los Angeles, California through the Kidsave organization.

Summer Miracles®

The Summer Miracles ® program places older orphans, aged 11-14, who have little chance to be adopted in their own countries, with families in an orphan hosting program. Children, who are available for adoption, stay with host families for a 4-to-5-week summer visit. While in the USA, the kids learn about the culture, attend summer camp, and experience life in an American family. Host families work with Kidsave staff and volunteers to find the children adoptive families. [Nearly 200,000 orphans are currently growing up without families in Russian state institutions.] Visit the Kidsave website for more information and/or to host a child: https://www.kidsave.org/

Los Angeles to Branson, MO

Mara and Vanya were placed with a widow in Los Angles who wasn’t interested in adoption after the summer program ended. Instead, a Branson, Missouri family that was in California on vacation “got a random voice message on their hotel phone saying there were 2 kids about to be sent back to a Russian orphanage if not placed with a family.” The family shortened their vacation. The father remained in California with Mara and Vanya for a few days and then traveled with them to Missouri to meet the “rest of the family.”

Fitting into a Family of 11

The rest of Michelle and Andre’s family included 9 other children-7 of their own and another brother and sister adopted from a different orphanage. All of a sudden, Mara and Vanya were part of a group of 11. Adapting was difficult.

While she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her, Mara admits being adopted is not easy. It’s difficult to be part of a new family, knowing where to fit in the family, church and culture. “I had to learn how to be a daughter, an older sister, a younger sister. Religion was hard. Fitting in overall was challenging.” She sat in front of a mirror for hours each day practicing her English accent so she wouldn’t sound “funny.”

Mara feels extremely blessed and eternally grateful that her family opened their home to them because some of the kids they knew from the orphanage got sent back to Russia for behavioral issues. “It changed my life for the better. I have so many opportunities that I’d never have had in Russia. There, at age 16, you are put on the streets. Prostitution is so high for that reason.”

Guilt & Gratitude

Mara sometimes feels guilty for the life she has in the USA. “I’m living this beautiful life with so much, knowing my Russian family is still struggling  and I can’t help them at all.”

She understands many Americans have it worse than she ever did. “I grew up going to school, having food in my belly and dressing in clean clothes. I had a roof over my head.” Mara’s inspired by these basics: she calls them gifts. “God brought me here for a reason. I want to show him it was the right place for me and I won’t waste this opportunity to better myself.”

She never takes relationships and friendships for granted and cherishes life. She seeks opportunities to do something great and make someone smile.

Jewelry Sales

Mara achieves that goal every day she’s selling at Greenberg’s Jewelers. She finds it particularly rewarding to help nervous couples select a perfect piece of jewelry. She builds rapport, especially with “lookers,” easily finding out why they entered the store and then helping them. She’s a relationship builder with excellent listening skills. “Customers will just walk in to chat when they’re in the mall shopping. I love that. I enjoy hearing their stories about how they met, their first date, etc. It makes my work day all worth it.”

Circle of Life

Making her life all worth it is her adorable six-year-old son, Brody. “He has the purest heart and was the best birthday present ever. [Born six weeks early on Mara’s 21st birthday.] “Having a child of my own makes me understand God’s unconditional love for us.”

Mara works hard every day and hopes Brody is proud of “his mommy.” She does not want the life she has had for Brody. She’d like to be able to provide him everything she never had growing up. “I’m not talking about material things.” Instead, Mara wants to shower Brody with love and affection and kisses and tell him “he’s the best kid in the whole world.”

Growing up in a Russian orphanage was not easy. But Mara learned how to survive and how to blend in. Now, as a mother, she knows what she craved and never received in her younger years. Mara now provides that to her own son. And, when the time is right, she will share her early years with him, most likely with a joint trip to Russia.

My husband, Ken, and I had the remarkable experience of working with Mara when selecting a 25th wedding anniversary band in May 2017. She made us feel like newlyweds through the entire sales process.

Other than her outstanding sales skills and techniques, we were drawn to her as a person.  Behind her charisma and smile, we sensed a deeper story to her life. I thank her for the courage it took to recall memories of her Russian life and for sharing them with all of us.

Russian Trip: Funds Needed

Mara needs to raise funds to secure the required paperwork to plan a visit to Russia. If you’d like to help, please contact me by completing the form below. Can you contribute?

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need for Life Adventure Led to Renowned Spine Center

This is a story about a Bismarck, North Dakota collegiate soccer player seeking an adventure in life and finding his way to the largest specialized care hospital in the United States. The Shepherd Center is a private, not-for-profit hospital located in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain and other neuromuscular conditions. Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. Josh Zottnick is the Lead Exercise Specialist in the Center’s Beyond Therapy® program.

Education is Key

Josh, the second oldest of accountant Doug (deceased) and nurse Barb’s four children, was anxious to see more of the world after graduating from Bismarck’s University of Mary with a BS in Athletic Training & Sports Medicine. A chat with a childhood friend introduced him to the Exercise Physiology program at the University of Georgia (Athens) where he earned his Masters of Education in Clinical Exercise Physiology in 2003.

Car Wreck

A friend’s car wreck, that resulted in his traumatic brain injury, drew Josh to the Shepherd Center away from his cardiac rehab work. “After my first visit with him, I was working at the Center three months later.” July 2017 marks Josh’s 12th year there. “I visited my friend several times over the first couple of weeks and saw his dramatic improvement. He was one of the lucky ones; he made a full recovery.” Seeing his friend’s traumatic ordeal inspired Josh to want to do more.

Inspire & Trust

Every day his spinal cord and traumatic brain injury outpatients inspire him. He conducts intricate strength training regimens in the weight room, cardio sessions on apparatus, assisted locomotor training on body weight supported treadmills and functional training sessions. Each of these is intended for clients to process through their activities of daily living in a more efficient manner.

Not all rehab clients are equal. The most challenging type is one who is negative and lacks hope. “A negative attitude confounds the rehab situation.”

Josh works to build rapport and develop trusting professional relationships. “When clients trust you, they see the world from a different point of view. They trust where you are taking them is the right place.

Josh is a working example of the Shepherd Center’s Mission: Helping people with a temporary or permanent disability caused by injury or disease, rebuild their lives with hope, independence and dignity. “The worst and best part of my job is seeing someone struggle and then overcome those struggles. Helping clients unlock their potential keeps me going.”

Team USA

Josh’s commitment to his profession isn’t limited to an 8-5 workday. He recently returned from Australia. Here he supported Team USA at the Adaptive Waterski World Championships.  The team won the silver medal and seven members won individual medals. Australia won gold; Italy the bronze.

Afterwards he and his wife of nearly six years, Reagan, toured Australia-yet another life adventure.

Lawncare, Mutts + Pearl Jam

Josh, 38, isn’t all work. In addition to soccer, he still plays basketball and wakeboards. “I even try to incorporate these into some client sessions.” He met Reagan playing flag football in Atlanta. “She blew me away with how she had her life together. She’s beautiful, smart, kind, fun and independent.”

When not working or participating in a sporting event, Josh “loves to do lawn care.” He’s also somewhat of a Pearl Jam fanatic, seeing them 28 times. “Their lyrics are introspective and informative. They are saying something in their songs. The music affects me on so many levels. Seeing them live is amazing.”

He and Reagan also support a friend’s animal rescue nonprofit, Mostly Mutts. They volunteer time for fundraisers and foster dogs until adoption.

Magic Wand

Josh’s hopes and dreams for the future, which he thinks someone might already be working on, include invention of an implant that will bridge across the injured area of the spinal cord. This would help people regain all of the function they had before injury and allow them to walk again.

If he could wave a magic wand for the next 20 years of his life, he’d be retired and traveling to see his kids on their college campuses for Parent’s Weekend. And, the ultimate would be taking in a UGA Bulldogs football game with them.

That’s not much to ask for a guy from North Dakota giving his time and talent to restore quality of life to 100’s of clients of the Shepherd Spine Center. Is it?

 

Please Like and Share.

One never knows whose life can be improved by working with Josh and the Shepherd Center.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Copyright. June 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midwestern Values Led Tomlinson Straight to the Top

Sales Executive Reflects on 36 Year Career

Mike Tomlinson became a member of Aflac’s prestigious Hall of Fame in December 2015. This honor recognizes individuals who’ve had a significant career impact on Aflac’s 62-year existence. Currently, Mike is the youngest member admitted into this elite group of 17.

How did a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota  native and 28-year resident of Watertown, South Dakota reach this level in a Fortune 500 corporation that regularly lands on the annual 100 Best Companies to Work for list?

It wasn’t luck or connections. It was hard work, dedication and Midwestern values.

Father’s Influence

Mac on violin with Amazing Rhythm Aces in MN in 1920’s.

Mike’s father Mac (Marion) had the biggest impact on his life. “He was my business role model. He instilled a strong work ethic in me and extremely optimistic attitude toward business opportunity in America.” Mac founded two successful businesses and purchased another. His father, who was 72-years-old when Mike was born, retired from the day-to-day management of Tomlinson Lumber in Callaway, MN in his late 70’s. “One of the hallmarks of the lumber company’s success was treating the 50+ employees so well that they stayed long-term and performed very well,” recalled Mike. “Dad also became a Christian later in life and this had a profound impact on the business values he instilled in us.”

In retirement Mac developed a large tract of lake property that he owned in Detroit Lakes MN. Mike and his brothers and sisters worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their dad to improve and sell these lake lots, all the while learning valuable life and business lessons.

Values Guiding His Life

Mike is led by three values that guide his everyday life. They are:

  1. Tell the Truth. As his dad used to say, “Tell the truth and you only have to remember one story.”
  2. Under Promise and Over Deliver. Always meet or exceed expectations. Be careful not to overcommit.
  3. Listen More Than Talk. Ask good questions and really listen. “I was really impacted by Stephen Covey’s advice in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’.”

Family + Music Man

Mike’s greatest joy comes from having a great family. He and wife, Michelle, have been married 40 years. They are the proud parents of three sons-Jeremy, Jesse and Jackson-and grandparents of five girls and eight boys. An ideal day for Mike, now retired from his 36 year Aflac career, is spent traveling and experiencing God’s creations and relaxing with his family.

Mike also enjoys music as a guitar player. He’s been a church worship leader for more than 25 years and played in the successful country rock band, Sagebrush, in the 1970’s. This northwest Minnesota band opened for and toured with national acts such as Black Oak Arkansas, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Bellamy Brothers, Alabama, and others.

His all-time favorite song to perform is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Why? Because, of course, “it epitomizes having a positive attitude and pursuing your dreams.”

Cancer Experience Begins Insurance Career

Mike’s mother Ozella passed away from a nine-year battle with cancer just three months prior to his first insurance agent interview. It was the cancer policy that drew him to a long Aflac career. “Even though my parents had excellent health insurance, I could see a clear need for a cancer policy to provide additional cash benefits to cover the multitude of non-medical (travel, lodging, meals, loss of income, etc.) expenses caused by this disease.”

As a 22-year-old, Mike was astute enough to recognize a company with great opportunity for growth and advancement, if he delivered results. And, once aboard, he applauded Aflac’s commitment to fairly and quickly paying claims and thrived in the pay and promote for performance culture. “I never really considered taking on or switching to any other companies or careers.”

Rising Through Aflac Ranks

Mike’s work ethic and business savvy led him to rise quickly in Aflac. He was a District Sales Coordinator (DSC) for five years before becoming a Regional Sales Coordinator (RSC) for three. It was during this time that his favorite Aflac memory happened. His NW Minnesota Regional Team broke the Aflac all-time production record (Wall of Fame) by coordinating a complex take-over of a block of Medicare supplement business in MN. This achievement required extensive collaboration and was one of his most challenging and gratifying leadership efforts in his 36 year career.

For nearly 20 years Mike was the North and South Dakota State Sales Coordinator (SSC) before becoming the Vice-President of the Central Territory (8 states in the upper Midwest)-a position he had for six years.

He then held several senior leadership positions at corporate before his retirement, including Senior Vice President and Director of U.S. Sales. Here he oversaw 70,000 U.S. associates and coordinators (independent contractors) and a team of 225 sales employees while managing a $125 million budget and a $1.5 billion annual sales quota. Predictably, sales positively turned 10.2 percent during his tenure.

During 35 years of leadership and management Mike’s teams achieved quota 27 years, or 77 percent of the time. When he retired, U.S. President, Teresa White said, “Mike has the admiration and respect of all of us. He is an outstanding leader, not only achieving 36 years of record-breaking sales but more importantly serving as a true role model of excellence in ethics, values and performance.” Chairman and CEO Dan Amos added, “Mike is a top performer and I’ve never known a finer person or better role model. His has been an impressive and motivational journey. Along the way, he has had a direct and positive impact on thousands of lives, including mine.”

 8 Life Lessons from Leading & Managing

For nearly four decades Mike had led and managed people and organizations. He shares these observations and lessons learned during this time.

  1. The #1-character trait that leads to professional success is persistence. It trumps talent, education and intelligence, though these are important too.
  2. Most people get sidetracked by working in their business instead of on their business to reach success. It’s good to step back and enlist the perspective and help of others and assess one’s business.
  3. Once an employee has been taught his job, stand back and let him learn from hands-on effort and results. Edge them out of the nest to fly earlier on their own.
  4. Think big. Don’t let your past limit your future. And, don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of it is small stuff.
  5. Invest heavily (time and money) in developing your people. Care enough about them to be honest and candid. Identify simple metrics (skills or activity) for improvement and monitor and discuss regularly. Praise progress as people respond much better to positive feedback than negative.
  6. Count your blessings regularly and work and live your life with passion. If you can’t enjoy the majority of your work, find something else to do.
  7. Integrity is important. If someone cheats on small things like golf or a sales number, they likely will cheat on bigger things. When I find people I can give a blank check to, I will give them the utmost responsibility.
  8. Work/Life balance is important. I suffered a serious heart attack at age 46 and now work hard to balance work with an appropriate amount of exercise, sleep and relaxation. The older I’ve gotten the more important my relationship with Christ has become. It’s easier to see through a mature lens that this is the ultimate “long-term planning.”

The Near Future

Mike considers himself to be exceptionally good at developing and executing strategy and staying calm and rational in tense situations. No one who’s worked with him would argue against that self-assessment.

Now, after almost two years of retirement and travel, he plans to continue to use his years of winning business skills as a consultant in the near future.

And, how he’d like to eventually be remembered, well that’s easy: “Being a loving husband, father and grandfather.”

 

 

Share with others who’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from Mike.

©Copyright. March 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

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Why This Woman is Obsessed with March Madness

March Madness isn’t just for guys.

I’m a closet sports junkie. March Madness is my addiction. I study, watch and fill out multiple brackets; and historically win a few. I’m highly competitive by nature and for these 18 days, my drug of choice-competition-is all consuming.

I hunker down in the family room and watch endless hours of collegiate young men bounce and loft basketballs. Their sweat-coated coaches roam the sidelines as rabid fans experience wild mood swings during 40 minute games. There are winners and losers. There certainly are upsets. I root for underdogs, always.

It’s thrilling when lower seeded teams triumph and heart-breaking when my household’s team favorites-Iowa State Cyclones and Louisville Cardinals-are beaten. It’s been reported that companies lose millions during this time period. Apparently I’m not the only one obsessed. My approach to completing brackets and picking winners is more gut than analytical. However, one variable always gets the greatest weight-the head coach.

I pay attention to Bracketology with Joe Lunardi.  I study variables like season record, outstanding players, injuries and tournament location. But I never stray from what I consider the greatest determinant of winning teams-the coach.

Perennial Coaches

Rick Pitino

There are well-known March Madness perennial coaching favorites like Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. His absence was clearly felt this season while he was recovering from a recent surgery. He has this certain something that attracts great talent and makes these players deliver outstanding basketball. Then, there’s Rick Pitino from the Louisville Cardinals. Loaded with coaching skills and bravado, Pitino leads the favorite team of both my husband and our son. According to them, he’s a near basketball God. UPDATE: Coach Pitino left the University of Louisville disgraced. The University of Louisville Athletic Association (ULAA) terminated his contract on October 16, 2017.

Another tournament constant is West Virginia’s Bobby Huggins. Who doesn’t want to hug Huggins? He’s so teddy bear like. He sits on a sideline stool and ends every game toweling off like he’s just laid everything out on the floor for 40 long minutes. I’m not fooled. He coaches against my Alma mater Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference. He might look like a teddy bear, but Huggins consistently has winning teams with oppressive defense. Seems more like a tiger, perhaps, than a teddy bear.

Coaches I Miss on the Sidelines

I have to admit that come March I miss watching the gracefulness and steadiness of Fred Hoiberg. Coach Hoiberg was both a legendary player and coach at Iowa State who now coaches the Chicago Bulls.  He never seemed to overreact. He stood steadfast with arms crossed,understanding a game doesn’t end until the final buzzer sounds. Cool and collected, almost always. [2020: Now head men’s basketball coach at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where his maternal grandfather used to coach.]

I certainly miss one of the greatest and most loyal basketball teachers ever- Dean Smith from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I admired the fact that he was always dressed like he was going to work and spoke so eloquently about his players. He understood that they were “just imperfect kids.” I secretly wanted him as a coach. I longed to meet or shadow him. Oh, the many things I could’ve learned in person not just about basketball but about life from Coach Smith. Will there ever be another one like him?

I’m old enough to remember Jimmy Valvano from North Carolina State University.  In the mind of my five foot tall body I see this larger-than-life man with wet-looking, dark hair running up and down the sidelines. He always appeared to be hailing a taxi cab or signaling to an approaching ambulance. His hand gestures were that large and urgent. He was intense, but with a gentle giant sort of kindness about him. The world did lose him too early.

Lute Olson

Former Indiana Coach, Bobby Knight, and Georgetown’s John Thompson taught me a few choice words during March Madness and often had me repeating a threat from childhood, “Do I need to wash your mouth out with soap?” Meanwhile Lute Olson appeared like a statesman on the sidelines. Lute, a fellow North Dakotan, coached at Iowa-the fierce rival of Iowa State.  I forgave him. Afterall, there aren’t that many North Dakotans on the national basketball stage. Well, there’s Phil Jackson-who attended high school and college in North Dakota and famously coached the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era. Next he coached the Los Angeles  Lakers before taking the presidency of the New York Knicks, where he is today.

Impressive, Lesser Known Coaches

Everyone knows Kansas and Kentucky are perennial favorites. These teams will remain such with their stellar records and recruiting abilities led by Bill Self and John Calipari, respectively. It’s not that I don’t think they are great coaches. It’s just that they are two or three steps ahead of other teams because of these factors. What I really respect and take notice of are those coaches who aren’t universally known. Those who dig and lead less talented teams to the top. Here are 4 college basketball coaches who’ve recently left a lasting impression on me. There certainly are many impressive collegiate coaches, but these 4 stand out to me. I wish them each well as they continue to teach young players and build teams that give us memorable March moments.

  1. Ron Hunter: Georgia State.

    Some say Coach Hunter gained national acclaim by falling off his sideline stool in the March 2015 tournament. But, like most who’ve risen to prominence, Coach Hunter has been working at coaching for decades. He’s put in the sweat equity. Every March I look forward to his tournament commentary, which is always unfiltered and insightful. There’s nothing like hearing it from someone who does it. And, I like hearing it from Coach Hunter…who by the way…has a son, R.J., currently on the Boston Celtics roster. I know Coach Hunter would rather be on the sidelines than in a broadcast studio or booth, but when he isn’t, I’m glad he’s on the air. [2020: Head men’s basketball coach at Tulane University.]

  2. Shaka Smart: University of Texas via Virginia Commonwealth University

I have to admit I was first drawn to Shaka because of his surname, Smart-a Zulu warrior name. How blessed can one man be to have the last name, Smart? It fits. He is smart and was quite young when he led his Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) team to the Final Four in 2011. He’s another sideline runner with demonstrative hands and a loud voice. But, what overshadows all of this is the respect the players seems to have for him regardless of the school he’s at. Shaka has been coaching at the University of Texas (Longhorns) since 2015.

  1. Bob McKillop: Davidson

Must be something about North Carolina men’s basketball coaches and me. Here’s another gem I respect and admire coaching a NC school. I fan crushed on him so much that in 2008 I sent him a handwritten letter after his team’s legendary tournament run. Yes, that was the year the world became aware of Stephen Curry as the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight. His mannerisms, humbleness and overall coaching style inspired me to write and say, among other things, that if our son ever wanted to play basketball I wanted him to play under the guidance of someone with his character. Impressively, he contacted me. It wasn’t a recruiting contact. Rather, he acknowledged that the behavior, words and antics of coaches do matter, privately and publicly.  Simply, he was glad I saw him in a positive manner and acknowledged it. Class. All class for 25+ years.

  1. Andy Enfield: University of Southern California via Florida Gulf Coast University

I’m a woman with eyes. And in 2013 Coach Enfield initially caught my eye more so for his All-American looks than his coaching style. That year he brought the Florida Gulf Coast team to the tournament, leading them into the Sweet Sixteen. As his team took down powerhouses like Georgetown, he became less about eye candy and more about grit and style. He’s now leading a very talented USC team and teaching his up-tempo offense to a group of players who seem to be adapting well to Coach’s style.

Coach McKillop was right. Coaches and their antics, teaching style and behavior matter both publicly and during practice. To me, it matters most in my tournament team selections.  I have no way of knowing if the public persona these coaches present is real or true. All I know is I’ve watched each of them over time and each consistently produces winning teams and teaches great basketball skills. I’m inspired by not only their wins but also their leadership skills and style.

Share this post with others who’d enjoy a trip down March Madness Memory Lane.

Here’s wishing every team much success in the tournament. And may you prevail in your brackets!

Enjoy 5 Great March Madness Moments.

2010: Gordon Hayward comes oh so close to winning the National Championship from half court for Butler. Duke prevails.

 

2016: “Jenkins for the championship!” Villanova wins 2016 championship on buzzer beating 3.

 

2016: Texas A&M comes from 12 points down with 34 seconds left to shock Northern Iowa.

1993: Chris Webber’s infamous travel and timeout call when there was not a timeout left.

 

2015: Georgia State ends game on 13-0 run including a deep 3 with 2.5 seconds left to shock Baylor 57-56. Meanwhile, Coach Hunter falls off his stool.