I’m drawn to stories of re-invention. Imaginative people who have either turned a bad situation that was thrust upon them into a win, or have intentionally redrawn their life maps. People with audacity and nerve.
I love meeting and talking to courageous people, with adventurous spirits. This weeks article is part two in an ongoing series of interviews seeking to capture these inspiring stories …….. I have known Heather Suffron for over ten years. In 2016 she became a client of mine, as she began to seek answers to, “What is my next adventure?” Here is a little bit of her story. She is a fabulous writer, so our interview took a written shape. I sent her my questions, and she sat with them, reflecting and then sending her response back to me.
DC: What prompted the re-invention?
Heather: “Well, according to the lovely Debbie Campbell, I’ve had two re-inventions (that she knows about) – one when I quit my job and packed myself off to volunteer overseas and one right now, as I begin a new chapter by getting certified to teach English as a foreign language and see where that takes me.
I guess I would not characterize them as re-inventions as much as new dimensions (or directions) just waiting to be explored and allowing those passions to shine for a while.
1 – Identifying what prompted the first adventure is a long story (and can found in my yet-to-be- published book!), but it was a combination of factors: both of my grandparents passed away, my parents retired and moved to their “cabin in the woods,” and I had a decent job, but not one that I was passionate about or considered a career. I was gifted a small inheritance from my grandparents’ estate, and I didn’t want to just stay put and watch life float past. I wanted to see the world, but I didn’t want to simply be a tourist. I also wanted to make a positive impact on the places I visited. I came up with the concept of combining my desire to travel the world while volunteering along the way long before I got on the plane and did so, but the idea sang in my heart, and it didn’t stop, so when the closest people in my life were called away, it was time for me to follow this dream.
2 – The current prompt is both practical and idealistic (an unlikely possibility, I’ll admit) in nature. I’ve been running my own pet care business for the past 13-14 years, and it has been my sole source of income since returning from my overseas adventure 3.5 years ago. I appreciate so many things about it: the flexibility and autonomy; the variations in locations, situations, responsibilities, and pets; my wonderful clients; and of course, the awesome pets. However, it was never my intention for that to serve as my career, and while I’ve been blessed with a wonderful word-of-mouth referral system, my schedule – and therefore, my income – has been inconsistent (some months I’m booked stem to stern, while other months are slim-pickings, so to speak), and I have to cover all expenses (health care, social security, taxes, supplies, gas, etc.). Furthermore, although I adore the pets I care for, it isn’t the most intellectually stimulating job in the world, so I find that it is time for a new challenge and a new adventure. What is so great about this one is that I’m really excited about pursuing it! I don’t think the importance of education can be emphasized enough, and in today’s world, it is especially beneficial to know English. Top that off with my love of adventure and experiencing new places, and the fit resonated loudly in the rare quiet moments. The increasing urgency to find something more self- sufficient that would also allow me to save money and the possibility of fulfilling career-oriented desires for this non-conventional gal propelled me in this direction.
* I think the overriding drive in both cases was the sense of necessity, for lack of a better word – like if I didn’t pursue this dream, I would regret it and always wish that I had. There is a great quote (often attributed to Anaïs Nin, but research indicates it was most likely from Elizabeth Appell) that hits this at its core: “And then the day came when the risk to remain tight, in a bud, became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Yes, there are challenges, and growing pains and scary moments, but that is part of learning and growing and becoming more of who you are capable of being, and it is so worth it!
DC: How did you go about it?
HS: 1 – “There was a ton of research, logistics, decisions, and preparations for my one woman’s journey to save the world (again, see forthcoming memoir) : ). I had to decide where and when I wanted to go, what kind of volunteer work I wanted to do, and which organizations fit my criteria (socially- responsible, locally-driven, environmentally-oriented, etc.). I had to raise some money to subsidize my expenses, obtain the proper visas and research clearances, get the required vaccinations, shop for the proper clothing and gear, purchase my transportation tickets, formulate my itinerary, sort out my finances and credit cards while traveling, fill an EpiPen prescription… You get the picture. There was a lot involved in making this happen, but although there were so many plates spinning, it hostly never really felt like work, because I knew it was serving the bigger picture of fulfilling my dream.
2 – I’ve entertained the idea of teaching English as a foreign language for quite a while, and it kept resurfacing over the years. When it became clear that sticking sole to pet care was not going to be sustainable for much longer, I returned once again to this possibility. I did not want to settle for any job just to have a job (like a place-holder), and some of my work with Debbie highlighted this frustration and certainty. I wanted to be truly excited about the path I chose to take, and ESL, by virtue of its focus on education and helping others, as well as the possibility of travel and adventure resonated with me. I wanted to get certified to teach ESL so that I would have that important credential and feel prepared with knowledge and tools at my disposal to be an excellent teacher for my students, and I wanted to go through a school with a reputation for graduating promising teachers who found good jobs quickly. There are plenty of fly-by-night certification programs, but I did not want to take a certification course and be let loose on the job market only to find out that my program lacked certain credentials or respect in the community, so I did a lot of research and found a third- party source for reviews of former students, as well. The application and interview process was a titch more difficult than and thorough than I expected, but I wasn’t deterred, and I like to think that that’s a good sign that I’m on the right path!
DC: Challenges/hardest part
HS: 1 – “There were lots of hard parts. See above, because all of the work that went into taking my overseas adventure was challenging, but the great thing about finding that path and heeding that call is that the work (even when it isn’t glamorous or easy) doesn’t really feel like work. It’s all part of the process of realizing your goal or dream. There were plenty of obstacles, but if you know in your heart that you’re doing the right thing, those road blocks won’t matter.
The biggest challenge for me with this trip was easily my fear of flying. It’s not simply that I don’t like to fly. It’s that I get seriously anxious and have a full-on panic attack from time to time. Sometimes even just thinking about getting on a plane and flying is enough for my body to start responding physiologically with a racing heartbeat and sense of claustrophobia. So for me to undertake a trip that involved multiple plane rides was downright terrifying to me, but I would never have forgiven myself if I let my fear stop me from doing what I really knew I needed to do. So I got a few referrals, and I went to see a couple therapists for the first time in my life. Apparently, there is a therapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) that is extremely successful for people with similar phobias. Unfortunately, there was not enough time for me to receive the proper protocol of treatments, so that left us with other strategies in the cognitive behavioral discipline, and they left me with enough knowledge, insight, and tools that I was able to manage my symptoms enough to get from here to there and back again.
2 – I’m not quite sure what the hardest part will be with this new adventure, though I will say that the Pre-Course Task was challenging in and of itself! I was a decent student, but I’ve been out of academia for a while, so I assume returning to that kind of discipline will present its own challenges, and I’m introverted by nature and prefer to get know people naturally over time and without having the spotlight on me, so the thought of standing in front of a classroom of students while being evaluated by fellow trainees and instructors is WAY outside of my comfort zone. But again, I cannot let that fear stop me from pursuing something so important to me.
DC: What did you learn from the experience?
HS: 1 – Gosh… That’s a broad question, because of course, I learned a ton – everything from specifics, like the operation of a hydrophone and the kinds of vegetation that grow in the tundra and techniques for de-escalating anxiety and where the train stations are located in Birmingham, England to intangibles, like if I put my mind to something, I can accomplish it and what I would do similarly and differently when I go on my next overseas volunteer adventure.
2 – It’s a little early to say at this point, and I’m sure many lessons are chomping at the bit to reveal themselves. So far, though, I’ve learned how much I’ve forgotten about the English grammar rules I learned in 7th grade! I’ve also learned that this definitely feels like the right path for me at this time.
DC: What are you most proud of?
HS 1 – “I’m most proud of actually doing it. It wasn’t easy. A lot of effort and time and resources went into it, and anytime you travel – especially internationally and alone – there is uncertainty and risk involved. But I did it. I researched my options. I created my own criteria. I contacted the organizations. I planned the itinerary. I scheduled my appointments and shopped for the things I’d need and set up my blog and raised the additional funds and submitted the applications and got on that plane and found my way from destination to destination and had an amazing time along the way!
2 – Early stages yet, so I’m most proud of getting accepted to the program and completing the 50-task workbook ahead of time. Lots more ahead of me, so stay tuned! : )”
DC: Any advice for others contemplating re-invention
HS: “Again, I really don’t look at it as a reinvention, but simply different aspects of who I am. I see it as learning more about myself by listening to my inner voice and pursuing those dreams that might otherwise be silenced.
I would say: Go for it! There are things I’d do differently in the future, but I’m so glad I took that leap, and it has made me more confident about taking further leaps and embracing new adventures. Be true to yourself by honoring your dreams and goals. You will make mistakes, and it may not turn out the way you expect, but that is also part of the joy of the journey. I don’t think enough people try something new because they are afraid, and they come up with a million excuses not to follow their own dream, and that is what is heartbreaking to me – not that someone doesn’t accomplish what they hope to do, but that they might not even try. They end up being their own worst obstacle. Get out of the way, and embrace your own adventure! And speak to Debbie. She will help you find your path!”