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How A Mother’s Worst Fear Can Breed Success

In 2011, my son was 5 years old. He was like every other child – happy, laughing, sloppy, whining, always on the move — until he was diagnosed with cancer. In an instant, I went from running the errands of motherhood, to warrior mode, facing the possibility I may bury my 5 year old son.

By: Jennifer Calise

In 2011, my son was 5 years old. He was like every other child – happy, laughing, sloppy, whining, always on the move — until he was diagnosed with cancer. In an instant, I went from running the errands of motherhood, to warrior mode, facing the possibility I may bury my 5 year old son.

In the blink of an eye, I exchanged shopping for toy cars for chemo. Playgrounds for pediatric oncology units. In an instant. Most women believe if their child was diagnosed with cancer they would lose it. Fall apart. Could not go on.

It is a lie.

You, too, would soldier on because that is what we do as mothers. We step up.

But what most parents really do not believe is that personal hardship happens. We grow in ways we never imagine — and this can be a gift.

I was terrified at first. And then, slowly, I found a new normal.

While he was sedated, I was running conference calls.
As he slept, I created wireframes for websites.
I negotiated contracts while he watched movies.
I cuddled with him in bed and rubbed his back as I ran through sales reports.

I took all of that fear, all of that incredibly overwhelming terror, and fear of loss, and let it propel me to build something up, instead of falling apart.

To some, I may have looked like a terrible mother. There was more than one mother in the unit that looked at me with disgust as I typed on my computer. There was more than one parent that was puzzled. (Interestingly, when I showed up with my computer so I would never miss a single treatment I was a “bad mother” for working, but the fathers that were there with computer were “heroes” for finding a way to work and be there for their child — but that is a story for another day). The point was I was there for my son, I never left his side, but I used that fear to build something. Instead of spiraling into an emotional mess, I was using that negativity to fuel something positive. (Let’s face it, frankly I was either going to be building a business or a really expensive drug habit to cope).

One of the most amazing things you can do living a conscious life is to recognize the power of negativity and change it into motivation and fearlessness. I have always said negative events are like the wind – they either propel you forward with gust or they hold you back.

I watched my son’s bravery as he walked into the chemo unit knowing full well what he was facing, and was ashamed to think I would be scared of a contract negotiation or a client challenge or meeting. I saw the inspiration and the miracle in it. And I followed his lead.

And in turn, the year my son was diagnosed with cancer was the best year I have had financially. I was a CEO’s dream and my consultancy THRIVED because I had no fear. I would ask for what I felt I deserved for taking time away from my son. I made no compromises – I wanted to only work at his bedside. I would NOT travel. I would attend every chemo session, and I could not have cared less what anyone thought.
This did not mean I did not care about my work or it was subpar in the wake of my real life problems. I knew for my demands I needed to earn the privilege and I produced my BEST work, but what made me powerful was that I did not have the same self-doubt or hesitations I had in the past. In fact, I think my work was the most creative and the boldest it ever was. I took creative risks in my work – because why not? I didn’t obsess over what could go wrong – I had bigger fish to fry. I was uncompromising, motivated, and honest. I did not have the time or the inclination to obsess or question my instincts or worry about potential consequences. I told CEO’s the cold hard truth about their businesses and what they needed to do because, frankly, I didn’t have the time or energy to care what they thought or obsess over what could happen for my honesty — and in return, my paychecks and my client base grew.

I suddenly became a true confidant to the C-level – in a world of “yes” men – I was the one to go to for the truth. I would deliver it without batting an eye. I had a child with cancer. Nothing is scarier than that. And so day by day, I became bolder.

Thankfully not every mother has to LIVE the fear of being so close to losing a child, but our fear is common. Just as common is our ability to recognize and harness it. My fear and your fear – they are the same. The strength and opportunity that can be derived from it? Also the same.

The next time you are faced with an opportunity, a challenge, a risk … think about the fear you have of losing a child. Think about how much of a REAL problem that would be. The perspective of worrying about what a few people think of you compared with the weight of what you worry about as a mother will have you giddy at the idea that your biggest worry is that PowerPoint to the Board, that deal closing, that meeting, that financial risk not being profitable. You are a mother – as long as your child is okay, you are okay.

So take the shot at work – really, what is the WORST that can happen?

What consequences or loss could be worse? Nothing. No comparison to losing a child. Use that perspective when those voices of self-doubt begin to creep into your mind.

This is not a morbid thought. It should be freeing. Because when you realize you have nothing to lose professionally that can compare on any level to what is truly important to you, you can become fearless. You can take the shot. You stop taking the time to worry about what is not important and you are fueled with a lack of fear. You are not afraid. You are bold. You are unstoppable.

Everything you face in your career has no true loss, see it for what it is — an opportunity for you to take with no hesitation, no fear of the worst case scenario. Because you are a mother, you have a reference point for what a true problem is… and you can be empowered by it.

And if you are a mother that has lost a child, suffered a miscarriage, battled infertility… You, sweet friend, are already a warrior. You have overcome, and you have fought and battled demons so much deeper and darker than whatever the corporate world can throw at you. Harness the survivor in you. Consequences be damned, hold your head up and warrior on. You know what a truly “bad” day is. Whatever you face professionally is a schoolyard scuffle compared to what you have already beaten.

Thanks to my daughter’s major thalassemia, I am still in the oncology/hematology unit every two weeks for her blood transfusions. Being there, and seeing real problems, keeps my perspective. It keeps me fearless. It keeps me unafraid of truth and risk. In fact, it is the very reason I was bold enough to write this very article.

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