I was a tenured business school university professor. Outwardly successful. Inwardly unhappy.
I lived with chronic back pain. As I became more and more unhappy, my pain became louder and louder.
Eventually that pain forced me to stop and take stock. I quit without knowing what would come next.
I now have a series of rods and pins in my spine. They are a reminder of the journey I have taken. I am grateful for the pain I experienced. It has taught me much. I am grateful for the profound knowing I had that surgery was the right next step for me. That surgery has been life changing. I discovered that I was in charge of my own healing and that I have my own answers within.
While my body had healed post-surgery, my spirit had a ways to go. It was only when I began to acknowledge my losses – the career that had not worked out as per the dream, the energy that had been lost to physical pain, the favorite activities that had been put to the side – only then could the grieving begin and the profound sadness transform into the seeds of what would come next in my life.
On life, death, and stepping into difficult or uncomfortable conversations…
When I was 15 a friend turned to me in school and said “Please tell the French teacher I won’t be in class this afternoon. I’m not feeling very well.” Two weeks later that friend had died of Leukemia.
A few years ago another friend was very ill. I had a conversation with her. It turned out to be the last conversation we would ever have. I hadn’t told her what my heart wanted to tell her. I tell my friends what they mean to me now.
Sitting with my Grandmother as she was dying was a sacred experience for me. Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I will miss her always.
On gifts and courage…
I have since discovered what I was meant to do – be a teacher. Ironically I already was a teacher, I just needed to be a different kind of teacher with a different set of topics and I needed to discover some things about myself first.
What I teach now is about living life in, and with, all its hues. Sometimes that means talking about past hurts in order to discover what they are inviting of us in this moment. It is about exploring vulnerability and being courageous. When we’ve exposed something of our inner self, when we’ve reached out and invited being seen and heard – those are the scariest things we can do. They are the scariest things I’ve done. The reward has been deepened connections with self and others.
I’ve come to realize that one of my gifts is my ability to create safe and nurturing learning environments. My vision is an empowered YOU, showing up fully in your own life, tapping into your own gifts. And we can have fun doing that!
For more of a resumé perspective with specific dates and roles, I invite you take a look at my LinkedIn profile.
A list of publications from my days in academia can be found here. The sweet irony is that I thought I had left all of that behind. Instead I have found that life invited me to reframe what came before and discover new ways to use my experiences and expertise. For example my exploration of Improvisational Theatre as a university profressor continues to feed ideas and approaches that I use with groups today. My research in Socio-Technical Systems and Human Factors is the foundation on which I have built my Call to Action regarding Death in Design.
Copyright © Dr. Catherine Hajnal 2015. All rights reserved.