Step 1 to finding your purpose: rediscover your passions

Back in the studio after 15 years

When we grow up, we all have dreams that we lock away in a box never to be seen again. But does it have to be that way? Are we ever too old to dream? Are we ever too old to #hitrefresh and start all over again?

When I was a kid I sang all the time. As a child, my dreams were endless. I dreamed of being Christine in the Phantom of the Opera, the voice of a Disney Princess, and the next Celine Dion. I wanted to be the first female baseball player in Major League Baseball, and write speeches like Martin Luther King Jr. I taught myself Braille and aspired to be a human rights activist for those without a voice. As I got older, my dreams evolved into more reachable goals: to be a diplomat or work for the United Nations. I went on to study 6 languages, travel the world, teach and finally join a multinational corporation to work up the ranks. Now, decades later, where did all of those dreams go?

Last year was a year of incongruity. We bought a house, we had a beautiful, thriving 1-year-old, and I moved into what I thought would be a dream job. But in that same year, my husband lost his dream job, we almost lost that beautiful 1-year-old and the big risk I took, delving into a new profession, didn’t turn out to be the dream job I thought it would be.

The CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella talks a lot about the idea of hitting refresh, that we are all faced with moments in life that cause us to reflect on our purpose and what’s important. This past year has been a giant #hitrefresh moment for me. When you are faced with true fear, in my case almost losing my daughter, it forces you to look at your life and reflect: reflect on what matters to you, on who matters to you, on where you spend your time, on how you spend your time, on the impact you are making daily and whether that impact is enough to fill your cup anymore.

Over the last 9 months I have spent a lot of time in hospitals and clinics. I have seen nurses caring for children, some who would live and some who would die. I have seen them bring laughter to kids waiting for their next blood draw and be the shoulder to cry on when it hurt. I have seen doctors performing magic and saving lives. These people make a difference everyday in the most real way. No one can dispute it, no one can disagree. They can get to the end of everyday, no matter how difficult, and know that what they did mattered, that it was appreciated and that it changed someone’s life.

When I reflect on my many passions, singing, cultural diversity, human rights, I realize that I have stopped engaging in the majority of them as an adult. After my first few years at university, I stopped singing. After graduating, my dreams of the UN were replaced with less risky and more practical steps towards corporate America. Since starting a new job last year, I don’t get to use all the languages I worked so hard to master or the cultural competency developed through years of studying, travelling, living and engaging around the world at work anymore.

So I’ve decided that it’s enough. I’m too young to give up on my dreams, and now, too committed to building a life of purpose.

Over the last 9 months I have reintroduced myself to singing. I started voice lesson again, began using Garageband and iMovie to upload songs to my Youtube Channel, I competed in a Karaoke competition (I came in second… ok, I actually came in the third but I’m convinced the person who came in 2nd had pity votes), I wrote a song and went to Nashville to record it. That last one is a dream I never knew I had, until I was in the studio and realized that it was definitely a dream. Connected to my purpose, I have gotten in touch with a local non-profit that funds a global child health program to provide medical care to children living in poverty.

Now to figure out how to make a difference by connecting passion to purpose is the question. Stay tuned….


What I am learning from my 2-year-old about purpose

Messy hair, don’t care

They say learning can come from anywhere and anyone and on my quest, I have found inspiration in the most unexpected places. When I wake up every morning and see my 2-year-old smiling at me from her crib, messy hair, Moana-doll in hand, I become a bit wiser. Here are a few of the things she is teaching me:

Obstacles aren’t forever: Luciana could have died. Everyday I am thankful that she didn’t but I will never forget that she could have. I think about it everyday and for the longest time it has paralyzed me and made an already fearful person, afraid of pretty much everything. But Luciana doesn’t seem to think about the accident. I think she has probably already forgotten about it and she is still fearless. And while it may give me a heart attack, she still jumps on things, hides in dark places, dances and tries to stand up in a slippery bathtub. Because life goes on…

Do what you want to do: Luciana doesn’t care what other people think about her. She poops when she feels like it, says no all the time and talks to herself a lot. Last week she peed on the floor in front of all of her friends (ie. stuffed animal friends). She didn’t worry about it.

Loosen up: My daughter tells me to loosen up. She can’t tell me with words yet but she finds a way to tell me everyday. Last Monday, she came to have lunch with me at the office. She chooses her outfits now and wanted to wear black and gold sweatpants, a green and orange t-shirt with a lime green sweater over silver-starred shoes. Last but certainly not least she wanted two blue and yellow bows in her hair. She didn’t care that she looked like a rainbow-coloured minion as she skipped down the halls of the Microsoft visitors center and that’s okay!

Sing all the time (even when tone deaf): Luciana loves to sing. I’m not sure that she can really carry a tune yet but she sings all the time. Her current favourite is Coldplay’s Fix You (not an easy song to sing) and she only wants to sing it with her papa (who I am sure is tone deaf). So I have started to sing more lately…

Just dance, dance, dance, come on! The moment I knew Luciana was going to be okay after her accident was when I put Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” on and she started to do the butt-squats we had become accustomed to her doing pre-accident. It meant she had her balance back, it meant she had her joie-de-vivre back. My little dancer was back. Then I remembered that I had always dreamed of being a dancer and, at 33 years old, now is as good a time as ever…

One of the unforeseen privileges of this past year was getting to spend a lot more time with Luciana than I had been. I took 4 weeks off work to care for her and have had the flexibility to work from home a lot more. What I’ve noticed is that 2-year-olds are remarkable creatures because their only purpose in life is to be themselves: to be a kid, to poop, pee, cry, and learn everyday. They aren’t in a rush and they aren’t comparing themselves to anyone else. I think we can all learn from that…



The Day I Wasn’t a Mom Anymore…

familyIn February, my beautiful baby girl was in an accident.  I will never forget hearing the crash and the piercing echo that followed, hearing something so loud but blind to what happened.  I don’t know what’s worse: seeing it happen or hearing it happen without knowing.

You never think that this will happen to you. It’s something that happens to the unlucky, to other people. Until it does happen to you and you realize that you aren’t special or protected.

A 50-lbs mirror fell on her head. 50 lbs… on her tiny little body, on her beautiful head. “I am a terrible mother. I am a horrible person. I am not a mom anymore…” Those were the words that I kept telling myself over and over again as I saw my husband come down the stairs with my beautiful baby girl in his arms… She was purple, blood coming out of her nose… lifeless… my beautiful baby girl…

All I can remember is screaming and asking myself: why did I decide to take voice lessons on Saturday mornings? I should have been home instead. Because maybe we would have gone for a walk instead, or been reading books on the couch.

For someone who had dreamed about being a mother her whole life, I never believed I would be un-imagining motherhood. I spent so much time dreaming of the kind of mother I would be… the kind of person she would be… Who would she look like? Whose eyes would she have? Skin, nose, legs… Whose personality would be have? Would she be a singer like me? Or fearless like her dad? Nothing ever prepares you for the moment when you have to un-imagine those things: how it feels to not be a mom anymore….

As I dialed 911, I kept telling them that I didn’t think she was alive. This charismatic, lively girl who just the day before had been dancing and laughing to Justin Timberlake’s  “Can’t Stop the Feeling” was limp on the floor as her father did CPR on her.  I remember running into the street and waving down the EMTs, as if that were going to make them arrive faster. When I got back inside, my daughter was crying on and off, a testament to the guidance of the 911 agent who took my husband Diego through the steps to infant CPR. We arrived at the Harborview Medical Center trauma unit some time later.  It was only about 10 miles away but felt transatlantic.

The EMTs were superheroes. They saved my baby and they saved me.  I don’t remember their names or even what they looked like but I will never forget them. I will never forget how they walked in to our home: non-judgmental, calm and seeming to know exactly what to do… as though they had been in this exact situation before. I will never forget the EMT driving the ambulance talking to me the whole ride, telling me the story of his son falling down the stairs and how scared he was but honestly telling me he couldn’t imagine how I felt. Because he couldn’t… And somehow that felt good. It felt honest… and gave me hope.

We spent the next 5 days in the hospital with medical staff (EMTs, doctors, nurses, melu and nonnadical students, social workers, psychologists).  My wonderful mom and dad who were at the hospital with us everyday.  These are the magnificent people that I will feel indebted to for the rest of my life. It is thanks to them that I am telling this story and not a different story. It is thanks to them that I am still a mom.

They rushed the ambulance when we arrived. All of a sudden the shows on TV that we glamorize didn’t feel so glamorous or entertaining because they looked like my life. They took my daughter into a shared emergency room behind a curtain. My heroes (the EMTs) stayed behind for longer than I expected. They sat with me and talked to me while my husband was with Luciana behind the curtain. I am ashamed but I couldn’t go back there. I couldn’t listen to the doctors and nurses shouting out terms I didn’t understand and left to interpret what they might mean… because all interpretations would have led back to the worst case scenario. Internal bleeding, hemorrhage, irreversible damage that I couldn’t fathom. So I stayed back, and let the doctors work, and I prayed.  I had never prayed before but I prayed…

A CT scan and an MRI later, they were able to rule out any life-threatening damage. She had a skull fracture from the middle-back of her head down to the right ear. They found a small contusion on her cerebellum which meant she’d need physical therapy for a while to help regain her ability to walk. They were able to rule out what they initially thought was a blood clot after the first few days which meant we wouldn’t have to give her a shot of anticoagulants twice a day for 6 months.

I will never forget the moment the Pediatric ER doctor told us: “One day you will look back at this as a horrible thing that happened to you once” and we will feel lucky and indescribably grateful. There were so many other stories in the Pediatric ICU that week that weren’t bound for such happy endings: from the boy who was beaten and would die, to the infant burned when a crock pot fell on his head, to the 2 toddlers who were in a car accident and facing life-threatening injuries. Their 2 other siblings had died at the scene. Each is a reminder that while what happened to Luciana is the worst thing that could have happened, the outcome of the accident wasn’t the worst outcome that could have happened.

I have spent most of the last few years of my life working instead of with the people I love. And I feel guilty and I feel regret everyday. But mostly I feel conflicted. On the one hand I feel that life is too short to be spending it in a supergirljob you hate, doing work that you don’t find meaningful.  But it has also reinforced the pressure I feel as a working mom to provide for my daughter and to make her proud of me.  It’s hard to reconcile those  things: find meaning, find your purpose, make a difference.  For me, I am still trying to figure it out.  All I know is that my daughter is a warrior… and I need to be a warrior…


Finding My Purpose

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

In February, my daughter was in an accident and it fundamentally changed by perspective on, pretty much everything… Ever since, I have been on a journey to find meaning & purpose in my life, to find ways to make a difference in the world.  The first step is by sharing my story here…  One thing I have been learning is that on your journey, don’t be afraid to share your experience because you never know who your story might touch and who it might help….