Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Recently, I witnessed a young girl texting while riding her bike. No surprise that she slammed into the back of a car that was parked on the street. I heard the slam and the scream and ran to see if she was okay. She whimpered, got back on the bike, and rode off – texting once again.
She was fortunate that she hit a car that was not moving. But watching her behavior got me thinking about multitasking, how we oftentimes put ourselves at risk or, at least, take away from what might be an enjoyable experience, by trying to do too much at once.
When it comes to tasks, it’s become more difficult to focus on a single one rather than tackling several at the same time. It takes perseverance to stay the course on a single objective and ensure that it’s done correctly and thoroughly. It’s easier to run from one thing to the next without any real focus. Perhaps a lot of things get done, but nothing gets done really well.
Our culture’s multitasking obsession has taken us further away from the mindfulness that everyone talks about wanting these days. Something else has been lost as well: the pride of doing one thing really well. Today when I hear people bragging “look how many things I can do at once. I’m a multitasker!” I sigh. After 20 years of running at such a pace professionally, I came to understand one thing is true: The grand prize for winning a pie eating contest is more pie.
Life isn’t about how fast the next 15 things on the list can be accomplished. It’s about enjoying the process of accomplishing each of the 15 things on the list, while understanding that there is no end to the list. So revel in the process of life, which hides itself within the endless tasks.
To accomplish something requires the keen ability to ward off any fleeting thoughts that might distract from that goal. Thoughts pop in. Stop what your doing! Put a load of laundry in! Make that grocery list while driving! (Seriously, I know someone who does this between stop lights.)
My favorite: people who exercise while also reading a magazine or talking on the phone. Walking the dog while taking phone meetings for work is a way to get many things scratched off that to do list. Yes, much is getting done, but the quality of that experience and the mindfulness, which is part of the holistic health of an individual, is absent.
There is no mindfulness or presence of mind when we are focusing on everything else but what we are doing in that moment; that is the definition of distracted. If we aren’t connected to the present moment, we aren’t tuning into our intuition, nor are we enjoying experiencing what ever it is that we are doing. Where’s the enjoyment in life if we cannot smell the roses?
While walking the dog, enjoy the experience of walking with the dog. Fully take in what it is to be in nature with a loving creature taking in the smells, feelings, and sounds of what is around us. Our colleagues deserve us fully present and engaged, as much as ourselves and our dog does, so we can connect with them after the walk.
One could ask, who benefits from this multitasking? Much got done today, but you were not present for any of it because of the constant focus on what comes next. The accomplishment came at the sacrifice of the connection to self and the moments were lost.
When we are not fully present with ourselves there could be other consequences. Lacking presence with ourselves, we may miss the early warning signs that an illness might be gaining momentum within the body. We are effectively disconnecting from ourselves. Additionally, we could be injured because off our lack of attention to what is ahead of us, like the girl I saw riding and texting. My guess is it will take something more serious to get her attention back to mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be practiced with a simple activity like wiping down the counter top. There could also be opportunities to be more productive if we just focus on doing one thing really well, honoring each activity with our full presence, seeing it through with our best effort to its completion.
When it comes to relationships in this age of technology, it’s become commonplace to see a family having dinner in a restaurant with individual members glued to their phones instead of being fully present. The ability to make face to face personal connections within the family is eroding rapidly, much less connections with those outside the family unit. As a result, with our lack of focus and presence, are we missing critical signs of unmet emotional needs of our close ones? Not to mention important opportunities to connect or make an intervention for someone in need who may be unable to reach out and communicate their need effectively.
Multitasking once in a while is a skill. However, it should be seen as a surge technique, not as the constant if we wish to create meaningful long lasting connections. Mindful moments are where the enjoyment of life can be found, if we can simplify and slow down once in a while.
Our society has evolved faster in the last ten years than in the prior fifty years. While those changes can be attributed to many things, technology has had the largest impact, affecting human behavior and shaping cultures worldwide. Through our electronic devices, we can be constantly connected with people near and far. Social media is a connection multiplier, giving participants a voice to broadcast ideas and emotions to a large audience from all corners of the earth.
We have more access to real time information globally than we have ever had before. It’s possible for you to meet and connect with someone in Thailand, see details about her personal life, where she lives, works, and even what she had for dinner while never taking off your bunny slippers or leaving the couch.
Social media sites are about connecting people, networking, sharing, and socializing. All things that humans crave and love to do, so it’s no surprise that sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are so popular. There are plenty of stories of people reconnecting with family and friends and, of course, finding love, using social media. Our Facebook feeds are filled with these heartwarming tales. We share them and “like” them. These positive stories make up the up side of social media. But what are the down side?
For a business, a negative social media review on a site like Yelp can be detrimental to the bottom line. A 30-second video showing a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, was posted, went viral, and notnonly created a public relations nightmare, but affected the company’s stock. Other corporations have felt the aftershocks of scathing employee reviews on sites like Glass Door, resulting in difficulty recruiting and retaining top talent.
There’s a danger that putting too much personal information on social media creates opportunities for criminal elements to engage in social hijacking, stealing an individual’s identity. The results can be financial and personally devastating. After spending many years chasing down these scams for the Pentagon’s top brass, I realized it was like playing a virtual wack-a-mole. As soon as I could get the requests processed within the social media venue for the false accounts to be investigated and taken down, the next day several more would pop up.
Over time I realized, that this is just a new take on an old problem. Much like the old romance scams that involved getting a chain letter in the mail with requests to send money, these schemes were people hijacking a well known identity in order to convince an unsuspecting person to send money to a person in need. Typically middle aged single woman are the targets, and the perpetrator preys on the loneliness and kindness of the woman to send money for whatever cause that he or she has convinced them to buy into. And most of the time it works. Victims sent as much as $5,000 and in some cases even more. By the time they realize its a scam, it’s too late.
However, in these cases there are really two victims of these types of crimes. The person who gets swindled into wiring hard earned funds, and the person whose identity has been stolen, often with no idea that he or she has been hijacked. Typically, this person is a prominent, well enough know individual with a prominent media profile. As I have seen, general officers in the military are some of the most common targets. A family member or a friend receives a note or “friend me” request only to discover that the message came from someone pretending to be a general officer. Responding to the request often means granting access to personal information.
Here are some tips to protect your social identity and yourself from falling prey to social media scams:
If you have no social identity, get one. It’s hard to steal your spot if you are already there. If you have no social presence, you are more likely to be hijacked and it will go on undetected for a longer time.
Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. This is just good social media hygiene all around. You wouldn’t let someone in your house off the street, don’t let them into your intimate social circle online either. If you do meet someone online and accept a friend request, be very leery of any pressure to take the conversation to another medium such as Skype. Also be suspicious if they start telling you problems and start asking for money.
Stay away from third party applications. These are the apps that are imbedded into Facebook. You will be warned that you are leaving Facebook and instructed to click “yes” for permission to enter another site. These apps aren’t regulated by Facebook and they collect information from you. Once you authorize access they are running in the background and often times continue to listen and collect your data. These apps have even been known to spread malware on your personal compute which may steal your banking and credit card information. There are multiple third party apps that have been shut down for collecting credit card information on users, but not before they made off with millions.
Secure your account. Are you aware of who sees what you are posting and who your friends are? This is the most frequently use reconnaissance tool of perpetrators and burglars. Three-quarters of convicted burglars said they use social media to watch the target and get details about when they are home and what they have in their home that will make a successful bounty. If you don’t want to use Facebook’s automated security tool to check your settings, than watch what information you give out. Better not to post that you’ll be in Miami on vacation for two weeks or that you just installed an expensive home entertainment system.
If it seems too good to be true, it usually is. It is difficult to verify someones true identity online. The danger is that people can set up an avatar and become anyone they dream up. Be smart and listen to your instincts when connecting with new people online.
Social media is the wild, wild west of the world wide web, and it’s only going to grow in popularity. It’s possible to enjoy the benefits of social media without falling victim to the dark sides of social media, if you educate yourself about the dangers and treat the security of your accounts like you treat the front door of your home.
So many New Year’s resolutions are destined to fail. At the start of a new year, people vow to quit smoking, work out, and eat healthy. In January, my barre class is packed, with a waiting list of 20 people waiting to get in. By March, people lose sight of their goals. Maybe life takes over, energy is redirected, and, as a result, the classes are much easier to get into. All those good intentions fall by the wayside.
“Resolution” means “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” If we want to achieve what we set out to do, we have to make that resolution a conscious decision. Whether we are talking about losing weight, becoming healthier, learning something new, or reaching specific goals in our businesses, we must first decide that “this” is the way that it will be. It’s not enough to visualize a dream. It’s essential to take action every day to support that decision.
In the past, I was overly optimistic about what I could achieve. I often set unrealistic timelines for reaching my goals. As a result, I would become frustrated, distracted, and ultimately would give up. Things might have been different if I had resolved going in that I would stick to my plan and then would work each day to support that outcome. Anything worthwhile takes effort. We have to be present in the journey, learning along the way. Setbacks are expected, but if we remember our initial decision, we won’t let anything stop us. It’s all part of the journey of getting there.
One of my favorite quotes is from Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair of Disney: “Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”
There are many people that have taken non-conventional approaches to achieving their goals. They have found success on their own terms. However people define success, they have three attributes in common:
Decided Mindset: Their mind is made up on what will happen. There is no plan b and no turning back. What they resolve is what will happen.
No looking back: They aren’t hard on themselves about failed New Year’s resolutions of the past. Instead, they get up every day and they work from wherever they are. They take the hill so to speak, even if progress is only one inch at a time.
Action takers: They take action every day to support the decisions they made. Obstacles are seen as part of the journey and part of the process of reaching success. It’s one thing to aspire to something, but it’s quite another to wake up every day and take radical actions to achievement.
It’s rare to have perfect conditions and circumstances for achieving what we desire. To be successful, we must create the conditions and to be willing to face forward, use our decided mindset to move through difficult obstacles, while working every day to take the actions that support outcomes. Failures are part of the learning process, so we don’t need to look down upon upsets or throw away those experiences; instead, we learn to leverage that well-earned wisdom as more data points on the path to success.
May you all decide what life you are going to live and take massive action toward that decision, making 2017 the best year ever!
For eight years in a row, we have featured outstanding women on our website. The trend continued this year as we were able to tell our readers about 45 amazing women who are making a difference in other people’s lives. They are Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennials. They come from various areas of the country and represent many different ethnic groups. Some work in business, others in the arts. They have positions in corporations or work for non-profits. Among the group are many entrepreneurs, women who have gone out on their own to follow a dream.
We are honored to have told their stories on Woman Around Town. Click on the slideshow to view photos of each woman. Click on a name in the tags that follow to be able to read an individual story.
In a few short days, we begin a new year, a new chance to spotlight even more women who inspire us all. Do you know someone who should be on our radar? Let us know!
In my mid twenties, from 2003 to 2009, I lived in Kuwait at the height of the U.S. military operations. It was an amazing opportunity, both personally and professionally, and opened my eyes to the world in ways that I had never contemplated. Newly divorced and eager to have an adventure, I took the leap, accepting a contracting job with the U.S. Army. Nevertheless, it was scary to venture off alone into the epicenter of a United States-Middle East conflict. Like so many Americans, I had preconceived ideas about the culture. Some proved to be true, others not so true. In my recently published book Life In My Hands, Healing Myself, Healing Others, I provide more details about my life in Kuwait City working for the military. For now, here are the three biggest life lessons I learned from living in the Middle East:
Growth begins where your comfort zone ends. Leaving a safe place is scary, but don’t underestimate the growth you will experience from jumping into something new. Being in a foreign country, immersing yourself in a culture so different from your own, can’t help but lead to change and growth.
Simple daily interactions – enjoying the cuisine, having conversations with locals, driving through different neighborhoods, and taking in entertainment – can expand your horizons. Appreciating the culture – fashions, customs, language – while falling into the local rhythms of life can provide a priceless education.
Shops open and close at different times, traffic patterns follow the local customs, and, as a result, new surroundings create personal rituals in order to experience and take full advantage of what the city has to offer. I remember rearranging my activities during Ramadan. Fewer shops were open and those that were had less staff. The regular hustle and bustle of the city was reduced. This forced me to stop and enjoy the downtime and live slower. Toward the end of the month, I was invited to take part in a breaking fast feast that reminded me of gathering with my own family at Thanksgiving.
As people were peacefully going through life, they were willing to answer my questions. Many of the ideas and fears that I started out turned out not to represent my experience of living in the Middle East. I would have never have known that had I not pushed through my discomfort and dared to take on this adventure.
Exposure to new things forces us to move outside of our known truths.Growth only happens when we have the courage to stand in the unknown zone for a while and figure out that we are okay, even if we don’t understand the system or the way things happen – yet.
Being non-judgmental leads to a richer life. There are differences in cultures, and that isn’t good or bad, it just is. We aren’t meant to be all the same, but we are meant to be equal. Diversity is everywhere; it’s what makes the world a high definition color instead of black and white. I forced myself to be neutral as much as possible and withhold my interpretation of certain things (that interpretation was my biased framing to begin with). Keeping an open mind allowed me to have a wonderful experience. We’re all different and that’s okay. It’s possible to coexist peacefully, respect local customs, and still be who we are, without trying to force everyone and everything to fit into one cultural framework.
I began to realize that my judgment was often fueled by fear. Once I realized that, it became easier to be less judgmental of the foreign world I was living in. As a result, I was able to make real connections with people who had much different upbringings and life experiences than I had.
Ultimately I discovered that even with all our difference, we are all humans and want the same things. We all experience love, anger, sadness and fear regardless of what culture we are born into. Everyone is seeking these connections and love in their lives. I learned to connect with people on that level and made amazing life long friendships with people from all over the planet.
All we really have are the connections we make with others. Even those that we will never see again, leave their mark. Sometimes their leaving created heartbreak. We survive and learn to move on and appreciate the memories. We carry what we learn from them with us.
The money and many of the material things I collected from my time in the Middle East are long gone. What’s left are my priceless friendships and memories that will be with me forever. The life changing relationships, professional and personal, helped to develop my outlook on life, to learn compassion and understanding, and see that goodness in humanity is alive and well, especially in the Middle East. The people I connected with in all the foreign countries where I’ve lived have been my university; my priceless educational life experience.
Photo of Kuwait City landscape from a speed boat from Bigstock.
We all know when we are feeling a little “off” our game, when things don’t seem to be going our way. Maybe our energy levels are low because we are spread too thin. We’re running from one holiday event to another while shopping to get those last minute presents. By the time we’re through, we collapse with a holiday hangover that lasts well into January. When our energy is depleted, we may find it difficult to regain our balance and, as a result, we end up getting sick.
Maintaining balance, keeping ourselves in alignment, requires sticking to habits that promote our emotional and physical health even during the most stressful of times. The holidays present us with many opportunities to celebrate with gatherings that tempt us with alcohol and sugary treats. Family gatherings, while often fun, may include drama that can inflict lasting damage.
So what can we do? Here are some helpful tips to prevent energy drain and maintain personal alignment.
Mindfulness: I begin each day with fifteen minutes of quiet contemplation, disconnected from electronic devices and social media. This activity has no objective, other than being present in mind and body with no tasks or distractions. Taking these fifteen minutes daily allows me to be aware of my energy levels and emotions. Rather than operating on autopilot, I am able to hear what my body needs. When we don’t listen to our bodies, we are out of alignment and may end up getting sick.
Mindful alignment is the keystone to emotional and physical well being. We are less likely to binge on food and spirits, run ourselves into exhaustion, and get sucked into arguments with family members.
Healthfulness: It’s easy to get caught up in the festivities and forget what our bodies need to maintain alignment and, therefore, good health. I have a hard time turning down my uncle’s nearly famous peanut butter fudge, or the extra eggnog. After all, it’s only once a year, right? To head off any unwanted pounds, bellyaches, or illness I do five simple things:
I start my day with a half a cup of warm lemon water (one half of a fresh lemon squeezed in warm spring water). It’s the first thing I put into my body each day, especially if I know there will be treats to enjoy. Lemon is acidic (ph below 7) outside the body in its natural state, but once your body metabolizes it – it has an alkalizing effect on the body, critical for fighting things like cancer. Cancer cells thrive in acidic environments where illness can manifest. The warm lemon drink also jump starts digestion.
Stay hydrated. I consume two liters of water a day, even during the winter when, because of the cold weather, we might not feel like drinking as much water. Dehydration often leads to illness and fatigue. When I’m hydrated, I think better, my energy levels are better, and I sleep better.
Rest more. We tend to be busier during this season so taking more time to rest is beneficial to maintain energy levels and help the body stay healthy. Instead of an extra cup of coffee, I choose rest. You don’t have to actually sleep to get rest. Just taking 10 to 15 minutes to lie down and close your eyes before a big night, out can help recharge your batteries. Additionally, on the nights when there isn’t much going on, I make an effort to get to bed earlier. My body thanks me for the extra sleep.
Portion control. It is possible to enjoy rich and delicious foods during the holiday without going “all in.” Just watch portions. When I’m with friends, we often get one or two desserts to share. In some restaurants, portions are so big that we can order one and split it with a salad. Another trick? Eat before you get to that party and then graze lightly while there. This prevents the next day food hangover and extra pounds.
Move more. The body is made to move, but our comfort zone is to hibernate during the winter months. It’s hard to get motivated when the weather is cold. However, I do feel better if I move more. Walking around the block, taking the parking space further away, or even walking on a treadmill is helpful. Movement helps get the blood flowing and good blood flow aids our overall health.
Emotional balance: When we’re disconnected from what our bodies need, maintaining emotional balance can be tough. That’s why we might find it hard to deal with that relative who always knows how to push buttons. We’ve all experienced those uncomfortable moments when tensions rise between family members. If we are rested and not feeling depleted, it’s easier to see it coming and avoid an emotional holiday blow out. Remember, you don’t have to go get pulled into arguments. Find a way to walk away.
When we are mindful, healthful, and emotionally balanced we are better able to respond positively, no matter the situation. Staying in alignment with our good health during the holiday season takes awareness and dedication. If we take care of ourselves first, we will be able to take care of others.
Let’s keep our holidays memorable instead of regrettable!
In 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened more military jobs to women, specifically combat arms roles. Last year, the first two female officers made it through the rigorous Army Ranger School, in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Woman are striving for equal promotion to the highest echelon of the military. Some savvy go getters have succeeded, standing shoulder to shoulder with their top brass male counterparts. The few females who succeed in reaching those levels have found opportunities for receiving the mentoring and career experiences available to their male counterparts early on in their career.
Nevertheless, most of the top military advisors today are males who have been to infantry training and combat leadership schools, and have been entrusted with important leadership positions that have catapulted their advancement. It’s interesting to note that 25 years ago, in the early 90’s, women made up barely 11% of the total force. Today, women still only make up less than 15% of the total military service, which statistically affects the number of women who are actually able to compete for these leadership positions.
When Secretary Carter expanded the roles for women, he certainly opened a Pandora’s box of questions, nightmare scenarios, and harsh objections from military service members. Low grumblings of an impending deterioration of U.S. military forces due to the lowering of performance criteria in allowing women to serve in infantry roles was heard throughout the force. There are reasonable questions and concerns. How does the military maintain the level of proficiency while still offering males and females equal opportunities in career advancement? What are the effective measures of success in a traditionally male-dominated culture, and should that culture change for females? The military responded by opening all combat arms career billets to females, as long as they could meet the long established performance criteria, just as the males have to.
Having spent close to 20 years working for the Department of Defense, previously serving on active duty in the Army, later transitioning to civilian roles in DoD, I’m left with a mixed bag of perspectives on this topic. Today we see women performing roles that have traditionally been left to males. Women find themselves stepping outside of traditional gender roles more and more.
On one hand, we’ve come a long way, but a long way from what?
In the first Gulf War and then during the second 20-year stint in the Middle East, the DoD was challenged to delineate combat from noncombat roles. Women have been fighter jet pilots, manned machine guns, patrolled outside the “wire.” With the quickly shifting boundaries of “hot zones,” at anytime, they could have found themselves in combat. To this point it would be prudent to ensure everyone is adequately trained for combat readiness, regardless of gender.
Even so, I’m not sure we are taking the most effective approach by opening previously all-male infantry occupations to women. Maybe we should be asking different questions about how to fully utilize the talents of the female workforce?
Promotions to the highest level of military leadership should be open to men and woman alike. Surely we want the most qualified and experienced individuals advising the Commander in Chief on important military world issues. But how does a person become the most qualified? They are given opportunities, groomed, mentored, and relied on. They are scored against criteria in which they exceled and their talents are identified, exploited, and cultivated. Our nation’s military makes great leaders; we have the formula down pat.
However, we are on the cusp of major changes in our country and still working on a legacy leadership model. With an evolved leadership model, we could learn to maximize potential of a diverse work culture. Putting everyone into the same box and measuring them with one set of established criteria leads to optimization of one type of skillset and cultivation of one type of leader. This limits our success. For example, women are allowed to compete for infantry positions, but success is measured with decision criteria based on areas where males tend to excel. Certainly, there are exceptional women that can and have competed under that criteria, bypassing their male counterparts. However, they are outliers. So what about the rest?
Moving toward a more innovative leadership approach would require us to ask how we cultivate the talents that women inherently bring to the work force. Right now, women are measured against a criterion that is akin to asking a cat to act like a dog. You can train a cat to act like a dog, but a dog will always be the best at being a dog, and nothing is better at being a cat than a cat. That idea may infuriate some women, but as a woman, I personally want to be judged for who I am, and not be shoved into a matrix of male qualities that I have to exhibit to compete for leadership roles. At the same time, I don’t want to be marginalized to less important roles based on my gender. What if the training and mentoring cultivated all the best of what women bring to the table in leadership?
Robert Sherwin, the former COO of leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman, did an interesting three-part series for Business Insider on why women are more effective leaders than men. The first part of the research was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2012.
In the 360-degree review of 16 measured competencies, women scored higher than men in 14 of the 16 categories. Women outscored men in areas such as taking initiative, building relationships, collaborating, championing change, motivating others, developing others, driving for results, and integrity and honesty. Men outscored women on technical or professional expertise and developing strategic perspectives.
To make the biggest impact with the total workforce, it would be beneficial to learn how to leverage and develop the skills women naturally possess. I fear we are missing the point by trying to equate equality of opportunity with open participation to combat arms roles. The real opportunity to meet our greatest potential is in recognizing the over looked and unused talents that are lying dormant within a culture that sees the male infantry officer as its biggest leadership asset.
As a woman, I appreciate the bold move Secretary Carter made as a leader in an attempt to level the promotional playing field for men and women. Would the organization, country, and women be better served if the leadership would stop trying to make women more like men and learn to embrace the difference and use the skillsets of men and women to our advantage like other countries such as Israel has done? We definitely need the balance of both attributes to fully utilize skillsets and be completely successful.
Equality isn’t about letting women be combat engineers, as much as it’s about optimizing their strengths and making real investments in the potential that women bring to the work environment. We do that by adopting more acceptable criteria of what success looks like for a military leader, not by lowering standards.
For optimizing diversity and the use of innate talent, recognizing the natural roles for women, and making a shift in promotion criteria is in the best interest of the nation and the force.
Even as a teen growing up in a small town in Maine, Darcy Hotchkiss visualized herself a world traveler. But she would take many detours before she realized those dreams. Along the way, she kept a journal to document her amazing journey from high school dropout and a single mom, to a soldier in the U.S. Army and a government contractor in Kuwait and Iraq. Working for NATO in The Netherlands, she sustained a serious injury which brought on a year of physical pain and emotional turmoil. When she finally found a way to heal through alternative medicine, she was inspired to become a healer herself. “I began feeling a nudge a couple of years ago to write down my experiences, trying to make sense of things with the idea that maybe there were women that have experienced similar struggles with life, love, parental roles, understanding their path, and healing,” says Darcy. “I’ve come to a deeper level of appreciation for who I am and the different way of managing my life; it doesn’t work for everyone but it works for me.” She hopes that her book, Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others (WAT-AGE Publishing), will resonate with readers no matter where they are in their own odysseys.
Where Darcy now finds herself is all the more remarkable considering where she started out. She learned that she was pregnant shortly after attending her junior prom and was forced to drop out of school. “In my eighth month of pregnancy, I stood behind a cash register at the local grocery store, working as many hours as possible, trying to save money while I still had the ability to work,” Darcy writes. Studying to complete her high school degree, she was terrified with the thought that she was going to be responsible for the life of another human being. She and the baby’s father were soon married, a marriage that lasted for three years. “My husband and I had completely different goals about what our lives would be, certainly a challenge to our relationship,” she writes. “I wanted a career, and to travel and see the world, while he wanted to stay on the farm, raise children, and be the softball coach and team dad.”
After the divorce, Darcy was working multiple jobs, taking college courses, and raising her daughter. “There were nights when I barely got four to five hours of sleep after I got Jordan ready for bed, finished homework, and had to be at my first job again by 6:30 a.m.,” she says. “I never had enough money to cover everything. It seemed like I just couldn’t get ahead unless I did something drastic.”
Darcy and Jordan
She knew that she wanted more for herself and for her daughter. But how would she accomplish that? With few options available, she made the difficult decision to enlist. That meant leaving her daughter in the care of her ex-husband. “I felt massively judged in the beginning for my approach to mothering,” Darcy says. “But my priority was the best interests of my daughter. At that time, her father was a better parent hands down, and I think it’s important to admit that as a woman, especially today. Gender roles and perceptions are being overridden all the time and there are many examples of the roles woman are playing now in the media, movies, and even in the military.”
Darcy soon discovered that life as a solider was, in many ways, easier than trying to keep things together as a single mom. “Everything was provided – food, clothes, lodging and direction,” she says. “I got more sleep than I did as a single mother. It was crazy! I was able to focus on my professional endeavors without wondering if I could scrape some spare change together for a hamburger at McDonalds.”
Make no mistake, though. Basic training was tough. In the book Darcy describes the grueling drills, including one that involved being confined in a chamber filled with tear gas. (Think of that scene in An Officer and a Gentleman.) While other recruits were panicking, Darcy, who had visualized the exercise many times in her mind, was calm and methodical, getting through the exercise with time to spare. That was the first time she realized the power of visualization, something that she would use many times in the future.
While in the Army, Darcy met and married another soldier. Since he had a higher rank and would often be deployed, Darcy made the decision to leave the Army. She had been working on college credits and had enough training in communications that she could land a job paying her three times what she was making in the Army. Still, because of frequent separations, the marriage didn’t last. Dealing with the trauma of facing a second divorce, Darcy began to have vivid dreams. “Dreams of traveling, working and living in the Middle East were starting to come through,” she writes. Those dreams would soon become reality when she accepted a position supporting the Army Information Technology operations as an information systems security officer on Camp Doha, Kuwait.
Darcy arrived in Kuwait a year after President George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” campaign which brought down Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein. While Kuwait was relatively safe, there were still challenges. Unlike some ex-pats, Darcy was open to learning about the people there and the culture. “I think I wanted to believe there was good in the world and the way for me to come to that was to immerse myself in another culture, befriend locals, and see what it was all about,” she says. “I met so many different types of people in the Middle East, some real characters. They made my time there great. There is so much diversity in this world. I would be hesitant to make gross generalizations on any group of people after my experiences.”
As an independent woman, Darcy often had to confront how women were treated in the Middle East. She became friends with one man named Mohammad who worked at the airport. Even though they spent some pleasant times together, she kept in mind a warning from his sister: “My brother is always angry and you should be careful with him.” When he became overbearing and controlling, Darcy made excuses for not being able to meet him. Fortunately, she was able to end the relationship on a friendly note and when Jordan visited Kuwait, Mohammed ushered her safely through the airport. Darcy made friends with another man, Waleed, but had to cut it off when he began to talk about marriage.
Darcy was certainly living her dream to travel. After celebrating the New Year in Lebanon, she took another job in Iraq, a country that was much more dangerous than Kuwait. “My assignment was working within the U.S. Embassy annex supporting the communications backbone for Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNF-I) in the area known as the International Zone,” she writes. She describes a trip in a Black Hawk helicopter to Camp Victory in Baghdad. “Initially, I thought the pilot was giving us a guided tour of Baghdad, but really he was just trying to avoid random gunfire from some of the rooftops and keep us from getting shot down through a rough patch of the city,” she writes. Peering down, rather than seeing gunfire, she witnessed “only a beautiful afternoon with young Iraqi children playing soccer in a small patch of a lush grassy field.” At the base, Darcy had the opportunity to tour Saddam Hussein’s Al-Faw Palace. Staring at crystal chandeliers and marble work, Darcy says “I couldn’t prevent my mouth from falling open with awe.” Driving around, a solider also pointed out the small building where the former Iraqi dictator was being held.
For Darcy, there was a bonus for her stay in Iraq. In Lebanon, she had met and fell in love with Majed, who would also be working in Iraq. The two would spend one glorious holiday together in Jordan before the romance came to a tragic end, sending Darcy into a tailspin.
She retreated back to the U.S., giving herself time to grieve. She returned to Kuwait for a short time, but soon found herself accepting a position with NATO in The Hague. Her initial excitement about the assignment didn’t last. She found the city cold, damp, and isolating. Playing netball (a Dutch version of basketball without the dribbling), she sprained her ankle. Shortly after that, she developed several health problems. “I had worked so hard to get to this point in my career,” she writes. “For what? Was this all that could be expected? Loneliness, sickness, and depression? It was a difficult pill for me to swallow.”
One evening she forced herself to socialize, accepting an invitation to a birthday party. She sustained a serious fall down a flight of stairs, injuring her lower back, pelvis, and shoulder. “If you have ever been in chronic pain, you understand that it goes beyond dealing with the physical pain,” she writes. “There’s a psychological effect as well.”
After trying in vain to get treated in The Hague, a friend took her to Paris. While the doctors there were able to diagnose her injuries, a cortisone shot in her spine just made matters worse. One of the doctors suggested she try alternative forms of medicine to relieve her pain. Thus began her search for help which finally led her to Zoran Hochstatter in London, the founder of a healing modality called PureBioenergy Therapy. Darcy not only scheduled a healing session with Hochstatter, but also signed up for his training class. Zoran sported a white beard and long, white, shoulder-length hair. “He looked like a healer, but was wearing normal clothes – a T-shirt and blue jeans.” When he approached her, Darcy rattled off her long list of ailments. After saying, “Is that it?” he turned on some classic rock and went to work. Darcy recalls swaying and rocking as he waved his hands around her. “The movement was involuntary, out of my control,” she writes. When it was over, Darcy felt peaceful and calm. After a second day of therapy, she woke up realizing that for the first time she had slept a full eight hours; there was no pain in her back or her hip. Attending Zoran’s training session, she was energized with the possibility of helping others heal.
“Upon returning to Holland, it was hard to conceal my excitement about how good I was feeling,” she writes. “For the first time in almost a year I was walking upright, without a limp.” Others noticed and Darcy began to use what she had learned from Zoran. “Initially, my intent was to help others heal, but I eventually understood that each person I helped was also helping me,” she writes. “By allowing me to co-create wellness and health within others, the process took me outside of myself. It got me out of my own head by focusing on being of service to someone in need.”
Returning to the U.S., Darcy settled in Washington, D.C. and took a job at the Pentagon. Her healing work continues. She’s particularly proud about helping those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “These days I don’t get many skeptics in my healing space, but in the past I learned quickly that some people just don’t resonate with what I’m doing,” Darcy says. “I’m okay with that. I’m actually a skeptic and come from a computer engineering background, so I understand that what I’m doing goes against traditional and convention thinking. But, I never feel compelled to explain or convince anyone of what I’m doing. We are all responsible for our own health and we all can choose how to get there. Belief is a big part of a person’s healing process.”
Darcy and Jordan continue to enjoy a close relationship. “I think it was confusing and hard for my daughter in the beginning, but as she got older she understood more about why I made the choices I did and it makes sense to her,” she says. “She’s 21 years old now and always says she got the best of worlds, a stable home and an opportunity to see the world and have great experiences that otherwise would not have been possible.”
Writing Life in My Hands gave Darcy the opportunity to reflect on her journey. “I made mistakes along the way, but I learned from those mistakes and became more savvy, focused, and confident in the process,” she says. “Living with regrets about things you didn’t do or chances you didn’t take, especially out of fear of failure, are some of the most painful to live with. I have no regrets in my life. I’ve lived fully and still have many more exciting times ahead.”