WithAll Gala 2020 and Lollipop Moments
As I’m sure you are all aware, we are in the middle of a global pandemic that has flipped life as we know it upside down. I’ve been working on improving this blog, but with everything happening I have had to work in segments as my mental energy is lacking. I wanted to write a post today about my experience volunteering at the WithAll Gala last month as one of the last things I did in public before the state shut down, and as a wonderful, meaningful experience and message to share with you all.
As some of you know and others of you may not, I am a volunteer with WithAll, which is an amazing local organization working in eating disorder prevention through initiatives and providing assistance for those in recovery with resources, such as their scholarship program. WithAll puts on a Gala every year, and this was my second year volunteering and being apart of the magical night, but this year I got to be involved in some new ways which were really special. The event was held on March 6th, 2020 and for me, it was a moment I can look back on and know that it has made a massive impact on my life.
A few months ago I got an email from the associate director of WithAll asking if I wanted to be apart of the video they were making for the gala. I eagerly said yes and in February I was interviewed for this video where I got to share my story and its intricacies, which was so beyond cool, and so nerve-racking! About a week before I was to be interviewed I got a call from Jeff, who was doing the interview and video as I was driving home from my coaching job. I pulled into one of the parking lots off the side of the dark road and talked to him about part of my story just so he could get somewhat of an idea beforehand. I was incredibly nervous to even do the phone call, and I honestly had no idea how I was going to do the video. It was defiantly intimidating for me and the day leading up to the interview I was just worried about messing up. I rushed home after class to change clothes for what must have been the seventh time before driving to the location, going in the wrong building, driving around some more and walking up to the WithAll office to meet people that I had no idea if they were going to remember me or not and to sit in a room and talk about my story with someone I had just met, while there was a camera on me taking a video and capturing every word vomit moment of my nervous chatter. It was a really cool process and everyone involved was so supportive and encouraging. I felt like I was surrounded by all these amazing human beings that were validating not only my own experiences and feelings, but everyone else’s who has gone through, is going through, or will go through something similar. Over the past 7ish years I can remember so many times I have felt like my experiences have been invalidated as someone didn't understand my feelings, situations, or what I was saying, or didn't carry the empathy I was expecting and needed in a conversation (heck, I can think of at least 4 times in the last week), but being with people that truly get it was and is overwhelming in the best way possible. I think that all too often we spend so much time talking, we forget to listen. I can think of times with school counselors, teachers, friends, family members and strangers in which what they didn't say made more of an impact than what they did say, and the matter was that they said the wrong thing, and if volunteering with WithAll has taught me anything, it's that what we say, or don't say matters. And most of the time people don’t mean to be dismissive. I think that we hear what people are saying, but if we can’t connect with their hurt - if there’s some disconnect somewhere along the line - it is easy for us to just breeze on by and to not give people the love and support they need. Sometimes the reality is that we don't know how to support people in the ways they need, and that's okay. I have tried and continue to have conversations with people about how they can support me, as all of us need different support in different situations and it's frustrating when it seems like people aren't listening and when they don't give you what you need, but these conversations are important nonetheless. After all, the most important conversations are often the hardest ones.
Fast forward to Gala night, I arrived at the ARIA Event Center in downtown Minneapolis and was instantly greeted by members of the WithAll staff. I was embraced into hugs as we shared smiles and laughter and genuine excitement to see each other. I was nervous going into it as I have volunteered so many places where you go in and do what you’re told, but never really feel like you’re apart of the community there, but WithAll is different. I checked people in and did some tasks throughout the night, but we were in the room, watching the program and being apart of this big night with everyone else. It was mentioned a few times throughout the night, and was mentioned last year, but it's indescribable how heavy it felt that every single person in that room had been affected by an eating disorder in one way or another, and how it was just this indescribable, overcoming feeling that it felt like every single person there was backing you up. They were backing your story up and your experiences, your pain, your hurt, your struggles, and your triumphs. They were all validated because people showed up for you. Even if they didn’t know you, your name, your stories, etc. They were there for you because your story matters and more importantly, you matter. I was so nervous to be sitting in the room as they played this video that shared part of me. I was interviewed, along with a lovely lady named Beth, and I was shaking for a long time after they showed the video. It’s this crazy state of vulnerability we’re not typically in where there is a room of 300 people you don’t know and they’re watching just part of your nervous interview sharing just part of the story that has affected your life in every possible way and has affected how you have seen the world for as long as you can remember, and will continue to affect how you see the world and interact with it and the people inside of it for the rest of your life. I was so afraid people were going to think I sounded dumb, non-eloquent, or maybe dismiss me altogether as I have felt that way in the past sharing my experiences, but that wasn’t the case at all. Other volunteers and staff members came up to me either before, during, or after the program to give me hugs and tell me just how much it meant to them that I shared that part of me. During the end of the program, I was on stage helping WCCO’s Jennifer Mayerle announce the winners of the silent auction and after I got off the stage and was heading to help clean up, someone grabbed my arm and pulled me aside for a second. A complete stranger made sure that I knew how much the video meant to them and how much what I said - something people have made me feel weak for years about- resonated with her so much that she was in tears as she was speaking to me. She was telling me how it opened her eyes and she was going to act differently and we exchanged some of our stories in this lovely conversation. I was so overwhelmed as I was thinking about how I’ve been going through life thinking what I do never makes an impact on other people. I know in my heart that it’s just my anxiety speaking and what I do does matter, but there’s a large portion of the time where I think that people don’t notice what I do, don’t hear what I’m saying and don’t understand me enough to give it any thought. Typing this makes me feel silly, but I know that I’m not the only person who feels this way, which is the entire point of this blog. I think that’s the thing about vulnerability: it’s so difficult and it takes so much time for so many of us to be open and vulnerable, but the second someone dismisses what we have to say or who we are in our experiences, many of us shut down and go about life just wishing never to be hurt again, but that’s simply not living. I went back to help clean up and I had more people tell me how much what I said meant to them and I had a few people who didn’t say anything but their smile, nod of the head or acknowledgment of me at all was enough for me to feel like I made a difference, which is quite a special feeling. I had another lady talk to me about the video and we talked about skiing, as I was also shown skiing in my Trail Kids jacket in the video, and she is on the board at the Loppet. We discussed how a lot of the time we don’t think that we can see eating disorders in all sports when in reality you can and you do. It felt like I was bringing attention to so many problems and things that people don’t usually second guess, which was honestly inspiring to me, especially with skiing. Skiing has been such a huge part of my life for a number of years and has been full of great opportunities and great memories, but skiing was also how I coped and dealt with an eating disorder for a long time. Skiing is a silent sport meaning not a lot of people pay attention to it in comparison to other sports. Only certain parents would show up for our races, when we did well at meets in high school it was never announced, etc. These things, among the million other things that go on and through high school kids minds’ and lives just made me feel small and like this amazing, huge part of my life didn’t matter at times since other people didn’t care. Having this conversation with someone at a non-ski-related event was a new concept to me and it was a wonderful one and a reminder that eating disorders are everywhere. They don't discriminate and affect all races, ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, ages, etc.
I’m in a class this semester that is meant to help us adjust to UMN in our first semester there. Last week we were talking about leadership and we were instructed to watch this TedTalk that I’ll link, and I would highly encourage you all to watch it. Drew Dudley talks about something that happened the last day at his small university: a girl came up to him and told him she remembered the first time that she met him. It was her first day at the university and she was registering and checking in, unsure if she would stay or if she could handle it. She was standing in line looking around and she looked at her parents to say she couldn’t do it and she thought they should go home. Just as this happened, Drew came out of a building with a container of lollipops he was handing out to people in line and when he got to her, he stopped, looked at her and handed a lollipop to the guy next to her in line saying he needed to give the lollipop to the beautiful girl standing next to him in line. The guy got quite embarrassed, gave her the lollipop, and Drew turned to this girl’s parents joking and saying “look at that, the first day away from home and she’s taking candy from a stranger??”. Everyone around them burst out laughing and she said it was in that moment that she knew she was where she needed to be, she shouldn’t quit and that she was home. Drew talks about how she came up to thank him for that moment. She hadn’t spoken to him since that experience but she went to tell him that he’s been an incredibly important person in her life. He then goes on to say:
“Here’s the kicker, I don’t remember that. I have no recollection of that moment and I’ve searched my memory banks because that is funny and I should remember that and I don’t remember doing that and that was such an eye-opening, transformative moment for me to think that maybe the biggest impact I’d ever had on anyone’s life, a moment that had a woman walk up to a stranger four years later and say 'you’ve been an incredibly important person in my life', was a moment that I didn’t even remember. How many of you guys have a lollipop moment? A moment where someone said something or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better? How many of you told that person you did it? See why not? We celebrate birthdays where all you have to do is not die for 365 days and yet we let people who have made our lives better walk around without knowing it and every single one of you, every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You have made someone’s life better by something that you said or that you did and if you think you haven’t, think about all the hands that didn’t go back up when I asked that question. You’re just one of the people that hasn’t been told. But it is so scary to think of ourselves as that powerful. It can be frightening to think we can matter that much to other people because as long as we make leadership something bigger than us, as long as we keep leadership something beyond us, as long as we make it about changing the world, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it every day from ourselves and from each other.”
I wanted to incorporate this into my blog as I think it is so important and it was a lollipop moment just to be reminded of that. There are a lot of posts I want to share and write including my experiences with my freshman year at college (stay tunedddd), but I was looking the other day and I literally have a note that says how I go about life thinking that what I do doesn’t affect other people as I have felt like I have lived in the shadows of other people for a long enough time that sometimes I just think I’m invisible, but that’s not the case. We all make an impact on other people and it makes me think about how when I was like 8 or 9 and I used to go around to all of my friends and say “it’s crazy because everything you do has the ability to impact every single person on this earth” (P.s. my friends at 9 years old did not entertain the thought and thought I was lame for wanting to have an intellectual conversation about my existential crises, but ya know, it is what is it, right?). I just think it’s so important and it rings true for all of us. I hope you take that with you and know that you have lollipop moments and you have been the catalyst for lollipop moments whether you know it or not. Be sure to thank people, as hearing thank you's from these people at the gala was a life changer and a lollipop moment for me as well.
And the last thing I’ll say is how we talk about leadership as something that we all can do, but yet many of us keep leadership and a title synonymous in our brains. Drew ends his TedTalk by saying:
"We need to redefine leadership as lollipop moments, how many we create, how many we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward and how many of them we say thank you for because we’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world - only 6 billion understandings of it and if you change one person’s understanding of it, one person’s understanding of what they’re capable of, one person’s understanding of how much people care about them, one person’s understanding of how powerful an agent for change they can be in this world, you change the whole thing."
And I hope you take that with you.
Here's the TedTalk Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAy6EawKKME&feature=emb_title.
And for more information about WithAll and how you can get involved, visit https://withall.org/.
Photo Credits: Render Photography.