Six years ago I started my writing practice in the middle of a dark, cold winter. Every Friday morning I got up at 5:30am, threw the laptop in my bag and headed over to Peet’s Coffee in my town. I had an hour to myself, which included travel and ordering time, so that I could get home and get ready for daycare drop off and work.
Back then I wrote solely for the sake of writing for myself, there was no larger goal. I wrote about the life stuff I was grappling with - the uncertainty of having a young child with severe congenital heart disease and coming to terms with the idea that I was likely done having children, much sooner than I expected. I discovered that as I wrote I was able to see things from a new perspective. Writing gave me room to breathe. It took me weeks, even months, to finish an essay, but I was learning the value of the process. It mattered more that I committed to actually showing up each week in that seat I liked near the window at Peet’s than what I wrote or whether I completed a piece. It became my self-care at a stage of life where I had lost touch with who I was and what I wanted.
By this time I had been working as a genetic counselor for over a decade. Most of that time was spent at an academic institution within a reputable research department, where I worked hard to lengthen the list of published papers on my CV, while juggling clinical responsibilities and teaching. I was in Achiever mode. In fact, I had been in this mindset of achievement for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t until several close GC colleagues left my institution that I began to question what I really wanted, what was important to me. I knew that in order to move up the faculty ranks, I had to do x, y, and z. But did I, when I set aside my Achiever hat, actually care about those things? And if publishing and grants were not at the top of my priority list, what was?
It was around this time that I started listening to podcasts. Along with Serial Season 1 (drop everything and go listen now if you haven’t), I stumbled upon a culture of women online entrepreneurs. I had absolutely no idea that online businesses existed in this way. I binge-listened to my favorites and could not get enough. When one of the women I listened to religiously opened a program to help you create your own business, I asked myself, “Why not me?”
This was a time when the floodgates were opening for genetic counselors and GCs were doing things that no one had even imagined when I graduated from the Pitt program in 2005. I read a post on The DNA Exchange by Brianne Kirkpatrick. After checking out her website I became enamored with her business idea and with the gumption I knew she had to possess to start a solo business as a GC. What did I do next? I reached out to her. And Brianne, being the generous person she is, responded and said of course she would be willing to speak with me about her decision to venture off on her own.
You see how the seeds were being planted for me to grow my own business? The writing practice, the questioning of what I wanted in a career, the podcasts, Brianne. Looking back now I see them as well, but I can tell you that at the time I felt like I was lost in the wilderness and trying to find my way home. It was lonely and terrifying, and outside of Brianne, I did not voice my interest in entrepreneurship to any other GC friends or colleagues.
Reflecting on this path now, it’s clear that it would be have been incredibly helpful to have a community of people who were also curious about where their GC career was taking them. A place where I could have explored these feelings of confusion about whether I wanted to pursue academia in the traditional sense. A place where I could talk about my creative writing practice and how it might guide me. Somewhere I could examine this Achiever identity to make sure I was achieving the things that were important to me as opposed to following the plan laid out by someone else because it’s what I thought I should do.
So when Brianne approached me to see if I was interested in creating this exact place with her, I jumped at the opportunity. We GCs have a lot on our collective plates. Most of us feel aligned with that Achiever label, which likely helped us land in this profession, but may also be a reason that burnout is a real thing for GCs. We want to create a safe, welcoming space for GCs to explore what it is they want in their lives. A space where it’s ok to question the traditional path or dive into your creative side.
Enter the Blue Ridge Retreat, set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, scheduled for May 2020. Here are a couple of reasons why you might want to join us:
Hit pause on the busyness of your life and treat yourself to a whole weekend of me-time
Explore possibilities for the future of your genetic counseling career
Assess whether your current GC position is fulfilling your needs
Dive deep into self-development solely for the sake of self-development (possibly my fave!)
Here’s the link to request more detailed information: Request More Information
and here’s the link to hold your spot: Reserve My Spot.
This will be an intimate weekend of ten GCs (people identifying as all genders welcome). We already have a couple spots filled, so what are you waiting for? As far as my own journey to entrepreneurship, the seeds that were planted did eventually bloom into my creative business, Orchid Story. After doing some deep internal work, I came to understand that the specific part of my job I was most passionate about was holding space for patients to voice their own stories. Combine that with my own lived experiences and the writing practice and voila, one of the central tenets of Orchid Story was born: that crafting a written narrative from our personal stories of struggle can provide us with a deep sense of healing and freedom.