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Last Friday, TeamWomen hosted 630 professionals at our 8th Annual Leadership Conference. From leadership best practices to brand presence, the day was filled with inspiration, motivation, and powerhouse speakers that brought our audience to their feet! Want to learn more about them? Listen to a few of their stories on Roshini Rajkumar’s podcast, Real Leaders with Roshini.

Miki Huntington, former Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot and faculty member of Minneapolis Community and Technical College, recently sat down with Rajkumar to talk about her incredible journey — including her time working at the White House. Listen here.

Angelina Lawton, CEO of Sportsdigita, also shared her story with Rajkumar. Recently named by Forbes as one of the 30 Most Powerful Women in Sports, Lawton has made a name for herself. The tech company has about 350 professional teams and continues to grow. Listen here.

Thank you to everyone who joined us at our conference. We already have our 2020 conference in the works, so stay tuned!

 

 

By Caryn Sullivan | St. Paul Pioneer Press | TeamWomen Member and Guest Columnist

As seen in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on March 10, 2019.

It’s been a painful slide into the sunset for Patty Sagert and her family as the man who was a successful entrepreneur and family patriarch has slowly left them, another victim of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a group of symptoms that impair one’s capacity to remember and think and to exercise judgment or reason. As the disease progresses, the ability to express oneself or control one’s behavior declines, rendering the maintenance of relationships increasingly problematic.

Lucidity is fluid. Even the closest family members are intermittently recognized and forgotten.

It’s heartbreaking to witness. It requires patience and stamina for loved ones, for we can live a long time with the incurable disease.

The youngest of three children, Sagert, a resident of Roseville, reached a reluctant reconciliation with a disease to which she was no stranger. While two of her grandparents succumbed to it, observing it in her 20s was a wholly different experience than managing it as an adult child.

The worst day of her life, she says, was luring her father into his first memory-care facility under the auspices of a white lie. Ten years after his diagnosis, tears flow as she recalls that day.

But that was just the beginning. Her caregiving duties intensified when her father experienced a stroke and multiplied when her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

We all deal with challenges differently. Some of us run toward them, others run away, yet others become paralyzed or immobilized. That’s certainly true for families dealing with Alzheimer’s.

For some family members, it’s just too painful to remain engaged.

Some assume there is no point in visiting the patient, for he doesn’t recognize them anyway.

Others commit themselves to doing whatever it takes to care for their loved one.

Sagert faced her father’s challenges and needs head-on, driven by her innate optimism, faith, and a determination to do everything she could to ensure he is afforded the care and respect he deserves.

Yet, their visits are unpredictable. “It’s never easy to put the code into the door, not knowing what you are going to walk into. You never know. But if you don’t go, what’s worse?”

She recognizes that adversity arrives with a choice to become embittered or to find a way to become better.

For her, living the better choice has involved being present wherever she is, whatever the circumstances. “Wherever my feet are I’m just going to do the best with what I have,” she says.

It’s surely not easy.

An app on her phone connects to security cameras she installed strategically in her father’s private room to ensure he would receive help if he fell, as he often does.

With the technology their ally, both she and her sister-in-law maintain a constant state of vigilance, though there is a fine line between ensuring a vulnerable adult’s safety and respecting his privacy and dignity.

Because individuals can live with Alzheimer’s for many years, it saps energy and causes prolonged sadness and grief for loved ones, as well as social isolation for both patients and caregivers.

There’s a term for what Sagert and many others are experiencing.

According to Minnesota author and Ph.D. Pauline Boss, “ambiguous loss” refers to a state in which one finds herself living with one who is gone but not gone, physically present but psychologically absent. While there is a distinct sense of loss, unlike a death there is no closure while the disease persists.

In “Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping With Stress and Grief,” Boss explains that while we can’t control dementia we can control how we manage and perceive it.

Embracing, rather than combatting the ambiguity, allows one to live with it, she explains. Even that small measure of control can make an untenable situation tolerable.

Understanding that she is experiencing ambiguous loss has been helpful for Sagert and helped her to find purpose in the midst of grief.

Though the world as she knew it has contracted under the weight of caregiving duties, it’s also grown through connections she’s forged with kindred spirits online and through a grassroots organization called Elder Voice Family Advocates.

She’s testified twice before the Minnesota Legislature about safety and security issues for the elderly and the value of installing cameras in their residences.

She’s alarmed by the dearth of information available to consumers who are investigating memory-care options. She’s advocating for more transparency and accountability in an industry that is not subject to the same regulations as the nursing home industry.

Her goal is to make a difference. Though she may not help her dad, she wants to help the next generation of families like hers by pushing for information about staffing ratios and complaints lodged against and addressed by memory-care facilities.

When they are informed, she can help others to make residential and caregiving decisions based on facts, not emotions.

With the sun setting for Sagert’s father, the family has added an additional layer of care. Hospice will make his last months or days as comfortable as possible, be it through medication, therapies or an additional set of eyes.

Given the family history of Alzheimer’s, Sagert’s been ruminating over which would be worse: to not remember or not be remembered. Though I can’t predict whether Alzheimer’s will visit her, I predict the loving daughter, servant leader, and advocate who chose the better way will not be forgotten.

Caryn Sullivan inspires others to find the “better” way in and out of life’s experiences through her columns in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, her award-winning memoir, “Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page,” and her inspirational keynotes. To learn more of her work, visit carynmsullivan.com.

By Caryn Sullivan | St. Paul Pioneer Press | TeamWomen Member and Guest Columnist

This column originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on February 24, 2019.

Bad news comes on many fronts – a cancer diagnosis, a death or loss of a job. While we often can’t control the circumstances, we can control our response. Which means life can deliver us to a crossroads with a challenge to make a difficult choice, one that may require us to pull up our big-kid pants and forge ahead.

I’ve adopted a framework that has helped me to sort through challenges large and small, trivial and life-altering. It’s simple, though not easy.

When bad news or bad luck visits, will I be bitter? Or will I be better?

Just over 16 months ago, Kim Insley found herself at the crossroads of bitter or better. Though some might have taken a different course, she chose better.

For more than 24 years, Insley called KARE 11 home. She woke up just before 2 AM through good weather and bad, assumed the Sunrise anchor chair and ushered Minnesotans into a new day. Then, in October 2017, she was told it was time to relinquish the chair.

There was no forewarning, but the news was not wholly unexpected. Insley worked in an industry that is undergoing dramatic change, where others eagerly waited in the wings to step in were she to step out.

She didn’t take it personally, for she understood the business side of her profession. Decisions are made on the basis of economics. She knew the industry was in flux, that the economic model had changed, that the owners were trying to adapt and that they owed a fiduciary duty to shareholders, not employees.

She didn’t ask for an explanation. What was the point? She always knew she didn’t own the anchor chair.

And she felt her time there had run its course. Her children were grown. It no longer served her family for her to work the brutally early shift.

She had planned to leave when her contract was up. The station’s decision to make a change simply advanced the timetable.

Rather than focusing on the “why,” Insley focused on the “what” and the “how.” What new opportunities awaited her? How would she move forward?

Her attitude served her well. Today, Insley is a Public Relations and Communications Manager for Meet Minneapolis. The position hits on many cylinders important to her – working for a nonprofit, engaging with both the community and local corporations, allowing her to use skills she mastered in front of the camera in new ways, and to continue to grow and acquire additional skills, for public relations and television news are different animals.

Insley says she has straddled two generations that bring different approaches to careers. Her parents’ generation tended to be loyal to a career. Members of her generation were more inclined to take a job and hope that things would work out for the best. The younger generation realizes that to be successful one must own her career, she says, and that approach is instructive to all.

It means taking responsibility for what you do and where you’re going.

It means examining what one can do to be the best possible person for herself, her employer and her career.

It means stepping out of our comfort zone and reaching out to strangers. Never stop networking, she says. Connecting people is fun. It’s not about helping yourself. It’s about helping others, though you never know how it might circle back.

Her advice applies to more than the broadcast media business. Many industries are undergoing dramatic and unsettling change, driven by a host of factors beyond the control of both employers and employees. Weathering change well requires one to understand the trends and the forces at play, as well as to prepare for and adapt to new expectations and practices by continually examining how to remain valuable in a dynamic workplace.

What advice does Insley have for others who may find themselves at the crossroads of bitter or better?

Always keep learning. With an innate curiosity, journalism was a great fit for Insley. But one not need be a professional storyteller to be a perpetual student. What are we here for if not to be lifelong learners, she asks? You’re really closing yourself off if you think you have all the answers.

Set money aside. Losing her job didn’t cause her financial hardship. She and her husband, a real estate professional, were good savers, for he also works in an unpredictable industry that is undergoing change.

Always be thinking about the next step. Be flexible and accept what you can and can’t control.

Recognize that change is inevitable and complex.

Regardless of how much we anticipate and plan for change, it’s still difficult. Insley spent many years developing relationships with her co-workers. Some were professional, others personal. Some of the best advice she received was to give herself time to grieve, for once you leave the job those relationships are never quite the same.

At the end of the day, Insley says, a job is just a job, regardless of the industry or profession in which one earns a living. Though it may feel like the end of the world when it ends, it is not. Embrace the next opportunity and power ahead.

Kim Insley will emcee on April 26 at TeamWomen’s 8th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference, a full-day event that features inspiring, hopeful stories from powerful female leaders around the Twin Cities. If you’d like to attend or get more information, click here.

By Caryn Sullivan | St. Paul Pioneer Press | TeamWomen Member and Guest Columnist

This piece originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on February 3, 2019.

The words “don’t bother” or “you won’t make it” don’t resonate with Miki Huntington. In fact, when told not to bother, her instinct is always to push back, for if one doesn’t try or ask, one will never know. Huntington has done so more than once in her lifetime with impressive results.

Take high school. Her family was poor. There was no money for college, or even applications. Huntington could apply to only one school and she’d set her sights on UCLA. But her school counselor told her not to bother applying. Take a look at junior colleges, she said.

Huntington’s response reflected her innate confidence and tenacity. She ignored the counselor, applied to UCLA and was accepted, as was her twin sister.

Though they worked several jobs, the girls needed another way to make it work. Taking different paths, both sisters ended up in the ROTC program, which is where Huntington pushed back once again.

She wanted to fly helicopters. But when she mentioned her interest to her ROTC instructor, he discouraged her from pursuing the idea. She’d never be accepted, he said, so she shouldn’t bother to apply.

Huntington ignored his advice and was not only accepted, but ultimately became a lieutenant colonel and flew Black Hawk and Huey helicopters.

She was offered a position in the Bush White House working for Vice President Dick Cheney. Huntington never imagined she would work in the White House. For a girl who was counseled to go to junior college, the experience was surreal.

But she’s skilled at making choices that lead to opportunities and tuning out naysayers who don’t share her confidence or vision of where her life might go.

She operates under the 80 percent rule: There will never be perfect timing. If you’re 80 percent ready to do something, go for it.

Huntington has led a rather unusual life for a Minnesota resident. English is her second language. Born to a Japanese mother and a black American father, she spent the first 10 years of her life in Japan.

She learned how to be resourceful and resilient from her mother. After her divorce, her mother moved her twin daughters to the United States, became a citizen and enrolled in community college. Taking one course at a time, she learned English and ultimately earned a degree at age 73.

To her daughters, she demonstrated the value of being a lifelong learner and inspired them to follow suit.

Huntington continued her education in the Army, honing her expertise with the Japanese language and obtaining a master’s degree in international studies. Her sister retired from the Air Force as a full colonel and went on to study in New York.

Though she was honored to have the opportunity to serve, Huntington didn’t plan for a career in the military. Rather, she’d anticipated she would fulfill her commitment, then move on when the time was right.

It was the people to her left and right who kept her in the military for so long, she says. Though she didn’t always feel like she fit in, she experienced no sense of discrimination based on her race or gender, she said. The helicopters she flew didn’t know if she was male, female, black or white.

It was 25 years, three countries, and multiple deployments before the time was right. In 2011, Huntington retired from the Army and moved to Excelsior with her husband, a Minnesota native she met in South Korea.

Several weeks after she retired in her 40s, she finally embarked on the career she’d dreamed of since she was in fourth grade.

These days, Miki, as she prefers to be called, can be found at Minneapolis Community and Technical College by day and Metro State University one night per week.

In the classroom and online, she’s drawing upon both her military and personal life experiences to engage students in thoughtful, respectful discussions about American government, political science, and world politics, as well as educational philosophy and planning.

By sharing some of her experiences, views, and perspective, she encourages her students to feel more comfortable sharing their own.

She chooses her words carefully as she facilitates potentially contentious discussions about current issues with students ranging in age from 16 to 72 and whose political views run the gamut.

She finds that students are more respectful and less combative in the classroom than online. Instead of asking students what they think about hot-button issues, she asks them to explain why they hold certain beliefs and how they came to them.

She’s never forgotten the conversations with adults who didn’t share her confidence in her ability to make things happen for herself. Those experiences inform the way she approaches her role in the classroom.

While the folks who dissuaded her had no malicious intent, their words stayed with her. Whether as teachers, mentors, parents, or superiors in the workplace, we need to be mindful of how we communicate, she says.

“Things that adults say have such an impact on young people. It’s so important to remember that.”

“That’s really the better way. There are so many negative things that we, without thinking, can say to our younger people without realizing the long-term impact,” she says. “I’m 50 years old now and I’m still thinking about that high school counselor.”

Miki Huntington will speak on April 26 at TeamWomen’s 8th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference, a full-day event that features inspiring, hopeful stories from powerful female leaders around the Twin Cities. If you’d like to attend or get more information, click here.