Everyone has a story. Here’s mine.
I was living in Washington, D.C. It had been two years since I left college. I was doing some personal training and I was trying to create a career in IT. I had zero passion for IT. I was trying to figure out what I was “supposed” to do to make money and secure a good future. At that time, IT seemed to be “it”. I got training and that led to a job I had at the time.
Morning of 9-11
That morning I had finished training a client at a gym and was about to leave for my IT job in Arlington. I caught a glimpse of the TV and I could not believe it. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were showing the North Tower in smoke. I could not step away from the TV. I was convinced it was an accident just like they were until I watched the second one hit.
I remember being so confused. WTF?! is happening? Frozen, the only thing I could think to myself is “Do your job. Go to work and do your job.” So I headed in to the Arlington office and just as I was walking in the door a co-worker came in and yelled “I just saw a plane hit a building and now there is smoke.” Frozen again, the only thing I could think is “tell people.” So I walked around the office telling everyone I knew. One consultant’s dad worked at the Pentagon in a high level position. She was inconsolable. The office was complete chaos. Parents left to go pick up their kids from school. I had nobody to go home to and there was a TV at work so I just stayed and watched the day unfold.
The more I heard about the loss of life. Each story of loved ones lost put a tear in my heart. But I really lost it when the towers crumbled. I don’t know why, but watching that scene shocked me like nothing I have experienced before.
Reflecting on Myself
I couldn’t help but be introspective that day. I felt lucky to be alive. But I also felt empty. Deep down I knew I wasn’t happy. I knew that if I lost my life, I would not have felt like I was living my best. I wasn’t really taking care of my health – that was one thing. But the big disconnect was that I was not doing something I loved. I felt like I was meant to connect with people, not code. (No offense to my peeps who love HTML but I could not give a rats ass about programming).
My head hit the pillow that night after hours of watching the news. I remember thinking
“You are not truly happy. You are not where you are meant to be. What are you going to do about it?”
I knew one thing. I was no longer going to think about what I “should” do. I was going to start searching for my passions. I always had an appreciation for life, but I didn’t want to waste it anymore.
9/12 Less than 24 hours later
I had training clients scheduled so I drove to downtown and on my passed the Pentagon. I could not believe that smoke was still coming out of the building at about 6 a.m. Even though my window was rolled up, the smell of burning smoke filled my car. I won’t ever forget that smell.
It really wasn’t that hard to take action and create change in my life. I started exercising again as a way to cope with all my feelings. It started with a one mile run, then a 5K and within about a year my first marathon.
As far as career choices, I always knew I liked nutrition. I thought I could help people eat healthy. I figured maybe it would finally teach me how to eat well. I mean, I knew things like “get fruits and veggies” but what I did was totally different. My daily breakfast was “muffins and mochas”. I had a long way to go.
Within a few weeks of 9/11 I looked into nutrition programs in D.C. I learned about the RD credential, which you need to do individual counseling. It’s basically like RN and MD. You need to pass a board exam. I found out there was a program. I took my transcript to the University and got my answer. It would take me between 5-6 years part time to get a nutrition degree after all my chemistry degree transfers. Then an internship. Before I left the University that day I picked up an application.
I had one life. I was not going to waste it.
Starting to Feel Alive Again
About six weeks after 9/11 I met the man who would eventually become my husband. His first words to me as I walked by him and looked in his eyes was “why are you so smiley?” (I was flirting, Andy). I knew I had a connection to him. And let’s just say that I had something to focus on and get excited about. We got married about 4 years later. I can’t imagine my life without him. We tell each other “I love you” every single day.
10 Years later
Running challenged me like nothing else and even to this day it helps me push through mental barriers. Since 9/11 I have completed dozens of marathons, triathlons, and even ultra marathons.
This is me after JFK 50 miler. It took me 11.5 hours!
I’m not the fastest, but who cares about that. I have legs and the ability to move my body. I’m healthy and exercise contributes to my well-being.
I finished my nutrition degree while working. It ended up taking me 6 years. In my last year of nutrition classes, I decided that I wanted a master’s degree so I enrolled in a program at Johns Hopkins University for a masters in health communications. (It’s one thing to know the science, but you gotta be able to talk to people about it.)
During my educational journey I changed tremendously and changed a lot of lives. When I experienced the impact I could have by sharing knowledge in speaking, blogging, and counseling during my nutrition internship, I knew I would start a business where I could do what I wanted to help people live better.
This is me with Brain-Food an after school culinary program for inner city D.C. kids. I was showing them how to put together a balanced breakfast.
I started a nutrition counseling business and shortly after a speaking and consulting business in 2007. It wasn’t easy and there were lots of ups and downs along the way. Many days I cried from the pressure and stress and uncertainty during the classes, my graduate thesis, and rigorous internship. But I kept fighting through it. I thought about 9/11 when I needed to answer “why” am I doing this? Images are forever burned into my head and heart.
These days, just a few years after starting my business I could not be more satisfied and grateful for my life. It is an honor to do my job. Every single day I work, I observe myself helping bring peace to someone else. I get “thank yous” and clients share their epiphany stories. More times than I can count, clients have (in one way or another) told me something that I will never tire hearing.
You have changed my life.
Every time I hear something like that, see it in their eyes, and in their smile it fills one of those tears in my heart from ten years ago.
My husband also went through a major career change. We had something in common in that we didn’t like our jobs – just each other :) He had been trained in broadcast journalism, but like me, he was chasing security and not passion. He ended up losing his job in a re-organization and rather than get another dead end job he’d hate, he started doing videography and photography projects. Just as he was setting up a business, he got a call from a fellow WVU journalism alumnae that would change his life.
“Andy, we need to hire you for a few days to cover the Ford funeral. Can you do it?”
It was NBC News.
Andy is now a full time camera photographer for NBC News. He could not be more proud to do anything else and I could not be happier for him.
We can never forget, but we must go on. We must live more meaningful lives.
That’s what I was searching for after 9/11 – a more meaningful life. I have a lot more to do. I want to accomplish more in my career, start a family, and travel.
Share Your Story
Writing this has been my therapy for this day. I feel proud of how far I’ve come – not in dollars or career success, but in my commitment to myself to make a difference in the world. I’m not a soldier or a firefighter or a police officer, but I am so grateful for those who are. You guys are protecting me so I can do what I love.
My husband is covering the 9/11 memorial service at the Pentagon for NBC News. So he is doing his part in helping you remember.
We are all connected. What is your story? What do you have to say 10 years later?