On Updating my Professional Headshot

Photo Credit: Tracy Kumono

Having slowly grown in my platform and public opportunities with both writing and speaking professionally as a nurse over the past four years, one of the greatest learning curves has been with navigating this idea of a public image. Looking to see what other people in the public eye do can be both inspiring and, well, nauseating. There are a lot of voices that come at you about how you should present yourself, how you should play the game of developing a public persona and voice.

I started this journey with a desire to speak from my heart, and if I was fortunate enough to connect effectively, speak to hearts as well. My fear is that without realizing what’s happening, I’ll begin listening to the siren song that says developing a strong voice with the things I write and speak about is for the sake of cultivating my own image as someone “up there.”

This is not to say I never struggle with pride. I wish I didn’t. But I hope to make choices in every step that continually help me remember what the point of this all really is, including my choice of a professional headshot. I don’t judge people who do the arms-crossed pose; I think it can be effective and even friendly when done right, when matched with real character. But my personal comfort level shies away pretty intensely from the corporate look; it simply doesn’t suit me at this stage. I don’t think leadership that talks eloquently all the time without ever truly listening is real leadership. My hope is to always be to others, both in real life and in a headshot, someone who listens, watches, and cares for them more than I care for myself. Introverted as I am, I want to lean in, connect, be with people where their hearts are at.

Because at the end of the day, I follow the model of Christ. He was with all of us in the trenches, loved, served and taught us from that heart. I follow Him and hope to be more and more like Him and only Him. 

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On the Verge of a Dream

It’s such a curious place to find myself in, on the verge of a dream.

I’ve seen this gap in terms of available resources to help nurses deal with the internal struggles triggered by what we deal with in our profession. While I appreciate the current journals, books and videos that tell some of the story of what nurses do, I also continue to long for something a bit different, a bit deeper. I was appalled by the sheer lack of TED or TEDx Talks on nursing. There are a good handful of medicine-related talks, but really only a limited few on nursing or nursing-related topics. With all that we see, experience, and grapple with, I simply cannot understand why nurses have not sought out or created more of a voice for who we are, what we do, what we struggle with, what we need. I’ve wanted a voice to exist. I’ve wanted to have a voice in that collective.

And now, I do. I’ve been granted a couple of opportunities to contribute to Off the Charts, the blog for the American Journal of Nursing, and this has been amazing to be a part of the conversation with a broader audience of nurses. And then I recently got accepted as a TEDx Talk speaker for TEDx Pasadena Women! I still can hardly believe it. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. There can be fear and burden with blessing. Who knew.

The writing feels a bit easier to work with. I remain relatively anonymous, and I have a bit more space and time to create the piece I want. Having a wonderful editing experience is extremely helpful too. Somehow, it feels safer.

The TEDx Talk really kicks it up a notch. The TEDx team prepares you really well with fantastic coaching and guidance over three months. But public speaking in and of itself is just an intense experience, and this platform for public speaking feels crazy. To have to pull it off in front of a live audience on a rather big stage, and then to know that the video will be put out there for anyone and everyone to see (and scrutinize)…it’s just really hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I’m actually going to have this as a part of my story.

I have no idea where this is going to go. It could go terribly, it could be mediocre and fizzle out with little “fanfare,” or it could launch into something even more. Even in being received well overall, there will be plenty of critics, I’m sure, and that’s something I’ll need to be prepared for. Am I ready to take on the Internet trolls?

I suppose it’s true when people say that this is kind of a big deal. Not everyone gets a chance to be on the TEDx Talk stage and speak about something they feel really passionately about! And yet I think it’s important to actively fight to maintain perspective. I want to enjoy it for all the amazing blessing it is, and glory in the Lord for His grace and generosity to me. Yet big picture, I remain a small fish in a big pond, just doing my part. I can already feel all the lure of supposed success, the lie that says “If you invest in all of this potential success, then you will be Someone. Not just the part-time bedside nurse otherwise cloistered at home picking up toys and changing diapers.” I’ve got two littles at home who don’t understand TEDx or journal publication – they only understand love and humility and presence from their Mama. I’ve got to keep asking, what matters more at the end of each day? The world can promise fame and fulfillment and then it can turn against you on a dime, find something irrelevant to criticize you about, say you’ve grown out of date and then you’ve gone from Someone to No One. Lasting fulfillment only comes from resting secure that I’m already Christ’s Beloved, already called for the greatest purpose of knowing Him, called to love the most important people He’s put right under my roof. All the rest, all this growing ‘success,’ it’s given as a gift for me to enjoy and share, and what God chooses to do with it, that’s up to Him. My core purpose remains.

on breeding fruit flies and the fruit of it

I saw this story about fruit flies and sex on NPR’s website this morning, and it brought me back to the days of my first job in college. Breeding fruit flies. I made it happen. Well, not really, because apparently it’s the smell of rotting fruit that really makes it happen. But I helped. My bosses ran a genetics research laboratory, and sadly I can’t honestly even tell you what bigger picture genius they were aiming for in their research. They might have been fighting cancer as the fruit of my labor with these little buggers. All I knew at the time was that I came in every day to boxes containing vial after vial of many different lines of fruit flies. Each vial contained rotting banana at the bottom, and that’s where the squirmy larvae would grow and eventually hatch. Sure enough, after a week or so of transferring a mini swarm of flies into a new vial, the larvae would appear, followed by the next generation of little Justins and Annas. (Apologies if your name is Justin or Anna. I chose these names with no particular people in mind!) Sometimes, not many youngin’s would appear, and there might be only two or three flies in a new vial that should have ideally contained at least ten or so. My job was then to look to see if there was at least one male and one female (distinguished by the rounder abdomen of the male, as opposed to the longer, pointier abdomen of the female), transfer those two into a new vial, and pray that they would find each other attractive enough to want to make new baby larvae together. Other times, a vial would contain just a handful of some lethargic, sickly-looking flies. If that was the case, I would bring the vial to my boss who would immediately put the vial into the fruitfly ICU. I never actually knew what that meant. Did they get intubated? Were their wings restrained for awhile so they could conserve energy? Were they sedated with the fruitfly version of Versed? Alas. It wasn’t a glorious job, and it took me awhile to master the art of transferring flies from one vial to another without losing the whole swarm when I removed the cotton ball cork from the original vial. I was surrounded by unintentionally freed flies a lot in my first couple weeks on the job and probably bred some mutant strains as a result, but eventually I got the hang of it.

So anyhow, if you’ve actually read this far, I owe you a cup of coffee or something just for indulging me in my crazy and somewhat disgusting reminiscence. All this to say, I sure have come a long way in articulating my career goals and moving towards them. I am certain that my boss in the fruitfly research lab knew I wan’t planning to make a long-term career out of it. But I was there to work, and to work honestly. To learn how to be responsible with coming in when I was supposed to come in, show respect to my bosses and coworkers, and breed those little bugs to the best of my ability.

I remember looking for another part-time job during college, and hearing from a friend how she had really enjoyed working at Olive Garden as a food server. I didn’t know the slightest thing about food service, and I was so shy and awkward at the time, I was certainly not really cut out for it. Plus the fact that I had very few interviewing skills under my belt. I remember randomly walking into a local Olive Garden that had a sign posted, “Hiring Now!” The manager sat down with me and asked, “So, why do you want to go into food service?” My answer? “…Ummm…. I don’t know….” Needless to say, he kept that interview short and I never heard from him again.

I am grateful that through the course of much soul-searching, a number of very different experiences in different kinds of work, and not a small amount of tears, I have come to a place where I know with 110% certainty that I love what I do, and I have the privilege and opportunity to actually do it. Sometimes it’s so hard to see where the road is taking us, but there are lessons to be learned with each unexpected stop and detour along the way if we are open to them. Moving forward through the rougher patches on the road helps to clarify and refine our desires, and it makes the reaching of our goals that much sweeter. Don’t get me wrong; my job is not my life, nor is it my identity. But I do find it so wonderfully fulfilling. Yes, believe it or not, even more fulfilling than bringing new fruit flies into the world.

a search for a sort of life

I recently started reading a most curious book titled Working by Studs Terkel, a Pulitzer-prize winning author. Written in the 70s, the book is a collection of interviews with an unpredictable variety of people about the work that they do, day in and day out. Interviewees include a heavy equipment operator, airline reservationist, hooker, sanitation truck driver, film critic, cabdriver, bar pianist, gas meter reader, piano tuner, hospital aide, gravedigger, and many more. I’m only a few interviews into the book, but already my perspective is changing, widening. That’s one of the things I love about reading, the way certain authors are able to cultivate affection and deep concern in your heart towards the characters they present. Some fantastic reads this past year that have had this effect on me have included Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

Anyhow, I digress.  This book by Terkel is brilliant, and it’s gotten me thinking about the work we do. It’s a curious thing, how work can be such a huge part of our lives and yet be so far sometimes from who we really are. I love my job as a nurse, I feel very much called to it and shaped for it, and yet I have plenty of insecurities in my capabilities. Even after very wonderfully rewarding days at work, I am always happy to be going home because… well, home is home. Despite my very personal sense of calling and belonging in this profession, I also experience these other moments when it’s so clear that while this is my work, it is not me. After all, things like writing or photography express and bring out parts of me that most people at work will probably never see. And yet somehow I think that if I were to ever become a professional writer or a professional photographer, my feelings about these activities would change once those became my work. It’s funny how that is.

A lot of times, when I see custodians in the hospital or in hotels where I happen to be vacationing, I wonder a lot about how they feel about their work. I don’t mean to be patronizing. But I think it is safe to say that the majority of people who work in these positions would most likely prefer to have other occupations, if they had the opportunity. I remember attending a conference at a lovely hotel in Chicago many years ago, and I saw an older custodian in a hallway as I was headed to the ladies’ room. It had obviously been a very long, busy day for him. I stopped and said to him, “Thank you so much for serving us.” I didn’t say it because I’m so noble or virtuous, I just really meant it. He had done a lot for us and I just felt like I ought to thank him. I remember the startled but most sincerely grateful expression on his face. “Oh…!  …You’re welcome.” A number of people in Terkel’s book talk about how they feel like robots, animals, anything but human in their work. Less than human.  And so Terkel says,

It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.

How do you feel about your work? Do you find it life-giving, or the opposite? Or both?

say yes to the dolphin

We first met at the Mount Hermon Career / Young Adult conference. You were a workshop speaker, and I was there from a small local seminary to network with pastors and other leaders. When we started talking on that last day of the conference, it was purely business on my end. I did, however, remember hearing a lot of people make unsolicited remarks throughout the week about how much you had impacted their lives for the better, and that made an impression on me. When we started dating, my boss laughingly said, “I didn’t send you there to find a husband!” I shrugged and said, hey, I networked.

We had similar temperaments and similar life goals. I felt incredibly safe with you. I remember saying to you early in our dating life that I just didn’t think there were guys like you out there anymore. I remember when you invited friends over for a sushi feast after a spectacular tuna fishing trip. For hours, I just watched people walk in and out of your house as if it was their own home. Your heart was and is so big. The sink got clogged with fish remnants and fishy water at one point in the evening and flooded the entire kitchen floor with fish-gut water. As calm as could be, you went about cleaning the floor as if it was just a small spill. I marveled.

You endured all the wariness that came from my lovingly protective parents, and weathered their grilling the night you asked for my hand. You recruited a dolphin to help with your proposal in Oahu, Hawaii. How could I say no to a dolphin? I kid. That was so creative, so outside-the-box, so you.

In our first months of marriage, I was so amazed that you were my husband. So I would constantly just address you, in awe, as “husband.” You would respond, “wife.” I find it hilarious that we still call each other as such, but with a different, more comfortable, and well, less romantic tone, and people who hear us find it amusing and almost insulting. But we know how it started.

Outside of your crazy sushi skills, I love that you went from having all of three items in your refrigerator – an old ketchup bottle, a small foil-wrapped packet of soy sauce, and a half-empty bag of baby carrots when we first met – to becoming one of the most elaborate cooks I know. Your repertoire now includes pulled pork tostadas, mango mochi, and sweet tamales. Oh how I have domesticated you!

People say that once you get married, you discover all the weaknesses of the other person. But I constantly think about how I have been so blessed to have seen your strengths and your integrity shine through more than anything. Of course we’ve had our differences and our issues that we have needed to work out, as any two individuals would when they try to bring their lifestyles and habits and preferences together under one roof. But you have consistently treated me with love and respect. You look away from scantily-clad women on the television and fix your gaze on me. When I have spoken with grumpy, sharp words, I see you pause and make a choice time and time again to only respond with gentleness and kindness. You have always made it clear that I am not a “pastor’s wife,” but I am your wife. You live an incredibly generous life. At times I struggle to keep up, but you are always patient, always gracious, and always inspiring. You have always sought to protect me, from things outside of me as well as the voices in my own head that can sometimes be too harsh. You have been a safe place for my heart. You show me through your life who God is, and who I am as His beloved.

I have no doubt I take you for granted more often than not. But as our 7-year anniversary approaches, I want you to know that there is no one else in the world that I would have rather spent the past 7 years of marriage with, and there is no one else I could imagine going forward in life with, in all its joys, storms, twists and turns.

I love you, husband.

– wife

when romance becomes reality

He married a very pretty girl. No one was surprised that he fell so hard for her. I mean, she was without fail the one that guys would see in a group photo of many good-looking folks, point out and ask in an overcurious tone, “Who’s that?” He beamed on his wedding day; he didn’t think she could look any more beautiful, but his bride was beyond stunning. Many men envied him: he gets to wake up every day with her. Many women envied her: she probably wakes up every day looking effortlessly perfect.

A few months after the wedding, I overheard him say, “Oh… after you get married, all the makeup comes off.

The thrill of romance is, I believe, still a God-given gift despite its ability to blind us a bit (or a lot). From it springs forth great dreams, exhilarating hopes, longings for an ideal way of being. It is good and important and thrilling to dream and hope and long for a redeemed world. It keeps us from settling for just-ok, just-the-way-things-are. Hence the wise advice I received during my engagement period to not just love my husband for the long run, but to remain enduringly in love.

But sustaining romance is not easy in marriage, nor is it easy in other aspects of life. A couple months after I started my new career as a nurse in my dream job, someone asked me if the honeymoon period was over yet. I had to admit, the cleaning of some unbelievable bedpans, and the futile attempts over many hours to soothe an unsootheable child, was quenching a bit of the zeal I initially felt about working in a challenging pediatric intensive care unit. After you get married, all the makeup comes off.

My friend whom we affectionately call Chia once shared this quote: “I want to live a life that is closer to the oppressed than to the oppressor.” Entire books can and surely have been written based on the principle behind this quote. Suffice for now to say that I have dreamt a lot about what the living-out of this quote could look like in my life. I long for this kind of life. But if I’m honest, I long for it in a romantic kind of way and I still fear, and resist, what it might mean for me in reality.

These dear friends have decided to enter into the tension between romance and reality, with a deep burden to know and care for those living in the inner city. To move from what feels like a safe(r) distance of love, into the inner city itself, to risk being close. Closer. Uncomfortably closer still. They have big dreams, and they are not so naïve to think that they are not still in that romantic phase.

But I am hopeful and full of faith for them, and I am inspired to keep dreaming for their life and my own. Because I am convinced that the transition from romance into reality is not just a one-way street, with no looking back. I am hopeful that there exists, rather, an ebb and flow where romance helps to fuel a vision for reality, and reality helps to remove some of those more naïve blinders of romance, thus refining our core and bringing forth an even deeper vision. True, after you get married, all the makeup comes off. But from that, something even more beautiful than we can ask or imagine emerges, and we learn what it is to truly love and stay in love.