Heather Younger, J.D.
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So I'm the product of interracial and interfaith marriage. My mom is White and Jewish, my dad is Black and Christian. Yeah, you could see how might gone over growing up in the 1970's. My dad, was never invited to my grandmother's house for dinner. So occasionally my mom and I would just go by ourselves. My white cousins photos, they'd line the walls of my grandmother's house. But my photos, were nowhere to be seen. My grandmother hid my photos in her bedroom so her house guests couldn't see them. Once, she even told me that I'd be a better Heather, if my parents never married. I was the literal black sheep of the family. When I was 15, my mom broke the news to me that she was going to my grandpa's funeral without me. I was so confused. Why couldn't I go too? Over time it just became a pattern. She'd go to different family gatherings without me. When I was younger I had to stay home with my dad watching my favorite westerns on the television. He and I we didn't talk about the other stuff much. The first time I ever attended a large family gathering, it was my grandmother's funeral. I was 36. In the world of Orthodox Judaism, family is everything. But I've always been an outsider in my own family. Never fully being included because of my race. When you're a kid and you experience adversity like this, it's really easy to think that you did something wrong. Or that you're the problem. So from a very early age I got this deep feeling. That I wasn't good enough. Now the facts of my story are unique but adversity is not. Plenty of people experience traumatic things, whether it be physical abuse, neglect, divorce, or even racism. But it's not just the big stuff. We all experience adversity and challenges every day right? Maybe your manager's a jerk. Or you were rear ended in accident. Or your water heater busted and flooded your entire basement. Or for some of us maybe you just broke the heel on your brand new pair of expensive shoes. Here's the problem. We let adversity big or small stop us from achieving our goals. We act like victims. We don't know how to cope. We blame our lack of education for the position that we're in in our lives. But then we do very little to change it. We don't work out because we don't have time. And then we go to happy hour and complain that we're overweight. Or maybe that's just me, I don't know. We say we're going to leave our dead-end jobs, but we don't because we're either afraid no one else will hire us or we're afraid of change all together. In other words, we us adversity as an excuse. My Jewish grandmother with her thick Bronx accent used to call me her little "lawya'." So it's no surprise I went to law school trying to please her. A few years after practicing law, the partners called me into their office and said, "Heather, do you think that the practice of law is a good fit for you?" I was confused. They continued. "Are you happy because you're making a lot of mistakes in your work. And you just don't seem to be very focused enough." (Sighs) I sat there so ashamed of myself. Because it was true, I didn't feel fulfilled as a lawyer. But I worked so hard to get there. I just wanted to be good enough. But they fired me. And instead of working on my writing and my research skills and applying to other law firms, I let their perceptions of me completely derail my career. I quit the practice of law all together. I let adversity stop me in my tracks. Now that was almost 25 years ago, and since then I think of adversity differently. Now I've come to realize that no matter what, we can always change our mindset and overcome our current challenges. And good thing for me too because adversity was right around the corner. After quitting the practice of law, I got married, had four kiddos. And when my husband was building his business, my family depended quite a bit on my income. I was the main bread winner. I'd got wind that there might be a large round of layoffs coming at my new job. I thought I was safe. But then I just got this feeling, you know a kind of spidey senses. And then I talked to my boss and he seemed distant. And then I called HR, just for a general question but their response was unusual. I called my husband and told him that I thought the worst was coming. And unfortunately, I was right. I got that call, I packed up my stuff, I went down to HR, and I was gone. In one day I was devastated. I left there, I went to my church and I talked to my Pastor and he assured me that everything was going to be fine. I did not feel like everything was going to be fine. I was terrified. What was I going to do? Could I get another job? Could I cover my children's tuition? Would they have to change schools? You know what I mean, my head was spinning. Now I'm not going to lie for a day or two, or seven, I allowed myself to feel all those emotions of loss and rejection and maybe even a little anger. And then I started to think about all I had learned and gained from being in that role. And I thought, maybe this layoff could be a positive thing for me, maybe it could help me find what I was called to do. So I started to apply for jobs and write articles on LinkedIn. My very first article was about how to lay people off with dignity. That article jump started my career in employee loyalty. What I learned from that experience is that, rather than being a barrier to my success, my adversity and challenges could actually help me achieve great things. And you can too. Let me show you. First, think of an adversity or a challenge that you're facing right now. Maybe it's a health issue. Or your son decided not to go to college after all. Or maybe you were laid off like me. I want you to identify the underlying emotion that that adversity makes you feel. For me with the layoff, I was feeling lost and scared, and still not good enough. What does that look like for you? Next, I want you to determine whether that emotion is going to stop you or whether you can use it to move you forward. For me with that layoff, I refused to let their decision to lay me off be the end of my story. And last, reframe the adversity or challenge that you're having right now, to a positive. By replacing the irrational thoughts, with the rational ones. So in my case with the layoff, after spending those days of feeling lost and rejection and like my world was going to crumble, I thought wait a second, huh, I have a severance. I can use that to hold me over to build a business. I don't have to work for that jerk anymore. Yes, this layoff could be a huge opportunity. Psychology today calls this cognitive reframing. And psychologists use this all the time to help their clients through some really tough spots. The exciting thing is that we can all learn to automatically reframe. Think about it, let's say you fail a class and you're devastated. And you're thinking, ugh. But then you say wait a second, now I can actually learn the content because I have to go back and take it again. Or, your boyfriend breaks up with you and you feel rejected and hurt. But then you think, wait a second. Now I get to actually pursue the passions I couldn't before without any limitations or barriers. It's being very purposeful about reframing that makes all the difference. I never knew I was doing this my whole life but it worked so well. Several years ago I was working with a team member of mine on a presentation for a VP of a large organization. And she was just super nervous about it. And I asked her why. She confessed that she'd never felt comfortable presenting to executive leaders and then she said, "I always felt less than those with big titles." Oh I assured her she can do it and then I said listen, "People with big titles take their pants off and they put them on just like we do. And, their poop stinks too." She said, "Oh my gosh I never thought about it that way. But that does help settle my nerves quite a bit." She used my words to remove her mental barriers. She went on and did that presentation and she won the business anyway. She still credits that new way of thinking with it being easier for her to present to executive leaders. Her circumstances didn't change, but her mindset did. Or how about Sarah, Sarah was brand new to an organization working so hard to make a good impression on her coworkers. One day after responding to a widely sent email and pressing send, she realized that instead of attaching a list of department head contacts, she had attached a letter of personal hardship for a mortgage modification she had been working on. Quickly realizing what happened though, she sent another email that said, "Well, at least it wasn't a love letter." Now Sarah could have hidden in her office, crying uncontrollably thinking that her reputation was ruined. Instead, she automatically reframed what happened in a lighthearted way. Her coworkers got a kick out of it, and what could have left her looking really unprofessional actually brought her closer to her coworkers. Reframing is not going to change the facts of what's happening to us but it's a powerful and effective way to come up with more positive solutions to move forward. To not let adversity stop us. Because of this approach today, I'm a best selling author, an international speaker, an executive coach, a podcast host, and the mother of four beautiful children. Sure, I still get those feelings of not being good enough. But they're temporary. They don't paralyze me. When I think about my grandmother, and how my family treated me, it hurts. To this day, it hurts a lot. But I refuse to let their opinions of me be the end of my story, or the whole story. So then and what I did over time is I reframed how I thought about it. And I said, "Oh well, their loss. They didn't have me in their lives fully." And now it's a perfect time for me to use my voice to help others who didn't feel respected or important. When I was fired from that law firm, I actually felt pretty stupid. But again, I couldn't allow their decision to fire me to be what it was that was going to define what my future looked like. I knew I had a lot more greatness inside of me. And just recently I was in a car accident with my three children and we were supposed to be going on a road trip the following day. And at the scene I was just like ugh. And ugh and very inconvenient. But then, within an hour I remember saying, but at least now I have three days where I can catch up on things I've been putting off. And this accident might have been protecting me from a worse outcome on a longer road trip. See I reframe all the time. And by reframing all the time, I get stuck less. There is a lot more to tell you about adversity and my personal story, in fact, if you were to go the Encyclopedia and look up the word victim, you could have very well seen my face there. And I'm wondering how many of you are joining me there too. But you know what I did? I decided to reframe my circumstances, I deleted myself from that victim category, and you can too. No more excuses. One of my favorite quotes says, "A setback is a setup for a comeback." No matter your past, no matter what's happening right now, it does not have to stop you. You can choose to reframe how you think about it and persist anyway. Ladies and Gentlemen it is time for us to take control of our adversity and make it work for us. (Applause)