Seventeen Weeks Without Heels - November 7, 2016

In 2010, I had a wake-up call – one of those traumatic life experiences that forces us to face our own mortality.  Not only did I have to admit that someday I would no longer have a tomorrow, but I also had to admit that every day of life is a gift and it is up to me to use my days to their fullest potential.    That was the day I came face to face with all the ways I defined myself, and quite frankly, I didn’t like many of those definitions.   I liked myself when I was the creative, energetic, smart, problem-solving co-worker that loved big projects – but somewhere along the line, I had morphed into someone else.  I had come to define myself by the company I worked for, the title I held, the size of my budget, and the number of people I led. I had been unwilling to admit it, but when I stared into the eye of my mortality, I suddenly realized I was an uptight, overweight, short tempered, hard driven, and deadline focused boss that asked my team to do more work than anyone should realistically be expected to do. 

Reading a description of myself with those characteristics was tough and hard to accept.

Thankfully, that traumatic experience also made me realize I didn’t have to keep those definitions.  I discovered I had the power to redesign my life and become whatever I wanted to become.  I buckled down and did the hard work:  I changed.  I changed where I lived, where I worked, how I spent my money, and how I used my time.  Most importantly, I raised my awareness to all the definitions of who I thought I was.  I kept the ones I liked, but I got rid of many and replaced them with definitions I loved.

Five years after that wake-up call, I loved how I defined myself.  I was the woman that religiously worked out four times a week, ran up the steps daily and challenged everyone around me to do the same. I lost 70 pounds and climbed mountains to stay physically fit.  I was the technologist that was anything but a geek, the parent that refused to confine her thoughts to the small town around her, and the classy woman that wore three-inch heels on the manufacturing floor and even in the barn behind my house.

The story doesn’t stop there because fate stepped in.  I injured my leg while climbing my favorite mountain.  An MRI showed that I tore the medial head of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle.  My doctor said “You tore that muscle as far as you could tear it without totally tearing it apart.  You will rest for two weeks – no work.  Then stay off your leg for eight weeks.  Limit your use of stairs. You can do upper body workouts, but no cardio.  No driving.  Oh, and after that muscle repairs itself, no heels!”

It didn’t hit me all at once, but when it did, it floored me.  In a flash, I lost every way I had defined myself for the last few years. I couldn’t run up the steps, and I couldn’t climb mountains. I couldn’t even do a cardio work out, and without cardio, my weight was in jeopardy.   I couldn’t drive, and when I got someone to drive me, it was painful to travel long distances, so I had to stay in my small town.  I couldn’t work so I didn’t readily have anything to do with a brain that usually kept busy tackling complex technical issues on an hourly basis.  Hell, I couldn’t even wear heels!   Gasp!  What cruel and unfair punishment, especially for someone who had worked so hard to redesign her life. 

I didn’t wallow in self-pity, though. I refused to define myself by the crutches I was using or pain that limited my activities.  I did, however, go psychologically numb.  For weeks on end, I let myself exist without definition. 

Then it hit me; this experience was a gift.  Yes, you read that right – a gift.  I was holding the piece of paper that defined Kelli Miller, and it was blank – an empty, unmarked, bone white gift.

My life has been all about personal growth. Growth requires change, and change only happens when you let go of what is.  When I left the farm to go to college, I had to let go of the habits that made me successful in high school and acquire new skills to thrive on campus.  When I left the Midwest to start a career on the East Coast, I had to let go of expectations so I could learn to expect new things from myself.  Every time I chose to change, the first step was a struggle.  It’s a bit scary to let go of the skills, habits, and benefits we enjoy; it’s a bit scary to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and step into the unknown.  Sometimes, the first new step is a long process.  It’s like a dance – you let go and try something new, then step back into the comfort of the old until you are ready to let go and try again. 

Before I hurt my leg, my life was full – in fact, fuller than full! I was successfully navigating enormous life change, working in technology, farming with my husband, pushing my physical fitness limits by climbing mountains, writing a book, and working through the initial publication steps. Quietly, however, my heart craved change - I was ready to be a published author.  I clung to the comfort of the known - I spent my time researching books, re-reading and re-writing, and training to climb more mountains.  When I was injured, I was forced to let go of all those things, and I found myself holding a clean slate. 

That’s why this blank canvas is a gift - there was no long, drawn out dance with change.  I let go of everything that defined me with ease, and I chose to fill the open space with new skills – the skills required to publish and promote a book. 

Life is funny that way – when you seek something new, you either choose to take the steps toward change on your own, or life hands you the situations that make the change happen for you. We can all benefit from going seventeen weeks without heels!