Grasping Opportunities

Hello everyone! I apologize for my absence lately; life has been a tad busy but none the less I have a fantastic read for you all today. I stumbled upon this inspirational lady on social media and I highly suggest you do the same. This lady gave everything up to follow her dream and find her true happiness, something that the majority of us do not have the guts to do. 

 

Name: Ashley Jonas

Age: 27Jonas, Ashley

Education: B.S. Graphic Communications (2011) from MSU Moorehad, 200hr E-RYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher) and various fitness class trainings such as Budokon Yoga, Bodypump, PiYo, etc.

Employment: I’m currently teaching yoga and fitness classes at Mojo Fit Studios, MSU Moorhead, and Family Wellness. I also do some freelance graphic design in my spare time.

Background: I grew up in New York Mills, MN, so I’m used to living in a small community.  From a young age, I always saw my parents hustling to provide for our family. Both parents worked tirelessly so we could live a decent life. I thought that’s what being an adult meant–work, work, and more work. So I worked hard through high school. I was a straight A student and was involved in everything I could get into during my free time. Luckily I was able to focus on school and extracurriculars without having to get a part-time job. I earned loads of scholarships for college, and headed out to MSUM. But life wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. I struggled with what a lot of people go through at a young age, especially young women. I struggled with perfectionism and the need to feel important. I developed an eating disorder, continued to bust my butt for a perfect GPA and did double workouts while training as a high jumper on the MSUM track team. I was very unhappy. During my freshman year of college, I finally broke down and asked for help. From there I began the long process of healing, both physically and emotionally.

I graduated from MSUM in 2011 and I got a good, safe job as a graphic designer in the marketing department of MSUM, moving up from student designer to intern to full-time. During this time, I started the journey into personal development and yoga. I became a part-time fitness instructor on top of my full time job. It was a great way to break up the day and also get around people outside of my office. But I knew there was something more out there besides sitting at a desk all day, and I loved fitness. So I quit my job. I don’t recommend just up and quitting without at least a little bit of a plan, but I did it. Luckily, it worked out for me. Mojo Fit Studios had just opened up and coincidentally, or by fate, someone told me to contact the owner and teach for the studio since I had just completed my yoga teacher training certification. I was hired! I packed my schedule with yoga classes to keep busy and provide a good part-time income. From here, my life propelled into that of what I’d always imagined. I had to work hard and hustle big time, but it’s very much worth all the effort.

Present Day:  The great thing is that life just keeps going and always gets better, regardless of how crappy it may seem sometimes. I’ve had a lot of life bumps and have discovered so much about myself and what I actually want. I’ve also discovered that it’s okay to not know. Sometimes the right answer is “I don’t know.” I’ve done and had all the things that supposedly make people happy – a marriage, a house, a steady and secure job, a cushy savings account. It’s the dream, right? Not quite. I always felt like something was missing. Right now I’ve got none of those things and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m not trying to put down marriage or houses or steady jobs  – they’re all great – just that it wasn’t those that made me feel fulfilled at the time. I was living to other people’s standards instead of realizing my own true potential. I did everything I thought people were supposed to do. I didn’t know there was any other way. I’ve discovered that the true path to my happiness is not things or status, but helping people and building meaningful relationships. As a yoga teacher, I feel more fulfilled than I could have ever imagined. Not only am I helping others, but also helping myself with the constant reminder of living a simple life and letting go. Plus, the physical side-effects of a fitness-based career aren’t so bad. Yoga isn’t just a stretchy feel-good class. To me, it’s life, and I am forever learning more. Yoga teaching may not align with my college degree but you’d be surprised at how much a graphic communication degree helps with my own self-marketing. How do you think I was found to get on this blog? You can find me at simplyashes.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/SimplyAshesYoga

Advice for young women: There are no such thing as mistakes, only learning opportunities. You will fail often and it will most likely be the best thing to happen to you. Failing is not a bad thing, it’s usually how you move forward. The most difficult parts of life are often the most meaningful: changing jobs, overcoming set-backs, marriage, babies, etc. Never let the fear of failure stop you. You’ll regret a lot more of the things you didn’t do than the things you did do, so don’t waste any opportunity.

 

Thank you Ashley for sharing your wonderful and inspiring story with us, we greatly appreciate it. Thank you to everyone that took the time to read my blog and this story. I hope it all has inspired you and got you thinking about happiness and what changes you may want to make in your own life. If you are interested in yoga or fitness be sure to find Ashley at simplyashes.com or on facebook at facebook.com/SimplyAshesYoga. Make sure to check out her pages! Her videos and posts inspire me daily to find my inner yoga spirit and bust through my workouts. Maybe this will the start of something great for you, you just never know! Thanks everyone and have a wonderful day.  Kayla

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February slump month?

Hello everyone! I know I am long overdue for an update or a blog post and I apologize. Life has been a little busy since the pageant. Just to name a few things that I have been doing: planning a wedding (yes we got engaged!), adjusting to teaching two nursing clinicals, working at the hospital, my own graduate homework, and enjoying my life. Plus February is always my slump month. Does anyone else feel the same way? For me it’s like the holidays are over, I endured January, and then I am ready for spring and warmer weather. February always seems to drag on and it usually is cold and miserable and so I am am trapped indoors. However, February is behind us and March is upon us with the promise of spring in the air. Hallelujah!

Alright so update on my life and this blog. First lets talk about the blog. I have several features in the works that are currently being worked on right now but like me they too are really busy. I am really excited about them and think you all will be too! Now about me, like I said earlier I am ENGAGED!!! We got engaged end of January and are planning a January 2017 wedding. All I can say is that I am excited and blessed to be able to spend the rest of my life with my best-friend and biggest supporter in life.

Now I had mentioned in a prior post that my 2017 New Year’s resolution was to push myself out of my comfort zone each month and January was the pageant and February I chopped my hair off and took a cooking class! Both were a lot of fun and new experiences for me. Having short hair took a lot of time to get use to and I will admit that I miss my long locks but they will grow. The cooking class was at the Family Wellness center here in Fargo and we helped the instructor make a Valentine’s Day date night meal. There were about 6 other couples and we all chipped in to make this meal that we all got to sample afterwards. It was a fun and different type of date for us.

As for March, I haven’t quite decided what I will do to push myself out of my comfort zone. I will start training for a 10k in a few weeks but that isn’t really out of my comfort zone. Do you guys have any cheap (trying to save for a wedding here) ideas? If so, please send them my way! Well I hope you are all doing well and sorry this is on the shorter side but I wanted to give you all a little update. Have a wonderful day everyone and hope you get to enjoy the outdoors. As for me it is back to grading papers and homework.

Take care, Kayla

Leaving HER mark in Science

Hello everyone! I have another exciting story to share with you that belongs to a lady who has made her mark in the geology field. It was not all that long ago when science was mostly a male-dominated field, but the lingering stereotypes and barriers did not stop this lady. She is proof that women belong in the field of science. She has contributed to numerous environmental and research projects, helped create new programs to support women in science, and has traveled all over the world. This lady has a passion for science, health, helping others, and being a positive role model to females. Here is Hillary’s story!

 

Name: Hillary Sletten

headshot

Age: 32

Education:

B.S. Geology, University of Dayton (2005); M.S. Geology, University of Georgia (2011); Ph.D. Geology, University of Alabama (expected 2016)

Employment:

I am currently a Graduate Research Assistant at The University of Alabama and a Silver Independent Ambassador for Plexus Worldwide. In August I will begin working at Shell Oil Co. in Houston, Texas as an Exploration Geologist.

Background:

I grew up in a military family – my father flew and worked for the US Air Force for 20 years, whereupon he retired in Dayton, OH in 1997 and this is where I would finish growing up. By training, he is a mechanical engineer who also received his MBA in the early 1990s. I was blessed to have a stay-at-home mom who created a solid foundation for prioritizing family and core values. Part of her testament to this priority was deciding to make motherhood her full-time job, even though she holds a B.S. in food administration. Although my parents never pressured me or my two younger brothers into pursuing anything particular in our career lives, there is a lot to be said for strong parents who make thoughtful decisions and stand as role models to their family members, peers, and community. Some of their values include service to our country, education, faith in God, embodying a strong work ethic, building and maintaining strong and meaningful relationships, and living authentically. They created a childhood environment for me and my siblings to find our own paths, ask questions, solve challenges, build confidence, and become leaders. This has been one of their greatest gifts.

After high school, there was not much question for me about attending college. This was a natural progression given my family’s belief in education and my enjoyment for learning. What I could not have forecasted at the onset of that journey was that one day I would become a geologist. I started as a communication management major, and in my second year took an intro course in geology. I had always appreciated nature, especially through my experiences with travel and Girl Scouting, but to discover that there are careers that allow me to study the Earth and work in the outdoors was revolutionary for me. One of the key reasons I did NOT pursue a science degree from the get-go was for the shear notion that I was not good enough at math and physics to pass the required courses. This mentality is an epidemic among young people in our society today, and particularly women.

Thankfully, I met a professor and mentor, Dr. Pair, who believed in me. From my first

PR_general geology
Exploring nature in Puerto Rico

discussions with him about adding a degree in geology, he was behind me 100% of the way and helped instill confidence in me that I could accomplish this goal. These people that come into our journeys are there for a reason, and perhaps unknowingly at the time, change the course of our lives. Look for them and listen to them. Dr. Pair was certainly one of those people, and would later be part of the inspiration for me to become a college professor, but that would not happen for several more years. Those undergraduate years were life-shaping. Did I barely pass my calculus and physics courses? Yes. But man, did I sail through geology (which apply math and physics) and my communication classes. When you find a passion, you excel.

After graduation I moved to Syracuse, New York where I worked for 3 ½ years as an environmental geologist for a consulting firm. I was working on some of the largest contaminated waste clean-up projects in the country at the time, including the Hudson River PCB clean-up, and the Onondaga Lake restoration program, among many other projects where I worked in the field, collected groundwater and sediment samples, wrote numerous reports, etc. This is where I learned to bite my teeth, so to speak, in the corporate world and become a professional. These early years were instrumental in building my resume, learning to live independently, and dreaming.

As much as I could have been successful in that company, I knew I needed to change my life path. I was intellectually stalled, frustrated by my work environment and lifestyle, and believed that becoming a professor would bring me closer to living a more fulfilling life. So, despite the angst and fears, I quit my job (and before that, I don’t think I had flat-out just quit something) and moved to Georgia to begin my master’s degree in 2009. Now, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of that, but to suffice it say, it was a roller-coaster of bliss and devastation, I finished my degree in 2 years, and was on my way to my ultimate goal – the Ph.D.

caving_south pacific
Carving in the South Pacific

In the spring of 2011 I found [or more accurately, it found me] my dream Ph.D. project – using stalagmites from the South Pacific to reconstruct El Nino climate cycles for the past 10,000 years. I had a checklist of things I wanted to research, and man, that project checked off each one of them. The professor running the project was able to get me admitted late (I had found out about the project after the admittance deadlines) at The University of Alabama, God opened doors, I was fully funded for 3 years, and everything fell into place, including a trip that summer to spend a month on a remote island in the South Pacific – caving, collecting data, exploring, and snorkeling in a miniature paradise. What could ever go wrong, I thought?

A lot. The transition to Alabama was a challenging one for me at the time. I was not thrilled about the location and was simultaneously piecing broken parts of my personal life together. But what really threw me into the coals, was the professor – my Ph.D. advisor. As I would come to learn, he is to date one of the most manipulative, misogynistic men I have ever encountered. In one sentence he could fluidly praise something I had done, and quickly cusp it with a derogatory comment. He micromanaged, verbally harassed me multiple times about being “unqualified” and “too stupid” to be a Ph.D., performed unethical science, and the list goes on. Half way into that first year he sat me down, and said “it’s my way or the highway” – as in, “I’m removing you from my project”. And he was serious about that. In an instant, my funding had evaporated, my dream squashed, and my confidence as a woman and scientist nearly flat-lined after 7 months of his harassment. I was heartbroken – in every way that that word implies and it would take me well over a year to re-build my inner-self.

In the corporate world, there are managers and HR staff that could help resolve such unprofessional behaviors. But, in academia? Oh, how blurry the lines of anything are – communication, command, politics….And as a “lowly” student your power and ability to change institutions and institutionalized behaviors, is miniscule. It is easier to brush things under a mat, and get the hell out as fast you can.

I was close to leaving at the end of that first year, but thankfully there was one other professor in my department who works in my research area and he became a saving grace. He immediately took me on without any available funding, and said, “If you really want this – build a new project, apply for funding, and I will help you get there.” That summer (2012), God opened another door and I landed a competitive internship with Shell in Houston. My financial stress dissolved, I took time to heal emotionally, and grew again as a scientist. I was once again being mentored by some great individuals and in my personal time developing new research concepts; however, ironically, that summer I was in a small Shell office and was 1 of 2 professional women who worked there. This time I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with verbal, sexual harassment. Thankfully, management shut that down quickly, but these are just a few examples of how women, particularly in the sciences, still today face unacceptable challenges that can prevent them from pursuing careers that have historically, and have unjustly been dominated by men.

speaking at WiSE
WiSE at the University of Alabama

Simultaneous to all of this drama that went on my first year with my Ph.D. advisor, I was also participating in a mentoring program at UA for Ph.D. students who are minorities. Being a woman in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) discipline, qualified me for this program. At the end of that year, the coordinator interviewed me and asked how I benefited. I replied that it was a wonderful program, but that it really did not address the needs of women in STEM and that there were insufficient resources for women who had bad academic experiences with professors. While I was in Houston, I got an email from the coordinator asking if I wanted to help build a program to specifically address supporting and offering resources to women in STEM at UA. This program became known as WiSE (Women in the STEM Experience).

What started as a small evening program in the fall of 2012 where 60 people attended and I invited a friend and geology professor from Georgia to come speak as our keynote, grew this year (2016) to having over 480 men and women register for a 2-day symposium event from over 12 different regional institutions, and hosting Nan Boden, Ph.D, a Director of Engineering at Google as our keynote. WiSE has exceeded my expectations in so many different ways, and has blossomed into this vehicle for helping change the environment for women in STEM at regional universities, encouraging women to come and stay in these careers, and so much more. Four years ago I could not have imagined that my heartbreak could become the seed for this type of change. You can read more about WiSE by clicking here.

Present Day:

diving_Cost Rica
Diving in Costa Rica on a research and conference field trip

I am now on a path to complete my dissertation and defend in May 2016. I will walk across that stage and receive my doctorate at the August graduation! From 2012 to the present, I successfully built a suite of projects that has allowed me to conduct research in Panama via a fellowship with the Smithsonian, work on a project that will help us better understand glacial melting in Greenland, travel to conferences in places such as Vancouver, B.C. and San Jose, Costa Rica, teach undergraduate courses, mentor undergraduate researchers, and many other beneficial experiences. After that first summer internship with Shell, I worked for them for two more summers (not in that little office!!), whereupon I received a full-time job offer that I will start in August of this year in Houston.

shell_internship
Shell Internship, Houston, Texas

 

 

Along the way, I have also become a Silver Independent Ambassador with a health and wellness company called Plexus. I began using their all-natural products to help me manage some long-term autoimmune disorder symptoms and was blown away by their efficacy. I soon transitioned to promoting the products as an Ambassador and am on a personal journey with that to help change the health and wellness of others since the products can help address many gut related health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease symptoms, anxiety, depression, IBS, and so many other things. As my health has improved, my passion for new and different forms of change has grown exponentially.

Plexus_January 2016I cannot wait to see where life takes me next – I am more than ever watching for those doors.

Advice for young women:

  • If it is in your future to be a parent, or you already are one, don’t become a mediocre parent. Become a GREAT parent. This means becoming a great person who is motivated and not afraid to make changes in their life to live authentically. Challenge yourself to grow and learn what it means to build a nurturing and confidence-empowered home for your family. I truly believe the root of so many of our social issues is at the core of our family structures.
  • When children or young people express an interest in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) activity or career – encourage and uplift them! Even if you don’t like this stuff yourself, and you are not that familiar with it, bypass YOURSELF, and help THEM. Never give up on youth – hold them, give them opportunities to grow and solve their own problems, and give them room to have imaginations.
  • As a woman, or person in general, you will fall and get heartbroken at some point. It’s inevitable. And it’s okay to live in that space for a time – it’s called grieving. What’s not okay is to stay in that place. Dig deep, and turn your mole hills into mountains you climb and conquer.
  • Support other women. It breaks my heart when I hear about the cattiness and judgment of mothers and parents these days, or the competitive attitude women can take against each other in the career world. Check that stuff at the door. It’s down-right destructive to you, and to others.
  • Learn to lead with conviction, love, and compassion. It’s true that not all of us are born to be CEOs of companies, but that’s not the only type of leader out there. Simply being a role model for any of your loved ones, is being a leader.
  • Get healthy. I can’t stress this enough. If you are not taking charge of your health and wellness, start TODAY. Life is way too short, and what a gift we all have to live one, so why not live it in a full, and healthy way.

Website links:

WiSE at The Unviersity of Alabama: wise.ua.edu

Plexus Independent Ambassador website: hillary4plexus.weebly.com

Follow me on Facebook: hillary4wellness

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and share Hillary’s story. If you want more information in regards to WiSE or Plexus you can find Hillary at the facebook site mentioned above. I also want to thank Hillary for taking the time to share your wonderful and inspiring story with us. We greatly appreciate everything you are doing and for being the wonderful role model that you are to all women and especially for women in the field of science. Thank you! Kayla

Following Her Heart to Happiness

Hello everyone, today I have a special woman and story to share with you. Now it took a lot of courage for her to share with you all today and it is a story that will stay with you forever. This woman came into my life a while ago and I just marvel in awe over how much determination and willpower she has. This lady’s future is as bright as her everlasting smile. She has chosen to remain anonymous and some details have been changed for that purpose. If you may know who the writer is please out of respect keep that information to yourself. I also ask to keep any Negative Nancy’s or Political Polly’s opinions to yourself as that will not be tolerated. Thank you all for reading this feature and for remaining respectful.

 

Name: Anonymous

Age: Mid-20’s

Education: BSN, current Doctorate in Nursing Practice student

Employment: Registered Nurse, inpatient care

Background:

I grew up in a small town of about 600 people on a rural Indian reservation in northern, US. Being one of the few “white girls” on the reservation had its challenges but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. To be exact my school was 85% Native American and I fell into the “Other” category of 15% which included, white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. I learned basic Ojibwe in elementary school, made dream catchers in art class (I still have one hung up in my bedroom), and participated in pow-wows on the weekends. It was a part of my culture growing up. To be completely honest, I feel a stronger connection to the Ojibwe culture I learned growing up than my own Scandinavian descent. I was a good kid, I played sports and was active within my community. I even was salutatorian in my high school class. I remember experiencing the ignorance of outside communities expressing stigmas towards us and our school, our home, especially when we traveled for athletic events…but within our own school, we were united, we were blind to our own racial differences because we grew up together. I will never forget that bond.

I have a family who I love dearly but communication was lax amongst us. If I was having boy trouble or experiencing any high school girl drama I never felt comfortable going to my parents or siblings for advice. Where the snag in that relationship developed I’m not sure but I never knew anything else, that’s how our household always was, so I never thought there was a need for change. After I graduated from high school, I moved to a different state, 700 miles away. I wanted to experience life away from my small town, I wanted adventure, I was tired of being viewed as such a “good girl”, I was very naïve.

I enrolled into college with a few scholarships to pursue a nursing degree. I always had an interest in human anatomy and I generally liked being around people so I thought nursing would be a great fit. I was required to stay in the dorms as a freshman, but the thought of sharing a room with a complete stranger, sharing aspects of myself, my life, during all hours of the day and night was absolutely terrifying. I was used to going to school with the same people I had known since head start and then going home to reflect in my own seclusion. College was a whole new world and a very difficult transition in my life. That is, until I met a young man who lived in the same building as me. It was an instant connection. I think we related so well because we both felt very awkward in our surroundings, for different reasons though. I because my whole knowledge of socialization revolved around the innocence of my youth. Him because he grew up in the suburb of a large metropolitan area and he was now living and breathing a community that revolved around sports and farming.

Both being out of our elements we bonded over our differences, developing trust and caring for each other because neither of us had family or friends in the area. My lack of communication with those I should have been closest to became further estranged as I fully threw myself at what was the beginning of a toxic cycle of events. You never realize how quickly you can stray from a path, or in my case, completely find yourself on a whole new course of life. As my relationship grew with this guy, I found myself giving in to every whim of my desire and developing a lust for trying new things, I had complete lack of self-control, I never realized the harm I was doing. Let me back up a little first though…

Like all things, they never start out as bad as you would think. To give you a little background on this guy. He had a tough life growing up. His parents divorced, one parent was addicted to pain meds and had an on again off again kind of career, money was scarce. His other parent was battling cancer, with a poor prognosis and the majority of the last 5 years spent in the hospital, now on hospice, that’s difficult for anyone to accept. His one sibling had three kids all with different people but he would do anything for his nephews. His other sibling’s, three that he knew of, all had some level of gang involvement. And then there’s him, recreational drug use, moderate alcohol consumption, but dedicated to making a better life for himself. He came to the same school as me on a sports scholarship with goals of helping his family, bettering himself, and I respected that.

I think some of you will relate to me when I say, sometimes you want to disregard the blatant red flags in front of you because you become so fixated on one miniscule positive, and in this case I overlooked the drug and alcohol use and focused on the fact that he wanted to be better, I thought, I can help you. Initially, we balanced each other quite well, it was after his parent passed away that our relationship shifted, personalities changed and it became tainted with anger and fighting.

We had moved off campus into a house together and found whatever jobs we could get. He was kicked off the sports team due to excessive alcohol use and my dreams of becoming a nurse were put on hold, I dropped out of my second semester of college. I thought, he’s going through a really hard time right now, I need to be there for him, I need to be supportive. The first time he hit me, I made an excuse, the second time, I blamed myself, and the third, I wondered what I had done wrong. It was a rapid downward spiral of physical, emotional, and financial abuse. I was to the point where daily binge drinking had become the norm. Money became an issue as neither of us were fit to stay at any job long; he began selling marijuana and an assortment of pills that he would gather on his trips back home. Usually pain pills but ecstasy wasn’t uncommon. He would frequently slip me drugs in my drinks because I would refuse to take them willingly. It got to the point though where I stopped putting up a fight, I don’t know if it was my last shred of will power giving in or if an addiction was taking hold but I would take them freely…it made everything hurt a little less, it made me not think about what a horrible mess I had gotten myself into, it made everything an ignorant blur.

I remember it was January when I found out I was pregnant. Young, ill prepared for life, and in one hell of a mess. I didn’t tell anyone and even if I wanted to, I had no one to turn to. I hadn’t talked to my parents in over a month, my siblings even longer. Even if I wanted to call one of them, I didn’t even know how to have a conversation with them that wasn’t restricted to the weather or the fact that I got groceries that day, they didn’t even know I had moved off campus. I did make a few friends in the area, but no one that I confided in, I had no one but him. I felt totally alone. I so desperately wanted to close my eyes, make a wish, and change the circumstances of my life but every time I tried I was still in that horrible little red house that I still have nightmares about to this day.

The first time he was arrested it was for possession of illegal substances and I was five weeks pregnant (I still hadn’t told anyone yet) working at a door to door vacuum sales company. Thinking back on this now, I should have packed everything I had and drove the 13 hours straight back to my little hometown and never looked back, it was my way out, but I posted bail for him the next day. That same thought that I had when I first met him crept back into my head, I can help you. You need to realize, anyone who has been in any form of an abusive state will understand, one doesn’t think rationally. In my head, it made sense to want to try and fix our relationship because, though it was broken, it was the only relationship I had. I decided to tell him I was pregnant on the ride home from the jail. Initially, he was actually excited about it; I saw a glimpse back at the guy I first met in the dorms, someone who I connected with and trusted. Back when I was naïve and hopeful, a time that felt like another life.

That glimmer of hope that I had of our lives changing for the better and us living happily ever after together was quickly returned to the harsh reality of what it really was. I tried to be strong and protect the life growing inside me but when he threatened to take my life if I didn’t end the one inside me, I was faced with the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Now, I’m not about to preach any political statement on pro-choice or pro-life, all I can relate to are my own choices that I had to make based on the situation I was in at that time in my life. I’m not saying my choices were justified based on my circumstances and I’m not saying they weren’t. I’m sharing with everyone reading this blog my story and the choice that I made to get an abortion. I was 16 weeks pregnant and I got an abortion. I cried during the entire procedure. It was the worst experience of my life. I felt completely numb for weeks after, empty, like a complete failure. Do I wish conditions could have played out differently so that I didn’t have to go through with it, yes. Do I regret it, no.

He was arrested for the second time in violation of his parole. I packed everything I owned and was on the road within three hours of his arrest. I felt guilty driving north, instead of it taking me the usual 13 hours to get home, it took me 20 hours. I turned around twice and stopped in every town, scared, unsure, no idea what I was doing. As I sat at a rest stop, ready to turn around for the third time, I reflected back on our relationship…I wanted to help him but instead, I managed to alienate myself from everything that had once brought me joy. It was time to take care of myself, I wanted to be better, I wanted to be happy.

Present Day:

I have to say, as hard as it was for me to transition from small town girl to college life, the transition into a mature and healthy adult lifestyle was even more difficult. It took me a long time to separate myself from that way of life, to convince myself to go back to school, and to mend broken relationships. It took baby steps, and it wasn’t perfect, I faulted and had to claw myself back onto that path I had lost. It wasn’t just the physical lifestyle of drinking and drugs that was a challenge to quit, it was finding financial stability, but most difficult has been finding emotional strength. I’m reflecting back on this part of my life and I still struggle with anxiety attacks from events that I went through 8 years ago. Healing takes time.

I’m proud to say that I was able to fulfill my dreams of becoming a nurse, and then some too! I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Nursing and I’m currently working as a Registered Nurse in an inpatient hospital setting, and about a year ago I decided to go on to Graduate School where I am now currently working on my Doctorate in Nursing Practice. I will be completing a clinical project working with diabetes and blood pressure management on the reservation where I grew up. I’m also in the healthiest relationship of my life with a man who I absolutely adore. Never have I felt such support and love from an individual as I do with him, he truly is my soul-mate. Also, I’m in the process of improving the bond with my family, weekly calls to my parents and regular visits have been a refreshing change. I’ve come to appreciate life and the beauty that surrounds us every day.

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read my story. It really was a challenging process because this is the first time I have publicly shared these experiences of my life, I kept it anonymous because frankly, I’m just not ready yet. My hopes are to hopefully share a message with everyone reading, a message of hope, a message of strength, and a message of determination.

Advice for young women:

Never take anything personally. You never know the reason why someone is acting the way they are. You don’t know their story and what motivates them to make the choices they’re making in their lives, offer them an ear but don’t be judgmental. Be open to the differences amongst us all, there is always something to learn even in the most insignificant of interactions. Never assume and always believe in yourself because only you can make change happen, you are strong.

 

Thank you all for taking the time to read this feature. Again, please be kiHeart2nd. I want to challenge you all for the next 24hrs to be non-judgmental towards others and yourself. Keep an open mind and open ear. Like the advice stated above, you do not know what shoes other people are walking in. I also want to thank the courageous lady for sharing her incredible story. You are the definition of a role model and I want to thank you for that.

Introducing Miss Beth

Hello everyone! Today I have a very special lady who is willing to share her story and the difficult life lessons that she learned early on. Please be kind and share her advice and story with everyone. You never know when you may have an impact on someone else’s life.

Name: Beth Leipholtz

Age: 23

Education: Bachelor of ArBeth Leipholtz.jpgts in Communication from the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Employment: I currently work full time at the Echo Press, a newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota. I am also a freelance blogger for sites like Huffington Post and TheFix.com. Additionally, I do freelance graphic design in my spare time.

Background: I was born in Pennsylvania, but my family moved to Minnesota when I was only one. We have lived here for the past 22 years, and I could not imagine a better place to grow up. As a young child I dealt with severe anxiety and depression. If anything could go wrong, I played it over and over in my mind. By the time I got to middle school, both conditions were more under control. Through middle and high school I was a straight-A, perfectionist, as well as an athlete. I never drank, and I never desired to do so. Then in 2011 I started college and joined the rugby team. I drank for the first time in September of 2011 and I never looked back. From that point on, I waited eagerly for the weekends so I had an excuse to drink. I never drank lightly – instead, I drank to get drunk. I don’t have some huge, underlying reason either. I just liked it, plain and simple. I liked how it made me feel. My drinking steadily progressed, until I was drinking during the week, going to class drunk, and even drinking in the morning occasionally. At the end of my sophomore year, I had gone over the edge and didn’t have a way out. But what’s more, I didn’t want a way out. Then one night I went out with friends, blacked out, and woke up in the hospital. I had been picked up by the police with a .34 blood alcohol content, which should have been almost fatal for someone my size. Instead, I slept it off and woke up feeling fine, as always. But my parents were at the hospital and this was the final straw for them. That night, May 7, 2013, was the last time I ever had a drink. I was 20 years old.

What triggered you to start drinking? Was it peer pressure, enjoyment, popularity, rugby? 

I think to an extent it was being involved in rugby, as it’s just a very drinking-oriented sport. That’s not to bash on it or anything. It’s been a huge part of my life and still is today. I think I just got very caught up in that and saw the drinking habits of people around me and thought it was normal when it probably was not. I also took it to more of an extreme than the people around me, which is when it really developed into a problem. I just always wanted to drink, and would count down the seconds until the weekend so I could. Eventually that stopped mattering and I just drank whenever I could. I was limited though because I was not 21, so I couldn’t buy it myself. I had to drag out the alcohol I had until I could get more.

What happened that night? How did you feel waking up in the hospital? Did anyone or yourself get hurt? 

I honestly don’t remember what happened. I remember being at a friend’s house and walking to the bar and then the rest of the night is blank. I’ve been told I was stumbling around and the cops picked me up. I blew a .35 for my blood alcohol content and they took me to the hospital. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing my parents in the room and being incredibly confused about what had happened. All the hospital had done was let me sleep it off, so I was still drunk when I woke up. I was not pleasant to the doctors or my parents. Eventually I was discharged and my parents took me home. I felt pretty good the majority of that day and convinced myself everything would return to normal. But my parents were not so convinced and decided I would go to rehab or I would not live in their house. So I went to rehab – but I was not happy about it and I made that clear.

What made you stop drinking after that night? Were you scared?

I wasn’t scared after waking up in the hospital. I should have been, but I had been that drunk many times and nothing had ever happened. It was normal for me. Honestly, I think the reason I stayed sober was the fact that no one thought I would. In a way I wanted to prove to them that I could do it. Sobriety started out because I was stubborn, but eventually I realized that life was a lot easier when I wasn’t constantly drunk and making a fool of myself. It became real for me about a month into treatment, and today I have been sober for 2.5 years.

Present Day: Today, I have been sober for two years and eight months. I have worked to take my experiences and spin them into something positive by blogging about sobriety and college drinking. Life is better than I could have ever imagined, and I have no doubt that if I had continued to drink the way I was, my life would be in a much different place. I am thankful for going through what I went through because I’ve learned that nothing is ever as hopeless as it seems.

Advice for young women: If I were to summarize everything I would advise young women about, this could go on and on. Instead I’ll just say thing: don’t ever feel like you need to be anything other than who you are. Pretending to be someone else will catch up with you. It will make it harder to remember who you really are. Instead of putting yourself through that, just embrace the person you were made to be.

 

Thank you Beth for sharing your story and for being the wonderful role model that you are. I want to congratulate you on your sobriety, keep up the great hard work that you have been doing. I also want to thank all of you for taking the time to read this blog and about Beth’s story. If you would like more information you can read her blog at www.lifetobecontinued.com. Thank you all again and have a wonderful day!

   Love,

           Kayla

North Dakota International Pageant 2016

 

Well my first pageant has come and gone and it was so much more than I imagined it would be, so much that words can’t quite describe it. For this post I will give you the rundown of events, my experience/feelings, and share some of the pictures with you all. Now please don’t fret, even though the pageant is over this blog will still continue to feature amazing and inspirational women from around the world. Also, don’t forget about my 2016 resolution! I am going to challenge myself each month for the year 2016 to do something out of my comfort zone. So towards the end of my blog I will discuss my ideas and what I have so far! Alright now back to the pageant!

Friday- January 15th, 2016

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So Friday started off with a lot of nerves, 2 large cups of coffee, lots of prayers, and the Kelly and Michael show. I was a bundle of nerves and self-doubt started to kick in regarding my decision in dresses, preparation, not hiring a coach, the interview portion, etc….. Then all of a sudden after my prayers calmness came over me and I felt at peace. No matter the outcome, I made a

promise to myself to enjoy every moment of the competition and to enjoy being pampered and beautified. I was doing this pageant for me and no matter the outcome my friends and family would always be there for me. This left me feeling at peace and ready to continue my day.

We all gathered at one of the hotels in Fargo, ND and got acquainted with each other and went over orientation from 12-3pm. At 3:30pm I headed over to see Steph Granlund at Freya Salon to get my hair and eyelashes ready for the interview portion of the competition, which started at 6:30p for my category. Below are some pictures of the awesome hair-do that Steph did!

 

                After I got my hair and eyelashes applied I headed back to the hotel where our interviews would take place and would finish getting ready. How interview works is you and the other contestants in your category walk into a room where the judges are sitting at tables. You introduce yourself and then are assigned to a judge. You have 5 minutes with each judge, there were 5 judges who were not disclosed to you prior. Each of them has your platform sheet and your official application sheet. Some of them may have looked at your social media sites and others may have taken notes. The five judges this year were: Farabe’ Algor- Mrs. International, Elise Banks- Miss International, Jonathan Casper-North Dakota Senator, Deb Jenkins- RN, breast cancer survivor, small catering business owner, and founds of the Annual Celebration of Women and Their Music, and Carolyn Mosher- Mrs. ND 1996 and Mrs. International 1996. I looked at the interview portion as having a 5 minute conversation with someone that I did not already know and share with them about my platform and my passion. I honestly am not sure how I did on this portion as I won’t get my judges scores for another week but all that matters is how much fun I had with interview. I absolutely LOVED getting to know the judges and being able to converse with them all. Every single one of them is admirable and inspiring and who I could have chatted with all evening long. However, I didn’t and at 7:15p the interview portion for me was over and I was dismissed to head home and prepare for the next/long day.

Saturday-January 16th, 2016

My day started at 5:45am with the annoying alarm clock and a burst of energy to start my day and get to my hair/make-up appointment at 6:30am. For this I went to Blushed Salon in Moorhead, MN and went to the very talented lady, Dani. It was soooo much fun getting dolled up and having the airbrush make-up put in. Lucky for me my lovely boyfriend, Ryan, was generous and offered to drive me to my appointment and to the Island Park Theater in Fargo, ND at 8am so I could avoid walking in the -18 degree weather. So my suitcase, self, coffee, and several outfits were at the theater and ready for practice and run-throughs at 8am. The morning consisted of rehearsing and learning where to stand and where and when to walk. After a lunch break we did a few run throughs and smoothed out the rough patches. At 6pm we started getting ready and dressed for the opening number.

The schedules of events for the evening were as follows: Opening number, fun fashion wear, on-stage interview, fitness wear, and evening gown competition. I was judged on all of the above categories except for the opening number. My nerves for the most part were under control except when it came to the on-stage interview and fitness wear. My on-stage interview was intimidating because well I am speaking in front of 400 people and you only get 30 seconds! The first question they asked was for me to describe my platform: my answer was: “I created a blog called, embracingwomenoftoday@wordpress.com, where I feature incredible female role models and share their journeys through life. Everyone has a story and the advice they share may be life changing for someone. My goal is to continue to reach people from all over the world with these inspirational stories and to hopefully provide young women with great role models.” The second question we did not know and differed for each contestant. Mine was: what is a challenge that women face today.” Although I can’t remember my exact answer due to adrenaline (haha) my answer was about our biggest challenge is ourselves and overcoming our feels and gathering the self-esteem that we need to overcome these. I am told that my interview went great and afterwards a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders.

Now for those of you that read my prior blog post you know how I struggled with the fitness wear…well I am happy to report that I wore that outfit and rocked it! Unfortunately though I did not grab a picture of me rocking it out on stage so I apologize. 😦 Now only the Teen, Miss, and Mrs Categories competed in the fitness. I chose to wear the tank-top version with the shorts and although I still don’t like the outfit or find it comfortable I did walk out on stage with confidence, grace, and felt amazing! It felt great to conquer that darn outfit! 🙂

After the fitness competition there was an intermission and then came the evening gown portion. The dress I wore I bought from a friend who wore it to her prom a few years prior. We added some jewelry and a corset back and I was good to go! I felt like a million bucks and enjoyed every minute of it. The experience was so surreal and magical. After the evening competition the scores were tallied and we filed back on stage for the results. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to win, everyone wants a beautiful crown and to be a queen, but I was just happy to have competed in the pageant. I already accomplished the goals that I set out for myself when I entered the competition: have fun, not fall, make lots of new friends, and go out of my comfort zone. I didn’t come home with any hardware last night but I did come home with lots of flowers, tons of memories, new friends, lots of aches and sores, and the sense of accomplishment. I am incredibly proud of myself for overcoming those obstacles and for putting myself out there. Being on stage in front of 400 people to judge, criticize, cheer, and encourage you is absolutely terrifying! But I did it! I not only loved the experience and the people I met but I don’t think this will be my only and last pageant. We shall see what life has in store for me but for now I do see another pageant somewhere in my future. 🙂

 

Pictures with all of the wonderful people that were able to venture the cold to come and support me! Thank you everyone! I am truly blessed.

Now I know this post is getting long so I will wrap it up shortly I promise! Next topic of discussion is my 2016 resolution! I am in need of some more ideas to challenge myself and push me out of my comfort zone. This is what I have so far.

January-pageant / new and out of my comfort zone haircut!!!

February-___________     March- ________                 April- __________

May- 5k/10k challenger race at the Fargo Marathon             June-__________

July-___________                   August- My first half-marathon!!

September-_________           October-__________

November-____________       December-_____________

As you can see I need your ideas. For this month I finished the pageant but next I plan on doing something fun and terrifying with my hair and color so stay tuned for that! If you have any other suggestions and ideas for the rest of the year please let me know. I am up for anything fun that is not illegal, dangerous, and just plain stupid.

Now I hope you all continue to read my blog and posts as I have SEVERAL women that are working on how they want to share their stories with you. Please keep in mind that everyone is able to share their story so if you want to share yours and want to be featured please let me know! Thank you all for taking the time to read this post and I hope you have enjoyed reading about these inspirational women and my own stories and experiences. Please be kind as Negative Nancy’s are not welcomed here, only kind words are welcomed. I also want to thank everyone who supported me through my journey of pageantry. I had 20 friends and family members that came and watched me compete and I felt like I had already won by having you all there so thank you! I also want to thank everyone that donated money, offered words of encouragement, and cheered me on from afar. You have no idea how much all of it meant to me and I can’t thank you enough. So THANK YOU!!!!! That is all I have for now so stay tuned for more inspirational stories and for my last time signing off as Miss Fargo International 2015.

Love to you all,

Kayla-Miss Fargo International 2015

Mrs. Fargo International 2015

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well today. This next lady that I am featuring is very courageous, admirable, inspiring, determined, and beautiful. She has overcome so many obstacles in life and is inspiring hope to individuals from all walks of life and from all over the world. Here is Mrs. Fargo International 2015 and her story.

Name: Sara Dukart

Sara Dukart

Age: 27

Education: B.S.Degree in Community health. Registered Nurse. Will graduate in May with my B.S.N. from MSUM.

Employment: Currently full time with Neurosurgery Department at Sanford Health as a Triage Phone Nurse

Background: I was born into the foster care system in the State of Maine. My biological mother suffered from alcohol and substance abuse and due to not being able to care for her other children; the state decided that if any more children were born they would be awarded to the state. That was me. I was lucky to be placed in only one foster home until I was adopted at the age of 2. I was very lucky to have the parents that I do. I was able to experience so many exciting and new adventures that most children do not get the pleasure of doing. We moved to New Zealand when I was 5. I remember thinking how kind everyone was. I went through a traumatic bicycle accident while living there, which left the left side of my face badly scared. When we returned to the United States, this was the first time my face started to bother me. School age children would call me scar face and make fun of me. This is the first time self-doubt started for me and I was only 7 years old. I started to struggle with depression starting in 5th grade when I was going through puberty. I struggled with self-identify, self-esteem, and feelings of not being worthy of love. My depression spiraled out of control and I started to make some poor choices that helped to mask the feelings I had. Drinking at a young age with poor decision skills lead to severe depression. In 8th grade I started to have my fist suicidal thoughts. I remember thinking that I didn’t necessarily want to die, but I couldn’t take the horrible pain that I was feeling. It constantly felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest that was slowly suffocating me. I never felt like I could breath and that I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, but no one to help me take some of that weight. I attempted suicide with a pill over dose when I was at school one day. Luckily, they were pills that would make me sick and not end my life. This was a wake up call for myself and my family. I started intense therapy along with medications to help get the chemical imbalances back to normal that were off in my brain. I had a very long upward battle to getting better.

My suicidal thoughts ended, but my thoughts of self-destruction and self worth did not. I developed an eating disorder in high school that caused me to lose my menstrual cycle for a whole year and I was consumed around the thoughts of food and gaining weight. In my mind, eating was the one thing in my life that I could control, because everything else felt so out of control. Another thing that happened in high school that lead to a relapse with my depression was a sexual assault that happened between someone close to me at that time. I was still able to graduate high school with good grades and get accepted into collage at MSUM where I would also dive on the Swim and Dive team. My freshmen year was very tough and I struggled with my mental health. I was an adult and could make my own choices, but I did not have the right coping mechanism to know how to handle my feelings. This things lead to binge drinking and risky behaviors. My suicidal thoughts returned and one night I remember calling my sister and telling her I just didn’t want to live any more. The next day she came over and was crying and hugged me and told me how much she loved me and that I could not leave her. This was my second wake up call that I had to figure out how to get healthy. I had to stop drinking in excess, as this brought on my suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness. Another turning point in my mental health and depression was when I met my husband. He truly brought out the best in me, and encouraged me to make healthy choices. Together we would work out and cook healthy meals together. We still love to encourage each other to be the best that we can be. I have now not suffered from depression or thoughts of suicide for over 7 years now.

Present Day: I am now a Registered Nurse and will be graduating in May with my B.S.N. Degree. I love to run, and have completed 1 full marathon, 8 half marathons and multiple 10 and 5K races. Running became a healthy coping mechanism for me to be able to process my thoughts, and encourage positive thinking. I have learned that I am more successful with my goals when I have structure. I eat a healthy diet full of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and try to stay away from processed foods. When I eat healthy, I feel good about myself and my body image is so much better.

I have also become a huge advocate for suicide prevention. I have been working along side the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for the past two years. I currently hold the title as Mrs. Fargo International 2015 and on January 16th, 2016 I will be running for the title of Mrs. North Dakota 2016. I developed a platform that is called H.O.P.E. for Suicide Prevention. H.O.P.E. stands for hold on, pain ends. My purpose with my platform is to use my testimony as a tool to reach others that may be suffering so that they can know that they are not alone and that there are people and resources available that can help them. I have had the amazing opportunity to speak at multiple charity events for suicide prevention and share my story. One young woman came up to me after a speech to tell me that she had tried to end her life when she was younger, and that she had never shared that information with anyone until just now. She told me that I inspired her as she also wanted to become a nurse and that it was so refreshing to hear someone tell about their struggles, but also share the strengths in their life. I know this young woman will reach her dreams, because she already has done one of the hardest things in life, and that started with her sharing her story. I will continue to share mine, because if my story along with providing educational resources can save just one life, I will know that the journey God sent me on was validated.

Advice for young women: If I can leave just one concept, it would be that your past does not define who you are. You get to choose each and everyday how you want to live. Don’t let your burdens of yesterday weigh you down. Stand tall and proud of whom you are, and make changes if needed to live the life you want to have. There will always be someone who is going to try and tear you down, but you are the creator of your happiness and no one else can make you happy except for you. I pray that every woman that reads this blog will know how important she is and that we are strong and can help change this world into a better place.

God Bless- Sara Dukart

 

Thank you, Sara, for sharing your story with us and for being the inspirational leader that you are. If you have questions and want more information about Sara and her platform you can visit her at   http://dukartsa.wix.com/mrsfargo15. If you have further questions about the pageant system itself you can visit http://www.ndinterHopenationalpageants.org/. Thank you everyone for taking the time to read Sara’s story. Please share her story with others and remember that you are not alone. As Sara says, “Hold on, Pain ends.” Please view the website and resources so that if someone reading this blog is in a crisis they can get the help that they need. No one needs to suffer alone, and everyone deserves to live a healthy and happy life. 

       Love, Kayla-Miss Fargo International 2015

 

Resources:

AFSP website is full of information, FACTS, Tips and ways to get involved or donate to the cause. https://www.afsp.org/

Crisis Services:

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Chat Service:

crisischat.org

Crisis Text Line

Text “start” to 741-741

Disaster Distress Hotline

1-800-985-5990

National Sexual Assault Hotline

1-800-656-HOPE (4673)