PERSONAL COACH/FOUNDER OF NOSAFEDISTANCE.COM
Laura Young, is a human kaleidoscope of native talents who is too old to pretend otherwise at this point. With PhD training from the University of Notre Dame, she has twenty years’ experience working as a therapist and personal/business coach, having worked with business owners, coaching industry leaders and higher level administrators in Fortune 500 companies. Recently she took a sabbatical to devote herself to caregiving and is now returning, older, wiser and funnier to her coaching practice. Her site, No Safe Distance, sports the tagline, “Coaching for when shit gets real”, aimed at those who are living and/or working “in the trenches”. In addition to coaching, Laura is a photographer, blogger and animal welfare advocate who can also crochet a pretty mean scarf while carrying on intelligent conversations about the Chicago Blackhawks and quoting lines from Tombstone.
Embrace paradox. After spending twenty years working as a therapist and coach, I took a sabbatical to devote myself to caregiving. It was fortunate that I was able to walk away from business for a while as I was about to enter into one of those life changing periods you hear some people have where several of their most beloved people all manage to die at the same time. I lost three people and beloved two pets in ten months time and was on the front lines for all of them. The great gift in that time is that the dying process did not alter the people I was losing. They were extraordinarily funny, and quite open to talking about their impending deaths while including me in every bit of the process.
The paradoxical aspect was that it was not at all calear exactly when any of these individuals would die and that they resisted being characterized as “living” or “dying” right to the very end. You don’t realize how innate it is in us to want to characterize things until you help your best friend tour funeral homes (for himself) all afternoon and then have him say to you over root beer floats afterwards, “Hey, I need you to help me rebuild my website.”
I’d been wrestling with the situation in my own head for quite some time but I was so taken aback I had to just know, “WHAT?! Okay, are you living or are you dying? Rebuild your website? Seriously?!”
“Hey, I still have to eat, don’t I?” He just shrugged me off with that very true statement. This was a man who had lived for 35 years as a quadriplegic after a hockey injury. He’d been given Last Rites the night he was injured at age 16 and several times thereafter. He was 51 when we had this conversation. He was long past needing to think in ‘this or that’ terms and didn’t feel the need to re-embrace those distinctions just to make me more comfortable.
He hadn’t been on the ice for years but he was still a hockey player. He was friends with the great Chicago Blackhawk, Stan Mikita ,who called Michael, “The toughest man he’d ever met.” Michael Schwass and I were friends for twenty years before he died, just three months after I lost my father. You can’t be around a person of that character and not be changed by it.
My father had a lot in common with Michael. He was so unapologetically himself it could be maddening at times, especially when I was trying so hard to keep him on the ‘living’ side of things. When I finally realized that he was absolutely okay with dying, and honestly had no interest in finding out what was killing him (we suspect cancer), and just let myself be his daughter and friend rather than “the oldest daughter who took care of him”, it transformed our relationship completely.
For all the tears and heartache I endured, some of my happiest memories sprang from that time. Some of the funniest lines I have ever heard came from the lips of those men during the hardest parts of the journey.
They taught me to embrace my inability to save them, that fundamental, ultimate powerlessness I had over their deaths and to find the humor in it. I had to get my ego out of the way in order to not go crazy. It’s not that I don’t have one, because that’s part of the package for all of us, but I don’t let it run the show anymore.
My fearlessness, my faith in life and my strong unwavering commitment to leave a worthy personal legacy.
I absolutely believe that we are in this life to learn and that all learning is for our ultimate benefit. More paradox: embrace your fundamental powerlessness (over death) and you’ve got absolutely nothing left to lose. I fear nothing. I don’t turn away from reality, or try to mask it. I don’t dye my hair. I’m not going to have anything lifted or tucked. I’m getting older, and that’s all there is to it. But I’m also growing continually. Every year I find myself uncovering new talents and skills that I never suspected I had. I am able to approach what scares me and always find a gift for me in the middle of it.
So, am I getting older and nearer to my own demise or am I evolving and growing? The answer is…yes. And the distinction itself has become less and less interesting to me.
As for the commitment to legacy, I was not born into a family of means, nor was my husband, so the accumulation of material wealth has never been a strong, primary drive for either of us. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate money and the good one can do with it. Please don’t mistake me for a ‘poverty snob’ by any means! But when I think of legacy it has nothing to do with one’s portfolio. When I reflect on the legacy of those who went before me on my own life, far and away their lasting impact on me stems from the quality of their character. Living up to and furthering that legacy with my own life is what drives me.
Personal: To keep doing what I’m doing and stay in the game as long as I can. To keep trusting the process of evolution. When you get older, and you see people around you taking a few blows on the chin (or worse), it’s easy to start to worry, to want to be safer, to want to grab that definition of yourself that feels like it will guarantee you some security. Holding fast to something is the one sure way to stall your own evolution and when you stall your evolution…that’s death, isn’t it? Species stops here.
Again with the paradox…we’re all going to die so whether you hold on to static concepts of yourself or embrace your growth, you will still have to leave the School of Life eventually. All you get to do is choose what kind of student you are doing to be. You can sit at the back desk and doodle on your notebook or you can sit at the front and be a sponge. Ironically, when I was in school and they used to sit us alphabetically, I always ended up in the back of the last row. Maybe that’s a good thing. I got to see a lot more of what was going on around me that way. I had to learn to focus on what was most important no matter the distractions. That’s a good life skill to have. See? Everything has a way of working to better you.
Business: To do for others what my inner circle did for me. To help others appreciate just how much innate power they have in their hands to effect positive change in the world around them. People in our culture are fed a very steady diet of fear and fear takes you one of two places: Flight or Fight or Freeze. Flight can take a lot of forms: apathy, cynicism, self-medication and compulsive attention to things that add nothing of true value to one’s life, snarkiness and taking pot shots at people, things and ideas without actually trying to do something about them.
The fight response, triggered and directed by fear makes every threat an enemy to be defeated. You’ve seen enough of what divisiveness is doing to our country and our planet that you don’t need me to elaborate.
And finally, there is freezing, letting the fear immobilize you and succumbing to it. A lot of people resign themselves to situations that they may be able to change but just can’t see their way out of so they give up.
Fight inspired by love, that is another thing entirely. Fighting for something while being able to hold on to compassion, while being invested in seeking understanding…that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Let’s go back to evolution. There is a survival aspect to all these reactions. They do serve a purpose. It’s when those reactions become an ingrained way of being that disempowers, that is a problem.
First: It is better to ask forgiveness than permission. Second: It’s easier to blow out a match than a forest fire.
My husband of 23 years who has been my biggest support no matter what phase of evolution I have been in and how messy it has looked along the way. His capacity to have unwavering love for a person who is continually morphing in new directions is awe-inspiring.
In terms of a group of people as a whole? Animal shelter volunteers, especially those who work in open admission shelters. Open admission shelters, which, by definition, take all comers, may have to euthanize animals due to space limitations as well as the condition of the animals they take in. As a result, they are often referred to as ‘kill shelters’ casting a decidedly negative light on organizations that are trying their hardest to cope with what is, in fact, a larger societal problem. “No Kill” shelters, conversely, while working toward the same end, are able to pick and choose which animals they accept and can refuse admissions when they reach their capacity.
Those who volunteer at open admission shelters, in order to emotionally survive the demands there, must become masters at embracing paradox. Led to the work by their passion for animals, they fall in love with and work with animals one day that they may learn has been euthanized the next. And they return, only to fall in love with the next dog and the next dog (or cat), all the while knowing the same sad ending may befall them. Loving what you could lose at any time and giving that love all you have, even in the face of the possible loss, is an astonishing feat. They are unsung heroes, every one of them.
My yard! I’m a pretty simple woman. I live on an acre in a Far West suburb of Chicago adjoining a chain of forest preserves. Part of our acre is wetland. You would be amazed at what I see while washing my dishes. Coyotes, fox, deer, owls, all kinds of water fowl. Things get born in our yard and they die on it. Given what I’ve shared thus far, you can see how a plot of land that holds so much life and death at the same time would be ideal of me. I actually have a blog about this place entitled “One Acre” .
My second favorite place is the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline just west of Gary, Indiana. Hardly a tourist destination but one of the best kept secrets in this area which I am now blowing. Forget I mentioned it.
I’m not super techy and I’m out in the woods too much to invest in designer clothes but here are some brands I am loyal to: Columbia sportswear, Merrill shoes, Udi’s gluten free products, my Sony NEX camera (and not just because I think having an EVIL camera is way cooler than having a D-SLR, although it totally is). Shaklee Basic H cleaner (when I get to Heaven I am going to kiss Forrest Shaklee hard on the lips for that one). And I would like to thank Ben Franklin for inventing bifocals.
Animal Welfare. Like you, I had seen statistics on how many homeless animals we have but until you start meeting them and seeing what happens in an open admission shelter on a typical day, you really have no idea. After having immersed myself behind scenes and having had some wonderful success in helping our local shelter in saving animals through social media, I’ve become painfully aware at how poorly understood, under-resourced, and inadequately utilized social media is by animal rescue organizations everywhere. I’m underway with a project I am extremely passionate about, developing a public cross agency site to promote these organizations in our area as well as developing programs and training in order to coach these organizations on how to better utlize this invaluable resource. This is in its infancy currently but I encourage everyone to come check it out and help me spread the word. It is a critical need, not just in my region, but across the country with the potential to save a great many lives. The site is The Northern Illinois Pet Adoption & Rescue Guide.
How will you become the best?
That is a funny question to me because there is no endpoint of ‘bestness’ to be reached. As long as you don’t let fear run your life and make all your decisions for you, you will continue to evolve. And the natural course of evolution is toward betterment. Thriving in whatever circumstances an organism finds itself in is THE goal of evolution. And THAT is inherent. It’s not like amoebas and frogs and chimpanzees all sit around thinking about how they are going to make their species evolve and map out plans for it and hold species project management meetings about it. It’s not a decision, it’s a life process.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I plan and map out my life continually with a stack of journals and worn out pens to prove it. However, I do it all knowing that with every step I take, new experiences may lead me to uncover more of my own native intelligence and gifts which could then alter my working life plan.
I used to think changing my course was a sign that I was inconsistent but I can see that the same themes have run through my life since childhood. I have the same passions I always did. The same native gifts still come to the fore, no matter what I do, but may express themselves in new ways. It’s like life is a diamond with many facets. I love exploring those facets but I’m also very aware that they are all part of the same whole. It’s all very integrated. I no longer worry about trying to appear to be ‘this’ or ‘that’ just so people can categorize me more comfortably. And in that, you can see the influences of those who came before me as I discussed above.
What fascinates you?
The capacity of animals to forgive. Their resilience when given the chance to heal from trauma. After I came out of my season of caregiving, I had a number of issues to deal with…selling my childhood home, caring for a dog I inherited that later went blind, and just trying to figure out how to relate to the world again after so much loss. My slate was wiped very clean but I hadn’t yet been able to digest everything I had been through so I didn’t feel ready to step back into my coaching practice. I took the opportunity to start volunteering at our local animal shelter, thinking I would maybe walk a couple cute shih tzus one afternoon a week.
The next thing you know, I am running their social media, walking dogs, cleaning cat cages, bring dogs home, taking over as shelter photographer. I discovered that I take excellent guinea pig photos so if anyone tells you that you can’t uncover new talents in your 50’s, it simply isn’t true.
So, I guess the moral of the story is you can take a sabbatical from everything except being yourself. I always jump in with both feet and I’m always a coach. It’s who I am and I’ve finally learned to embrace it.
Well, you can’t get that deep into a shelter and not meet a lot of dogs that have hit hard times and it is pretty common knowledge that pit bulls have it the hardest. But having met many, I never cease to be amazed at their capacity for joy and affection. As far as domestic pets goes, they have, as a breed, seen some of the worst behavior our species is capable of and yet their capacity to bond with and trust people is so evident to anyone who has spent time with them. It’s astonishing and humbling.