Ep.23: She Told Me It’s Never Been Done
We all have a story – or many stories – of this journey through life. Our life takes shape through all of these different phases – and each phase is like a different story with twists, turns and a variety of outcomes.
In this episode, I share my story that I haven’t really shared much, outside of family and close friends. It’s a story of not just how I entered into health but helps to show what we’re capable of, even when our story is full of heartbreak. I wanted to tell my story to inspire, motivate and encourage you, especially if you’re in a place where you feel like you’re stuck or like you can’t get anywhere.
Sharing this story reminds me of what it is to have a dream, especially one of helping people to be well, be healthy and have better lives. What it’s like to keep that dream alive, even when we face discouragement from others and challenging situations in our lives. I knew I wanted to help others be well and felt that health and nutrition were an exciting way to make that happen – and I did.
Whatever you’re coping with, I believe in you. I believe that you have everything you need to make that vision happen. As you hear my story in this episode, I want you to realize that if I can go through that phase in my life and make my dream happen – I know you can too and I’m here to support you!
If you enjoyed this podcast, you may enjoy these 3 other podcast episodes about why these health professionals created their online health program:
- Ep. 18: Get it Out in the World with Martha McHenry
- Ep.20: Build the Business for The People with Libby Rothschild
- Ep.22: Taking My Practice Online with Samantha Scruggs
Prefer reading? Here’s the transcript below
Stephanie: Hey there. Welcome to The Leveraged Practice Podcast, helping health professionals create online programs for their practice. I’m your host, Stephanie Clairmont. In this podcast you’ll get quick tips, insight from amazing interviews, and actionable strategies specific to the health industry. I’ll focus on what’s working now so you can get clear on how to get your program into the hands, well, onto the screens of your clients’ devices so you can make a bigger impact, change more lives, and grow your practice. Let’s do this.
I have a story. Well, we all have a story. We all have our own story of this journey through life, and you might even have a whole bunch of stories. Our life takes this shape where, yes, we all have a story. Is it like a 90-minute Netflix movie? I don’t think so. I think our life is really more like a eight-part Netflix series where we have these different phases to our life. Each phase is like a different story, a different twist, a different turn, a different outcome.
My Educational Path to My Health Career
I have a story that I want to share with you today that I haven’t shared with a lot to people. You’ve probably never heard me talk about it unless you are a very close friend of mine. This story is really my story on how I entered into health. But I think it also helps to show what we’re capable of.
I share with you my story not to, I don’t know, boast or anything, but to inspire you, and motivate you, and encourage you if you’re in a place where you feel like you’re stuck or you can’t get anywhere.
This particular phase of my life, this particular story, starts when i was in high school. High school, I don’t know, we’re all so different in high school, right? For me in high school, I liked to get good grades. I was pretty good at math. I had like 90s in all my math classes. I was okay in science, I had like 70s or 80s. I was okay, pretty good in other subjects. I was a straight A student pretty much.
But when I was graduating high school and looking into what I was going to do with my life, so just so much pressure. For me, I really wanted to help people. I really believed at the time of health and improving health, holistic health even. I loved the environment. I didn’t love fitness and exercise, but I loved moving my body and encouraging other people to think about life in a holistic way. So I was looking at college classes, like reiki and Holistic nutrition, all kinds of stuff.
Then, being science-based and being encouraged to go to university, I decided that I wanted to be a naturopath and pursue a career as a naturopathic doctor. I thought a naturopathic doctor was pretty legit and also science-based, and I had this holistic idea of of approaching health. So I looked for an undergraduate program to go into naturopathic school.
If you don’t know anything about naturopathic college, at the time anyways, it was a post-education program, so you had to have an undergraduate degree before you went into it. So I thought like, “What’s the most applicable thing that’s useful for that school?” and I chose nutrition.
I thought nutrition would give me this great experience and education in food as medicine, in food as treatment, and just giving that different perspective to wellness. So I pursued an undergraduate degree in nutrition. That’s kind of where I entered in. You needed a pretty good average to get into nutrition. It was a competitive program when I applied, which was 2000, 2001.
Here’s the thing that happened to me. I went in with pretty good grades and being a pretty good student. But in first year I got really sick right around exams. I had something called stomatitis where there’s sores inside your mouth. You can’t eat anything. I lost five pounds in like a week. I didn’t eat anything and I didn’t get out of bed for a week. It was right around the beginning of December, end of November when all my exams were. So I didn’t write any exam my first semester of school. So all five of my classes I didn’t complete.
If you’ve ever known anyone who’s had to do this, here’s what happens. It’s insanity. You don’t write any of your exams because you’re sick. You get permission to postpone your exams to the following semester. What happens is they schedule all your exams sometime in second semester when it’s convenient for the school, not when it’s convenient for you.
So instead of writing my exams, maybe the first week in January when everyone was back at school and my classes were still fresh in my head, my final exams for first semester, which you finished the beginning of December, ended up being scheduled for the middle of February. That’s like two months, more than two months, after I’ve done my classes.
Plus, I have now started second semester classes. So I’m in five new classes for second semester, and so I’m going to class and studying for these five new classes and at the same time I’m supposed to study or remember everything from first semester. I found it very confusing, and I found it very challenging.
So if you remember being in school, what happens in February midway through your semester. Midterms. So I had six midterms, one of my classes had two midterms, in the month of February. So within four weeks I was scheduled for six midterms and five finals. How is that possible? How is one supposed to complete that?
So what I quickly found was that I was overwhelmed, and scared, and didn’t know how I was going to not fail everything. I dropped two of my classes. So I kept three of my classes while I studied for my five finals from first semester. The bottom line is I didn’t do well. I almost failed two classes. I got two 50s. I’m pretty sure those profs just felt bad for me and just let me slide through and gave me a 50.
In my other classes, I didn’t do very well. It was very challenging. Plus, second semester I didn’t do very well because I was studying for all these finals. So I started this first year of my degree really poorly, with very low marks, not a lot of success, feeling kind of dumb, to be honest, and it sucked. So, I felt like an underdog. Felt like I had a lot to prove.
What happened next was very tragic. That summer I went home from school, I was at the University of Guelph. My high school boyfriend, who I had dated four years, and we had a very close friendship and bond, he killed himself. But before he killed himself, he actually came to me one night. He wanted to see me really late at night and texted me or something, and I met him. He just came to say hi, and then he wanted to leave, and I didn’t let him. I was like, “Why are you visiting me at three in the morning? This is really weird. Come to my house. Let’s talk. You look sad. You look weird.”
What ended up happening was he revealed that he was just really wanted to see me before he was going to kill himself. That was awful for a 19-year-old to experience. I cared deeply for this boy and spent a few hours trying to figure out how to support him, and love him, and help him through this.
What ended up happening was he left that night and I begged him not to kill himself, and he didn’t. He spent all summer trying to get help and trying to stay on his medication. I saw him every week, and he ended up killing himself two days after my birthday in August.
Not to go too deeply into that and suicide as a whole. He was unhappy. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t make it any further. He did his best to get through the summer because someone who cared about him begged him not to, but he ended up having to take his own life. So that was very tragic and heartbreaking. I spent the next week planning his funeral with his parents, and picking the songs, and making sure that everyone else who was there could say goodbye.
Next, I went back to school. My birthday’s August 21st, so Aaron died August 23rd. Then the following week worked on his funeral, and then went right back to school in September. And remember, the year before, I had a terrible year. So I went back into school, and it was very hard.
I had a hard time coping with that loss and getting my head back in school as a student. We get pushed in life, in our careers, in our schooling to just show up and study so hard, read the books, memorize. If we don’t get good grades, and if we don’t pass, we feel screwed for our careers and for our lives.
There’s so much pressure, and each and every one of us is going through something. We’re going through something, especially at that age, whether it’s a terrible loss, like I suffered that summer, or it’s something different. It’s real hard, especially in the health profession. It’s competitive to get internships in masters programs, and we go through a lot.
So that was my experience heading into second year. I struggled because I didn’t do well in first year so I didn’t have a good grip on chemistry and some of those foundational pieces that I was moving into in second year, and I was suffering, and grieving, and I had no room to do that.
So second year was hard, and it got even harder because in my second semester of second year, my brother, who had been struggling with cancer for several years, was given a few months to live. He was 10 years old. He was an hour away from where I was at school. I loved him dearly, and now he had just a few months to live.
So I was trying to get through second semester, still grieving the loss of Aaron, and now trying to get home a little bit more to see Eric and just process what that was doing to my parents and to my family. I finished second semester. I passed all my classes that year miraculously, and Eric died in May. We went through the funeral for an 11-year-old boy. That summer was hard. Then I went back to school in third year.
In third year, I don’t know what I was doing. I don’t know how I survived, but I was still struggling with the grief of a suicide, which is just tragic in its own, and the grief of losing a little brother and how that was affecting my parents, and my family, and my support system. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what that girl was going through. I wasn’t processing it very well. I was sad, and depressed, and pushing my myself through school, which I wasn’t grasping very well because I did terrible in first year. It was all real hard, but I pushed and I made it through third year. Didn’t fail anything. I also worked a part-time job to make money and made it through. And oh man, it was really challenging. It’s really challenging.
Then went back into fourth year and went through that year, graduated, tried my hardest to bring my marks up. From having that really low average first year, because I was sick and you heard the story, and then going through these next couple of years of just being a young person, and going through some tragic loss, and trying to understand what that meant, and dating boys that weren’t good for me, and struggling to understand concepts I was learning in school, and trying to figure out who I am as a woman and as a person, I still tried my hardest to get those marks up.
How Can I Get a Dietetic Internship?
I worked really hard to get high marks to balance out those incredibly low marks so I would still graduate with an okay average. Because your average as a dietitian, as a dietetic undergrad, means you do or do not get a dietetic internship here in Ontario. The way the system worked was you go through four years of school and then you compete for an internship to see if you can actually train to become a dietitian. So my average was really important.
So after all of that, I graduated with a 72 average, not great, not bad, but not great. I applied for all the internships. I wrote my letters. I made my applications, and I sent them all in. I did not get even an interview. You have to get an interview, and then you have to get an internship. So I did not even get one interview. I didn’t really even get looked at.
So I knew I wanted to help people. I knew I wanted to be in health. I knew after that journey that I felt connected to nutrition. I wasn’t certain if I was to be a registered dietitian, but I knew that health, and nutrition, and food was such a passion and an exciting way to help people be well.
So I went to my advisor and I said to her, “What do I do to get an internship? I don’t have great marks. I have a 72 average. Do I go back and upgrade some of my courses, maybe try redo them and get better marks next time and increase my average? Do I go ahead and get some work experience? Is work experience more important? Should I try to work at a hospital or should I try to do research? Should I try to get a master’s degree? Would that help?”
I sat with my advisor and I asked her these questions to help me. Help me understand how I can advance myself and make myself a better applicant to become this thing I want to become. She looked at me and she said, “I’ve never seen anyone do it before. I’ve never seen anyone with a 72 average in undergraduate nutrition here at the University of Guelph become a dietitian, successfully obtain an internship, and get to be a licensed RD.”
I didn’t think that that was very helpful. She was like, “Some people get a job, and some people do this, and some people do that, but I’ve never seen anyone do it with your mark.” I felt a little beaten down. I felt a little concerned and unsure about my future.
Have you ever felt that way? Has anyone ever looked you in the eye and said, “Not sure you can do this. It’s never happened before?” I’m sure if they haven’t said those exact words to you, you may have been through a moment like this before where you just worked your butt off. You feel like you have gone through the ups and downs, from hell to heaven and back again just to get slapped in the face with, “Meh, not be for you, pal.”
So I spent the next two years working my buns off again. I worked three jobs. At one point I worked four jobs. One was to make money. I worked at a restaurant in Toronto. At one point I worked four jobs at the same time because I was transitioning from one to the other. So I always had three jobs.
Again, one was to pay my bills at the restaurant and the other ones were to get experience. I ended up working at SickKids Hospital in Toronto in the research department. It was always a dream of mine to work at sick children’s hospital. I worked on a really cool research study in pediatric nutrition, which was really fun and interesting. I worked there for two years.
At the same time during these two years I worked for a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. I worked relief work in the nutrition department, so I was running around doing nutrition-related work, and working with the kitchen, and with some of the patients there, which is a really applicable job. I had this kind of clinical job. I had this research job.
I ended up getting a community-related job where I was teaching cooking classes to lower income moms in a lower income neighborhood in Toronto. I loved it. It was such fun, great work. They were really young moms, like teen teenagers with babies trying to do the best that they can, doing this community program to better themselves, and their babies, and their families. They were lovely. I loved that job.
So for these years, I spent doing great work, understanding nutrition better, understanding what kind of work I could do as a dietitian. I knew that I had a huge interest and love of working with people, working in health, learning about nutrition and food, and supporting people in that way.
So when I was done this two-year stint of grinding it out in all these jobs, I applied again. I applied to internships. I applied to master’s programs this time around. So here in Toronto or in Canada, we have these combined programs where you can do your internship to become an RD along with a master’s so you can actually do some school and get a master’s degree. So I applied to those programs as well.
I got some interviews this time. I had two interviews for internship, and I had, I think, two interviews for master’s programs. I ended up successfully being invited to join an internship program in London, Ontario. And I also got approved for the two master’s programs that I applied to. I ended up going to Toronto, the University of Toronto, for a two-year master’s of health science combined program with internship and graduated in 2009 with that master’s and took my exam and became a registered dietitian.
Do The Work That You Love
Reviewing this story with you today reminds me of how hard it was for me as a young person to have a dream, to have a vision of what I wanted to do with my working life. Of how I wanted to help people, and how I wanted to make money in my career by helping people, helping them be well, helping them be healthy, helping them learn more about the things they didn’t know so they could have better lives.
It reminds me because I don’t go through this story in my head or recite it out loud a lot of how hard it was to do all of that, and to cope with loss, and to grieve. And to not grieve, to push it down, to push harder, and to hear people who are supposed to be your guides, your advisors tell you that they’ve never seen it done. It was not in a positive way like, “You can do it”, just in a confused I’ve-never-seen-it-done-maybe-it-can’t-be-done way. Then I did it. I made it through. I think that everyone can do that.
I believe that no matter what you are going through right now or what you’ve been through in the past, no matter how hard it’s been or if you’ve lost someone and then never grieved it, pushed it down, and maybe you’ll grieve it now. Maybe now’s the time to do it.
If you’ve pushed hard, if you’ve believed in something, if you’ve wanted to make a difference, if you’ve wanted to make an impact, if you’ve entered into health as a way to make money, and have a career, and do work. But you also love it. You also love the idea of changing people’s lives with work that you do, you’re in a good place and you’re among good company.
I think a lot of us have entered into this profession, whether it’s dietetics, or nursing, or medicine, or dentistry, or physical support, mental health, wherever you live in the health world, I think a lot of us have entered in with this heart and with this goal to make money while we’re able to help people.
Wherever you are in life, whatever your grieving, whatever you’re managing, whatever you’re pushing down, whatever you’re pushing through, whatever you are coping with … Maybe you’re a new mom. Maybe your kids are sick. Maybe you’re in a challenging relationship. Maybe someone looked at you and said they never saw it be done before, I believe in you. I believe you have everything you need to make that vision happen. If I can go through this and I can make it happen, I think you can too. I really do.
How about some action steps from today’s story? One, do not let them tell you what can be done. Do not let them tell you what cannot be done. You are the only one who can decide what you do with your life.
Two, if you feel behind, if you feel like you don’t compare, if you feel dumb for a minute, if you feel like you’re not smart enough, if you feel like you could be better, if you feel like other people are better and smarter, let it go. Keep your eyes on your own paper. You do you, and you do you well. There is a reason you are you, and you are the way you are, and you’re perfect just the way you are, so keep going. You are capable.
And number three, do what you love. Do whatever kind of work lights you up. If it’s weird, or innovative, or cool, or it’s never been done before, if you have an idea for some crazy online program or membership, do it. If you have some idea for live workshops, or a product, or something else that will help people, that will help you do the work that you love … I know you have some kind of great idea in there that you’ve been thinking about. Do it.
Do the work that you love. Push for it. Make it happen. If it means you need to get new training, a new certificate, you need to study for something, you need to volunteer, you need to be an intern again, you need to just be brave and put your idea out in the world, whatever it means. Do what you love. You’ll be your happiest self when you do.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode. This one was more intense than I thought it was going to be. I appreciate you being patient and kind and listening to my story. I truly hope that it inspires and motivates you to do brilliant things in the world and be brave because I think that you can. Thanks just for being here with me and being a good listener. I hope that you found this somewhat helpful, somewhat inspiring, and I’ll see you back here next time.
Hey again, if you enjoyed this podcast and you’re thinking about creating an online program for your health practice, you’ve got to check out The Leveraged Practice Workshop. It’s my program where I walk you through my tried and tested framework to plan, launch, and deliver your online health program. Join me at TheLeveragedPractice.com. I’d love to have you join me for the next workshop.