Here I sit, in a house in Austell, Georgia, empty for all but a few belongings to get me through tomorrow afternoon, when I will depart for my and my husband’s new home in Clermont, Florida.
This past year — wow, it’s been quite the ride. I don’t think I have grown more as a professional than I have during the past year. I’ve had some major victories, made some big mistakes (and been forgiven for them), and I’ve done everything possible to perform at my best. I’ve learned so much about managing projects, holding clients and my team accountable, and I’ve learned a whole heap more about the marketing industry and about the industries of my agency’s clients.
I can’t say enough about how much I will miss being in the office every day with my amazing team. They make every day fun, and we get through major challenges together on the reg. They understand my weird, random sense of humor — because they’re all a bit kooky in their own ways, too.
A few other things I’ll miss: Our huge backyard, and our massive garage to match. The house we’re renting in Florida leaves a little to be desired in the roominess department in both of those categories. Also, proximity to family and friends in Alabama. And the beautiful spring and fall weather. No thanks on the winter weather, though!
I’ll also miss the Southern accents, the Southern hospitality, and the regional allegiance to SEC football. Yes, the Gators may play in Florida, but let’s face it… Florida just isn’t Southern like the rest of the deep South.
A few things I won’t miss: The terrible Atlanta traffic… the seasonal allergies and yellow pollen coating cars each spring… and oh, did I mention the traffic?
I’m looking forward to putting down our roots in Florida, working toward buying a home, starting a family, and continuing down my path with my awesome employer. I can’t thank them enough for being willing to keep me on, and I’ll do my best to make sure they don’t regret it!
This quote has been my mantra for several months now.
Let’s rewind back to what feels like a lifetime ago: August 2014, when, after just 10 weeks on the job as a contractor for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Online, I was told my contract would end in two weeks due to budget shortfalls.
I was devastated. After losing my dad to a sudden illness in January 2014, I made the decision in May to leave my steady job and take the leap as a contractor with WDPRO, signing on to 1 year with the company. Working for Disney had always been my dream. And it was a great gig, with nice people, interesting projects, and an endless supply of Coca-Cola products.
The worst part about it was that my stint was cut so, so short. I had finished training and ramping up, and was really getting to know the brands, the projects and the people involved in my work.
So, I started looking. I was anxious to find something quickly, as I bring in about 2/3 of my family’s income, and we rely on my salary to pay our monthly expenses.
I first started looking in the Orlando area, and was happy to quickly begin talks with some local companies and agencies… only to see all of those opportunities fizzle out. I spoke with my former employer, who agreed to bring me on part-time, but couldn’t commit to full-time. I gratefully accepted and continue on with them to this day as a consultant.
So, after a couple of weeks, I expanded my job search net to include Tampa, Atlanta and Birmingham. And a few phone calls and Skype video chats later, I found myself seated at a conference room table with the leadership team of the Swarm Agency in the west Midtown area of Atlanta.
We clicked. I could tell it from the get-go that this was a great team of scrappy, genuine people with a sense of humor and a desire to grow and learn together. And shortly thereafter, I received an offer to join the Swarm team as a project manager.
Fraught with anxiety, I discussed the issue with my family. I made the decision to relocate to Atlanta and take the job, not knowing what sort of job my husband would find in Atlanta. And he went along with the relocation, though not happily. And I found out later on that my husband did not feel comfortable speaking up about his true feelings — that we belong in Florida — because of the loss of my dad. He did not want to stir up trouble in my time of grief.
But trouble we encountered, when my amazing Disney chef husband could not find anything up his alley as a mid-tier chef in Atlanta. And we were homesick for Florida, more so than I ever thought I would be, having grown up in the Atlanta area. My husband was right. We belong in Florida.
So after six months on the job in Atlanta, I made the decision to share with Swarm Agency leadership that we will relocate back to Orlando this fall, to allow my husband to return to his career as a chef at Walt Disney World.
And Swarm’s response? “We love you, you’re awesome, and we still want you to work with us.”
So I can now proudly announce that as of October, I will work remotely for the Swarm Agency, traveling to Atlanta as necessary.
And I can say that more than ever, I am so happy that I made the decision to come to Atlanta. I am happy to have found a mutual match in an employer that values its employees as people, not commodities. And I am happy to continue on with Swarm, happily buzzing away from my home office.
Thank you, Swarm, for making my difficult road lead to a beautiful destination.
2014 will go down as one of the worst years of my life. No, make it THE worst. A few bright spots, for sure, but losing my dad in January, then losing a job in August, then moving out-of-state for a new job in October while dealing with said losses simultaneously…well, it all made the latter half of 2014 especially hard.
That said, 2014 was also a year of growth and renewal for me. Professionally, I learned SO MUCH. Maybe this is because I had 3 different jobs in 2014, or maybe it’s because I’m at a pivotal point in my career, or maybe it’s all of the above.
The other high point for me was rediscovering my body. I joined Weight Watchers the same week I lost my dad in January. In June, I tried hot Power Yoga classes for the first time. By August, I had lost 35 pounds. I’ve maintained that loss and aim to reach my goal in 2015.
Moving to Atlanta was unexpected for us, but we are enjoying being closer to family. I’m also really enjoying my job as project manager at the Swarm Agency. There is one missing puzzle piece, though, and that’s a full-time gig for my amazingly talented chef husband. He has had fun working on some gigs with a friend of his who owns a catering company in Alabama. He even worked a gig last week in the poker world. He previously worked the poker circuit as media in 2007-2008, so he had a lot of fun connecting with old friends and colleagues. But we’re still hoping to find the best fit for him here in Atlanta as a chef.
All that aside, here are my 2015 resolutions!
1) Reach goal weight with Weight Watchers. About 20-25 lbs. to go!
2) Become Scrum Master certified and work toward Project Management Professional certification … just so I can have an annoying email signature that says “Kristen Heptinstall, CSM, PMP.”
3) Take care of my mental health. Address my anxiety and my continued grief for my dad.
4) Continue knocking down debt and prepare to buy a home, most likely in summer 2017 (maybe sooner?) when we will have taken care of the majority of our debt and will have less obstacles in our way.
5) Live in the moment and see what’s around me. I feel as though 2014 was a murky haze. I wasn’t totally present. I was distracted and living in my emotions, my grief, and in my head. I’m vowing to turn 100% attention to what’s going on around me, listen to those I love, and make clear and rational decisions.
Back in June, I took on a new challenge: Account coordinator with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Online (WDPRO).
Here’s the rub: It’s a contract position that lives or dies by the funding available to our department. And unfortunately, the funding has dried up in this last stretch of the fiscal year, which ends Sept.30.
My last day with WDPRO is August 22, and I’m looking for the next challenge.
I don’t regret coming to Disney on contract for a second. After all, what’s the quote — “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I’ve ushered through complex digital projects involving copywriters, producers and developers. I’ve met some amazing, smart, and friendly people. And I’ve received all positive feedback from my leader and partners I work with.
So, now it’s time for the next move.
I’m really digging deep this time, and trying to ignore my anxious thoughts about finances and possible unemployment. I really, truly want to find the best fit for me — a place where I can manage digital projects, act as account or product manager/owner, or work with internal or external stakeholders to come up with the best digital/social strategies and products.
As to where that will be, I don’t know. I’m looking here in Orlando, of course, mostly concentrating on digital agencies and the tourism industry. I’m also considering remote work, with a couple promising options. And I’m considering cobbling together a couple great gigs into a consulting business for myself.
On top of those types of opportunities, I’m exploring other cities. It’s no secret that my husband and I miss Alabama, and we’d actually like to be able to go to a Tide game every fall. We would love to find an opportunity in Birmingham or Huntsville that would be a fit for me, but in all actuality, there is more up my alley in Nashville or my hometown of Atlanta.
Wish me luck, and feel free to send any leads my way.
“The trick is to enjoy life. Don’t wish away your days, waiting for better ones ahead.” -Marjorie Pay Hinckley
It’s hard to put into words what a journey these past few months have been.
I continue to see little things that remind me of Dad everywhere I go. I feel him when I eat his favorite foods, experience a weather event, hear his favorite songs, or pass along a joke or piece of advice he imparted to me. I like to talk about him, because I want to remember and pass along everything that was so inherently good about my Dad.
My dad was not only an excellent dad, but a wonderful husband, grandad, friend and just a great person. He was our rock, and I believe strongly that he is watching over our family and conspiring with God to make life as great as it can be for us without him here.
Case in point #1: My weight loss journey with Weight Watchers. I don’t believe I would have had the courage to begin and the faith to continue on in my goal of reaching a healthy weight. I’m down 26 pounds in 5 months, with 30 pounds more to go to reach my healthy weight range.
Case in point #2: My recent career wins. A couple months ago, weary of my 48-mile commute to my former job, I reignited my career search. A few interviews later, I was offered a contract position with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Online. It’s no secret to those who know me that working for Disney has been on my bucket list for years. I feel infinitely blessed, and can’t wait to see where this takes me.
Despite all these positive moves in my life, I am hurting. I am grieving. There are times when it hits me like a truck how much I miss my dad and just wish I could speak to him one last time. He was taken from us too soon, and all I can think of is that God needed Dad. God needed him for a higher purpose that I just can’t understand. But I am going to do my best at working through the grieving process in a positive way, so that I can learn and grow from it while staying connected to Dad.
Going forward, I am going to do my best to see my progress as Glass Half Full. If I had known a year ago that today I would be 26 pounds lighter with a position at Disney, I would have been over the moon excited. So I’m just going to let myself be over the moon excited… while keeping my eyes on the ball.
I’m on a journey. It’s a journey of Life After Dad.
I’m also on a weight-loss journey. I joined Weight Watchers in late January, around the time of Dad’s passing, and went to my first meeting in mid-February. I’ve lost a total of 13.2 lbs. since joining, and have recorded 6.2 lbs. of weight loss since my first meeting.
Along with my job and my volunteer work, the Weight Watchers gives me something to focus on, something to accomplish in the wake of losing my dad.
But sometimes the weight of knowing that Dad is gone literally takes my breath away. I’ll just be going about my day, trying to accomplish whatever … and it hits me. And I crumple. The other day, it happened as I was riding in the car. My husband was driving, and while I didn’t explain what happened *out loud* to him, he knew, and he comforted me.
Grief is a journey. I wish it was something I could just get through, but it’s not. My life is indelibly changed. And I’m simply having to learn to live with the weight of knowing.
Growing up, I always enjoyed the time between Christmas and my birthday in early February. During that five-and-a-half week stretch, I would enjoy the Christmas holidays while out of school, followed by New Year’s. Then, I would start planning my birthday party and birthday wish list based on what I didn’t get on my Christmas list.
It was always a time of hope and new beginnings: A new year — and then a month later, a new year for me.
This year — well, it was different. Time froze during this former happy stretch of time as we prayed for my dad’s recovery from acute respiratory distress syndrome.
This year, my dad was placed into the hospital two days after Christmas. And this year, we held his memorial two days before my birthday.
The day my dad died, knowing when memorial plans would take place, I sobbed and screamed on the phone to my husband that, “Christmas is RUINED. My birthday is RUINED.”
It sounds childish, but what I was feeling was the shattering of the innocence of my former happy stretch. I thought that from now on, it would be a sad and grief-ridden stretch; all happy memories gone forever.
The day of my dad’s memorial, as it turns out, was my husband’s birthday. Mine was two days later. My chef husband catered lunch after my dad’s viewing, and dinner after his memorial service. As he was serving dessert, my brother-in-law brought out a surprise birthday cake for the two of us. And as we simultaneously blew out the candles, I realized that I can choose to still make it a happy stretch.
Every Christmas, I can remember my last Christmas with my dad, and all the ones before.
And every birthday, I can remember every year I shared with my dad, and know that I am one year closer to seeing him again.
On January 24, 2014, just 10 days before my 31st birthday, I lost my amazing dad. After 42 years of marriage to my mom and a career that took him from hospital accountant to COO, my dad’s life ended at age 62.
In the span of a month, Dad went from healthy to gone, after a domino-effect fight with several bugs, including a MRSA-derived cellulitis bacterial skin infection, followed by what we believe was H1N1 influenza, then pneumonia, then a serious and not so well-known complication: ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, which put him in a medically-induced coma for four weeks before his body succumbed.
Some of what happened is still a mystery, but we do believe he was immunosuppressed by the cellulitis, and possibly something else that remained undiagnosed.
My eulogy, shared with attendees at my dad’s memorial at Sea Island Presbyterian Church in Beaufort, SC, on February 1, is below.
I love you, Dad.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Beaufort, South Carolina over the last month, visiting my dad in the ICU at Beaufort Memorial. But last week, I was on a business trip. I had been upgraded to a Ford Mustang at the airport car rental, and as I roared around town to my appointments, I thought about my dad in ICU and how his very first car was a 1965 Ford Mustang.
Then, last Friday, my mom and sister called to share the terrible news.
As I flew home that evening, I watched the sun set, and spoke to Dad and told him how beautiful the first sunset without him on this Earth was, and thanked him for making it for me. I thought about how I was flying Delta Airlines home to say goodbye to my dad, and how he had made so many trips out of Atlanta on Delta over the years.
As we landed in Atlanta to make my connection, the flight attendant came on the intercom to let us know that we were landing at “Terminal D – as in David.” My dad: David. Then, I gasped as I remembered that it had all come full circle, because back in 1983, my dad had been on a business trip, received a call sharing the happy news, and flew home to Atlanta to see me be born.
And this week I connected another full circle moment: the last time I saw my dad awake was on Christmas Day, in my driveway. The last time my sister saw my dad was a few days before, in her driveway. And back in 1971, my dad proposed to my mother where? On her driveway.
The hardest part about grieving my dad is that he always had the right thing to say. He would know what to say to me, to my mom and to my sister in a situation like this.
My dad’s words were sometimes a piece of career or financial advice, like when he told me to go with a balanced 401K plan earlier this year. A couple years back, he advised me to “build my personal franchise” at work. And of course, he went over my health insurance benefits options with me at several jobs over the past nine years.
My dad’s words were often a story about his childhood, like one he told me very recently about his family’s terrier Brownie. Brownie used to chase cars, but one day, the pup chased a car down the street, and as the car turned right, poor Brownie ran smack into the side of the car. Brownie never chased cars again, he said. There must be a lesson in that.
But mostly, my dad’s words held profound weight, stayed with me, and will continue to do so going forward.
In April of last year, I was laid off from my last job. I somehow managed to start a new job about two weeks later. He sent me a text message congratulating me that consisted of just three words: “You are amazing.” And when my husband got a promotion at work just a couple months ago, he told us that he was proud of both of us.
Back over Thanksgiving, my dad observed me playing with my nephews. He noticed that I had formed a special bond with them, and made sure to tell me that he thought I would be a great mother one day.
Even now, after his death, I have found his words. Just yesterday, I was looking at Dad’s Bible. In the book of Psalms, I found his favorite verse highlighted, with a personal note included on why he liked Psalms 91 the most. What a gift.
And just this past fall, my dad shared an article with my mom, my sister and me called, “What the Dying Want Us to Know About Living.” I came upon this email the other night, remembering when he first sent it with an audible gasp.
The main point of the article was this: “What the dying want us to do — and wish for us to know — is to regard our lives as precious moments making up our days. They want us to focus less on the big picture of building a large body of evidence that proves our accomplishments, and more on the true wonders in our life — the kind where we find unexpected beauty that will be remembered with a wistful smile.”
So Dad, this is what I aim to do. As I go through life now, with you by my side, I will cherish the small moments with my family, and focus on the true wonders of life. Because none of us can predict –- certainly we did not predict — when life might end for us or our cherished loved ones.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
It’s true, they say: the older you get, the faster the years fly by. And 2013 — it zoomed. And while it wasn’t my most favorite of years, it wasn’t entirely bad, either!
In January, I celebrated as the Alabama Crimson Tide football team won its third National Championship in four years.
In February, I turned 30. I celebrated with my husband with a dinner at the California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
In March, my parents visited and we went to a Braves spring training game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Also in March, I took on an awesome volunteer position with my sorority. I oversee 35 alumnae chapters in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
In April, I was laid off from my digital content director position at Bonnier Corp. as some magazines were folded or sold, and personnel consolidated. (Luckily, my titles were left in the hands of a swell guy I trust!) Within the month, I started a new job as digital marketing and public relations manager at Mario Camacho Foods the same week that my husband and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. (Find Mario on Facebook!) Between jobs, I wrote a blog post about how my husband’s career at Walt Disney World all started with a tweet, and it got a lot of response.
In May, I went to the movies. This is notable because I went to see only to three movies in 2013: Lincoln,Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Saving Mr. Banks. Most of my movie-watching these days is done through HBO and Redbox.
In June, I traveled for my “sorority job” to a training conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In July, I traveled to Seville, Spain for a once-in-a-lifetime work trip, and returned to attend a food blogger conference as a brand sponsor.
In September, I spent Labor Day with family in South Carolina. I attended another blogger conference as a brand sponsor, and traveled to Richmond for my sorority regional meeting.
In October, we bought a new sectional sofa. It is glorious.
In November, I spearheaded the search for an agency partner at work, and spent Thanksgiving with family in South Carolina. And, my husband received a promotion and transferred to a new location at Walt Disney World.
In December, I went to my first therapy session since high school — through a benefit provided to me through work. I look forward to my next session to discuss my next steps in my career and in life. Also in December, my parents came to visit, and their visit cut short by my dad’s bout with pneumonia. He remains hospitalized and prayers and thoughts are highly appreciated.
In 2013, I spent too much time worrying about finances and my career, and too much time on social media — even though I love it and have made a career out of it, hashtag ironic. I didn’t spend enough time taking care of myself — I did not eat healthily enough, exercise enough, or take enough time for friends and family — and I willingly spent a lot of time on my own when my husband was working. I fear failure in getting healthy, I fear rejection from friends and family, and I aim to conquer those fears.
I have some things to look forward to in 2014. In January, I’ll travel to my old stomping grounds in Birmingham to attend FoodBlogSouth as a sponsor brand, and meet with our PR agency that is headquartered there. I hope to squeeze in as much time as possible for dinner and coffee with friends and former coworkers! In April, my husband and I are renting a dog-friendly beach house a few miles down the beach from where we were married to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. And in July, I’ll travel to Seattle for my sorority’s international convention!
In 2014, I aim to put the health of myself and my family first. I am to make plans with friends new and old. I aim to truly be present for the celebration of our wedding anniversary, put my toes in the sand — and let go of worry.
My 2014 goals:
-Cook nourishing meals for me and my husband on nights when he is working.
-Through running and yoga, restore confidence in my body.
-Reach out to a friend or work contact each week through a phone call or in-person activity.
-Write about people I admire here on this blog.
-Continue dealing with my worry in a healthy way.