The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Potler LaHayne.
Sara is the Founder & CEO of Move This World, the leading provider of social-emotional learning (SEL) multimedia experiences for PreK-12 students, educators, and families. She has presented at conferences across 5 continents and been featured in Forbes, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, ABC7, The Atlantic, Education Week, The Huffington Post, Inc, USA TODAY, The Hechinger Report, Education Dive, TODAY Parenting, Edutopia, and EdSurge, among others. A life-long dancer and previous professional performer, Sara was a Fulbright Scholar in Bogotá, Colombia when she authored, implemented, and evaluated the original Move This World curriculum. Most importantly, she is the inspired mother of two little girls, who present her with hourly opportunities to Move This World.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a family of artists, where creative expression is how we celebrated one another and passed every birthday, beach week vacation, anniversary, and Sunday morning. I have always felt most alive while feeling creative, and for me that typically looks like dance, but I also appreciate any opportunity to express myself alone or alongside the people I love. This is what inspired me to create Move This World, a company that uses the power of creative expression to strengthen the mental, emotional and social wellbeing of PreK-12 students, educators and families through evidence-based multimedia experiences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be Here Now.” I read this book by Ram Dass while on a silent retreat with a lot of time to think and reflect. Be Here Now reminds me to drop into the present moment and be fully aware of my feelings and what’s happening around me.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1.Resiliency — For 14 years there’s been significant skepticism in the area of social emotional learning. As an entrepreneur I’ve had to raise capital from an ecosystem that has largely dismissed the importance of whole child education and diminished the total addressable market for mental health and social emotional learning. There have been multiple moments throughout building Move This World where the world was telling me it was over, and I refused to let it happen. Despite a lack of confidence from institutional investors and others, I believed in the relevancy and importance of the problem, the quality and effectiveness of the solution, and my own ability to lead us through the multiple valleys that come along with the mountain tops.
2.Passion for and commitment to the work — As a person and even more as a parent, I am driven by what we are capable of as individuals and as communities if we all have the tools to identify, express and manage our emotions in healthy ways. I believe that if we can empathize with others and navigate challenges, we build stronger selves and communities that function at higher levels. As a dancer and coming from a family of artists, I am moved by what the creative practices allow us to feel and open us up to in our understanding of one another and ourselves.
3.Gratitude — Despite the challenges inherent in building a company, and doing so as a woman and a mom, I am deeply grateful for every opportunity to learn and to grow personally and professionally. There have been too many moments to count when I could have considered throwing in the towel, but learning to see problems as opportunities for self growth and creativity has kept me motivated.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
This winter I experienced a triple whammy of grief. First, my beloved grandfather died from COVID-19 after being hospitalized for 6 weeks alone. At the same time, my family had moved and was mourning the loss of the life we loved and the community we had cultivated for 10 years. And shortly thereafter, I lost what would have been our third baby.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
I have felt alone in my grief. Grieving in isolation is a common experience, because in general our culture doesn’t welcome conversations of grief or loss, especially the loss surrounding a miscarriage. Feeling as though other people, including very close family and friends, could not possibly understand my pain or loss is a scary thing. I think the worst thing that could happen to me is to resent their perceived lack of empathy or engagement in my suffering.
How did you react in the short term?
Overall, I felt a high degree of injustice. I felt a sort of resentment toward men for never having to know what a miscarriage is, for never having to have a D&C procedure, for not having to hold the responsibility of fertility and delivering life. It didn’t seem fair that my grandfather contracted COVID-19 when he didn’t leave the house for 10 months and took all the necessary precautions. I couldn’t rationalize or intellectualize my feelings associated with all the losses.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
For one, I acknowledge and name my feelings of sadness, resentment, and fear. I share them with my husband, and we talk about them every day. I also am working on validating my disappointment and not brushing it aside as unproductive. The relationships that are worth something deserve to know where I’ve felt let down so that we can work through that. Certainly, focusing on my own processing has been critical, mostly through my breath work, my Artist Way morning pages, my meditation, and my daily physical exercise. I also engage with and value the support of a mental health professional to help me navigate my grieving.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I don’t think I’ve “let go” of the loss of my grandfather, our life and community, or my baby. I’ve learned to sit with the loss and live with the loss. It is present for me every day, and I try to talk openly about all the loss and honor and celebrate the positive memories I do have, especially of my grandfather and with my daughters.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I don’t think grief has a clear end point. I’m not sure that it’s this binary. To me, grief feels like a continuum and a rollercoaster. I’m not sure what “better” looks like, but some days I do think about the loss less, and some days I do feel clearer and more focused. Understanding the fluidity of grief has been very important. One thing that always helps me move through my emotions is writing. In this case, the writing translated to Move This World tackling the topic of grief and loss for children and their parents in the most recent season of The Emotion Motion Podcast.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
When I shared this loss with a close friend, he did not ask any questions, and he simply showed up where I was. He didn’t try to give me advice or project or share his own experience on my loss. His only concern was validating my experience. I am deeply grateful to him for seeking me out, showing up for me, and being present.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Again, I’m not sure my experience has been so binary- it’s felt more like an ocean swirling around me where some days I feel like I am floating and other days I feel like I am drowning. I do feel grateful that in the death of my grandfather, I had the opportunity to speak to him over the phone before he died and read him everything I had journaled about him- essentially his eulogy- and share some of my favorite memories, the ways that he inspires me, why I love him, and the legacy he would leave on me and my daughters. I do recognize what a gift that conversation was and will treasure that intimate, extraordinary moment forever.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I think I have often been a “fixer” in the way that I see problems or pain and want to make them better. I have always tried to bring a positive spin to a challenge or tried to cheer someone up who is feeling down. I’ve learned that that can feel inauthentic to the person who is experiencing the challenge and the pain. The best way I can make someone feel better is to acknowledge their challenge and let them be seen and heard. I learned that I don’t always need to come with a solution to everyone’s difficult experience.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
1.Friends and family who show up and sit in the well with you. When my friend showed up and allowed me to be sad, without his own stories or advice, it made me feel seen in my sadness. I didn’t want someone to pull me back up and try to put on a disingenuous smile or cheer; I wanted them to acknowledge that it had been a difficult few months. That was a more authentic way to support me.
2.Silence. It’s hard to process your own feelings when you’re constantly “on” or consuming information and content. That can feel impossible as a parent of small children. But for me, carving out space for long runs and morning pages and evening meditations was necessary to understand and work through my feelings around my loss.
3.Validation of your experience. You don’t always want to hear how you should feel or how someone else felt. You want to honor the truth of your experience and not have that be clouded by someone else. When my friend said out loud that his only priority was validating my experience, that erased any fear of judgment that I had and made me comfortable sharing with him more openly
4.Time. I don’t think we can process grief and loss overnight, even if the world wants us to. Healing takes time. Especially as a goal-oriented person, this is hard for me, but I am working on letting go of expectations and valuing blank time to heal.
5.Acknowledgement of where you need help. Grieving can feel very isolating, but if you’re able to grieve in community it can allow you to have your own experience validated and be present for someone else’s experience at the same time. We aren’t alone in our loss, even if we feel this way, but we do have to tell our community what we need and seek help when needed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire an empathy revolution. Imagine if we all had the ability to feel others’ pain, their loss, and their joy. Imagine if we could truly empathize with the systemic oppression and fear that our Black citizens face every day. Imagine if we could empathize with those in our classrooms and workplaces who looked differently than us and lived different experiences- what kind of world then could we build and create together?
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
The Dalai Lama. I’m inspired by the way he pursues social justice in the face of oppression.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit www.movethisworld.com for resources to support mental, emotional and social wellbeing, and check out The Move This World Audio Network’s Emotion Motion Podcast for kids and their grown-ups and The Saracast: Conversations in Social Emotional Learning for educators, leaders, parents, and mental health professionals.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!