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A change of heart

Posted: February 23, 2012 - 7:30 AM ET - by Elisabeth

My blog posts usually focus on communications issues, but today I want to share a thought about health. A year ago, I experienced what can only be called “a change of heart.”

You see, it turned out NOT to be a heart attack.

I was washing a cat at the time. Really. I found a kitten in the Michigan woods during a business retreat. She was darling and, with some help from my friends, I “rescued” her. We went straight to a Chicago veterinary clinic and then home to give her a bath. At some point in that process, I started to feel uncomfortable – a little anxious, lightheaded, that kind of thing. I phoned a friend who offered practical explanations – maybe hearing from the vet how sick this kitten might be left me anxious and upset, maybe not eating since noon left me lightheaded as we were approaching 8 o’clock, etc. She offered to come right over with the best medicine my girlfriends and I know – a bottle of wine and moral support.

So I continued the cat bath … for a moment … until I decided I needed to sit down. I was short of breath and sweaty. All those details about how women experience heart attacks differently than men filed through my head. I felt like someone was stepping on my chest and I was breathing as hard as if I was running. The anxiety seemed justified at this point.

As the black and white checks of my kitchen wallpaper started to swirl, I dialed my friend and told her I thought I was having a heart attack. She told me to hang up; she was calling an ambulance.

Sprawled on my kitchen floor, I was hoping this wasn’t going to be the classic story of the hypochondriac who went rushing to the ER only to learn it was gas … and wishing I had on a better bra because with chest pains they probably take your shirt off … and thinking that if I die and my mother sees how dirty my kitchen floor is, she will be shocked … and wondering if I had signed my will. I also found time to ponder my “I’ll find an hour to go to the gym tomorrow; I’ve had a rough day, I’m going to order in a nice dinner; I’ll sleep when I’m dead; I have so much to do” lifestyle … and to feel scared … and to be sad about the people who loved and cared about me and who I felt I would be letting down if I died.

Of course, I said the classic “If I live, I will lead a healthier lifestyle” prayer.

The good news is … it wasn’t gas (because while I’m sure there would be some significant health message, it would be too humiliating). Actually, it was anaphylactic shock – possibly in reaction to the cat or something on her fur.

More good news … “Kylah” is living happily ever after with my mom and dad and three four-legged companions.

The best news is … I am leading a healthier lifestyle. I exercise regularly. I eat more healthfully – that means no more processed food (admittedly, in part, due to having to figure out what other allergies I have). I’ve lost weight. I work more sensibly.

I wasn’t bold enough to write about my pledge a year ago … you know, in case failure was, in fact, an option. But one year later – with some new bras, a sparkly kitchen floor and a social life – I feel like a success!

… and since I really believe that one of the secrets of success is sharing it (and we’re just wrapping up Heart Health Awareness month), it’s worth repeating some statistics:

  • More women die of cardiovascular disease than from the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.
  • Eighty percent of cardiac events in women are preventable with diet, exercise and abstinence from smoking.

If you’re a woman or you love one, you can learn more at http://www.goredforwomen.org/about_heart_disease_and_stroke.aspx.

Because the real “heart of the matter” was anaphylactic shock, a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic response that can appear with little or no warning – even in people with no previous allergies, I want to share those signs and symptoms: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000844.htm


Finding my voice

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 4:00 PM ET - by Elisabeth

Some time ago, I wrote about “finding your voice” in response to a blog by Seth Godin on “quiet customers who are unhappy but not making a big deal out of it.”

It reminded me that sometimes I am the quiet customer who has left a store, restaurant or even a relationship with a service provider without voicing my displeasure. I may have vowed never to return! As a business owner, I hate to think of my own clients doing that.

The question I asked my readers was “are you listening to what customers are saying to and about you?”

The question I need to ask myself is “why aren’t you speaking up?”

Why is it sometimes so hard to find my voice? I could blame context – one meal in a restaurant is different than the years-long relationship we establish with clients and there are thousands of restaurants to choose from. I could blame complacency – it stunk; it’s over; I want to go home and forget about it. I could even admit that sometimes I’m kind of a wimp about complaining.

But the truth is … sometimes I don’t know what I want and, therefore, I’m not clear and direct about my expectations.

Some of my clients are a great example of how important it is to know what you want. My team and I spend time with them before we begin a project to ensure that we understand what “moves the needle” for them. The best clients give us a balance between good direction and room to be creative. They have a sense of what they want to achieve and the sense to let us help them achieve it. We’re trusted to help clarify – even quantify – objectives; we’re given the latitude to bring our knowledge and experience to the assignment; and we develop a plan based on our capability and insight.

And there you have it … from the very people we counsel on communications comes a critical lesson! Lucky for me, I have this blog to speak up and share it.