“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, `I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ … If you fail anywhere along the line, it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

March 14th was World Kidney Day and the entire month is designated National Kidney Month.

I’ll admit that if you had said this sentiment to me five years ago, I may have smiled, given a quick “Yay!” and continued with my tightly planned day. However, life has a way of altering perspective and drastically switching things up; case in point, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the extreme care and practice that doctors have put into kidney research and healing.

In case you’re a bit behind on the latest in kidney exploration, here are a few facts for you directly from the National Kidney Foundation:

– Kidney disease is the 9th leading cause of death in the country.
– More than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease (CKD), and most don’t know it.
– Of the 123,000 Americans currently on the organ transplant list, 101,000 of them are in need of a kidney.
– The average wait-time for a kidney transplant is 3.6 years.
– In 2014, about one-third of the 17,000 kidney transplants that took place came from living donors.
– Every day, 12 people die waiting for a kidney.

Now that you’re caught up, let’s bring this to a personal level.

On March 1, 2014 I was hit as a pedestrian by a semi-truck moving 65 miles per hour. The devastation is hard to comprehend. My first hospital stay was three and a half months long with seven weeks of that in critical condition in an ICU. If I had died, my organs would have been donated to someone in need. I’ve always believed in the value of organ donation. My husband and three kids however are so very grateful that I survived. Unfortunately, my kidney function didn’t survive. Doctors kept saying that they ‘should’ come back, but by the end of the year we were talking about transplant eligibility. I was devastated and sick with kidney function hovering around 13%. Because of additional surgeries it was June 2015 before I was put “on the list.”

I was blessed to find out that my 36-year-old baby brother, Matt, was a perfect match and he stepped up as a living donor. However, we quickly found out that Matt is 1% of the population that has multiple renal arteries connecting to his kidneys instead of the usual 1. Combine that with my extensive scar tissue and we’ve got a case that no doctor wanted to touch… or so we thought.

Enter the University of Maryland Medical Center and Dr. Stephen Bartlett.
According to Dr. Bartlett, “Kidney transplants using live donors with multiple renal arteries, an otherwise harmless anatomical irregularity affecting small numbers of people, comprise only about a dozen of the many hundreds of total kidney transplants done at UMMC each year.”

This is where courage takes the spotlight in leadership.

One cannot be a genuine leader if they do not make it a priority to put others before themselves. Whether it means placing your team’s priorities above your own, putting aside your personal happiness for the greater good or literally sacrificing a part of your body to save another, a true leader cannot act without a great amount of courage.

I was honored to witness acts of courage from leaders of all levels during this dangerous kidney transplant. My brother showed leadership by offering himself as a living donor, a surgery that is almost, if not equal to, that of the receiver of the organ. The team at UMMC showed courage in trusting the leadership of Dr. Bartlett who exercised true valor in taking on an unstable and perceivably hopeless case.

I encourage you to be courageous and consider being an organ donor. Whether it is a wish you have for after death or if you want to take a step further and become a living donor, I dare you to be brave and help save a life. Below are plenty of resources about organ donation and transplant. I’ve also included ways to get involved in National Kidney Month.

Have a great day and remember to love your kidneys!

Would you like to work with me? Please visit http://www.elisahays.com or email me at: elisa@elisahays.com.




How To Eliminate International Women’s Day

I’m really struggling with International Women’s Day. Anyone who knows me even a little would think I’m a big fan but truth be told I have mixed feelings.

Very rarely in my life have I actually allowed any experience of limitations because I’m a woman to stop me. I’ve seen it, heard it and felt it. I’ve been literally patted on the head and told I couldn’t do a “man’s job.” I simply refuse to listen to such idiocy. How about an ‘International Not-All-Men-Are-Idiots Day’?

We need a collective mental readjustment to normalize equality and recognize discrimination for the idiocy that it is. I’ve employed wonderful men over the years who call me Boss Lady while collaborating freely but they take direction as circumstances require. There’s no need to prove that I’m somehow qualified to be the boss; I just am. No big deal. We relate as equals because we are.

I’ve also employed smart and talented young women who just needed a mentor to nudge them into the strength they already possess. Something in our societal upbringing of children is indeed sending a message to many young women that they are less capable or deserving. Hence my mixed feelings about this day.

Perhaps we need to spend less energy highlighting the inequalities and more energy stepping up and being the solution. We need more strong female role models for both our girls and boys. I guarantee my sons have a clear understanding that equality is a given even if cultural opportunities need adjustment.

Yes, there’s still a need for policies and laws that help provide greater opportunity. But women don’t need equality handed to them; they just need to go do their thing whatever that is.

In the early 1970’s the head of the medical school where my mother was applying said, “I don’t approve of women in medicine.” She looked him straight in the eye and said, “Well I don’t approve of men in medicine!” She then went on to be not only one of the top students at the school but in the top 5% nationally. Take that patriarchy! Obviously I was blessed with a fantastic role model.

Is it fair that women have to work harder to prove they’re just as good? No, of course not. But you don’t win a fight by arguing that you shouldn’t lose. You just pull up your big girl pants and go win the damn fight!

To all not-idiot types – I challenge us to act as role models for equality in gender realtionships today and everyday. Maybe then we can live in a world that has no need for International Women’s Day.

The Secret To Managing Overwhelm

Feel overwhelmed? I truly get it. Brain injury makes me feel like the photo all the time! So I work at reducing anxiety as if it’s my job. Actually it kind of is. In fact that’s not even unique. We all feel pushed to do more with less. So what’s the secret to managing the overwhelm?

Well, remembering to breathe helps. After that it’s all about understanding that no matter how much piles up only one thing can be done at a time. Multitasking truly is a myth.

Maybe the workload is overwhelming, like climbing a big mountain, but taking just one step is always doable. The secret is to focus only on the one step and then repeat.

Back in the day I climbed a few mountains (14,410′ Mt. Rainier in WA was the biggest) and learned a thing or two about how perseverance works. These lessons have made all the difference in my life. I wasn’t really ‘a climber’ just stubborn enough to keep stepping up. It turns out that’s the secret. After training, setting goals, and getting the right gear there’s really only one thing to do. Keep. Stepping. Up.

One foot at a time is the only option on the mountain, at work or in life generally. Manage big, overwhelming, mountains of work by answering just one question – What is the next step?

How do you start your day?

Research has shown that the busiest, most successful leaders in the world don’t dive straight into work; they begin with a self-care routine to get themselves grounded.

Even when my body was in such bad shape I couldn’t leave my bedroom most of my days began with meditation, prayer, and whatever exercise/movement I was capable of doing. Most days (nope not perfect) I read the Bible and sit in silent meditation, which centers me and calms erratic bouncing thoughts. I stretch and build muscle. For a long time, making the bed was a serious form of exercise! As I grow in strength and my energy improves I’m able to do a little more every day.

A couple of months back my friend Alissa raved about a book called ‘The Miracle Morning.’ I read it and was pleased to see that it pretty much confirms what I already do. (Although getting up early is definitely not in my playbook…I have room to grow.) If you need more motivation to establish or confirm a routine that will build fortitude and focus, try reading that book.

More than anything, simply commit to starting the day by nourishing your mind, body and soul before heading off to conquer the world. You’ll be more productive and happier doing it. Now that’s a good morning!

Lead with Love

Have you ever considered how selfish the phrase, “Be my Valentine” sounds? It’s all about what’s in it for you.

The very best Valentines cost nothing – love, gentleness, kindness, humility, meekness (a word more like tolerance in modern culture), and patience.

When we wholeheartedly believe that love is infinite, rather than scarce, it changes how we act. We stop seeking to ‘get’ and instead freely give. Daily we take time to refuel our supply and reconnect to our calling. To build communities based on the qualities that make being human truly special, we must give those qualities away to others and to ourselves. To lead with love we must BE a Valentine.

Also, I like candy. So feel free to give me that too. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Let there be dignified shopping for all!

Yesterday I went Christmas shopping…in actual stores…by myself…for 7 hours! (A questionably good decision, but we already know that I’m stubborn.) I didn’t have my wheelchair because my wrist isn’t strong enough yet. I can’t lift it in or out of the car or push it and I don’t have the right kind of adaptive equipment for any other choice. So I walked with my cane, slowly and gingerly, even though it was extremely hard and painful for my legs and back. I missed my wheelchair so much!!! 

Walking is great and useful but it’s not the goal. Whether in my chair or on my feet I fight for the goal of independence. I invite you to park that thought in the back of your head. Every tiny bit of independence matters because it’s part of how we experience dignity. Even babies insist on as much independence as they can muster. This isn’t really about disability. That’s part of it, but really I’m talking about the bigger issue dignity.  How can you respect and aid someone’s freedom of choice? What can you do today? What needs to change at work or home? Or maybe something needs to change in your own attitude. I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas. 

Incidentally, I kicked butt on the shopping!! And hubby plied me with ‘blueberry tea’ later as a reward…my choice. 😉 

Shift Gears

At the end of this year my 2nd company, Let’s Pretend Entertainment, closes for good. 17 years of my life went into that business. We grew from one show and a minivan to four shows and two mobile hand washing attractions with patents pending in two countries. I covered a lot of ground both literally and figuratively and learned an awful lot along the way! It’s sad to see it go. It’s even more sad that I have so much stuff still piled up in storage! Anyone want to buy a practically new 20′ hexagonal tent?? Anyone? Oh bother, as I was saying….

One chapter closes and a new one opens. Recently I posted a quote on Facebook from certified Strengths Finder coach Alissa Daire Nelson. We met at the annual convention for International Association of Fairs and Expositions and I have to say her enthusiasm is contagious! In fact I listened to five episodes of her podcast, Maximize Your Strengths, on my flight home. Years ago I started using the Gallup Strengths Finder 2.0 test in my company to identify, utilize and build on my team’s strengths. It’s a beneficial tool that I still reference. No surprise, as the boss and Chief Daydreamer, my #1 strength was identified as Ideation; #2 is Futurist and #3 Maximizer. Thus my brain is always brewing with big ideas while keeping a eye to the future and working to improve the situation. It’s with this positive spirit that, after surviving a massive collision that caused 20+  surgeries and altogether a year bedridden, I began the process of moving on. I could have kept my company, stayed in the office and hired people to do all the travel. But that’s not my idea of a maximized future. Resilience requires listening for the need to shift gears. Vroom, vroom!

While my disabilities may stop me from driving thousands of miles or even cleaning out my storage unit, my spirit is thankfully unstoppable. My brain buzzes with ideas! “When it’s done right, entrepreneurial spirit is about connecting dots that aren’t yet visible.” – Brian S. Cohen, ‘What Every Angel Investor Wants You to Know’ Appropriately a few months ago I named my newly launched consulting, coaching and speaking business Connecting Dots. Simultaneously I’m establishing another company, Hygienics Innovation, to expand my invention of play-based hand washing. I don’t know how far either business will go but we’re in 1st gear and looking forward to the ride!