So two…very long…weeks ago. I introduced my friend London Woolman (Nebraska Aids Project) as part of my #WCW blog series. When I asked London to be a part of the blog she was more than happy to oblige, but also, she had MORE to share. More to say. About her personal growth and journey that not only led her to NAP, but also to London 2.0.
The phoenix rising story has become somewhat cliche, now that some of us have tattoos of fiery birds rising off the smalls of our backs. Thanks 2004. But holy shit, does it resonate. From the wreckage of personal loss and emotional abolition do we find our true selves. The same selves that once could “never imagine–” made new. Stronger and ready to face the next challenge with a cocked chin and warrior mind. The resilience of women transcends geography and birthright. Our problems are varying in degree but so often the same at the core. Respect. Worth. Rights. Oh my god, Women amaze me.
So London, shedding the skin of her last life and moving full speed ahead to the new one, feeling raw and living vulnerable asked to share in her own words what working with NAP has done for her life. And share something with the world that she could “never imagine” doing before.
When Beaufield Berry contacted me asking if I’d be interested in submitting to an interview on “Women in Leadership Positions at Omaha Non-Profits”, I had a real moment. I’ve held a leadershiprole at the Nebraska AIDS Project for about 8 months now, but I’d never really thought of myself as a person who fit the description of the article, even though it is technically accurate. She sent me a list of questions that included things like “What is your motto/mantra?” and “What are your personal core values?” and it all started to hit me. I am reforming an identity (I’ll get to this in a second) and I literally spent the next 72 hours trying to ponder just exactly how I got here and why I’ll always be grateful for the role I hold at NAP, and why it’ll stick with me for life even if I leave my employment there. Let me back up.
This is a very accurate illustration (drawn by me by the way) of who London Woolman was on June 1, 2015. Each box represented a layer of my life and personal journey, and each layer had a certain level of comfortability and routine. I wouldn’t describe myself as “cocky” per se, but “comfortable” and “confident in my place in life” would be accurate descriptions. A few days later, I listed my home for sale. It was my first home, I bought it on my own in 2005, and I’d lived in it for the past 10-ish years (9 of those with my partner). My home was small and charming, located in Benson, and it seemed like a good time to sell, and we (my partner and I) would move on to something a bit bigger – with upgrades like “a garage that could fit an actual car in it”. Big life event, but it felt like the right time and listing the house happened very smoothly and intentionally. A week later, I interviewed for and received a job offer to work as the Accounting & HR Manager at NAP. A job that I truly wanted, which would also afford me the opportunity to invest some personal funds into a business I owned at the time, which needed capital to fulfill its growth needs. Another life event, as I’d been a solo entrepreneur for about 4 years at that point and hadn’t had to do things like have a boss, or be prepared to fulfill the expectations of other people, etc. I had about a month to wait before my start date, which gave me plenty of time to tie up loose ends at my business, and make sure I had adequate staff to work all the hours I wouldn’t be spending there. Another week later, I received an offer on the house. Big changes all lining up! My world was changing in an exciting way. I started work at NAP on July 13th, 2015. New place, new people! I didn’t have a carved out space in the office just yet, but it felt ok and exciting. I felt no fear since I had a business I was still running on the side that would be easy to fall back on if it didn’t work out at NAP. Fast forward to July 28th. My partner of the past 11 years returned from a project (his work was as a contract employee in the IT world) in Austin and abruptly changed the future of my comfortability by announcing he would be returning to Austin permanently. And alone. I know that break-ups in the adult world are nothing novel, but this was a blow for sure. “WWWHHHHYYYY is this happening to me?” was a thought that ran through my mind for most of that evening and well into the morning hours. On July 29th, I woke up, bleary-eyed and reluctant to face the world, and I traveled with co-workers I barely knew yet at the time to a place called Camp Kindle. Camp Kindle serves youth impacted by HIV/AIDS. I probably won’t forget that day because it made me realize that my personal struggles aren’t the only thing happening in the world, which is both an awful and refreshingly humbling realization to have. Over the next few weeks, as I adapted to my role as a team member at NAP, I went through the process of moving out of my home, abandoning the love of a partner I’d had for many years, and I inherited a new boss (one that hadn’t hired me) which are all life experiences that happen, although most of them don’t happen in the course of about 14 days. Since most of my co-workers didn’t really know me yet, they didn’t realize the personal smorgasborg of change I was juggling, yet because of what they all do for a living, they offered me support and inclusion anyway. I spent about 90 days juggling a new job, a new home (living in some friends’ converted carriage house, just trying to figure out how to get my shit together) and owning and operating a business. I closed the business on October 9th, and I did so intentionally, in order to save my own sanity. Remember the photo of London from June 1, 2015? Here’s London from October 10th, 2015 (ok, the pink hair actually came in November).
What I can say about NAP is that it’s been far more impactful to me on a personal level than any set of interview questions could ever get to the bottom of. I received a boss who tells me when I do great work and offers support daily (I speak on behalf of about 99% of solo entrepreneurs when I say that this is something I hadn’t received in a minimum of 4 years prior), I got to know the people that work at NAP but also those who both support and utilize the services that NAP provides. A former NAP client who regularly volunteers at the office has literally brought tears to my eyes by offering his perspective on life (I’m not a crier, so this shows impact), and I have some of the best co-workers in the entire world. I often refer to them as “my tribe”, not because we all agree on how things should go at all times, but because they’re genuinely inclusive, they are caretakers, and they are like-minded – all here to fight for the greater good. HIV/AIDS is not necessarily uplifting work, and these individuals do not receive million dollar salaries. These people are here because they believe in inclusion and eliminating stigma around the disease. But more importantly to my story, they gave me a reason to get up in the morning during a period of my life in which I would have preferred to abandon hope and cave into depression. I crash landed into NAP, and the folks there unknowingly saved me. I am not HIV positive, so just imagine the impact they have on those they’re intentionally there to serve.
Today, I’m launching a fundraising campaign called #stripped. I peeled away all the layers of my identity and my job at NAP has been truly impactful in helping me to reinvent myself. No matter where I end up, I will always be grateful to those at NAP (past, present, and future) who helped me get here and beyond. So what is my motto/mantra? It’s “reinvent the future”. We can all contribute. Get #stripped. #gettested
Want to donate to the #stripped cause? Do so here now: https://14770.thankyou4caring.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=298 (feel free to type #stripped in the comments)
How it works: keep the body positivity rolling – you are challenged to either a) post a naked selfie to generate awareness to the cause or b) make a $25 donation to the Nebraska AIDS Project, #stripped fundraiser.
Impacted by HIV/AIDS or know someone who is? The Nebraska AIDS Project is the only AIDS Service Organization serving all of the state of Nebraska, portions of Southwest Iowa, and portions of Southeast Wyoming. NAP has office locations in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney, Norfolk, and Scottsbluff serving those in all parts of the state. For more information, please visit www.nap.org to help reinvent the future of HIV/AIDS.