LEAP! with your HEART

leap collage 2

(Credits: Images above were found on Pinterest and foryouyouyou.com)

When you decide to leap, it has to be a decision of the heart.” –Jackie Bassett

Welcome back to LEAP!, an inspiring interview series featuring women who aren’t afraid to leap in the direction of their wildest dreams.  Hope you had a fabulous summer as you leapt in whatever direction your heart desired:  into a refreshing lake or a warm, salty ocean; into a frozen margarita or a dulce de lece gelato (or both!); into the arms of your loved ones or into the embrace of solitude.  After taking a hiatus in August, I had hoped to launch a new LEAP! interview this month, but a couple spontaneous trips combined with Toots’ birthday celebrations interfered with my writing time.  Starting in October, I’ve lined up a few extraordinary women to share their stories of LEAP-ing and inspire you to do the same.  In the meantime, let’s explore what propels our fearless LEAPers to take that first step towards their dreams… their hearts!

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In my LEAP! interviews with Jackie, Vicki, Rajka, and Cassi, I couldn’t help but notice a common theme: all four proclaimed that their heart led them to LEAP.  All four mentioned how their head often talked them out leaping—how their ideas seemed “crazy,” “impractical,” or even “impossible.” What made perfect sense to their heart didn’t make sense to their head.  Yet they went ahead and listened to their heart, soaring courageously into the unknown in pursuit of an intangible itch, an unmet desire, or a burning passion.  And look how beautifully each one has leapt and where they have landed in their journeys!

Recently, I was reminded (again) of how much easier life is when you let your heart lead the way.  How your head CAN help, but it can also hinder.  For six months, I agonized over a big, huge, life-changing decision: where to send Toots to preschool.  YEP- PRESCHOOL for my THREE year old.  After researching and touring several schools earlier this year, I secured him a place at my top 3 choices and then I spent six months debating which one was the right fit for us.  I say “us” because, not only did I want the best environment for my little dude, but I also wanted to find a school in a convenient location which suited my scheduling needs.  From the moment I started researching schools, I was drawn to one particular school- I loved their educational approach, the new facilities, and the teachers.  I could visualize Toots enjoying himself and thriving in the colorful, Montesorri-inspired environment.  My heart was constantly drawn back to this particular preschool, yet I agonized for MONTHS over this decision.  I wrote pro’s and con’s lists; I drafted schedules; I did multiple drive-by’s, even resorting to driving Toots to each parking lot and asking him, “Is THIS where you want to go to school?”  When I pulled into THE preschool, Toots remembered it from a previous visit and wanted to go inside and play.  I took his response as the final sign I needed, and I withdrew his spot in the other two preschools.  All along I knew in my heart of hearts that he’d end up going to this preschool so WHY did I spend soooo much time and energy contemplating this relatively SIMPLE decision? Really… WHY???????

Because I let my head get in the way.  My head was telling me that the schedule at one of the other schools was better- the later start/end times, the longer hours would better suit my needs.  My head was telling me that my friends sent their kids to the other two preschools, so I should do the same. My head was telling me that, if I sent my child to Preschool A, then he’d be missing out on Preschools B and C.  My head was full of fears for his safety, his health, his future, etc.  Basically, my head was telling me that my heart can’t be trusted to make such decisions…. about PRESCHOOL.  Yeessssss, PRESCHOOL.

I totally get how ridiculous this sounds, and I feel slightly embarrassed that such a basic decision could occupy so much mental space for half of a year.  Maybe a few other mama bears can relate!  But now that I’ve made the decision and Toots has started preschool, I can look back and see it for what it was: just another exercise to reinforce the importance of listening to my heart…. trusting my heart to guide me even when facts and figures point in a different direction….then leaping HEART-first with courage and conviction as my wing-men.

I could share many more stories about leaping head-first vs. heart-first and what I’ve learned through these experiences. When I think about the times that I let my head call the shots at the expense of my heart, I remember the emotional distress I endured as a result: the grief, the melancholy, the disappointment, the desperation, the sheer panic, the anger, the self-hate, the SHAME.. all stemming from the misalignment between heart and head.  Looking back, I know that my greatest, most significant, most transformative, most KICK-ASS leaps happened when I followed my heart… like saying “YES!” to a last-minute assignment in Amsterdam, like starting up a conversation with the cute Dutchie sitting next to me on the plane, like launching a professional women’s network and mentoring ring in the Middle East, like leaving the corporate world behind to start my own coaching business and become a mama.  Oh the JOY that comes from leaping HEART-FIRST!

Perhaps I needed this “preschool” lesson to remind me that, although I’ve made a few “PhD-worthy” leaps in my lifetime, I must practice leaping every single day.  Some days, I need to take baby steps in the direction of my heart, and other days I need make toddler-sized hops across life’s puddles.  These mini-leaps prepare me for when it’s time to make another PhD-level leap.  By practicing the art of leaping heart-first on a daily basis, I’m ready for those life-altering moments when I’m standing on the edge of a cliff with my eyes closed, visualizing where I’m headed, taking a deep breath, and then LEEEAAAAAAPING into the unknown… yet with absolute trust and faith that I will land exactly where my heart wants me to land, exactly where I’m meant to be.

So, with this in mind, let’s start our new “school” year with some journal exercises to tune into our hearts and listen to this inner guidance.  I’ll be posting a weekly journal prompt on my Facebook page through the month of September to help you start this heart-centered dialogue and see where your heart leads you.

Week 1:  Reflect on an example of when you listened to your head (aka your logic) to make a decision and then reflect on an example of when you listened to your heart (aka your intuition or instinct) to make a decision.  What did you learn from these experiences?

Week 2: What tends to guide you in your own decision-making: your head or your heart? How can the two energies complement each other?

Week 3:  What is your heart telling you RIGHT now?  How can you learn to decrease the volume of your head and increase the volume of your heart as you make decisions? How can you learn to trust your heart to guide you?

Week 4: Re-read what your answers to the previous week’s questions.  Identify at least ONE heart-led step you would like to take before the end of September, and then define another step or two you’d like to take in October.  Challenge yourself yet be realistic.

“When it comes to LEAPING, I would say all leaps must come from the heart so listen to what your heart is wanting you to hear.  And trust it.  Always ask for signs and guidance and once you receive it, take a little leap.  If it’s meant to be, the little leap will lead to another leap and you keep following the little leaps until you finally ready to fly.”

-Cassi Christiansen

“Are you being the woman you want to be?”

And THAT, my dears, is how super coach Molly Mahar of Stratejoy opened her Q2 Review Community Spreecast in early July.

If you happened to read my first post of 2015, “A Year Without Shame,” then you may recall that I participated in Stratejoy’s Holiday Council at the end of 2014 and set my intention for a new year without shame, a year to experience la joie de vivre.  In support of my 2015 theme, I carefully chose my ways of being for the year:

My 2015  ways of being

My 2015 ways of being… Cue the yogis chanting “ommmmmm”

On a practical level, I defined my highest priority goals and supporting steps in my 2015 planner (sure do love me a good checklist!).  And so began the new year with the very best of intentions and highest of aspirations, along with an ACTION plan.  Fast forward at warp speed and the first half of 2015 is already behind us… WTH?  Together with Molly’s global tribe, it was time to review, reflect, and renew, asking ourselves the million dollar question:

“Are you being the woman that you want to be???”

I came up with an absolutely brilliant, superbly unique, never-thought-of-before response to this question:  I DON’T KNOW.  Yep, that’s what I wrote in my journal.  Clever, huh?  Truth be told, this question really stumped me.  Me, the self-help book junkie. Me, the former consultant turned coach. Me, who’s trained to ask these million dollar questions and tease responses out of my clients.  I should respond with a resounding “YOU BETCHA!” backed up with a plethora of evidence, right???  After pondering my less-than-stellar response, I then scribbled “MOSTLY.” I am mostly being the woman that I want to be.  MOSTLY.   Not never, not always, just mostly.  When it comes to being the woman I want to be, is “MOSTLY” enough?????

Initially, my inner perfectionist—who’s also known as my inner critic– told me that “mostly” wasn’t enough.  “Always” is much preferable to “mostly.”  When I let this voice say her piece, I heard a lot of “shoulda/woulda/coulda’s” and shaming for my shortcomings.  But let’s face it:  who is ALWAYS being the woman that they want to be? Besides Mother Theresa, who is ALWAYS God-conscious, authentic, joyful, creative, AND free-spirited every single second of the day?  No one… because we’re human…and, more specifically, we’re women… and our lives are deliciously messy.

Fresh off of a 2.5 week summer holiday with my family, I had plenty of examples of when I behaved FAR from the woman I want to be.   As Liz Gilbert eloquently describes in this Huff Post article, no matter how far I think I’ve come in my own spiritual evolution, I can completely lose sight of my desired ways of being and regress to my childhood self when I’m surrounded by my family of origin (a.k.a. Installers and Frequent Users of my “PRESS For Emotional Mess” Buttons.)  Despite all attempts to embrace my ways of being (PRAY! BREATHE! VISUALIZE!) and remain lovingly detached from the dysfunction (WALK AWAY!), I eventually lose my shit.  And my darling husband ends up being my “pooper-scooper” as he consoles me and assures me of who I really am…. I mean, MOSTLY am.

So, as I continued to ponder Molly’s million-dollar question, I began to appreciate being MOSTLY the woman I want to be for what it is:  fluid, flexible, with room for adaptation and growth.  Shall I say even a little FREE-SPIRITED???  Being MOSTLY the woman I want means I’m not putting ridiculous, unrealistic pressure on myself to be PERFECT (whatever that means!).  Being MOSTLY the woman I want to be means that I accept I will continue to make mistakes and learn from them.  Being MOSTLY the woman I want to be means that I’m self-aware enough to realize when I falter, forgive myself, and guide myself back towards being the woman that I want to be… the woman that I MOSTLY am.  And that IS enough.

I Am Enough

(Note: This is based on Stratejoy’s Joy Challenge Day 1: Develop Fierce Self-Love writing prompt. My responses are underlined. You can write your own by clicking on this link.  All credit goes to Molly Mahar and her team at Stratejoy for this great prompt about enoughness!)

I am full of love, light, and courage. I never give up. I radiate acceptance, joy, and peace. I struggle with shame and self-doubt.

And through it all, I am enough.

I am a woman who needs inspiration, trust, and faith. I am a woman who wants to dream big, dare greatly, and live wild and free. I am a woman who accepts imperfection. I am a woman who believes in miracles.

I am a woman. I am enough.

Sometimes I stumble, and sometimes I soar. It is hard for me when life is uncertain and I can’t see the way forward. And my heart sings when I let go and trust God to lead the way.

I am beautiful and broken and whole and loved.

I am always enough.


Are you being the woman that you want to be? How do you define who you want to be? How do you assess yourself against your “ideal” you? Who/what supports you in being this woman? Who/what gets in your way? I’d love to hear from you- feel free to message me (christina@shedreamsbig.com) if you want to chat!

For more about Molly Mahar of Stratejoy and her fabulous groups and courses (The Joy Equation, The Council, Summer Camp, Elevate Mastermind), please visit www.stratejoy.com.  Sign up for her newsletter to join her tribe and access her freebies!

LEAP! with Cassi Christiansen

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(Credits: Images above were found on Pinterest and foryouyouyou.com)

Howdee Leapers! Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends and happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans! Hope this latest post finds you in the midst of a beautiful summer (or winter depending on your hemisphere.)  Last month, we leaped with Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith as she shared her story of  transitioning from allopathic medicine to functional medicine and the start of her own practice. This month, I’m thrilled to showcase another one of my favorite women of the world:  my mentor coach extraordinaire, Cassi Christiansen of Ulumination!

In late 2011, I discovered Cassi when I was searching for a mentor coach as part of my training with CoachU.  I reviewed a long list of mentor coaches and read Cassi’s short bio, instantly knowing she meant to be my mentor coach. Not only do we share similar values and ways of being, we both left behind lucrative corporate careers to start our own coaching practices AND we both worked very hard to become mamas to our boys.  Not only did Cassi mentor me as I completed my CoachU training, achieved my ICF coaching accreditation, and set up my business, she simultaneously supported me through my pregnancy with Toots, transition to motherhood, and ongoing fertility journey.  Fast forward 3.5 years later, our coaching relationship is still going strong despite having never met in person (we’re working to fix that!).  She’s a woman whom I deeply admire and respect, and I feel incredibly blessed to call her as my mentor coach and profile her in my LEAP! Interview series.

With Cassi being the one who is usually asking the questions, I couldn’t wait to turn the tables and ask her a few deep questions during our recent interview.   Although I already know a lot about Cassi given that we’ve been working together for a few years, I discovered even more similarities as she shared her story of leaving behind her HR VP job to become a coach.  When Cassi shared how she used to feel physically sick every Sunday evening, I remembered my own struggles with anxiety attacks and stress-induced illnesses when I worked as a management consultant and HR professional.  Like Cassi, I was forcing myself to be someone I wasn’t meant to be and secretly suffered as a result of my efforts to succeed at any cost.  As you will hear in Cassi’s interview, she finally took her big leap into coaching after letting go of her fears about money and status and listening to her inner voice which told her to TRUST.   For me, I made my big leap after my mother died when I realized that I simply couldn’t wear the mask any longer.  My inner voice told me to follow my passion for empowering women and realize my own dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and a mother.  What I love about our similar stories is that our leaps were so FAITH-based… we finally listened to our inner wisdom, trusted it to guide us, and became the women we were always meant to be.  What could be more POWERFUL than that????

So, without further ado, I hope you will take 30 minutes out of your day to listen to Cassi’s big LEAP! and read the interview highlights below.   I guarantee she will inspire and motivate you to listen to your own heart and make your next big LEAP!

XOXO

Christina


“When it comes to LEAPING, I would say all leaps must come from the heart so listen to what your heart is wanting you to hear.  And trust it.  Always ask for signs and guidance and once you receive it, take a little leap.  If it’s meant to be, the little leap will lead to another leap and you keep following the little leaps until you finally ready to fly.”

-Cassi Christiansen

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Climbing the Ladder

“I’m a true blooded Oregonian.  I lived in Portland for the first 40+ years of my life in Portland and, then 4 years ago, we made a leap and moved to Bend, Oregon. We moved here just because we wanted to be here and raise our son here.  My career started with my degree in psychology and, when I graduated, there was absolutely nothing I could do with that degree.  I took an entry-level position answering the phones and, after a couple of months, I was then promoted to an entry level HR position. My first task was filing employee paperwork and files, so I literally started out as a file clerk. I then spent the next 14 years moving up from an entry level position to the Vice President (VP) level. I got to a point in my career where I had reached my goals- I was the first female VP and the first female on the Senior Management Team- and thought ‘Now what I am going to do?’  That’s what led me to coaching.  I hired a coach to help me and thought, ‘She has the coolest job ever, I want to do what she does.’ So, I went back to school to become a coach.  Since I was VP of HR, I started an internal coaching program so I could use my gifts and passions within my current role as I had never imagined owning my own business.  However, it didn’t take long to determine that, if I really was going to do the work I was meant to do, I’d have to leave corporate. This was the scariest decision of my entire life.  It took me two years to make my decision because it was so scary to me.  That was about 13 years ago and I have been coaching ever since.  I have built my whole practice around working with leaders who want to share their gifts with the world and make our world a better place.”

Being Pushed to LEAP!

“Leading up to my leap, I had reached most of my goals and climbed the corporate ladder more than I ever imagined was possible for me.  From the outside, it looked like I reached a pinnacle of success, but, on the inside, I was absolutely miserable.  Looking back, I can now see what was going on.  I had set goals which would make me look successful, like ‘I want to be the first female to do these things.’  What I really didn’t think about was who I would need to be to make them happen.  I worked in a good ol’ boy, patriarchal environment, and, to get to a VP level, I really had to be someone that I wasn’t. When we go against who we are, especially for an extended amount of time, it takes a toll on our soul.  That’s what happened to me- I was absolutely miserable.  On Sunday nights, I would literally get sick and vomit just thinking about going back to that environment.  At the time, I would blame the environment I worked in, but now I can look back and see that I was getting sick because I was being someone that I wasn’t.  My body was responding from a physical place by saying ‘This isn’t okay. You’re not being who you were meant to be in this world, and we’re going to give you every sign possible.’  At this same time, I was trying to get pregnant and I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which meant that the doctors couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to conceive.  So, I was convinced that my stressful work environment and being someone that I wasn’t were the underlying causes of my infertility.  Being miserable and trying to get pregnant really initiated my leap.  It literally felt like my soul was dying on the vine and that I was being pushed to do something different. I HAD to do something different.”

Getting Over Fears

“Once I found coaching, both for myself personally and then by becoming a coach, I knew that is what I was meant to do, but I was TERRIFIED to make the leap.  I never wanted to own my business because my dad had owned his own biz while I was growing up and it was a nightmare.  I always swore I’d get a steady, secure job with an every other week paycheck and benefits.  As an HR VP, I was making more money than I had ever imagined I could and had my corner office and parking spot.  I had worked for 14 years to reach this level, so I was terrified to give it all up with not knowing what was on the other side.  The other aspect was my ego.  I felt proud to say I was a VP and there was instant credibility in being someone who had ‘made it.’  Plus, I started coaching over 15 years ago when it was still very new.  When I said I was a coach, people would ask me, ‘which sport?’  So going from a VP to a something that no one knew about wasn’t easy on my ego. “

Trusting my Inner Voice

“Once I started coaching people, I knew I couldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself as coaching is all about moving through our fears and doing it anyway.  I knew I wouldn’t be as strong of a coach if I didn’t ‘walk my talk.’  I would not be where I am today without the self-development work I did with my coach.  We did the same work that I do with my clients now, focusing on questions like ‘What are my greatest fears? What’s the worst case scenario? Who have I been created to be and what have I been put on this earth to do? Why haven’t I given myself permission to be that person?’  During the two years leading up to my leap, I prayed daily and ask for guidance.  My inner voice kept saying, ‘If you have the courage to do this, you will be taken care of. I heard that same message for two years before I had the courage to believe it, trust it, and then leap.  Without my spiritual beliefs, I would have NEVER had the courage to LEAP.  People always ask me what I would have done differently, and I tell them that I wish I would have listened to my inner voice and paid attention to my body sooner.  This experience taught me to listen and trust myself, so now it doesn’t take me two years to make a decision.“

Co-Creating with Spirit

“I have a constant dialogue with my spirit.  My belief is that we co-create with the bigger Spirit, so it’s not just what I want, but what Spirit wants for me.  I often tap into this when I wake up and say my gratitude prayers for the morning and then I ask Spirit to show me the way, guide me towards what I am supposed to see, and trust what shows up.  I walk a lot outside in nature.  When I’m stuck with a question, I’ll go out for a walk, asking Spirit to show me the way and give me an answer by the time I finish my walk.  It’s hard for me to sit and meditate, so I like walking meditation better.   I also love yoga as it enhances my body’s ability to hear and sense Spirit.  Sometimes, I write in my journal if I need to work through something in a linear fashion.”

Finding support and encouragement

“First and foremost, my biggest supporter was my husband, Jeff.  He married me as a HR VP and enjoyed all the perks that came with a big paycheck and great benefits.  However, within a few years of our marriage, he saw how miserable I was- he would watch me cry and throw up on Sunday nights and remind me that no job was worth that.  He encouraged me follow my dreams even if it meant a huge lifestyle change for us.  Second was my mentor coach, Pam Richarde.  Without her and the work we did together, I would have never leaped.  Thirdly, I worked with a self-employed consultant, Catherine Meeks, at my former company, and she was the first woman whom I truly admired for what she had built on her own.  Because this was the late 90’s, I never had a role model of a female business owner before her.  She believed in me more than I did myself and would always ask me, ‘What the hell are you doing here? Why are you putting up with this?’  Besides these three people, most of the people around me did not support me.  They thought I was crazy for giving it all up and told me that I would regret doing it.  But I think this was important because it made me trust my inner voice and Spirit even more.

Spirit, Lead Me…

“I’ve been coaching now for over 15 years and I still absolutely love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.  My practice has evolved and changed over those 15 years as I used to only focus on working with women leaders but now I work with men and love them just as much.  My work has become much more spiritual as I truly believe coaching is about creating the space for Spirit to work through us.  I’ve been doing more corporate retreats which I love and would love to branch off and start offering more personal retreats that include nature, yoga, and connecting with Spirit.”

Parting Wisdom

“Pay attention to your spirit, your intuition. Listen to that still, small voice which is calling out to get your attention.  Even if you don’t know exactly what it’s saying, take a little bit of action based on what you’re hearing.  Very rarely does anyone go and take a big leap overnight. It’s really just a combination of little leaps that lead you to the big leap.  The world is waiting for you to take those little leaps, and, before you know it, you can take that next big leap.  Don’t lose sight of how important little leaps are, because they help you gain momentum you need to take that big leap.  Even if you’re scared and unsure, please take that little leap and trust that it will take you in the right direction.”

“I believe that we all have been given a special gift and it’s our reason for being on this planet… is to share it and if we don’t share it, we will never live out our full potential and shine as brightly as possible.  So Leap, Shine & Love Yourself through the Journey and know your journey was meant just for you.”

Cassi Christiansen

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Photo credit: Heaven McArthur

Want to connect with Cassi or hire her as your coach?

LEAP! with Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith

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(Credits: Images above were found on Pinterest and foryouyouyou.com)

Well hello there, LEAPER! Welcome back to this inspiring series of LEAP! interviews featuring everyday women who aren’t afraid to LEAP in the direction of their dreams.  I launched this interview series in April with Jackie Bassett, and then followed in May with Vicki Flaherty.   This month, I’d like to introduce you to another one of my favorite ladies:  the UBER-talented, “stylishly healthy,” and ALWAYS admirable… drumroll please… Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith!!  Dr. Rajka is a superstar of a leaper– she’s an American Board Certified Family Practice Doctor, a Doctor of Functional Medicine, an entrepreneur, a blogger, a world traveler/expat….  Oh, and did I mention that she’s the mom to two adorable kiddos (Liam and Liv) and the wife of a jet-setting Kiwi who works on global construction projects?

Rajka and I met in 2010 when we worked together with a handful of other women to launch the Qatar Professional Women’s Network (QPWN) in Doha, Qatar.   I immediately admired Rajka’s professionalism, her “can-do” attitude, and her personal warmth.   Our friendship blossomed when we shared a hotel room (and a couple bottles of Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc) during a mission trip to Ethiopia to benefit the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation and the Yezelalem Minch Orphanage.   After this experience, Rajka became a huge source of support and free advice when I was going through fertility treatments, and she happily threw my baby shower and gave me TONS of hand-me-downs when I was pregnant with lil Toots.  She was the only friend who brought me meals after my miscarriage and after I gave birth to Toots.  Rajka even let me practice my coaching skills on her while I was first starting up as my biz, and I learned so much from that experience.  Although we both left Qatar, Rajka has continued to be a loyal, encouraging friend.   Can you tell how much I love this lady????

To be completely honest, I could write an entire essay about how brilliant and beautiful Rajka is, but you are here to read about her story of LEAPING!  So, here are the highlights of our interview.  As always, I encourage you to listen to the 30 minute recording as well as reading the summary… some many great little nuggets of inspiration are tucked away in my conversations with Dr. Rajka!

XOXO Christina


 “Functional Medicine looks at the root cause of a disease, rather than just treating symptoms with medication.  We look at balancing four realms: the mind-body, the energetic/spiritual, the physical, and the biochemical.  Finding the imbalances and getting them back into balance is where we achieve optimal health.”  – Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith

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Photo Credit: Sheryl Patrizi

Getting to Know Dr. Rajka

“My name is Dr. Rajka Milanovic Galbraith, originally from Cleveland, Ohio.  I’ve known since I was 5 years old that I wanted to be a medical doctor. I was inspired by my own pediatrician- I thought he was so well-mannered and I wanted to be like him.  What I didn’t know is that allopathic medicine wasn’t going to be my whole goal.  By allopathic medicine, I mean being a physician who prescribes medicine.  For the first fifteen years, I practiced traditional family medicine.  I delivered babies, and took care of the babies and their moms in the hospital. I worked with children through to geriatrics, along with performing outpatient procedures.  I joined a great practice in the Pacific Northwest, just outside of Seattle, Washington.  From there, I ended up meeting my husband, and imagined that we’d live in one community for the rest of our lives. We’ve really been on quite an amazing journey since those early days in the Pacific Northwest.  After 7 years in the Pacific Northwest, we moved to Chicago for a couple of years, and then spent 8 years living as expats in Doha, Qatar.”

Embracing Integrative Medicine

“When I had a little breather while we were expats, I started to ask myself where I was going next. That’s where the first leap occurred when I transitioned from traditional allopathic medicine to a more integrative, holistic practice.  What inspired me to go this route is that there were a small percentage of patients who I just couldn’t get better, and I’ve had a long interest in integrative medicine to treat patients. This stems from my Eastern European upbringing. My parents are from Serbia and would often use home remedies to treat illnesses, such as applying lard and garlic to our feet when we had fevers.  Although we dreaded the lard and garlic, it always broke the fever! Additionally, I was inspired by my own experience with a fertility acupuncturist while living in Chicago.  She had me doing acupuncture and guided imagery work to support our efforts to conceive our first child.  I just knew there was more to optimal health than just prescribing medication.

Leaping from Allopathic to Functional Medicine

“The leap into functional medicine fell into place when we lived as expats and I decided to become more entrepreneurial.  I saw a need in the expatriate community to educate expats on good healthcare abroad.  Repeatedly, I had friends and former patients approach me for advice, so I started to give general guidance through my blog called ‘Expat Dr. Mom.‘ Through my research for my blog, I found a compelling article by Dr. Mark Hyman on Functional Medicine.  I also met a physician who trained in Functional Medicine who told me that her training in functional medicine was life-altering and she could never go back to traditional allopathic medicine.   Once I found this field of Functional Medicine, I started to re-train myself while continuing to work in Qatar and doing telemedicine consulting work from Qatar back to the US.   We were interested in relocating back to the US when I found an opening for a Functional Medicine physician with a practice in Boston.   The job was a great fit, so we relocated to the Boston area in 2013.”

Getting Over Fears

“One of my fears stemmed from traditional medicine’s tendency to criticize integrative healthcare.  Would I be able to practice something that would be questioned by my colleague down the road? However, everything I’ve learned to date is backed up by research.   We all know that there’s an art to medicine, so when we don’t have research, we treat and tweak the protocol for each patient, perfecting it along the way.  Secondly, I was concerned about where would I train and would I learn how to apply Functional Medicine.   However, I overcame this fear by training with the Institute of Functional Medicine and then landing my current position which is a working fellowship, enabling me to work while being mentored and trained along the way.”

Leaping with a husband and 2 kids

“My husband, Kerry, works in the construction industry, which is totally different than medicine. He’s the yang to my yin, so we complement each other and he always gives me an honest answer.  He’s my biggest support.  When I showed him the job opening in Boston, he told me that the next career move was mine.  So, when I landed the job, the kids and I relocated while he continued to work in Qatar for several months.   Together, we have two kids, who keep us on our toes and trying to balance it all.  Sometimes this means getting up at 5:30 a.m. to get myself ready and cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner before we leave the house at 8:30 a.m. “

Next BIG LEAP!

“I’ve always wanted to have my own practice.  When I was practicing traditional medicine, I wanted to have a boutique-type office where patients experienced a highly personal level of care.  With Functional Medicine, I am now leaping to launch my own clinic. Part of it will be in person visits and part of it will be health optimization (via telemedicine) which can I can offer to anyone, anywhere.  I can connect back with people who live abroad and want optimization of their health.  I plan to start with a couple days in the office and then follow-ups with phone and/or skype.  I was planning to start my new business in August or September, but I recently had my first health optimization consult after receiving a number of referrals from abroad.  This opportunity to start my own practice stems from my husband landing a fabulous job in the Chicago area, so we’re relocating back to Chicago and then I’ll be starting my practice in a new city.”

Tips for Making a Big LEAP!:

“If I am faced with a tough decision, I use guided imagery and yoga to bring clarity.  I usually sit with a decision, let it soak in, journal about it, and then reflect.  I also go to my resources, like my husband and like-minded friends, to support me.  My tips are:

  • Surrounding yourself with like-minded others and leverage resources online like meetup.com, BNI for marketing yourself, and Ellevate, a global women’s network
  • Hire a coach
  • Set goals and track your results.”

“Dr. Rajka’s favorite mantra: Balanced and calm. Focused, flexible, and strong”

Want to connect with Dr. Rajka?

  1. Subscribe to her blog: drrajka.com
  2. Follow @Drrajka on Twitter or on Facebook
  3. Contact doctorrajka@gmail.com if you are interested in a consult

 

 

LEAP! with Vicki Flaherty

leap collage 2(Credits: Images above were found on Pinterest and foryouyouyou.com)

Welcome back to LEAP!, an inspiring interview series featuring women who aren’t afraid to leap in the direction of their dreams!

I hope you enjoyed last month’s interview with Jackie Bassett.  This month, I’m excited to feature Vicki Flaherty, an IBM leadership development professional, a poet, and a breast cancer survivor.  Vicki and I met in 2007 while working on an internal project at IBM and I immediately felt a strong click with her soulful way of being.   After I left IBM, Vicki became one of my first coaching clients and I learned so much from our coaching relationship.  She was—and still is—one of my favorite clients because of her openness, vulnerability, and willingness to go DEEP.  I chose Vicki for this interview series because of a significant leap she took after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  This leap culminated in her published collection of poems titled, “Mostly My Hearts Sings.” As you listen to my interview with Vicki and read the highlights, I hope you will feel inspired to listen to your heart, connect with your own truth, and tap into your creativity just as Vicki has learned to do.

Below are the selected highlights from my recent interview with Vicki.  However, I highly encourage you to listen to Vicki’s interview (approx. 30 min).

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback!

XOXO Christina


 “Listen to your heart and be intentional about how you want to move forward in the world. Listen to your truth and let your truth guide you.”—Vicki Flaherty

Vicki Flaherty

Vicki Flaherty

Meet Vicki Flaherty… PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.  Learning & Development Guru.  IBMer. Runner.  Yogi.  Gardener.  Writer.  Poet.  Breast Cancer Survivor.  World Traveler.  Lives an “abundantly delicious life” with her husband, Jim, in the heartland of America (Iowa).

A Calling to Help People Succeed

“About 20 years ago, I worked for a small start-up company in workforce development and was awarded a corporate award called ‘Helping People Succeed.’ I didn’t realize it then, but that was the sign on the path of my career.  Today, I’m an IBMer and thrilled to work in the learning organization in leadership development. I’ve worked for IBM for 17 years and I’ve had 3 or 4 careers so far.  I started in our services organization doing consulting work to start, then I switched to doing career development work, then I moved into our learning organization, and have shifted into leading programs related to leadership development.  My latest responsibility is to support new executives in making that transition to the executive level, which is a pretty big leap in our company.  One of the initiatives I’m leading now is around mindfulness, bringing mindfulness and focus to the work that we do, and helping leaders to do this.”

Awakening the Inner Poet

“In 2005, I had gone through a workshop which was a very powerful, transformative experience.  Through the workshop, I determined that I wanted to find my joy, and I hadn’t even realized that I had lost my joy.  The workshop began this awakening process, and I started to dabble with poetry and words.   It was an important impetus to how I handled being diagnosed withbreast cancer in 2011. I’m very achievement oriented, but I didn’t always slow down enough to experience what I was feeling or celebrate what I was accomplishing.  With cancer, there were a lot of experiences and feelings I never experienced before, and I found myself needing an outlet to understand what was happening.   I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen and started writing some words that described what I was thinking, feeling, and experiencing.  The words started turning into phrases, and the phrases started connecting together.  Suddenly a river of words and emotions was flowing and felt so cathartic.”

Leaping into the Darkness

“My poetry helped me process what was happening and lean into my fears.  I tend to be a very positive person, so, when I experienced negative emotions, I often didn’t have words for what I was feeling.  I knew I was going to have to physically change my body and the poetry helped me move through this. My poetry helped me get comfortable with putting my heart out there and being vulnerable.  I showed parts of me that felt very intimate, but I felt such power and comfort in sharing my poetry and knowing that others could relate to it.  I wrote a poem called ‘The Struggle,’ which is about the dark side of myself that was so difficult to face.”

The Struggle by Vicki Flaherty
feeling the walls
surrounded in darkness
in the cocoon
no light
only tiny fragments
of hope linger
in the air
like smoke
from a fire smoldering
into the unknown
tension thick
like mud unsure
what’s in here
even more uncertain
what’s out there
fear filling the air
wanting desperately out
struggling against the edges
the barriers
holding things in
spinning circles
dizziness pushing ‘round
falling to get up
only to sit still
in the gray silence

© 2015 Vicki L. Flaherty

Leaping into the Light

“Even during this cancer experience, I leaned toward finding the light, finding the grace, finding the opportunity and possibility, while going through struggles and moments of darkness.  The poetry told the story of my diagnosis, my journey to acceptance, the dark moments, the coping, and the release toward the end.  Sharing my poetry, being vulnerable enough to share my deepest feelings – was my LEAP.  Facing head on my emotions – the dark and negative ones, the ones I typically rushed over or pushed away – was the opportunity that came with my cancer diagnosis and treatment.  My book, ‘Mostly My Hearts Sings,’ really opened the door for me to more fully listen to my heart and follow it, especially in my work.”

Leaping with Grace, Joy, Hope, and Faith

“Through my journey of looking inward, I found parts of myself to call upon for support.  I have a friend named Grace who brings calm and confidence to me. I have a friend Joy who brings light and gratitude whenever I go. I constantly hold Hope in my heart and she helps me to dream and make the leaps towards my dreams.  I hold Faith in my gut and she gives me the courage to let go of my fears and believe in things that I can’t see but I know might be possible.”

Leaping into the Future

“When I interviewed for my current leadership development job, it took a lot of courage to be completely authentic and honest during the interview process.  I wanted my new manager to understand that I was going to be bringing not only my mind to work, but also my heart to work.  I’m bringing that singing heart to work, and I have some great opportunities to let my heart sing at work, especially related to cultivating a culture of mindfulness.  As for my poetry, I’ve written more poetry since I published ‘Mostly My Heart Sings.’ I’m thinking of pulling together another collection. I’m open to the possibility of publishing more, but I’m not sure what it will look like yet.”

Parting Words

“Listen to your heart and be intentional about how you want to move forward in the world. Listen to your truth and let your truth guide you.  My poem, ‘Truth’s Whisper,’ is about tuning into your inner truth.”

Truth’s Whisper by Vicki Flaherty
My truth
speaks quietly.
It whispers
so that sometimes
it is hard to hear.
In quiet moments
of stillness
I feel its breath
upon me.
It’s voice is clear:
Be who you are, completely.
Your light is for giving.

© 2015 Vicki L. Flaherty

Want to connect with Vicki Flaherty, buy her book, and continue to enjoy her poetry and inspirational writing?

bodyshame part II: shame vs. love

This month, I’m blogging about body shame, which is the #1 source of shame for women.  At the end of body shame part I, I shared how I was able to leave behind destructive eating habits, but I still needed to change my mindset and develop a healthy relationship with food.  In this follow-up piece, I share how my mindset has evolved over many years as I practice self-love and focus on wellness.  If you haven’t read the first post in this series, please take a few minutes to read my personal story before reading this post.  Thanks!

Please join me on Instagram (shedreamsbig1) and FB throughout the month of March to end body shame by sharing body positive images with #noshame.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

XOXO Christina


IMG_5026

Source: prettypearbride.com

I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer experience body shame.  I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about my weight and that I’m not actively trying to lose the “extra insulation” I gained after moving to Alaska.  I’d be lying if I told you that I’m completely content with being a comfy size 8, that I’m not hanging onto a few of my svelte size 6 clothes in hopes that SOMEDAY I’ll squeeze my post-partum hips back into them.  I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer use food to comfort me when I’m feeling anxious or blue (nope, never- now where did I hide the chocolate???).

The truth is…

In my adult years, I have worn size 4’s to size 14’s, and I perceived myself in the same way regardless of my dress size.  The number on the scale or size on a label didn’t make a difference in changing how I felt about myself.  I wasn’t any happier being a size 4 than I was when I was a size 14, and I certainly wasn’t freed of body shame.  The same shame demons still haunted me, convincing me that, without them around to “keep me in check,” I was one Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (my drug of choice) away from needing a forklift to leave the house.  Sometimes, I’d feel a little high when I dropped a few pounds or I fit into a smaller size, but it always was a fleeting surge of egotistic pride followed by a sharp slap of shame.   Whether I gained or lost, the demons found a way to shower me with a shame storm.  I eventually recognized that what I needed to lose was the shame, not the weight… or at least I needed to find a sturdy umbrella to protect myself from the storms!

So, while the shame storms continued to rage over the years, I carefully constructed my umbrella from the finest sources.  Wanna know what holds my umbrella high?  I thought so.  Now keep in mind that what works for me might not work for you, but I think these three elements are pretty critical if you want your umbrella to stand a chance against shame.

  • TRIBE:  I choose to surround myself with women who care more about making a difference in this world than the size of their thighs. I choose to socialize with women who embrace healthy, balanced living like I do.  They fill their bodies with wholesome, healthy foods yet they aren’t ashamed to order dessert and finish the entire slice of decadent goodness on their plate.  Because they are busy changing the world, raising babies, and generally kicking-butt, they don’t spend HOURS at the gym trying to whittle themselves down to a size 0. They choose activities which makes them feel empowered and ahhhhmaazing.   They are the kind of women who will stay up late drinking wine and inhaling copious amounts of cheese and chocolate with me.  They are women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures whom I admire and adore, not because of how they look but because of WHO they are.  You are my TRIBE, and you form the base of my umbrella.  A shout-out to my husband, Mr T, because he’s also a big part of my anti-shame tribe.
  • WELLNESS: I choose to focus on wellness, instead of weight. I choose to define myself by WHO I am, not by a number on the scale or a dress size.  I acknowledge that weight is important to wellness, and I choose to strive for what feels healthy and realistic for my height and build. I choose to appreciate each part of my body for how it has served me and honor how it looks and feels today.  I choose to nourish myself with delicious, wholesome foods every day.  I choose to eat a healthy diet which allows for indulgences (why hello there, Reese’s!).  No food is off- limits, no food is “good” or “bad,” but I choose to minimize or eliminate foods which are allergens or toxins.   I choose activities which I enjoy and contribute to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  I honor my body when I am tired, hungry, injured, or need of extra TLC.  I deliberately choose to read, watch, or listen to media which reinforces body-positive messages (e.g., Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”).  I choose to define what wellness means for me and live accordingly. I’m a positive—not perfect– role model to my family and friends. Wellness forms the ribbing, or spindles, of my umbrella.
  • SELF-LOVE: I choose to love my body as it is today.  I am deeply grateful for my body and its unique design.  I choose to speak lovingly of my body and treat it with respect, especially in front of my children.  I nourish my body because I love my body, and I exercise because I love my body.   I choose love instead of shame to “keep myself in check.”  I let self-love guide me in making healthy food and exercise choices.  When I make mistakes, I learn from them, forgive myself, and move on.  Self-love, not shame, is what motivates me in reaching my wellness goals.  I rely on my inner wisdom to indicate when I need to adjust my choices: when it’s time to cut back on snacks and sweets, when it’s time for extra sleep, when it’s time to switch from high-impact to low-impact, etc.  Self-love determines how I spend my time and with whom I spend my time.  I choose activities which I love, and I surround myself with people who love themselves and encourage me to do the same.  Self-love forms the rainbow-colored, super- shame-fightin’ canopy of my umbrella.

How’s that for an anti-body shame manifesto????

So, the TRUTH is that I have come a looooong way in learning to accept and love my body.  The TRUTH is I’m not perfect in practicing self-love (and it IS a practice!).  But I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to keep practicing.  Body shame took root so early in my life and became deeply ingrained in my psyche, so naturally the shame demons make a cameo appearance from time to time.  The DIFFERENCE is that I’m now uber-conscious when shame starts to creep into my mental chatter and sprinkle on my parade, and then-  snaaaaap-  UP goes my umbrella of self-love.  Through continuous practice, I’m much faster on the draw to combat these occasional, passing showers and no longer let a little rain ruin my beach plans.  The darkness of shame doesn’t stand much of a chance when met with the lightness of love.   The more I practice accepting and loving my body as it is TODAY, the freer I am to dance in the rain.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain by Heather Norton-Ruston


Questions & Resources:

Brene Brown writes about shame and developing shame resilience in her three books. Her theory is that shame is an everyday human emotion and, rather expecting ourselves to never experience this emotion, she believes in the importance of developing shame resilience.  In this piece, I use the metaphor of a shame-resilient umbrella to combat my body shame storms. At the end, I acknowledge my storms, albeit less frequent, are still part of life, so I’ve learned to use my umbrella to “dance in the rain.”  Do you agree or disagree with Brene’s theory on shame and shame resilience? What rings true from your own experience?

If you designed your own “umbrella” to combat body shame, what would your umbrella look like? How would you know when it’s time to take cover? How would you continuously bolster your umbrella?

Which parts of your body and appearance crave your love and acceptance?  Connect with each part and lovingly ask them what they need from you.  Thank them for showing up and serving you every single second of the day. If you are looking to read inspiring, body-positive messages which do NOT emphasize dieting or weight loss gimmicks, then I highly recommend you check out Geneen Roth’s works:  http://geneenroth.com/

As parents, one of the ways we teach our children about their bodies is by role-modelling. What would you like to teach your children about their bodies? How can you show them what it means to love and respect their bodies? What behaviors do you want to start/stop/continue as a role model?  How can you promote wellness, not body shame, in your family?

I’m BAAAACK!!!

I’m BAAAACK!!  Do I need to point out the obvious? Ok, I will… my first (and last) post was over 2 years ago when I softly launched she dreams big and shared the news of my pregnancy.  I wrote my launch post a few weeks before my due date and committed to returning to my work after six months of maternity leave.    Weeeeelllllll, that never happened, but the most extraordinary thing DID happen: I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, whom I affectionately call Toots (not his real name, duh).  Suddenly, my coaching biz and anything pertaining to the professional world faded to beige, and all I wanted to experience was the Technicolor world of my lil Toots.  Just him, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  He rocked my world, to say the least.

After more than 2 years of complete Toots immersion, I am still on “maternity leave.”   Actually, I no longer call it that- I have accepted the title of “mostly full time mommy to a very active toddler.”  The mostly part refers to the fact that I coach a few clients on the side (read: when Toots is sleeping), and recently resumed my coaching education to maintain my hard-earned credentials.  As I updated my website, my outstanding to-do was to write a new blog post, but I really struggled with what to say. Should I keep it uber-professional or make it deeply personal?  Either way, I wanted to prove to the world that my brain had not turned into mushy peas over the last few years.  My head kept telling myself to write a profound post about how women leaders can take the world by storm, but my heart nagged at me to pick up where I left off with my unique story of following my dreams.  Guess which part of me won?

To reach the point of writing this post, I first had to let go of the mental gunk which muddled my ability to share my heart.  I let go of the expectations I have about writing and the silly notions that I will only be taken seriously as a women’s leadership coach if I write about business-y topics. I let go my desire to prove the sanity of my post-partum brain to the world and appease anyone who stumbles across my blog.  I let go of worrying about those of who will critique my grammar, how often I use commas (old school style!), and my vocabulary.  I let go of my fear of being vulnerable, and of being seen for the sensitive, tender-hearted soul that I am.   I even let go of the “write a new blog post” action of my list of to-do’s. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Oh no, my work was hardly complete… I finally had to let go of whatever was stopping me from seeing myself as a leader in the here and now.

Good Lord what it took just to write this post!!  But the journey of letting go was MUCH greater than the simple act of writing, and this experience led me to where I am today as I let my heart do the typing.

So, here’s what I discovered as I let go, my lovelies…  When we let go of our perceptions of what a leader is, and how she is supposed to behave, talk, act, look, etc., we give way for our own style of leadership to emerge.  We no longer need a title, a salary, an org chart, or a snazzy suit to affirm our status as a leader.  We see opportunities to lead regardless of our profession, education, social status, or history.  (Do I hear a hallelujah??? Sure do!)

Stripping away all of this baggage, we LEAD when follow our heart’s desire, dreams, visions, and goals.  Yep, that’s right– we LEAD when we FOLLOW, letting the unseen, and sometimes unexplainable, serve as our compass.  We LEAD when we live our truth.  We’re at our best as leaders when the whispers of our soul guide our thoughts and actions.  Whether we succeed or fail isn’t the point, the point is that we lead by listening, following, and living our truth.

When I walked away from corporate life, I raised my leadership game up a few notches.  Perhaps others wouldn’t see my decision this way— I went from earning a six figure salary to ZERO-ZIP-ZILCH!!!  But, I was finally listening to that inner voice which urged me to follow my dreams of empowering women and becoming a mother.  When I made my initial leap of faith, that voice grew a bit louder, a bit more directive—she knew the way, I just needed to trust her and stay patient.  So, I did, and what unfolded, both personally and professionally, was transformational.  This being said, I couldn’t acknowledge myself as a leader until I recently let go of my limiting beliefs and realized I’m more of a leader now than I ever was.

And then I was FINALLY able to write this bloody post!!!!  (Let’s hope future posts come with greater ease or you won’t hear from me often.)

You, me, the gal on the commuter train, the mom driving the hybrid, the school girls in Pakistan, the farmer’s wife in Tanzania… we all have dreams, and we all hear the whispers of our soul urging us to follow those dreams.   We all have the ability to lead in this very moment by honoring those whispers.  Start simple, make it easy- choose whatever feels closest to your truth.  Keep listening, keep letting go of whatever limits you.  Keep practicing and celebrate the leader you are right here, right now.  Keep expecting miracles.  Above all, keep dreaming, my beloved soul sisters!!

Damn it feels good to be back….

Love and blessings,

Christina

 

Dreams Do Come True!

For many years, I dreamed of leaving corporate life behind to become an entrepreneur. I longed for more meaningful work that aligned with my passions and satisfied my soul. I imagined what life would be like outside of the corporate walls—how I’d define not only the “basics,” like work location and hours of operation, but, more significantly, how I’d choose the people with whom I collaborate and the way in which we work together.  I spent nearly 14 years dreaming about the future and wondering if I’d ever find the courage to walk away from my steady paycheck.. and then one day, I did it.  And I’ve never looked back…

Since leaving behind corporate life in early 2011, I’ve been on a path of self-discovery and self-actualization.   The first few months after I left IBM, I continued operating like I was still in the corporate environment- I threw myself into my role as founder and leader of the Qatar Professional Women’s Network and began taking steps to design my new business model, research coaching programmes, deliver workshops, etc.   What stopped me in my tracks was learning that I was pregnant, and, subsequently, miscarrying our little angel whom I named Gabriel.

I can’t begin to describe the heartache that followed the miscarriage—only those of you who’ve gone through a similar experience will understand the heaviness of my grief and the feelings of hopelessness.  All I wanted was to feel that life growing inside of me again.  If anything, losing Gabriel prompted me to reflect on what I really wanted in life, and, eventually, focus on the steps needed to create what I wanted.  My dreams became even clearer, and my desire to realize them even stronger.

Fast forward a year later, and my biggest dreams are coming true. I’ve re-trained as a professional coach, and started coaching amazing women in different parts of the world in pursuit of their own dreams.   I can finally say that I truly LOVE what I do and know that I’m making a difference in the world around me by coaching these women and investing in their development.   Concurrent to my coach training and business start-up, I’ve been “baking” another little miracle—and this one’s a keeper.   So, this summer,  I’m giving birth to two babies: my new business, she dreams big, and my “rainbow” baby (yet to be named).

she dreams big is truly a manifestation of my own dreams—a business which aligns with my values and  my passion for empowering women, plays to my strengths and experience, and makes a difference in this world.  Through she dreams big, I hope to inspire other women to pursue their dreams, whether they dream of owning their own business, starting a non-profit, achieving a leadership position within an organization, becoming a mom, or whatever their dreams may be.  she dreams big is aptly named after my clients and me:  big dreamin’, trail-blazin’, game changin’ women who are bold enough to be the change they want to see in this world!

So, here’s to you, my fellow big dreamers- may your every dream come true!

Love & blessings, Christina

(Note, I’m on maternity leave from July-December 2012, so look out for new blog posts and my return to coaching and consulting in 2013. In the meantime, you can reach me at christina@shedreamsbig.com)