We all have a story. A story of where we started, where we’ve been, where we are now, & where we hope to go. Not all of those stories are glamorous. They aren’t always filled with happiness, but they do paint quite the picture. For me, my story is filled with many struggles, & quite a bit of heartache, but it’s also filled with love, laughter, happiness, and hopefulness.
Let’s go back to October of 2006. I was teaching preschool at the time, sometimes more than 12 hours a day between 2 different jobs to make ends meet. I loved teaching. I loved working with kids & loved the kids in my class. I can honestly say that I was a good teacher. The kids in my class always knew they were loved, no matter who they were, what they wore or what they did (good or bad). Of course there were the challenging kids, but sometimes those become the favorites that we were not supposed to admit we all had. For years I thought that would be my path…early childhood education.
Aside from teaching preschool I was a typical 20-something year old living & partying in the suburbs of St. Louis. I enjoyed going out on the weekends, and sometimes during the week with friends to the local bar, karaoke was something we did pretty often. I absolutely loved being around people, laughing, and making new friends. I struggled financially, but I worked hard for the things I had and while it wasn’t much, I was happy with my life.
In the blink of an eye everything changed. I received a phone call from my Mom telling me the unfortunate news that my grandma had passed away. Yes, she was 80. Yes, old people die, but this was the first death in my family that hit me hard. This was the first time I lost someone that meant the world to me. This was the beginning of a new chapter of my life. One I didn’t know how to navigate. I’m so grateful that I saved my pennies for quite some time to fly down to Tampa and surprise her for her 80th birthday, a little over a week before she passed away. I didn’t know it then, but looking back now I realize that week was one of the most important weeks of my life.
During that week we talked a lot about family. She told me stories about her past. I learned more about my Italian heritage. We talked about my future, and of course she talked about family recipes, because what Italian family doesn’t talk about cooking? It was known in my family that I was my Grandma’s Princess. We shared a special bond. She would always tell me that I was special. To this day I still wonder if she realized how much she meant to me.
I changed when my grandma passed away. I started playing things safe. I would think things through before I reacted. I started to become a person that soon no one would recognize, including myself. This was the beginning of a big shift in my life.
That Christmas, just a couple months later, my whole family was finally all together, my mom, dad, two brothers and myself. This didn’t happen very often because my brothers were in the military. There were many Christmases without my younger brother when he was off fighting for our freedom in Iraq. So this Christmas was special. I stayed in Tampa for two weeks doing the family thing. We cooked, we laughed, we sometimes bickered, but we were a family and family has always been important to me. I cherished all of the memories we were making. Christmas to me isn’t about what I get to unwrap, it’s about love, laughter, and making memories that will last the rest of my life….or until I become old and senile.
I remember one of my bosses telling me just before my trip to Tampa that I should do a father/daughter date while I was visiting, so I did. I took my dad out for lunch. We talked, we laughed, we schemed ways to prank one of my aunts. We had a great date. My dad and I were very close at that point in my life. We hadn’t always been. In high school I was a hormonal nightmare and my dad knew what buttons to push. I laugh when I look back at that time in my life. I laugh about how ridiculous I was as a teen, but I’m so grateful that no matter what, I knew I was loved by my family.
Once again I had no idea how important that trip would be.
It’s now February of 2007 and I’m sick. Sicker than I’ve ever been. Sick enough to start worrying. I had been rushed to the hospital from Urgent Care with a blood oxygen level of 79….79 is not good. 79 could kill you, at least that’s what the doctors were telling me when they were asking if I had a Will or a power of attorney. At this point I’m back in Missouri, my parents lived in Tampa, and all I had were friends and very close family friends near me. I was not only scared to death, but scared of death. I had no idea what was going on, no one would tell me at first. I was being poked & prodded. My shirt was literally ripped off of my body, and heart monitors were placed all over my chest. I was terrified.
The final diagnosis, pneumonia.
I missed two full weeks of work and even more in the months it took to recover. This was another plot twist I wasn’t ready for.
That February is when I stopped living life as a happy go lucky 20-something year old. Pneumonia scared me. Pneumonia scarred me. I was afraid to get sick. I stopped going out. I shut myself off from the real world and immersed myself into a virtual world called Second Life. In Second Life I couldn’t get sick. It didn’t matter that I gained a lot of weight from all of the steroids the doctors were pumping into my body. It didn’t matter who I was at all in the real world, I could be anyone I wanted to be. Second Life was the catalyst to where I am today.
By July of 2007 I was completely healthy again. I started getting out & going places. I started to really enjoy life again. I decided to quit one of my teaching jobs and only work one full time position. This was a big deal. I had been working 12+ hours a day for at least 4 or 5 years. I was looking forward to the all the free time I was going to have. I was so excited about the possibility for napping. Naps are heaven. I was also doing a little side gig for a virtual marketing company that was based within the digital space of Second Life.
Geeky, I know.
I started to learn a lot about branding. This was around the birth of social media…not the MySpace social media era, more the Twitter & Facebook era. I was starting to find the old Kim again. The Kim that was happy. The Kim that was excited about the future she talked to her grandma about one week before she passed away. The Kim that craved love, laughter, and friendship. My future was looking pretty good again…
Don’t hold your breath just yet, this doesn’t last long.
The morning of August 20, 2007 I was so excited to start my new full time teaching job. I felt good about my decision and knew I needed a change. The day was pretty good too, that is until I received another phone call I would never be ready for. The phone call telling me that my dad had passed away. My world came to a crashing halt that day. It wasn’t even a year since I lost my grandma, and all I could think was why?!? Why is all of this happening in my life? Why can’t I just be happy? It felt like a cruel joke. It just wasn’t fair. Who would I talk to when I needed a listening ear? Who would love me unconditionally like my dad did? Who would walk me down the aisle should I ever get married? Who would I go on father daughter dates with? Who would tell terrible jokes to make me laugh hysterically? Losing my dad was one of the absolute worst moments in my life. One I never want to relive, but one I’ll never stop replaying in my head. My heart was shattered into a million pieces that day.
Flying back to Tampa, & dealing with arrangements were all a blur to me. I remember people telling me to eat. I remember being told I should just go get some sleep. At that moment in my life I felt like there was no happiness in my future. Later that month I was back in the hospital with pneumonia. I kept getting sick. I lost all hope in happiness. I was tired of being sad. I was tired of being sick. Even my closest friends didn’t know how to help me. I was a lost cause just going through the motions necessary to make it through the day.
By February of 2008 I was done. Done with St. Louis. Done with teaching. Done with being sick. Done with losing people I loved. I was broken in a way I never thought I would be. Kim no longer existed, only a barely recognizable shell was left. A shell that cried herself to sleep almost every night. A shell that felt lost & hopeless. I knew I needed to make a change.
By March I quit my job, packed up a Uhaul, strapped my ’98 GrandAm to the back of it and moved to Tampa, Florida. I only knew family, but it didn’t matter because I was done with everything. I still had my virtual marketing and branding gig, but that didn’t last as long as I had hoped. I moved to Tampa hoping to figure out a way to heal my broken heart, but life throws you curveballs when you least expect it, and sometimes it happens at the most opportune moment.
About a year after living here in Tampa I found out that my Mom’s house was in foreclosure. Immediately a switch was flipped inside of me. I knew I had to do something. I knew WE had to try everything we could. I started hustling in the real world, speaking about social media to business owner groups, blogging tips and tricks, I would take on clients for pennies to make a dollar. Life was hard, but for once I felt strong again. For the first time in a long time I felt hopeful. Life was still hard, but there was light instead of darkness and that was a sign that I was on the right path.
We hustled one day at a time. My mom worked each and every day at her full time job & I did everything I could to get my face and knowledge in front of people that might at some point be interested in hiring me. People often ask me about startup costs for KiMedia Strategies and my first reaction is to laugh because I guess you could say my startup costs were gas money to get me from one potential client meeting to another. I’m also asked how I came up with my startup capital….at one point I was digging in the couch cushions for change to put gas in the tank. My business didn’t have a lot of overhead, I was lucky there.
One Christmas my mom & I hand painted Twitter and social media themed ornaments. I put them up on Etsy and they started selling, we even received an order from someone at Microsoft….a fairly large order. These sales helped us have a Christmas that year. Because of our hustle and creative thinking we had a delicious Christmas dinner, and while I would have been fine with anything, I was so proud that we overcame such a rough time. That was the last Christmas we spent at my mom’s house.
My mom lost her home, but today I can very proudly & humbly say that she doesn’t have to worry about the roof over her head. When you work hard and when you’re determined to rise above all the terrible things that are happening around you & to you, good will come from it. I now know what I’m made of, I know I can hustle my way through anything, no matter what or who is trying to hold me back. All of the struggles I had dealt with had given me the strength to be the person I am today. I am so grateful for my story. I’m grateful for the road that led me to where I am today. I’m grateful for my family & friends that believed in me when my world was falling apart.
If I had never experienced such pain in my life, I’d never be able to see how beautiful life truly is.