Relationships between women can forge bonds unlike many others. What we go through together, how we support one another, and the love we give to each other can fuel and inspire our futures. For Jill, an educator from Pennsylvania, kinship with women has helped her define her life and continue to empower her.
“Friends have always been very important to me,” Jill said. “I know that my friends are my chosen family. And just like you nurture any kind of relationship, you have to nurture your friendships.”
Authentic friendship gets cared for and then cares for you in return. Jill experienced this through her relationship with her childhood best friend, Marnie, whom she met in the ninth grade. The pair shared a class in their freshman year of high school, and together they attended the same college and became roommates.
Jill and Marnie’s friendship endured post-college and thrived. The support shared between them was as a structural beam stabilizing them and keeping them upright through the hardest moments of their lives.
In college, Marnie had been diagnosed with leukemia, but with treatment, she was declared to be in remission. However, a few years after graduating college,she was diagnosed with colon cancer (unrelated to her leukemia). Again, Marnie managed to beat the odds and enter remission a second time.
Jill poured her support into Marnie’s recuperation, and Marnie inspired Jill with her resilience and spirit. Their bond remained unbreakable.
It remained that way until the very end. Three years ago, Marnie was diagnosed with breast cancer. This time, she did not tell anyone but her husband. She felt she could beat the cancer once more, and she didn’t want worry or pity from friends.
Jill had no idea Marnie was sick until Marnie’s husband texted from the hospital.
“Her husband texted me and said, ‘I don't even know how to tell you this, but Marnie is in hospice right now.’ It was like, 10 o'clock at night. I had no idea she was even sick. I was just like, ‘What are you even talking about? Like, what are you talking about?’” Jill recalls.
She felt the floor had fallen out from underneath her. Her world shifted irreversibly in that moment. Without a second thought, she went to be by her best friend’s side, as Marnie would have done for her.
Though it was the middle of the pandemic lockdown, Jill rushed to the hospital despite the risks of COVID exposure. She needed her best friend, and her best friend needed her.
“At first I was so angry. How could you not tell me this? Because I would have just spent as much time with her as I possibly could,” Jill said.
There was so much to say and so little time. Just one hour of visitation in the hospital had to be enough.
“As soon as I walked in, she goes, ‘I know you're pissed at me.’ I was like, ‘How did you not tell me?” Jill said. “I've realized now that was her own personal decision.”
In the hour they spent together, the love between the friends surpassed any other emotion. This love continues to act as an energy source for Jill, sustaining her everyday. Jill is constantly affected by Marnie’s presence in her life, and she knows she will always carry the bittersweet blend of grief and love.
“I realized that I will cry when I talk about her for the rest of my life. And that's just going to be the way that it is,” Jill said.
When Marnie passed away, each of Jill’s daily struggles was magnified under the weight of her heartbreak. As a teacher, Jill felt progressively more stressed and overwhelmed, until she was completely burned out in her professional life. Simultaneously, she entered menopause - feeling her body’s hormonal changes and a hundred emotions at once. The weight of all this pain kept Jill from living her life and loving herself to the fullest extent. Though she had always been one to say yes to a good time, she felt exhausted and reclusive.
“I was just becoming this introverted hermit, which is just not me. And I used to love adventures,” Jill said. “I'm like, wake up, like, you've lost yourself.”
She knew she had to finally face the loss of her friend, deal with her burnout, and find passion in her life once again.
“You've got to live not only for her, but you've got to live for you,” Jill said. “So it's time to make some changes.”
Jill decided to leave her traditional, in-person job teaching in Pennsylvania and transition to online education. Burnout and professional unhappiness would no longer stifle her spirit.
“Instead of waiting for ‘someday’...like you never know if there’s going to be a someday. It's time to make sure you're living your dreams now,” Jill said.
Jill teaches sixth grade science online. Though she sacrificed her pension when she left her in person teaching job, she does not regret for a second pursuing her own happiness. She simply loves the pursuit of adventure and having the privilege of seeing where the world will take her next. On-line teaching allows her to live in different places: winter in Arizona and summer at the beach. She calls herself “a nomad on purpose.”
“These are the best years of my life. I don't know if there'll be tomorrow. I have to live the way that I want to now, instead of someday,” Jill said.
As Jill was changing her professional life, Rise Gatherings presented as a valuable resource for her personal growth. Before Marnie’s death, Jill came across a brochure for Rise at her Pilates studio, and she decided to attend a few forest bathing events. She immediately felt that Rise guided her toward an aspirational self.
Later, at her first, Rise Gatherings Weekend Getaway, Jill attended workshops that opened her eyes to the importance of positive body image.
“It was just about like, the lies you tell yourself about your appearance. And every single woman just opened up so much and just shared like the hurt and the pain about our body image. This group just supported and listened, and were so vulnerable, and so raw. We were all crying, and it was just a really very moving experience,” Jill recalls.
Jill loves how Rise teaches women it’s ok to get away for a weekend and engage in self-care, and she was inspired to prioritize this type of care in her career. As a teacher, she never felt like she could take time to help herself, and she lacked a community in which she could share her burnout. She needed a Rise Gatherings in her professional life.
“My first Rise Gatherings has definitely helped me get to where I am right now and made me assess my life and evaluate it and set goals for where I wanted to go and where I wanted to see myself in the future,” Jill said.
Jill had always toyed with starting her own business, but she found a clear vision after her Rise Weekend Getaway. Her mission is to help teachers, particularly women teachers, manage the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that comes from a job that is often thankless.
Jill also participated in Rise entrepreneurship courses on how to establish her own business. The Weekend Getaway also helped Jill find a mentor by allowing her to connect with a Rise facilitator that led business-oriented workshops.
With this training and support, Jill launched EmpowerEDU, her organization devoted to providing teachers with emotional and professional support. Jill specifically focuses on women teachers, since she knows from experience that they have the most challenges in boundary-setting, and they are more often expected to give an overwhelming amount of care for others before themselves.
“I've always felt this draw to lead people and lead them in women empowerment. And I just think the paths are kind of opening themselves up to me,” Jill said.
Jill knows she would not have started EmpowerEDU without Rise. When she first considered her own business, she wanted to engage in private coaching for teachers. However, once she saw the community that arises from the retreat setting, she knew she needed to use this medium.
“Rise was a huge catalyst and helped me figure out what I want and it's still evolving every day,” Jill said.
Jill just had her first weekend retreat with EmpoweredEDU, where she used the lessons Rise learned at Rise to facilitate a loving community specifically for teachers with other teachers. During the weekend, Jill led her own workshops: some specifically on teaching as well as some on self-care.
“Everybody connected immediately. Everybody was open, everyone was sharing, and we just talked about boundaries, what they are, why you need them, how to set them, how people react to your boundaries, all those strategies. It was really great,” Jill said. “I learned a lot, they learned, I hope, about boundaries and a lot about themselves.
Jill loves Rise for clarifying her visions and helping her celebrate other women as well as herself. Even though she felt overwhelmed when starting her own business, Tami and Rachel provided her the tools, the encouragement, the confidence, and the faith to follow in their footsteps and create an organization to help women. Rise showed Jill her power, and she can’t wait to work with EmpoweredEDU to help women do the same.
“It's time for women to know their power, like really to know what the possibilities are,” Jill said. “I just think it's a great opportunity for women.”
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