Life Changing

positive testNo matter how many times you hear it, it is still impossible to understand what it really means to become a mother.  Although I knew what the two little lines in the display of the plastic stick that was covered in my urine meant, I had no idea, what it really meant to be a mother.

I was three days late, I was at an endurance ride over the weekend with friends and horses, and in the middle of the night, it struck me that I was late. I didn’t think it was a big deal, I could have been a few days off on my estimate, but when I got home that Tuesday, I took a test before racing outside to meet a client for riding lessons. Within 30 seconds, two very distinct blue lines appeared. I began to cry. I was happy, but I was scared of what that meant. I was scared that I had some drinks on New Years, and took a sleeping pill to help me sleep the night before the endurance ride. I was scared of what it meant to be pregnant for 9 months. No horses, no running, no third world country adventure travels. I was scared to be 37 and that there was a 40% risk of my baby having a chromosomal defect. I was scared to fall in love with the idea of becoming a mother in case it didn’t actually happen. I had about ten minutes to spare before my lesson, so I returned a call to my friend, and I tried not to let her hear the fear and excitement in my voice. But I was crying, I couldn’t stop crying. I broke down told her that I had taken a test, and it was positive. She asked me if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I explained that it was just plain scary.

Fast-forward to September 30, 2017. There I was with a giant gaping gash across my abdomen, skin stretched as they pulled Elijah Grant Smith out of my body. The sweet little 7 pounds 1 ounce baby, was exactly what I had been preparing for over the last 10 months. He was finally here. I had awaited his arrival so impatiently primarily for the following reasons:

  • I was excited to meet him
  • I was excited not to be pregnant anymore and feel like a whale
  • I was excited to go back to being a stomach sleeper
  • I was excited to drink wine

What I didn’t realize was what a drastic makeover my life was going through.

Let’s fast forward a year and some change. Elijah is a little over a year old. He started eating solids around 6 months, and walking at 10 months. He now says “ehhh” and points to tell me what he wants, and throws himself on the ground (the hard tile floor) when he doesn’t get what he wants immediately. He currently sleeps in bed with us, still nurses throughout the night and amazes us daily with his intelligence and understanding of complex things that we ask him to do. He laughs big old belly laughs often and 95% of his time is considered playtime. Everything is a playful game except eating, sleeping and diaper changes. His favorite, must-have objects are a shoe horn, a ladle, and a baster brush. I find 2 of the three items in the shower, or dunked in the toilet at least once a week. He loves to “help”. If I am cooking, he wants to take the spatula from me and beat the food in the pan to death with it. If I am cleaning, he wants the paper towel and the spray bottle so he can spray and wipe with me, then he looks up for approval to verify that he did a good job. He wants me to hold him most of the time, and if I try to put him down to go pee, he throws himself on the ground, unless I distract him with a toy… or a baster, ladle or shoe horn. He has to be watched all of the time. He can open drawers, even the child proof ones and yank things out. He puts everything in his mouth. He loves to taste or chew on the dogs kibbles, my toothbrush, his used wrapped up diapers (which he demands that he puts them in the diaper genie), and most recently, he sunk his teeth into a bar of Irish Spring soap, which oddly enough, didn’t phase him. When the dog vomits, or he finds liquid on the floor (or even worse, if he poops on the floor) his first instinct is to put his hands in it and smear it around. Thank goodness that I scooped him up before he played in the poop.

Let me explain, I had taken his diaper off for bath time, and as I was messing with the water, he pooped. I scooped him up before he managed to get his hands in it, but not before he crawled through it. I put him in the shower, and as I turned around to clean it up, the dog quickly darted to the pile of mush and began chowing down on it. Thanks, dog… I think.

My point is, that I didn’t realize that being a parent was a full time job. I didn’t realize that any spare time I had prior to being a mom, was no longer. Those days of going to the store after work are long gone. I pick up the baby from daycare, we go to the house, nurse and he naps from 4-6 pm. I imagined that I would be riding my horse while he napped, or doing stuff outside, but that is not the case. I prepare for the next day and make dinner so when he wakes up, we can eat, cleanup and shower. He goes to bed at 7:30 and we are in bed by 8. Yes, we could stay up later, but he wakes up a couple of times a night and we need the extra sleep. That is how each weekday goes. Weekends are less structured, and we get more accomplished, but it is a team effort. I have to give those single mothers a ton of respect, because I have no idea how they do it. We don’t have family here, we don’t have consistent babysitters, and we don’t have anybody he can spend the night with when we need a break.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother, but I just didn’t understand when people said they couldn’t meet up because it was the babies nap time or because they didn’t want to bring their toddler to an event and they didn’t have a sitter. Now I see how the simple daily tasks are amplified when there is a baby or a toddler involved. I guess these are things that you would not be able to understand until you live it, but hopefully, this gives you some insight on what to expect when you are expecting.


A New Approach to Training

Many instructors and developers have one goal, to get the right training to the right people in a timely manner. That seems like a reasonable expectation, right?  But what happens after the training occurs? What is the likelihood that the students will complete the class, go back to their organizations and revert to their old ways? Pretty high, unless a maintenance program is put in place to reinforce the training, encourage new habits, and mentor the newly trained personnel.


What if we looked at the training event as one step of a process rather than the entire process itself? Imagine a world where prior to a student attending a training event, the supervisors, coach or mentor is briefed on what to expect from the employee when they return from training, the training occurs, and the rest of the organization is prepared to continue to follow-up with the newly trained employee to ensure their success. At this point, we are no longer talking about training, we are talking about performance plans.

Let’s call this a Training and Performance Package

Step 1: Ensure leadership knows what will be trained (Critical skills/behaviors) and how to identify whether or not the employee learned what was taught (learning transfer).

Step 2: Train the employee on critical skills/behaviors

Step 3: Follow-up and reinforce the training with pre-determined methods such as weekly mentorship sessions, bi-weekly brown bag sessions to reiterate the training, on-the-job checklists, and any other ways to reinforce what was learned by allowing the learner to apply the principles on the job

What would that look like in your organization? Could you see the benefit?

My Leadership Statement


I choose to inspire by my actions, not my words.

I try to take advantage of each day I have on this Earth and live life to its fullest whether that means helping rescue battered horses, SCUBA diving in Belize, snowboarding in Maine, surfing in Nicaragua, backpackaing across Central America, or perusing the foothills of Spain with a bottle of wine in hand, I am present in each moment, and aware of how little I am in this big world.

All too often, I hear the phrase “I wish I could do that”.

My response varies, but my favorite is “Passports aren’t just for awesome people named Sara, you too can get one!”

My leadership goal is not to stand out because of my outgoing personality, phenomenal sense of humor or because I can talk louder than the next Person.

My leadership goal and perhaps my style is very different.

I like to inspire and motivate others to think outside of their boundaries, see the limitless possibilities and remove or navigate around any roadblocks they face.

I will continue to inspire by action, and perhaps someday, perhaps when I am long gone, someone will think of me, and say “she was a pretty cool chick that did some pretty cool things, and because of her, I too did some pretty cool things.”



Exceptional Leadership: Asking for Help

I had the opportunity to attend a leadership course at the Univ of Tennessee. During my time in this class I learned a lot about myself and my leadership style. The first thing that stuck out to me and really hit home, was a topic that was brought up after we did a class activity that required 11 of us to determine how to travel approximately 30 feet with ten blocks of wood across a room without touching the carpet or leaving a “resource” without human contact. We initally tried to lay the blocks out in front of the first person, while sharing the block with another person and slowly and carefully walking across the room. Our first attempt failed when a woman lost her balance from the block. We regrouped and started over. This time we had a lot more communication, trust, we physically held on to each other and asked for help throughout the activity. Afterwards, we reflected on the activity and how we came together to reach a solution.  The “asking for help” portion really resonated with me. I was reminded that although asking for help is not our first preference on getting something accomplished, it is a great way to show your team that they are valued, their input and assistance is needed, and it shows that you trust them enough to help you. So asking for help is not a sign of weakness, nor does it show vulnerability, but it is an opportunity to allow others to feel good about themselves and important within the organization. Consider asking for help even when you may not need it and remember how good it makes you feel to help somebody…



What Does it Take to Become a Pararescueman in the Air Force?

Many people have no idea what it takes to become a pararescueman in the United States Air Force. For that matter, many people don’t know what a pararescueman a.k.a. “PJ” does, nor that they are a part of the Special Operations community just like Navy SEALs. PJs know that SEALs are in the limelight when it comes to Hollywood and International news, the PJs don’t mind being the silent heroes or “quiet professionals” as they like to call it.

As a training evaluator for Battlefield Airman group at Medina Annex, I was able to really get some insight on what it takes to be a PJ. One of my many roles in this awesome job is to talk to the students who don’t make it to determine the root cause of why they self-eliminated, and talk to the graduates to see which tools they used to push through, and why they felt they were successful at completing the course of initial entry, PJ Indoctrination. But first thing is first, what does a PJ learn and do?

A PJ is super-athlete who is trained to jump out of aircraft, SCUBA dive, survive in rough seas and on dangerous land, shoot with a ridiculous level of accuracy and perform life saving techniques while being shot at or flying through the air in a helicopter.

PJ training starts at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, where the majority of them go through Basic Training, followed by an eight week Battlefield Airmen preparatory course. Once they complete “BA Prep”, they shift to the dorms on Medina, an annex of Lackland and start a nine week training program called PJ Indoc. This course is designed to test the limits of the trainees. It separates the men from the boys and weeds out the weak ones who weren’t meant to be a part of the SpecOps community. During indoctrination, the trainees will be pushed to their limits on the ground by running up to 5 miles at a time at 7.5 minute pace, rucking several miles with 45 pounds worth of gear, and carrying their assigned training aid (a telephone pole) with them to and from chow and back and forth from the dorms. They will go far beyond what they thought was possible in the water with exercises such as buddy breathing, finning, treading water, ten-ups, buddy brick and even crossing the Boerne lake. If they complete Indoc, which only about 20% will, they will then move on to two different dive schools, open and closed circuit, both of which are in Panama City, Florida. Then they will PCS (move permanently) to Kirtland AFB in New Mexico and go through a 7 week basic EMT course followed by a 28 week EMT course with a hospital rotation. Most paramedics go through 18 months of training, while PJs only get 6 months to absorb the same amount of information. There is some attrition in the EMT courses, but once they get passed the EMT courses, they tend to rarely lose people. Afterwards, the fun starts again. They go through Combat Survival training, three different jump schools, Underwater Egress Training (escaping sinking aircraft and such), and then they finish it all off with a 24 week apprentice course where they tie everything that they learned together. So you may ask yourself, what kind of person does it take to successfully become a real live super hero?

Several studies have been done to determine which characteristics are more beneficial for the Spec Ops career field. Most commonly, those with a Type A personality tend to want to “be the best”. But that doesn’t guarantee success. According to a recently graduated class from the indoctrination course, it takes more than just physical strength and mental resillience to make it through the course. Their advice is:
– Maturity is a major factor- Very few 18 year-old, fresh out of high school graduates complete the indoctrination course.
– Train beyond what you thought was possible- Don’t train for just the entry test or even graduation standards, train for more than you can imagine that you can do. One student was told to run a mile carrying a cinder block. “It sounded impossible, but that is the mentality that you need to get through.”
– Expect to want to quit- You have to go in knowing the you will have the urge to quit several times, you need to want it bad enough to get you passed actually quitting.
– It is 50% physical ability and 50% mental resilience- Be strong mentally, and your body will endure.

Some additional characteristics that have been noted over the years include leadership skills, willingness to make sacrifices for the team, and putting the team before self.

So if this is a career field that interests of fascinates you, buckle up, it is a long, hard ride. The training lasts about two years, and the first 2 months includes carrying a 65 pound ruck and being part of a 20 man team that carries a telephone pole everywhere they go, equally distributed, that adds about an additional 100 pounds per person.

Article published by Sara Winder, April 2018