We had the good fortune of connecting with Michele Neff Hernandez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michele, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk taking used to terrify me. I am a conservative person by nature, and I love safety! However, after the death of my 39 year-old husband in a cycling accident, my view on risk taking changed. After Phil’s death, suddenly the risk to NOT do something was more dangerous than any challenge I would face in order to follow a dream or try out a new idea. Faced with the reality of the brevity of life, the cost of not doing something I felt drawn to do was too high to pay. Once I decided to let go of the false sense of security to which I used to cling, life became an adventure. I’ve applied a more fearless attitude (don’t get me wrong, I still like safety!) to my career, to my life choices and even to my relationships. I began to recognize that opportunities lost because of fear are a certain cost while imagined consequences are just that–imagined. Being willing to step outside my comfort zone led to launching a non-profit which has served over three million widowed people over the past twelve years. Embracing a higher level of risk has helped me to create a legacy of service of which I am so proud and live a life I would not have been able to imagine when fear played a larger role in my decision making.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Soaring Spirits International is the non-profit I founded in 2008 to provide programs, resources and access to community for widowed people everywhere. We create, manage and host innovative grief recovery programming designed to facilitate healing and provide hope for the future for the widowed people who join our community. I am proud of the work we’ve done to found a research center dedicated to the study of resilience in widowhood called the Soaring Spirits Resilience Center. We use our research to create practical, relevant tools and programs for widowed people around the world. Camp Widow is our flagship program…the hosting of which was one of the most risky experiences of my professional life. Grief is still a relatively taboo concept in the United States. We don’t like to talk about death or it’s aftermath which makes funding super challenging. The need to raise money in support of an organization to which I am entirely dedicated has taught me a lot about myself and what I am made of. I’ve learned that the answer to an unasked question is always no and that being direct and kind is a powerful combination. Though the work we do can be emotionally draining, there is no community I’d rather serve.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my best friend and I are going on a trip, there are beaches involved. We love a good long beach walk, an open air beach bar, and Veuve Clicquot champagne. High on the list of places we love are the Virgin Islands, the California beaches, a walk down the strip on Waikiki and a night out on the town in Santorini. Greece is not to be missed…wander the streets, restaurant hop, and definitely check out the Acropolis and the museum, too. The locals are friendly, the views are spectacular and the history is inspiring! I want to go back right now!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to dedicate this Shoutout to Soaring Spirits International and every widowed person who has ever shared their heart with me, including the lovely and powerful Alison Miller.
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