“Living Out Loud” is a series about fully experiencing and learning from life’s fascinating adventures, great joys, and occasional awestruck “aha moments.” These daily journeys have always taught me to live my life in my own way, with empathy for others and a passion for innovation, the new and the different. We can’t control every aspect of life, and we don’t get an opportunity to “do life over.” But we can own each moment, be authentic, and be comfortable with who we are while “Living Out Loud.” This month’s post was inspired by an experience that gave deep personal meaning to one of Highmark’s corporate values: Courage.


Ever had one of those days? Many Mondays ago, I had one that started off with a bang.

No, really: “BANG!”

Boots, my cat, decided to take on the trash can and win. As Boots saw it, those chicken bones from last night’s dinner were way too tasty to leave in the garbage. So down went the can, hence the bang. Immediately after his early morning breakfast, Boots proceeded to throw up all over the kitchen floor. Naturally, this all happened on a morning when I had an 8 a.m. meeting presentation on the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce and was already behind schedule. On top of everything else, I couldn’t find my car keys, and my Monday stomach was not agreeing with Sunday’s spicy chicken dinner.

I wondered what else could go wrong. Apparently that was the wrong question to ask, because the news then reported that traffic was backed up due to a nasty fender bender. At that moment, I thought about giving up, throwing in the towel. I figured, on a day that starts like this, what’s wrong with having an attitude that’s capital “U” U-g-l-y? The importance of courage was the furthest thing from my mind.

Then my sister Patricia called. I was about to learn the true meaning of courage and why throwing in the towel really wasn’t an option.

Several years ago, Patricia was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s tissues, causing inflammation, swelling, pain, and damage. She amazed the doctors by raising a healthy family, maintaining full-time employment and leading a productive life despite the disease. Her news for me this morning: “I’m doing okay, but I am having trouble walking.”

Bang.

The morning just got worse, right? Not so much.

For many years my sister had been battling the physically disabling impact of lupus, including symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, fever, and a lupus rash. Now, Patricia told me a physician specialist had requested she be tested for another autoimmune disease: multiple sclerosis. He believed, although it would be highly unusual, that she might be presenting symptoms of both diseases.

Staying Positive

If anyone had a right to feel like throwing in the towel, it was her. Instead, she said, “Listen, don’t worry, if this is the worst that happens, I will be alright. Things could be worse.”

In other words, rather than focusing on what was out of her control, she focused on what she could control: keeping a positive attitude and continuing to live her life in the fullest way possible.

Patricia shows courage as she faces lupus

Highmark VP Diversity & Inclusion Sara Oliver-Carter, left, with her sister Patricia.

My sister is one of the most courageous people I know. It’s still not certain whether she has multiple sclerosis or not. What is certain is that lupus presents plenty of hardships on its own, but, to this day, despite her disability, my sister continues to work full-time and interact regularly with her grandchildren.

What my sister shared that Monday made me realize that my morning really wasn’t that bad! More importantly, I had been given a very personal example of the meaning of courage: the ability to face difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome or overwhelmed. On that day courage became my mantra: I lived my Monday “out loud” by modeling my sister’s courage.