When life presents you with the opportunity to hear your mother’s last heartbeat, with your ear desperately pressed against her chest while your 3-month-old baby is crying in the next room, time has a way of collapsing and expanding all at once. Or did it implode? I’m not sure, but it made me think long and hard about my life, how it might go faster than I had planned, and what I wanted to do with the time I have here on Planet Earth.
I’m a doctor. Countless sleepless nights and a degree from Georgetown University will prove it. I trained as an emergency physician in Washington DC, where I saw everything from stab wounds to anxiety attacks to babies born in the ambulance bay to foreign objects inserted in places beyond your wildest imagination. I had the best work stories at any dinner party, unless it was with my medical friends, and then it was like a contest to see who had seen the most surreal or ridiculous or life-affirming cases that week. I finished my training and moved to Colorado with my husband and our then 2 year-old daughter. Until that point, I had lived within 10 miles of my parents for my entire life.
Mountain practice was different—like an orthopedic clinic, with an occasional trauma case and lots of high altitude sickness. I brushed up on my skills, and was soon putting dislocated shoulders back in place with ease. Things were swimming right along until my mom came to visit a few months later. We were hiking when she had a brief episode of stomach pain. It passed with some deep breaths, and we didn’t think too much of it. A month later, back in DC, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
After 16 months of aggressive treatment, my stepfather finally made the call to say “I think you’d better come home.” I stepped numbly on a plane with my brother and my second daughter, who was 3 months old. We spent a week in their house, caring for my frail, cancer-ravaged mom, telling her it was okay to let go. She slipped into a coma not long after we arrived, and died 8 days later, at age 64. She was my most precious, beautiful friend.
BACK IN COLORADO
I returned to work in the emergency department, but something was different. Of course, everything is different when you lose someone you love. But there was something missing in the work, as if I couldn’t define my purpose. I knew I was helping people, and that I was a good doctor. But, at the end of a shift, I felt exhausted and empty, rather than fulfilled by the work. Looking back, I think it was a sense that I had not, despite 13 hours on my feet without peeing or eating, made the world more beautiful, safer, or much healthier. I was taking care of problems that had already happened—basically putting out fires. I saw so many patients with problems they could have prevented by choosing to prioritize their own health over the cigarettes or fast food or alcohol or whatever else was making them sick. After losing my mother, who lived an incredibly healthy life and died anyway, I started to resent patients who took their health for granted. And I didn’t want to become a resentful human. So I began to percolate.
FINDING A NEW PASSION
On a whim, I took a class making soap at a local ranch. I was immediately transfixed: chemistry plus beauty was an irresistible combination that flipped a switch in my brain. I converted a windowless room in a dear friend’s house (fondly referred to as the “meth lab”) and worked for 2 years on formulations. I exploded things. I coated myself with every plant oil known to man. I taught myself about emulsions and surfactants and preservatives. I was obsessed. When I worked a shift in the ER, I counted the hours until I could get back to my little lab. I knew something had to change. I just had to figure out how. And why.
You know how, when you fall in love, there’s no answer to the why part, and we don’t really ask because it’s LOVE? That’s how I felt about making these beautiful, natural products. (Still do.) I wanted to shout from the rooftops: “Hey everyone! Let’s stop using all these chemicals that make little girls get their periods too early and cause cancer and fish mutations and are changing the planet and the course of our evolution! And, let’s do it not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because there are SO many better options, and I now know how to make them!!!”
(By the way, here I still am, up on the rooftop, shouting.)
MAKING THE JUMP TO A NEW CAREER
The process of leaving the emergency room was excruciating. My thoughts were stuck in an endless loop: "I am a doctor! I worked hard to be a doctor, especially while making babies at the same time! My dad is a law professor, my mom was a lawyer, and I’m going to be a SOAP MAKER??" I suffered silently for a long time, and considered it endlessly about it from every angle. But I kept wondering what my mom would say, and I could hear it as clearly as I heard her little heart stop: “Honey, do what you love.” When I finally said it all out loud, my prince of a husband cocked his head at me with a slight, confused smile. And then he looked at my face and said “OH. You’re serious. Okay, let’s make a plan.”
So we did. And eleven years later, I am still the CEO of our medium-sized skincare brand. We have an incredible team, a sustainably-built facility, and we still make most of our products in house. I use my medical background to help people with specific skin issues and formulate using ingredients that are simple, natural, and effective.
Do I miss medicine? Sometimes, yes. But here's how I see it. If one person finally finds relief from her chronic eczema thanks to our products, I have practiced medicine. If our blog posts help people understand why certain personal care chemicals are truly harmful to human health, I have practiced medicine. And if the level of 1,4-dioxane in our water supply goes down over the next 30 years and fewer aquatic species are affected because of my company and companies like it, I have practiced medicine. And, most importantly, I have practiced love.
What’s your passion? And what’s your plan?
It's time to do what you are called to do, and we'll be here cheering you on from the mountains of Colorado.