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Finding Joy in Adversity

Oct 04, 2020

Written by Kadi Petridis

A women’s group at my company invited me to write a blog post on the topic of Joy earlier this year. At the time I had no idea we would be in the midst of a global pandemic as well as a major call to action led by citizens across the globe to address the issues of police brutality and systemic racism in the United States.  Both issues are a stark reminder that life as we know it can and will shift in major ways, often, when we least expect it. So how do we find Joy, when we are all dealing with so much uncertainty about the future and the fact that life as we have known it will permanently be changed as we move into the future?  The truth is I don’t have all the answers and I don’t think anyone does; however, I thought I’d share some thoughts and strategies that have helped me find Joy in challenging times. 

Before I dive into strategies for finding Joy in the most uncertain times, I’ll give you an abbreviated “about Kadi.” One thing that brings me joy is connecting with people in a very authentic way, which means understanding their “back story.”  This is particularly important for those of us who are more introverted in nature and thrive off more intimate relationships in our personal and professional lives.  I was born in Bamako, Mali to a black Malian mother and a white American father who served in the Peace Corps in Liberia for several years. He then moved to Mali to continue his volunteer work, which is where he met and married my mother.  When I was two years old, we moved to my father’s hometown of Denver, Colorado where my sisters, brothers and I were raised in a very modest home.  I developed a strong work ethic in my early teens, working on weekends through middle school and year-round during high school.  One of my favorite high school jobs was as a dishwasher in a Pathology Lab at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, which was about a mile from my house. After graduating from high school, I moved to the Chicago area where I earned my BA in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the Northwestern University School of Communication. Throughout my four years of college, I worked various jobs/internships which included everything from book restoration at the University Library to one of my favorite internships at the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago where I ran the College Bound program.  This was a program designed to give inner-city high school students insights and tools to help them plan and prepare for college.   

After graduating, I spent four years working as an HR Generalist before joining Pfizer in 2002.  In 2011, I made one of the best moves of my career when I joined the Oncology BU.  The “patients first” culture deeply resonated with me and my need to be deeply connected to the work I do. In 2005 I lost my dad to lung cancer, so when I joined the Pfizer Oncology Business unit I felt so grateful to be in a place where I could make a meaningful difference for cancer patients.  Although many people throughout my career, encouraged me to take on roles leading people, I made a personal decision early in my career to wait until my daughters were older before pursuing a position managing people. Being a mom is such an important role and I wanted to be able to focus on my girls as much as possible when they were younger.  Eventually, in 2019, I was asked to apply for a Sr. Director role, leading a group of Account Managers, and I decided to pursue this opportunity and I’ve never been happier in any professional role as I am today.     

Finding Joy in Adversity

Now let’s get to the good stuff…finding Joy in adversity.  One of my most significant life-changing events happened during my junior year of college. My boyfriend and I had been dating since the beginning of our freshman year and we had an unplanned pregnancy. This was definitely not in my plan, but I came to believe it was God’s plan for me.  After experiencing many emotions, I quickly pulled myself together and reflected on my faith and reminded myself that I could do anything I put my heart and mind to. I knew that my attitude and beliefs would determine the outcome, and I chose to approach the situation as a blessing.  Two weeks before the start of my senior year of college, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Yasmeen.  I vowed to myself that I would raise my daughter and complete my senior year on time along with all my classmates. That’s exactly what I did! Three weeks after she was born, I was back in class and finished my senior year on time.  Fast forward to May 2019 and Yasmeen graduated from Emory University with her BBA and landed her dream job as a consultant with PwC. I couldn’t have been prouder as a mother.  As I reflect back, this was a major turning point in my life and it forced me to shift my thinking to how to use my life to serve a higher purpose, and part of that purpose was bringing my daughter into the world because she was destined to be here.  

The lessons I learned as a young mother continue to shape how I find joy amid challenges and obstacles in both my personal and professional life. As author Paulo Coelho states, “not all of life’s storms come to disrupt your life, many come to clear your path.” The first real step to finding joy is to be completely open to the learning and growth opportunities presented by any challenge.  This has become a very purposeful process for me as I’ve learned over the years how important it is to enjoy the journey.  When I was younger, I used to think “I’ll be so happy when…,” which meant that happiness was always tied to some goal, milestone, or accomplishment that was far off.  Just when that “thing” was accomplished, there was always a new “I’ll be happy when…”  With this mindset, happiness was always fleeting and I realized I was going about life the wrong way.  It’s so important to have big dreams, goals and strategies, but I knew if I wanted to experience more joy, I needed to embrace the journey since the actual moments of joy tied to reaching a goal are ephemeral.     

Making this shift has truly been a continuous learning process that includes everything from reading/studying books on mindfulness and personal development, practicing yoga and meditation and actively seeking out ways to be of service to others. Practicing yoga has truly become an integral part of my journey to finding peace in the present moment.  Learning to be aware of my thoughts, feelings and centering myself around the simple act of breathing has allowed me to experience calm even in the most challenging times.  In addition, my love of reading has led me to books filled with amazing pearls of wisdom for life.  Two of my favorite books are A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle and The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. One of my favorite quotes from A New Earth is “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” When things may not be going your way, one simple question to ask is “how can I serve and use my position and platform to influence positive change?”  Asking this one question immediately puts me in learning, growing, and problem-solving mode instead of getting caught up in the woes of the day.  I believe every single one of us has a platform to influence change regardless of job title.  This is one of the reasons I’ve been active in diverse Colleague Resources Groups at work including our Women’s Field Network, Women’s Leadership Network and Global Blacks Council (GBC).  Having made the decision to be an individual contributor for much of my career, I still had a strong desire to informally lead, mentor and help my fellow colleagues.  For example, being active in GBC gave me the opportunity to give back to others while also enhancing my own leadership skills which multiplied my career satisfaction immensely, especially now that major corporations like Pfizer are seeking to better understand systemic racism and how it impacts the lives of their black colleagues.  I really felt like this was an opportunity for me to use my voice not only with my direct team but with others across the company to openly talk about systemic racism, the impact it has on colleagues along with addressing topics that we can and should be focusing on such as health disparities and health equity.  As the Field Talent Acquisition Lead for GBC, it has been an amazing experience having courageous conversations with colleagues across Pfizer and seeing the work of the GBC Field Committee unfold as part of the national strategy for addressing racial gaps in the hiring and promotions of black colleagues.  A couple of important lessons I learned from reading Go-Giver (which I referenced earlier): 1) The Law of Influence – Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place others’ interests first and 2) The Law of Authenticity – The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.  With these lessons in mind, I really believe every challenge represents an opportunity. By embracing every challenge, using it to learn, grow, innovate, you WILL find joy on your journey!

Lastly, outside of my professional work, I’ve always felt a deep sense of responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate. As I mentioned earlier, my mother is from Mali, a country where the majority of people live in poverty, including many of my family members.  The government is corrupt and there are limited job opportunities, even for those who have a good education.   Since I graduated from college, even with a young baby of my own, I knew I was so much better off than most of my family in Mali.  At that time, I committed to financially helping one of my aunts who had six children of her own and was abandoned by her husband, and I continue to do so to this day.  It’s one of the things that drives me to continue to be successful. I know my success impacts people beyond my immediate family and I’m forever grateful to be able to help others who haven’t had the privileges I’ve had. My hopes are to one day start a non-profit organization to help kids in Mali have opportunities to attend colleges abroad with the intent of returning back to Mali with advanced degrees to help build businesses in their communities. As I stated before, one of the greatest gifts we have to offer is ourselves. Our good deeds, energy, love, support, encouragement can be the catalyst to positively change life for others in ways never imagined.  

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