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Working through rejection – Serena’s own story
Episode 24th April 2022 • I'm Back! • Serena Savini
00:00:00 00:30:23

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Serena is joined by a former manager Lori Gustavus, to discuss the story that led her to create this podcast.






Transcripts

Serena:

welcome to I'm back today, I'm going to share my personal story

Serena:

and I'm going to do that with our really special guest, a good friend

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of mine, a former manager that was essential for my healing process.

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Lori Gustavus.

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We are going to discuss my personal hinges.

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my Ealing process in coming back to work and why I'm doing this podcast, so

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for me personally, it's really, really important and it's really meaningful.

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Mostly because I wish I had this podcast when I had my injuries

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a few years ago, because I was feeling really alone in dealing with

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something that was really difficult.

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From a physical point of view emotionally, and I was really

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struggling in going back to work.

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And I had no one to talk with.

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I was not able to find any support.

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I was really lost and.

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Then as I started to talk with other people that were experiencing something

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similar and different, and I discovered that we shared similar struggles,

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challenges, stories, but the work environment was not ready to create.

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I say space for everyone to talk or discuss this kind of challenges.

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And so for me, it's really important to have this podcast and to have

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different conversation with different people on our heart is to come back to

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work after a life changing experience.

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Because if I can be selfish here, I needed to hear this, these conversations.

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I'm still in the evening process for myself.

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So so I'm doing this podcast for selfish reason, but also because I think that if

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this podcast can reach someone that is.

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Dealing with something difficult or a life changing experience.

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And I don't want anyone to feel alone, not supported and without any power,

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because I was feeling really powerless when I came back to work after my injury.

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And it took me several years to realize that I was not powerless,

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but I was not able to talk about that with anyone for several years, years.

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And I was ashamed also about my story.

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How about my experience.

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I started to think maybe I'm a problem for work.

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Maybe I don't need to tell my story to anyone because they are going to

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judge me of course, in a negative way

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only now again, after seven years.

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So it's.

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W quite a long, long time, I'm realizing that we need to have these

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conversations and we need to being able to share our struggles, even in

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the work environment or at the same time, maybe we can decide not to share.

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So we have also the right of silence.

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And this is also important for me because in a strange way, when I came

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back to work after the injury and my first surgery, everyone was asking me.

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About my, my surgery, my have issues, but I was not ready to share.

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So I think we can also.

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And defend our right of silence or our right to decide if we want to share or

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and other things that is really important for me is that I have the

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impression that companies are not really.

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To welcome back people that are struggling with something that personal level.

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It's easy for companies maybe to close their eyes and

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think it's not our business,

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But at the same time, And again, I'm speaking from my personal experience,

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you can feel if the company is welcoming you back, or if the company is not caring

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about you, you can really feel that.

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And the healing process.

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Your personal healing process could really change based on that.

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So I hope also with my podcast, too, being able to sparkle this kind of conversation

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and also inside the companies to find new ways to really welcome back people For

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example, I'm thinking at COVID right now.

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Oh, are we dealing with that right now?

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And the answer is, I don't know.

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And I want to know, and this is why I'm doing my podcast.

Lori:

they go, potty guys is a great way also to talk to a lot of people that are.

Lori:

You know, maybe developing some great practices to share

Lori:

for different circumstances.

Lori:

Wow.

Lori:

So lots of, lots of great things.

Lori:

I have a ton of questions that I've written down.

Lori:

Just everything you were saying, lots to dig into.

Lori:

Before we get into some of that, maybe just for a moment, we can.

Lori:

Hit the hit the rewind button.

Lori:

And maybe tell us about who is this Serina,

Serena:

I was born with a congenital heart disease.

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So I was having an open heart surgery when I was one years old.

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I spent a lot of the.

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And the does when I was a child.

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So I wasn't really an epi child and so I was Really comfortable in creating my

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future in a way where I can really create a as small but positive impact on society.

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This is also why I started to work in human resources because I loved that.

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To support people from the small, smallest things to something

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that is could be really a big.

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And I really loved my job.

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I was really passionate again.

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I was really happy to contribute.

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I loved my colleagues.

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I love my company and I was really happy also to grow inside my company.

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And I had several promotion.

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I had an international role in this big multinational.

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So everything seemed going well for me

Lori:

and this was, this was in Italy, right?

Serena:

As you can say, from my accent.

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And again, I was really happy with my work.

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I was recognized as I potential international level.

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And of course I know that because I was working in human resources.

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So I had the

Lori:

Yeah, the

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on that.

Lori:

Access to the secrets.

Serena:

Yes.

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But I was carrying.

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Too much about my work.

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And I'm saying this because when I had my injury at work, I was completely

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exhausted because I was traveling like a crazy person for a six month.

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I was doing long hours of work.

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I was working during the weekend.

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I was working on several big projects for my company.

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So I was really exhausted and, and this is the reason why I had, I

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think, this injury because I was so tired that I had this injury at work.

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And what is funny is that when I went to the year, I said to the doctor,

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Lisa and I have to go out soon because tomorrow I have a really important

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meeting and I have to prepare myself and the doctor started to laugh at me.

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And this doctor said to me, listen, it will take one year for you to recover.

Lori:

Yeah.

Serena:

And I was shocked and I couldn't believe that because one year it seems,

Serena:

it seemed like a crazy amount of time.

Lori:

And you were thinking tomorrow.

Lori:

you know, And say, so you get the message.

Lori:

No, no, we're not talking about hours.

Lori:

We're talking about months, years too.

Serena:

And I had to come back to work because I had things to do so

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even if I was really in pain and I was in the hospital, I was only

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thinking about going back to work.

Lori:

Now that it's been seven years.

Lori:

Do you, have you reflected on?

Lori:

Sure.

Lori:

You have.

Lori:

Why do you think that you're, that you were thinking only

Lori:

about going back to work.

Lori:

Is that because you're.

Lori:

Because maybe you were so passionate about it, maybe you, that was where

Lori:

you got your value recognition.

Lori:

So what, you know, what, what did you learn about that?

Lori:

That kind of, that, that moment when you're thinking, well, I

Lori:

need to prepare for tomorrow and the doctor's like, no, no, no.

Lori:

This is going to take a little bit of time.

Lori:

How did that hit you as a person?

Serena:

It was really, really hard because my.

Serena:

Identity was built around my work and my professional identity,

Lori:

Your achievements at work.

Serena:

my achievements, my self worth, my confidence, my value everything

Serena:

was built around my work and the possibility for me to contribute

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did this was really important.

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So when I had my first surgery and I wake up from anesthesia, I remember

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thinking, oh, I need to prepare a presentation because they need.

Lori:

This is your first thought as you're coming out of surgery.

Serena:

and now I can see that I was crazy, but then I really

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had this idea that they need me.

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And and then I had a lot of issue with my health It was really a

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terrible moment for me personally.

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And my identity shifted from person that was able to contribute

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to society to as sick person.

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That was not terrible to function even for this modern things

Lori:

That depended, That depended, on society, essentially,

Lori:

depending on other people.

Serena:

yes.

Serena:

Yes.

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And, and I was so impressed.

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That I was not even able to function at a personal level, so

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I was not able to talk anymore.

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I was not able to deal with the pain.

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It took me a lot of time to be able to do that.

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So it was really a nightmare for me and I went In a identity crisis.

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That was really difficult for me to handle, but I have to

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say that I had in mind the perspective of coming back to work.

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So I was thinking in my head, oh, but when I will be back

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to work, it will be different.

Lori:

So at this time, you know, you're talking to us about, you know, about the

Lori:

professional side of your life and, you know, We hear a lot about life balance.

Lori:

So can you talk a little bit about, you know, what your situation was

Lori:

maybe there a lack of balance and, and your, your life was focused on work.

Lori:

Did you have a personal balance?

Lori:

I think there's, there's this myth, you know, like when you achieve

Lori:

the perfect life balance, this is not going to be an issue, you know?

Lori:

Right.

Lori:

Oh, you read about, oh, but if work-life balance, I think it's such an easy

Lori:

thing to get into we're in our, when we spend most of our waking hours.

Lori:

in a professional setting when you talked about, you know, the

Lori:

self worth And confidence and your contribution to society and

Lori:

making impact helping other peoples was, was in the professional setting.

Lori:

Do you want to, can you talk to us a little bit about

Lori:

the seven years ago?

Lori:

what did that balance look like?

Lori:

You said you were, that what you're describing.

Lori:

is pretty much, you know, near exhaustion or burnouts, and

Lori:

which is an alarm alarm bell.

Lori:

What are.

Serena:

Yeah, but I was not recognizing that.

Serena:

It took me my injury to recognize that because back then I soaked

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that if I was successful at work, I could be happy in my personal life.

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So the notion of work-life balance was really difficult

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for me my life is my work.

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So what is the balance?

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And I really loved my work.

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So for me, let's say it was not an issue to work on the Sundays.

Serena:

'cause I, yeah.

Serena:

Yeah.

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I loved it so much and it was not a problem for me.

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Travel like a crazy person all around Europe every week.

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Because I love to meet my colleagues to support them.

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And you know, when you are working in the human resources, everyone needs you.

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So it's not something that it's going to stop when you are closing one project.

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And now I can say that I really needed that kind of recognition

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or I now for me, work-life balance means something really different.

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For me right now means that I'm able to put the right boundaries.

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Like I'm able to stop working.

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I'm able to recognize when I'm tired, I'm able to recognize when I'm in pain.

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I am able to recognize when I need to spend my energy on my personal

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life and not so much on, on work, but it's still difficult for me to.

Serena:

Um, I allow myself to set those boundaries and to say, I have

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other priorities outside of work.

Serena:

It's still difficult for me.

Serena:

I have to say.

Lori:

I think we all see this, you know, I know just minor things, right.

Lori:

If, if I'm extremely tired and, and then you get distracted, you

Lori:

know, because you're when you're, you know, you can be, for me, it's

Lori:

cooking dinner, but I might have in my head is still on something else.

Lori:

, dropping a lot of things or burning stuff, which I normally wouldn't do.

Lori:

And I know that's become for me kind of a signal it's you're

Lori:

doing now, the email can wait.

Lori:

, What would you like to share with your audience about some

Lori:

of the, some of the signs.

Lori:

That you wish you would have recognized?

Lori:

How can you use that experience to help the listeners and what

Lori:

should they be on the lookout to notice it in ourselves, right.

Lori:

It's really, really easy to notice it in other people.

Serena:

I think I need to share our was for me to come back to work.

Serena:

Finally.

Serena:

I was so happy to go back to work and the environment was

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not ready to welcome me back.

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So I don't know how to say this without getting emotional, but they

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changed the way they behave towards me based on the fact that I was sick.

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And this was really hard for me.

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So they changed my role.

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They were really mobbing me.

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And this was really hard for me because of course my identity was based on work

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and suddenly I was not able to work or I was not useful for my company.

Serena:

And I did something really wrong for me.

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I made a big mistake for my health because I stopped to go

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to therapy, to physical therapy.

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I pushed back surgeries.

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I avoided to go to doc.

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Because I didn't want to say to my company, sorry, I have to take

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one hour off to go to therapy.

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Or I was really afraid to say, I need to do another surgery

Lori:

so, what you're saying is you really didn't get the lesson right away.

Lori:

You immediately, you immediately went back into this.

Lori:

It's almost almost worse.

Lori:

Like I need to even prove myself even more.

Lori:

and I, to what, what I'm hearing from you.

Lori:

And please tell me if this

Serena:

need

Lori:

but you, you wanted to erase that that identity, that you didn't feel for

Lori:

yourself, but they were given you, they were given you the, the sick person

Lori:

label, someone that couldn't perform.

Lori:

As before.

Lori:

And you were, so you overcompensated then,

Serena:

I can share something

Serena:

I was feeling really bad.

Serena:

I went to.

Serena:

The hospital alone at night, I was in the ER all night dealing

Serena:

with a lot of Alfie issues, pain.

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And then I asked to the doctor If I can, could sign to go outside

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to the ear because I had a really important meeting in the morning.

Serena:

So after spending one night at the hospital, we went to

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do this international meeting.

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And I was not really able to function because I was tired.

Serena:

I was in so much pain and the meeting went not really well.

Serena:

And the reaction from my managers were so difficult to handle because.

Serena:

They even say said to me, we need to in Italy, we, we say literally

Serena:

the camera that is like an official documents complaining about you,

Serena:

but I was not able to say, I was in the hospital all night.

Serena:

And when I was able to say, say this a few days later, they

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said to me, it's not our fault.

Serena:

You are an adult.

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So if you are at work, you need to function like a normal person.

Serena:

And this was a wake up call for.

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First because I realized how stupid I was secondary because I

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realized that I was really alone.

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And and then I realized that they didn't care about me at all, so I could

Serena:

not win, or I could not convince them that I was the same, maybe because

Serena:

I would, I was not the same person.

Serena:

Because I'll can I think that I was the same person after our thrombotic

Serena:

event, after dealing with multiple surgeries, with chronic pain,

Serena:

neurological pain some kind of depression.

Serena:

I was not the same person.

Serena:

But I pretended to be the same happy, smiley a person that is

Serena:

really happy epi to do everything.

Lori:

So again, it's about the boundaries, you know, it's

Serena:

Yeah.

Lori:

wow

Lori:

and so you, I know you really, you mentioned earlier, cause you were talking

Lori:

about the going back and how difficult that was for you in terms of kind of

Lori:

the, the label that was given to you and how you were being treated, which,

Lori:

and also it was for you, you know, you wanted that same identity as, before

Lori:

they wanted that same Serena as before.

Lori:

And so everyone was on the wrong.

Lori:

. So you mentioned earlier, you know, one of

Lori:

the,

Lori:

Intention of the podcast is how companies can welcome people openly

Lori:

with more understanding, how would you, if you could have write that

Lori:

wrote this script about, what, what does that look like for you now?

Lori:

And maybe that can serve as, as a tool or some guidance for, for maybe

Lori:

other people in HR, listening to it or other people that are going

Serena:

he's a great question.

Serena:

For me,

Serena:

Having the possibility to have a real conversation on what are my

Serena:

needs, what are the company needs?

Serena:

How can we match these two different needs?

Serena:

Can we, as a company supporting you in coming back to work from something

Serena:

that is really stupid, like the.

Serena:

Laptop, the kind of desk, the kind of chairs.

Serena:

So from something that is really small and practical to, okay, you

Serena:

have a really big project maybe.

Serena:

How can we support you to do this project in the best way, if you have health

Serena:

issues, but having a conversation about that, not choosing for on my behalf

Serena:

without involving me in the conversation.

Serena:

And if I can be critic towards myself, I didn't have the courage.

Serena:

To husk for these conversations back then.

Serena:

So I was not able to ask for anything to explain myself.

Serena:

And of course, if your struggle is not visible, it's so hard also

Serena:

for other people to understand that you are living a nightmare.

Serena:

If they don't see it, if you're , going to work every day.

Serena:

Maybe this is the best advice that I can give you.

Serena:

And also I have to say that I was really lucky because I add the

Serena:

really a great mentor back then.

Serena:

And for example, when I was at the hospital, he sent me some flowers and he

Serena:

said to me the company can wait for you.

Serena:

And it's something that I can understand.

Serena:

Now I couldn't understand back then.

Serena:

That the company can wait for your full recovery and can wait for you.

Serena:

Of course it was difficult for me because

Serena:

I really want to go go back to work and be the same person

Lori:

yeah, it was part of your healing, you know, it was part of your feeling.

Lori:

Definitely.

Lori:

So the two things that I grabbed from that is one.

Lori:

You know, have the conversation are probably multiple conversations.

Lori:

So the, even the, probably before the, before the person comes back, you know,

Lori:

speak to someone before they're coming back, or if you're the person going

Lori:

back, ask for that conversation, you know, what does that reentry look like?

Lori:

I'm, I'm coming back.

Lori:

I'm, you know, count on me, you know?

Lori:

So to all the HR talent people listening, divisor conversation

Lori:

at a company who doesn't offer that., You know, ask for that.

Lori:

, Serena: it's so.

Lori:

Difficult to find the right way to deal with these kind of things in both sides.

Lori:

And this is also why I think we need to have this kind of conversation, open

Lori:

conversation, to build the best practices and to build together a different

Lori:

way and a more human way to do this.

Lori:

With this, because I think everyone has some struggles visible or not visible.

Lori:

And I'm not sure that we are able to welcome back people,

Lori:

even with the smaller struggles.

Lori:

I really want to gather different perspective on this and also it

Lori:

doesn't need to be always, let's say a negative experience, like an illness.

Lori:

It could be challenging, even if you are like dealing with going back to

Lori:

work after a sabbatical or after our maternity or after that is changing

Lori:

your life in a positive way, let's say.

Lori:

So a lot of different stories, different perspectives, and really conversation.

Lori:

Dan we've had an open heart

Lori:

Really without judgment, but we've understanding because

Lori:

your way of coping with.

Lori:

Your experience is your way.

Lori:

So, and it could be interesting to hear your way to say, okay, maybe

Lori:

this is not useful for me, but maybe I need to explore something like that.

Lori:

And please don't copy mine because I was really not good at it.

Lori:

I did everything wrong.

Lori:

But there were love, there are the lessons, that maybe, you know,

Lori:

this is, this is what it's, what brought you to doing this podcast though, , and

Lori:

you can turn that into a positive.

Lori:

Yeah, positive lesson for, for others.

Lori:

And I think that's what you're so, so good at is being open and listening to others.

Lori:

And, and I'm so excited for you to take people on this journey with you and

Lori:

thank you for sharing, um, your story with me and everyone listening today.

Lori:

Is there anything else that you would like people to know about.

Serena:

I really hope that kindness could become the most important

Serena:

pillar, even in the work environment.

Serena:

This was really, really emotional for me.

Serena:

Please share this story with some friends that maybe needs

Serena:

to hear this conversation.

Serena:

You can find all the information on the website serenheart.com

Serena:

you can find also the link in the description and see you next time.

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