Windows and doors

By Nancy Gonzalez, CFLE
Nancy Gonzalez, CFLE

I’ve started writing this column at least five times. What I have to say is difficult. I think I should state my central point now and then fill in the details. Here it is: My employment status with NCFR will be… changing.

Now let’s go back a few years to the retirement of our longtime conference director, Cindy Winter. If you were an NCFR member then, you no doubt remember Cindy’s grand retirement party at the annual conference. What happened with Cindy thereafter is both wonderful and hilarious. She retired, but we wouldn’t let her go! Week after week, month after month, a project or function in the office always popped up that was work Cindy could do best. Our executive director, Diane Cushman, kept Cindy tethered to the office with short-term gigs that grew. It became an office joke about how well Cindy was retiring. After a few months, it was clear that this “temporary” and “retired” employee was neither of these things. Cindy isn’t the rocking chair type. And we still needed her. The organization still has Cindy’s wisdom nearby. And Cindy has a not-quite retired life that is vital to her well-being. Everyone wins.

By the time this column is in print, NCFR will have hired, or will have almost hired, my replacement. I’d like to be transparent as to why.

As far back as I can remember, I have suffered generalized anxiety that has been quite disabling at times. As NCFR members, you probably know that in addition to the psychic maelstrom and depression, there are myriad physical manifestations of anxiety too. I won’t go into all of them. Above all, the most crippling of them for me has been the soul-crushing insomnia. I have tried everything. I’ve done meds, no meds, exercise, no exercise, counting sheep and “talking to the Shepherd.” I’ve tried warm milk, chamomile, melatonin, progressive relaxation and mindfulness training. I had an expensive hospital overnight sleep study that was inconclusive, except that I was told that my REM sleep onset is slower than that of most people. I have a high-tech mattress. I sleep with two air-circulating fans in the room to produce white noise and minimize distractions. Like a scientist, I have experimented with all of these, changing one variable each time, so that I could figure out what helps and what doesn’t. With all this data it still boils down to the fact that I sleep just two or three hours at a time. The last full night’s sleep I had was in March 2009. Imagine tending to a newborn — only the baby never grows up.

I’ve been with NCFR nine years. Back when I started I was — obviously — younger and could cope with this bizarre disability better. But a couple years ago, the insomnia got even worse. After a bad night, I was an absolute zombie. My zombie days became more frequent. My short term memory really took a hit. It began to affect my work, which made for overwhelming guilt. The guilt fed the anxiety in a vicious cycle.

Now it’s clear — and this is so very humbling — that I can no longer cope with a full-time job. Diane and I came to the realization in June. We both cried. She said she can’t imagine NCFR without me… and I can’t imagine my life without NCFR. That’s when the “Cindy Solution” occurred to us both. I would spin off as a consultant, do the NCFR work that suits me best and free up much needed resources to hire someone who can do the things I can’t. I am so excited at the prospect of mentoring a replacement and cheerleading from the sidelines as he or she takes NCFR to new levels. There is no shame in having a mental illness. What would be a shame, though, is not to acknowledge it to the detriment of myself and, most of all, NCFR.

I will continue to have my NCFR email address and, because most members aren’t in Minneapolis, it’s quite possible that no one will even notice I’m not in the office full time anymore. I will continue my work editing NCFR Report. What else I do depends on the skill set our new coworker will bring to us. What I can bring to the table is nine years’ experience in the organization and a love of NCFR — you can’t buy that on the open market. I will also make a great pinch hitter. If, for example, one of our staff is out for medical or parental leave, I will have the flexibility to swoop back in and help out on a short-term basis. Management gurus say that the organization that cultivates a contingent workforce like this is smart. 

Diane reminded me that when life shuts a door, it always opens a window. I don’t know what lies beyond the curtains, but it’s time to pull them back.

Share your thoughts

Dear Nancy,
I have always enjoyed your columns, and even more so the opportunities we've had to talk in person. I will never forget your support and kindness to me over the years when I was caring for my parents (especially my mom). I am so pleased that you will remain connected to NCFR, yet will do what is best for you. Peace!! Linda Behrendt

Nancy, what a beautiful testament to your integrity and courage! I think you and Cindy could write a book about "The Cindy Solution!" This is the kind of creative problem solving women bring to the table and we need a lot more of it - just think if all organizations made space for such options for new parents as well as those with health issues or who want to phase into retirement! I wish you the best with this new adventure and that you find rest and joy in the process! Hugs! Joan Comeau

Love you, Anisa.... We have so many good memories together!

My dear Nancy,
While I think this transition is the right thing for you, I can't help feeling sad about it. I like what you wrote about a smart organization having flexibility and also working on replenishing itself! Diane is a genius at this type of thing. And I really want your health to improve. I hope you will still be around for Fawlty Towers and bad puns! As well as for the NCFR Report and the many assets you provide to NCFR and to us, the members.
Affectionately, Anisa


You and Diane are right in the thought that when one door/window closes another one opens, sometimes many open. It has been great working with you.

Chloe D. Merrill

Dear Nancy,
First, my sincere thanks for your years of commitment, love, concern, giving of your MANY skills and TALENTS, CREATIVITY, insight, caring attitude -- for being YOU in your work!!! I will never forget our time together in summer 2012 at lunch. You and Cindy honored me to the "hilt" with your presence with me at lunch!!!! I am so pleased you can serve as a model for all the people out there who deal with anxiety and depression but who feel that they must hide it. When will we ever grow up and know that all parts of our being are parts of the whole person -- mental, psychological, physical, motor, social, spiritual, perceptual -- what impacts one part is no less worthy of attention that that which affects another part. And we need to try to understand all parts, as well. Using your windows analogy in discussing your transition, you are also opening the window/door in a topic that few have the "guts" to shed light one and all conditions need to be discussed.
Nancy, you are a dear person to me and I will continue to see you on FB and when I find an open November conference time during my retirement to go to the NCFR Natioanal Conference. I WILL stay in touch!! Get LOTS OF REST, restore your brain and your whole body, keep your positive approach to others and hopefully you can be as caring and understanding of YOURSELF as you are and have been with and to ALL OF US!!
With love, Sedahlia Crase, Ames, IA


Another in a long series of columns that shows off your many talents and insights. I daresay that having you only part of the time will remain more enlightening and energizing to the field than what many others can give with more full time status.

Steve Gavazzi

It's been a delight working with you all these years. Thank you for your openess and candor. It is an inspiration to others. I wish you every good thing and am happy that you will still be connected to NCFR. Your expertise is invaluable to the organization.
Maisie Ross

My sincere empathy of your problem and the solution you came to. It's a great way to stay involved and still take care of yourself. You are to be commended for recognizing the situation and doing all that you can to come to grips with it. Part-time is not so bad at all. To that I can attest along with the love and dedication to NCFR - a great organization. I wish you the very best and am happy to hear that you will still be doing the Report. Mary Jo Czaplewski

I send you my most heartfelt virtual hug-from-a-total-stranger. I had to stop working fulltime 3 years ago due to my own health issues and it is indeed, a devastating feeling. I am still learning how to "have a life" at the age of 48.

I am glad to hear you will be able to stay in involved in another capacity. That is so important.

Best wishes,
Lisa Osborne, MS CFLE