I recently joined a small group of women that meet every Sunday at Starbucks. Several of the women had been meeting for months, but there were a few of us that were new to the group. This meant that we were asked to give the obligatory elevator speech - telling the other members a little bit about ourselves.
I’ve always found those elevator speeches somewhat challenging. I never know quite what I should say. It’s always been hard to gauge what might relevant or that others might find interesting.
Since Rylie died, I’ve found that it’s even more challenging to come up with what to say. It’s one of those awkward things where I have to determine if the setting is one in which she might come up. If it is, I’ve found that it’s easier to just say that she died right off the bat. That way there’s not some weird moment where people feel like they’ve gotten to know you and then BAM! a bombshell like that is dropped. The trickier times are when the speech is given in a situation, where I’m not sure if it’ll come up.
Although, Rylie is one of the most important parts of my life, it’s not necessarily something that is relevant. That’s even more awkward - the last thing I want to do is enter a business or professional meeting and lead with, “I’m Meghann. I have two children. Rylie died in May 2017 and Tanner is almost 13,” when there is very little reason to share that information given that setting. Sure in both business and professional settings our personal life comes up, but I found in those situations, it’s often better to leave that part of my story for more one-off conversations.
Even then it’s tricky, because death, especially death of a child, becomes the elephant in the room. I find myself wondering how I can tell my story in a way that is honoring to myself, to Rylie, and those around me. The last thing I want do is make people uncomfortable or wonder what to say.
As I sat at Starbucks, listening to the other women in the group - okay, kind of listening - I was also weighing the options for telling my story. I realized that even without the death of a child, the elevator speech sucks. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
In many ways it’s challenging to boil one’s life down to a few sentences, but I also find that sometimes it’s hard to come up with anything to say at all.
I mean, we’re talking about identity here. For women especially, but I have a sneaky suspicion men have this same struggle in different ways, our identity is tied to so many external measures. When I meet a bunch of women (especially at my age), the elevator speech almost always includes listing off a husband, a certain number of kids and their ages, oftentimes a job, and then some sort of tie to family duties - shuffling kids to and from a million different activities, running the house, etc. Very rarely does it include something about the woman herself - something she just really identifies with, enjoys doing, or is proud of.
Don’t get me wrong, being a wife and a mom, are two of the hardest and most rewarding ‘jobs’ out there. There is a huge source of pride in all of those things! But as I sat preparing my speech, I was struck by the huge holes.
Well I’m a mom - but one’s dead - do I want to get into that?
I’m a wife - to a guy named Ziggy - do I want to explain that’s really what he goes by and not some weird pet name?
I’m technically a teacher, but I’ve taken a leave of absence this year - do I want to explain why?
I’ve been in the corporate world, but that’s been over five years ago and it doesn’t seem relevant.
I’m running a non-profit, but it’s not a full time job, and I don’t want this speech to turn into a promotional meeting.
I guess I spend my time meeting friends, making sure we have food to eat and that our house is semi-presentable, volunteering, running and doing yoga, but how do I admit that I’m not really sure where I spend my time these days?
Over the years, my elevator speech almost always lead with my profession and the fact that I have kids. At this very moment, those are two areas that take a lot of explaining and I don’t identify myself with them in the same way. So it just feels inauthentic, but the authentic part feels too heavy, or too real for a first meeting…
Suddenly, I was struck by the fact that I’m not alone. My holes may be different, but so many people have experienced things in their lives that are challenging, embarrassing, uncomfortable, or unsettled - I could go on and on.
How does the recently divorced or single parent introduce him/herself?
How does the person who has jumped from job to job just to make ends meet explain his/her situation?
How does the person who just lost their job explain that?
How does the person who has always wanted children, but has been unable to have kids, introduce him/herself?
How does the person who wants nothing more than to meet someone and get married, explain that this dream hasn’t yet been realized?
How does the person who has experienced tragedy, of any kind, introduce him/herself without entering into this defining moment?
More importantly, why are we wrapping our identity in so many external factors? What would an elevator speech look like that wasn’t somehow tied to accomplishments or milestones?
Imagine being able to introduce yourself in a way that honors who you are at your very core…
“Hi, I’m Meghann. Looking back in my life, I’ve had some major accomplishments and I’ve had some major hiccups. Someday, I’m sure I’ll share those with you, but here’s who I am - I love to get a good sweat on and think deep thoughts. If you ever want to debate the finer points of life, invite me on a run or for a cup of coffee. I’m a sucker for Young Adult fiction and sappy romance movies. I’m an even bigger sucker for motivational quotes, videos, books etc. I am waaaay wordy and love to play with the nuances of words - creating just the right message, but don’t be afraid. I promise I won’t judge your sentences. I love to get things done and cross things of a color-coded list, but even more than that, I believe in connection. I love talking to people and taking the time to enter into their story, bit by bit.”
Wow - it wasn’t until I started typing that I was able to think of my story that way. Maybe I should put this version on my phone so I can use it in the next elevator speech situation. I wonder what kind of reaction I would get?
Perhaps we all need to revise our elevator speech. What an amazing world it would be if we were able to introduce ourselves in a way that spoke to our core, in a way that would invite conversation and allow us to share the milestones and the hiccups in an authentic way.
What’s your elevator speech?
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.