God gives the strongest people the toughest challenges. At the beginning of my hair loss journey, my mom repeated this statement to me weekly. It was so difficult to understand and kept asking, “why me?” Don’t we all ask that? Once I was able to change my mindset about my hair loss my purpose was much clearer and I began to understand WHY I was chosen and I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. Alopecia has blessed me with my true purpose in life.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing McKenna Reitz.
McKenna Reitz is an inspirational speaker and a Challenge Coach who works with men and women to reframe life’s challenges into gifts and opportunities so they can pursue their purpose with clarity and confidence. After losing all her hair due to Alopecia, McKenna uses her journey of having this autoimmune disease to help others overcome the loss in their life by resetting the mindset of their “loss” into growth and opportunities in their lives. Teaching AP Psychology and coaching varsity volleyball for the past 16 years, McKenna resides in Toledo, OH with her husband Greg, and two beautiful daughters Karsen (9) and Maddox (5).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My entire life growing up I knew I wanted to empower and inspire others through teaching and coaching. I had many teachers and coaches in my life including my mother who empowered me beyond measures that strengthened me mentally, physically, and emotionally to be exactly where I am today. I never imagined being a high school AP Psychology teacher and varsity volleyball coach have such an impact on me and my life let alone my students. I checked all my boxes before I turned 33 . . . I graduated from Hope College, I was hired for my dream teaching and coaching position, I obtained my master’s degree, got married to the love of my life, bought a house started a family. I was living the American Dream. I remember saying to myself, “Now what?”
Little did I know that in just a few months my life would forever change in November 2015 when every single hair on my entire body fell out as I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Alopecia. Alopecia attacks your hair follicles causing your hair to fall out affecting 7.1 million Americans and does not discriminate towards age, gender or race.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I am disrupting society by being authentically me. I am embracing a physical characteristic that is not common for women within our society. I stand tall and proud having no hair on my entire body due to an autoimmune disease called Alopecia. I have stopped comparing myself to other women wishing I looked just like them and started to be inspired by them instead.
We have been told subconsciously from such a young age from our society how we must look, think, and act based upon our physical characteristics and we create these unrealistic expectations for ourselves because we begin comparing our journey to someone else’s journey. And then the imposter syndrome starts to come into play as we begin to doubt our own abilities and find it difficult to accept our accomplishments.
Alopecia has taught me that there are so many things that are out of our control and we need to stop putting so much energy into what we can’t control rather put our focus on what we CAN control and that is our mindset about a situation, challenge or problem. As women, we define our identity by our hair. I am here to tell you that our hair does NOT identify us, it is our character and how we show up every single day is that truly defines us!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After I lost all my hair, it was amazing how conscious I was of conversations of others about their hair. I felt surrounded by only people that loved talking about their hair! I will never forget when I was sitting at my desk as my students were working on an assignment and I heard a couple of teenage girls complaining about what a bad hair day they were having. I turned to them and said, “You think you’re having a bad hair day?” as I was pointing to my head. The girls looked at me with disbelief that 1. I said that and 2. How awful they felt for talking about having a bad hair day. I immediately started to laugh and told them that if you can’t laugh at yourself then life is going to miserable. At the time I still wasn’t fully accepting of myself, but it was moments like this that made me realize that I can empower a lot of people with my story and help change negativity into positivity!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
All of the women in my life have been my biggest inspirations, especially my mom. My mom is the strongest woman I know who loves me unconditionally and has taught me how to be resilient in the face of adversity. Watching her every move and the lives she has impacted of her life have inspired me beyond measure. I strive to be half the woman and mother she is for my daughters. When 90% of my hair fell out in a matter of weeks and every day since, my mother has been my rock and shoulder to cry. She refused to allow me to ever quit on myself and empowered me to show up every day not just for my daughters and family, but for me. My mom is the reason I stand tall every day being authentically me and knowing I am enough with hair or no hair.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
When you are looking to ‘disrupt’ the industry you need to first understand your intentions. They MUST be positive intentions. WHY is this so important for you to put so much energy towards? What is your end goal? If you do not have the right intentions and your why does not drive you every single day then you are doing it all for the wrong reasons. Disrupting the industry means inspiring and empowering a much-needed change within society. If you are not going to inspire or empower while you are disrupting then don’t waste your time. Be the change you want to see.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- God gives the strongest people the toughest challenges. At the beginning of my hair loss journey, my mom repeated this statement to me weekly. It was so difficult to understand and kept asking, “why me?” Don’t we all ask that? Once I was able to change my mindset about my hair loss my purpose was much clearer and I began to understand WHY I was chosen and I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. Alopecia has blessed me with my true purpose in life.
- Trust the process. As the great Tony Robbins states, “Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us.” I hated when people told me that good things take time and to trust the process. I prayed every night that I would wake up with a full head of hair again or have the confidence to rock the bald head like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. Neither happened. Looking back on the past five years I wouldn’t change a single thing as every step, every tear has challenged and motivated me to get to the mindset I have now called resiliency.
- There is always Plan B. I focused for eight straight months on doing everything in my power to grow my hair back and nothing was working. My mom kept telling me ‘there is always Plan B’ and I refused to focus on Plan B because I was solely focused on Plan A working. When I finally realized that Plan A was not working, I started to focus on Plan B. And guess what?! I LOVE Plan B. It is WAY better than Plan A!
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I have only just begun. I will be empowering others to transform their life challenges into gifts and opportunities to allow them to pursue their purpose with so much more clarity and confidence. Person by person will start to embrace their authentic self and it will be contagious creating this beautiful ripple effect throughout our society. We will see so much more positivity and productivity because of it.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Honestly, I truly believe we are our biggest challenges. As women, we MUST believe in ourselves, our purpose, and our mission in life and understand the only thing that is standing in our way is ourselves. Always has been and always will be. We so frequently talk about the comfort zone, the one that we created ourselves. Before we can even think about stepping outside of the comfort zone we must embrace the person that is in the comfort zone. Once you fully embrace yourself, the possibilities are endless.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Honestly, I would have to say the podcast that my husband, Greg, and I just launched in January 2021 called Challenge Yourself: Coaching + Leadership Podcast. We have spoken with some phenomenal leaders in their field that are incredibly inspiring and continue to empower me through their words in every interview we have. They challenge me to dive deep into my own thought process and how I lead throughout my daily life. The gold nuggets I have taken with me from each and every interview have truly made me a better mom, wife, teacher, coach, and person.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement I hope I am just in the beginning stage of as I am building my name as a brand is being “Authentically You.” Show up every day as your beautiful self, for you. When you show up for yourself, you will in turn show up for others more authentically and see the positivity in others rather than the innate instant judgment of others. See the good in others, and that will empower them to see the good in themselves.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” -Captain Jack Sparrow
When I lost all my hair, I was focused on doing anything and everything in order to grow hair again from topical creams to medicines that compromised my immune system to weekly steroid injections into my scalp for six months. Nothing was working. That is when I realized that I was focusing all my energy on something that I could not control and what I needed to do was to put all my energy into my mindset about the problem. It completely changed my point of view and little by little I started to begin to accept my hair loss. Not only did it transform my thoughts about hair loss but about my entire life.
How can our readers follow you online?
I would love to connect with readers on Instagram: @mckennareitz or at www.mckennareitz.com where readers can download my ‘5 Day Reset Your Mindset’ freebie, connect with me and you will also find our Challenge Yourself: Coaching + Leadership Podcast!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for this amazing opportunity!