“Accept the fact that life has both ups and downs”

With April Kirkwood and Phil Laboon

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Accept the fact that life has both ups and downs. Living is an adventure because there are so many unknowns, twists, and turns. It’s not always easy, fun, or easy. We have become a country with distorted views of life. The endless vacation is neither realistic nor fulfilling. For example, we desire to know love but we don’t realize that real love has many tests and trials. It’s not just dancing in South Beach or dining in Manhattan. The beauty of life is that it is fluid and pleasure as well as pain are fleeting. The key is to be able to ride them out without losing our grip . That is GRIT. That is what separates the winners from the losers.

As a part of my series about “How the most Influential people built empires from nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing April Kirkwood. April is an author, therapist, and public speaker. Her book, Working My Way Back to Me, is an inspirational tale that sheds light describing in vivid detail multi generational struggles involving love, sexuality, addiction, and abuse. Through April’s eyes, we experience joys and heartaches that echo across more than a half-century of old family secrets, and the triumphs and defeats involved in trying to break the mold. She is an advocate for women and early childhood trauma that affects adult romance.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

My childhood was filled with wonderfully strong and crazy women who practically worshipped me but modeled some really sad messages about men, women, and love. I didn’t realize that these behaviors dripped into my being and affected my ability to be happy. In the early 70’s and 80’s there was a stigma in seeking mental health counseling in fear that it would follow you and limit your ability to get a great position. So I started to take classes in psychology, social work, and counseling. I ended up with two masters and worked for years in the school system as both an English instructor and guidance counselor. I see now that this was yet another smoke screen to protect myself from really having to face my own life avoiding other adult’s mental health concerns permitted me to avoid my own.

After all of my fruitless attempts and searching, I began to realize that no matter how I looked, what degrees I had, or social status I arrived to, I could never quite get it right in the area of my romantic life. I finally hit a dead wall in West Palm where it appeared from the outside that I had everything any woman would ever want. Standing gazing into the pool at my “perfect” life I wondered how I got this miserable. Through many tears and soul searching, I finally found the courage to dig deep in the darkest places of my mind and soul and find how I got so off track. I traveled back to my story and looked at the events from an adult’s vantage point. Each step I forced myself into those areas of my famille’s history that were never really openly discussed. There were abortions, affairs, abuse, false religiosity, divorces, and addictions for me to acknowledge and process. I also found so many multi-generational messages that I innocently subconsciously adopted at truth that were very dysfunctional. Today, I am proud to share my story, not as a victim but as a woman who can see both the good and the bad, embracing all of the love along with the sorrow weaving me into the person I now am. It is my sincere wish that my presence will give others freedom to find their truth.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

My three decade affair with Frankie Valli emotionally began when I was six years old and lasted for three decades. And although it happened, for me, a long time ago. The distance did not help me cure the damage I’d incurred in this relationship, nor did it allow me to process all the who’s, whats, wheres, whens, whys, and hows. I started writing. My first attempt was a kind of cleansing, in which I furiously recorded feelings and events, events and feelings. I put to paper every random notion I had about love, sex, relationships, family, life — in no particular order. It felt important, in that initial rush of energy, to yell to the world whatever came into my head.

That, most experienced writers know, is the essence of a first draft. You get thoughts down, develop the story, and try to get it whole; then the real work starts. I am not an experienced writer. In lieu of revision, I rushed that first draft into print, not really knowing that so much of the real difficult work lay ahead. I sold a handful of copies, did some radio and print interviews, and generally treated the experience as a coming out party for my story.

What I’d published, then, was tantamount to a diary. I gave readers a peak at my private thoughts, but without much context or clarity. It was like, “Here.” The book then was called Big Girls Do Cry, and it was forgotten almost immediately, like a self-erasing tape.

Four years later, I felt ready to finally and truly conquer that story. I wanted it to make sense for readers, but first it had to make sense to me. I was getting closer to some kind of understanding about what that was, and how the person in that memoir turned into the person I am today. It helped that I’d found a truly remarkable woman, Val Gobos, who believed in my story. She wanted to see the story get attention, find readers and viewers, and generally be a vehicle for not only my own healing but that of other women. Val thought I needed to enlist a professional writer to help me revise and edit the original manuscript. Don Evans was that writer.

The first thing Don told me was, “This is not a book about Frankie Valli; it’s a book about April Kirkwood.” Soon, we’d trashed almost the entire first book (or, as Don says, “Used it for parts”) and started a process that involved interviews between us; targeted writing exercises in which I was made to explore the uncomfortable truths of that time; drafting and redrafting. I learned how to extract the truth from myself, and how to turn that truth into story. Don made me focus on characters and scenes. He demanded, over and over, for me to figure out the details and connections. He insisted I dig harder.

That I tell the truth.

The result is that, unlike the first book, I was able to conjure the world I inhabited when I was five, ten, 16, twenty. I was able to put together the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in a way that made a vivid picture. I was able to seize those long-ago moments, hold them in my hand, and share them. And when I turned the serious writing over to Don, he made the words sing, the images pop, and the laughter ring.

Along the way, there were tears, sobs, heaving. I’ll admit: I was not okay. The writing process, though, made me confront all of my fears and failures. It made me take personal responsibility for my actions. It also helped me to see the intricate web of influences that helped push me places I should never have gone. And it made me better equipped to hear the stories of so many other women who, like me, are damaged, but not beyond repair.

So now I’m releasing my story again. This time I feel like I don’t need to shout to be heard.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

 My love for those crazy women I call my ‘dream team’ motivate me to honor their pain and suffering by sharing it. Although Grandma and Mom have passed I know they are watching. I honor them and all they did for me with this adventure. They truly are the wind beneath my wings. Sometimes the flights are bumpy but I wouldn’t have missed a second of it. It is who I am and I’m proud to stand today with my Aunt Gigi and smile hoping she will release her guilt.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

I got my GRIT by watching the nutty women that raised me. As a tiny girl, I witnessed my mom leaving for work in the early morning hours to work in a dirty factory until her fingers bled even after my stepfather slapped her in the face. I watched my Grandma feed the chickens alone each morning and then scurry off to prayer meeting looking for spiritual direction. I witnessed from the warmth of our kitchen window, Aunt Gigi shoveling snow on our long gravel driveway in the freezing snow so she could be at school on time. They were women of enormous determination not permitting their personal demons to keep them from their responsibilities. With all of it, each night one of them would tenderly tuck me into bed as we said our prays thanking God for all of our blessings.

I am from a group of women made of GRIT. Today it is my goal to continue modeling their GRIT in a positive way telling my story and helping others find healing in theirs. I am not alone. There are others who are ravaged by misunderstood messages of their childhood. If they don’t, see their beauty and sacredness and it is my privilege to assist them in any way I am called. I am here to say we can stop these generational self-defeating patterns with healing and love. This is my passion. My DNA is made of GRIT.

So, how are things going today? :-).

I still have my moments wanting to lean on safety nets that once comforted me as a child. As an adult I cognitively realize that these habits no longer benefit my growth and choose to push through and allow myself space to gently grow at my own speed. Even the toughest lessons in life can be a blessing giving new awareness, strength, and wisdom. Grandma was right, “Every cloud has a silver lining if we only look for it.”

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

I don’t regret anything. Everything happens for a reason-its part of the healing process. “Life is a healing process” — Richard Gere.

Failures are the highest test of endurance and courage. I used to get really bent out of shape when things didn’t turn out how I had imagined them. I would actually become verbally negative to both myself and others. Years later, it became apparent to me how important those experiences were and the positive ways they shaped some of my best character traits. For example, I learned by getting a C in a class how to be satisfied with doing my best even though it wasn’t an A. Perfection is impossible but doing my safe is within my reach. There will always be more to do and learn and that’s exciting.

Toxic people give you courage to stand alone. No matter where you go, whether it be in your personal life or at work you are going to need to learn how to navigate those who would like to pull you down and diminish your self worth. Each of these people provide an opportunity to rely on who you know you are rather then what others say or do to you. When you can stand alone and face them, you can be at peace alone. That is true success.

Family members are really emotional light workers in your life. It is easy to mingle with associates, co-workers, or new lovers and put on what I call ‘the interview face.’ But that is not all of you who are. Deep within each of us are secrets yet to be discovered and areas that need to be looked at in the bright noon day sun. Some of those are painful. The most significant work emotional work is within the walls of your family system. The best way to accomplish this is to become more of a ‘watcher’ with family members, not judging, but learning from these wonderful people what they have to show you about love and forgiveness. Could it be that they are just as damaged and need your love as much as you need theirs?

Know that you are not alone. There is nothing you are going through or will go through that someone somewhere in history hasn’t already experienced. In that understanding, it is comforting to know that you too can be alone, get a divorce, lose your monetary assets, and someone else did it too. You can recover and you can learn new ways to make it new kind of joy. Even death itself is a universal phenomena. You will die as others have before you. This knowledge is a profound opportunity to seize each day because we have been granted another chance to put both feet on the floor. It is up to each of us to live authentically with an awareness of gratitude for all we are going to experience in this moment. Moments add up to hours, which add up to weeks and years, and it is up to you to make of it what you want. No excuses for anyone with GRIT.

Accept the fact that life has both ups and downs. Living is an adventure because there are so many unknowns, twists, and turns. It’s not always easy, fun, or easy. We have become a country with distorted views of life. The endless vacation is neither realistic nor fulfilling. For example, we desire to know love but we don’t realize that real love has many tests and trials. It’s not just dancing in South Beach or dining in Manhattan. The beauty of life is that it is fluid and pleasure as well as pain are fleeting. The key is to be able to ride them out without losing our grip . That is GRIT. That is what separates the winners from the losers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

People often ask me after my talks hearing the details of my story why I’m not bitter with many of the men who were careless with my affections. It does hurt but those men also gave me so much more then they took. One professor was key in encouraging me to get my masters. Little did I realize at the time that I would continue my love for counseling long after my time with him was over. I keep in the back of my mind that nothing lasts forever but the gifts we offer one another go on indefinitely. Even if your relationship ended badly, didn’t you visit new places, meet new people, and gain deeper insights about yourself and love then before? If nothing else, the lesson may be that you learned what love isn’t! There are no mistakes in life and it is up to each of us to gain not lose in every interaction.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I received additional certification in the field of addiction and can be found volunteering and doing group work when I’m not on the road.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m thrilled to soon release my third book, Working My Way Back To Me, The that can be used independently or in conjunction with my webinars and seminars. This will be out in the spring of 2019.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

It is very important to have a team that has the same vision as you. As all executives know, the human element in a company is integral to it’s success. Choose employees with the upmost care, treat them with respect, and encourage individuals to be creative in areas that give them room to grow.

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. 🙂

As the #MeToo movement seems to continue I want to assist in the healing of women focussing on #NoMore by looking at their story with the focus on areas of healing to move forward renewed and better able to spot those who would take advantage them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”

-Mark Caine

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Working my Way Back to Me –https://www.amazon.com/Working-My-Way-Back-Self-Discovery/dp/1732349029


Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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