Look back, then look ahead. When we take a good hard look at where we were in March — stuck home, afraid of the unknown, worried how we’d look in a mask, shocked to learn Zoom was a thing — we can see how far we’ve come and the adaptability we practiced through all of the unknowns (sometimes without even realizing it). The future can bring stress no matter what situation we’re faced with, but if we can recognize what we’ve been through, how we conquered fears, made changes to cope, or took back control in big or small ways, we’ll come out the other side with resilience and hope for whatever challenges come next.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stacey Mitry.
Stacey is a former FBI Special Agent, current Mom of teen girls, and writer of nonfiction. She teaches her Empowered Mindset & Self Defense classes virtually now, while trying hard to remain resilient and be a light in these uncertain times, and beyond.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Growing up as a gymnast (from age 5 to 20) taught me many skills — particularly work ethic/perseverance, time management, and teamwork — which I have incorporated into every part of my personal and professional life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My Dad practiced Japanese sword fighting, and although I wasn’t allowed to be part of the training, I was often around his various sensei as a young girl. One female sensei was fond of me and often told my Dad, “Stacey is like steel wrapped in cotton.” I’ve carried her words with me and referred back to them repeatedly, especially when times get tough or life takes unexpected turns. The duality has stuck with me — I can be both soft and hard, quiet yet powerful, calm through chaos, my fierceness lying just beneath the surface.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Pivoting and happiness hunting — those seem to be the buzz words in my pandemic mantra. After leaving a career in the FBI to raise and protect my children (I specialized in Crimes Against Children matters — where I investigated horrific crimes committed against our most vulnerable populations), following my husband’s career as it took us to Switzerland, then to TX, CO, and now Poland, I found myself in the midst of a pandemic pivot and continuing life overhaul while diligently working to find happiness and practicing resilience along the way.
Career shifts — yep, I’ve done a few — not all bringing joy and rainbows, but I’ve used them as stepping-stones to get me to a comfortable level I could rise from. Using the knowledge, skills, and abilities gleaned from nearly two decades working to safeguard children, I created my Empowered Mindset & Self Defense class, which I had taught for 13 years, in-person only. I thrived while educating and empowering every participant (from age 5 to adult), giving personal safety tools, helping them find their voices while standing tall and owning any space they chose to take up. All incredible training….but then Covid hit and the in-person classes ceased to exist. Insert the (previously dreaded) pivot.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the pandemic loomed and we entered “lockdown” my first thought was, “Great, I’ll have so much time to hang out with my family, read, and organize.” But as days turned into weeks, I realized I was letting my skill sets go to waste instead of figuring out ways to take the unprecedented amount of time at home and turn it into a new path, or at least a fulfilling adventure. Amazingly, there was still enough time in each day to pivot successfully while connecting with my teens and spouse, reading, and getting to the bottom of any regular life to-do lists.
As I took time to dig in and complete my first nonfiction manuscript then prepared for the query process to obtain a literary agent (this was essentially path and pivot #1), I was approached by an international woman’s outdoor adventure company to be part of their online empowerment course — becoming path and pivot #2.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
After initially balking and doubting my empowerment & self-defense classes could be anything other than in-person and hands-on, I took time to understand virtual platforms (i.e. what the heck is Zoom?), reviewed my course content to find teachable gems that could translate online, and analyzed the pros and cons of jumping into this unknown realm.
Struggling and adjusting, adapting and overcoming, became my new pandemic chants. Small successes led to greater triumphs as I put the pieces together and saw a whole new world open up. Classes filled while referrals and requests poured in, my online presence and confidence growing, my class transformation exceeding expectations.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I’ve taught more classes in the past seven months than I had in the two years prior, and collaborated with organizations, charities, and even created two global initiatives along the way! Having an international reach — from the U.S. to Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Korea, and beyond — has allowed me to double down on the passion, and reaffirm instead of giving up on my “why”: educating and empowering girls and women (and sometimes boys and young men).
My past career was more about intervention — children who had already been victimized, crimes that had already occurred — and my heart always hurt because I couldn’t stop the tragedy or save them from harm. Dedicating myself to preventative efforts and providing a toolbox full of safety and self-defense options to my participants, now virtually, has solidified that change can be positive, resilience is a lifelong skill to covet, and happiness can continue to spring up when we pivot with confidence and a healthy dose of faith in ourselves, pandemic and all.
And while putting myself out there virtually since March, I’ve contracted with a security firm to create curriculum as part of their resiliency instructor team, while also being contacted by a major self-defense company and global social media outlet. This pivot is becoming prosperous in more ways than I could have imagined.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Of course, my husband and children supported me, but in the end, it was the belief in myself and my skill set. I could have easily stepped away from teaching and writing, allowing the chaos of the pandemic to stall out my hopes of becoming a published book author and ceasing my classes altogether.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The global safety initiatives started almost on a fluke — a friend was advertising my class for her local community members in Alaska, when a friend of hers from Pakistan (who is involved in empowering girls and women through sports) saw the post and asked if his group could join. My friend realized there was a need greater than just my class and put together a team of changemakers from across the U.S., Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, which is now Creating Safe Spaces and Whistles for Change! I always say “You never now what could happen” — and in this case, I could not have guessed what would have grown out of one seemingly small post.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You’re allowed. Allowed to take up space, use your voice — loudly, empower others, be part of the conversation and even change the direction if needed.
- You don’t need permission. Set your sights, make sure your skill set is in line, prepare and practice, then go for it. Don’t wait for others to invite you — go out and make it happen.
- There’s no one else who can tell your story. My uniqueness is what sets my life story apart from anyone else’s.
- Don’t wait for someone “better” to come along and do what you’re doing. I’m guilty of thinking things like, “She’s more skilled than me/cooler than me/younger than me/etc. — she should do it.” Actually, I should do it! And I am.
- Try on many hats. I thought I’d go to college and become a school counselor — period, life plan mapped out. Had you told me I’d work with disadvantaged youth, join the FBI, become a Mom, teach classes globally, write a book, and on and on, I wouldn’t have believed it. Luckily, I can look back and see my path wasn’t one dimensional — I took many routes to get to this current place I’m proud of, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
1. Spread happiness to keep hope alive.
We combat personal stress by volunteering for others. Giving back reminds us there are others less fortunate and that everyone struggles with something. Putting a smile on a Special Olympics’ athlete’s face, delivering a meal to a homebound person, or helping someone navigate a stressful time in their lives, provides a sense of purpose and a feeling of pride — both instill happiness and gratitude.
2. Change the narrative.
Adults and kids are bombarded with news and messaging about “everyone feeling depressed” when in reality there are many who are thriving, confronting their mental health and feelings head-on (often for the first time in their lives), and seeking to be a support system for those in need. Yes, news sells when there is a fear factor, but we can change the narrative by being realistic about the positives happening around us too. It doesn’t have to all be rainbows and kittens, but some of it can be, and that’s worth spreading in the news and our own homes.
3. Look back, then look ahead.
When we take a good hard look at where we were in March — stuck home, afraid of the unknown, worried how we’d look in a mask, shocked to learn Zoom was a thing — we can see how far we’ve come and the adaptability we practiced through all of the unknowns (sometimes without even realizing it). The future can bring stress no matter what situation we’re faced with, but if we can recognize what we’ve been through, how we conquered fears, made changes to cope, or took back control in big or small ways, we’ll come out the other side with resilience and hope for whatever challenges come next.
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?
Equality efforts both in the U.S. and around the world — to bring about the elimination of Gender-Based Violence.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Anyone doing great work for women’s equality!
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn at Stacey Mitry
Medium at Stacey Mitry
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!