A photo of my grandfather laughing.

Even in death he made me stronger.

Last week my grandfather passed away. He’d been battling severe dementia and significant issues with his heart, so I thought I had adequately mentally prepared for it. But when it actually happened it slammed me so hard I was left spinning.

My grandfather was a total class act. He started farming when he was 6, and worked on the family farm every single day until he was 87 and his health started to really fail. He was hardworking, kind, and inspired everyone around him to be better. To work harder. To try harder. But he didn’t do it with a hammer. He did it with grace. He made everyone he met feel like they were capable and worth investing in.

His viewing was open to the public, and the crowd that came was so huge that they, no joke, had to turn people at the back of the line away because the viewing went an hour overtime and ran into the next viewing. He was remarkable. And so loved. I am who I am because of his influence on my childhood. I’m so grateful to have had him in my life.

Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

I’ve raised my kiddo to understand that expressing emotion is a good thing. It shouldn’t be bottled up.

We have a free range emotion household. If you’re happy, laugh hysterically. When you’re sad, let yourself lose it for a while. Cry. Sob. Get Angry. Get it out of your system. Just don’t stay in that place. Experience all of it. Then get support if you need it, get up, brush off, and move forward.

Great advice right? Yeah. I raised her that way because I did NOT deal with emotions related to tough situations well as a teen/20 something. I slapped on a smile and navigated through life like a zombie, even when things were really, really dark.

My dad hasn’t spoken to me in 17 years. I was being crushed under the weight of it for almost a decade, and about 7 years ago something shifted. It finally registered that there was nothing I could do to change the situation. I had done everything that could be done. All I could do going forward was be there to support the people I love. I couldn’t force people to forgive each other, or to leave awful situations. The weight of their life choices wasn’t my burden to bear.

So I got it together, and let go. It was incredibly difficult.

Seven years later I have a great life with an awesome kiddo, and I am sincerely, truly happy.

I thought I had completely dealt with all of the negative stuff I’d had bottled up from my teens and 20's. I was wrong.

A photo of an explosion of flames.
Photo by Sergi Viladesau on Unsplash

The aspects I hadn’t dealt with had apparently stayed securely sealed in a compartmentalized part of my brain until the day my grandfather passed. It was like an atomic bomb went off in my head that night. Shrapnel flew everywhere, paralyzing me in the process. Every single thing that had happened with my family, both good and bad, in my 37 years of life came pouring out all at once. I was a legit mess.

So, I took 2 mental health days off to grieve and work through those emotions. I didn’t bottle it all up. I didn’t pretend I was fine. I cried. I got angry. I laughed. I sobbed. It was draining and exhausting and awful. Then I slept and repeated the process.

And then? After a few days, I was through to the other side. It’s been a week and I’m still sad, but no longer a train wreck. His passing forced me to work through that lingering legacy pain that I didn’t realize I’d still been carrying around. And I feel lighter.

Even in death, my grandfather is helping me become a better, stronger version of myself.

Why did I share this story? There seems to be a stigma that people in the tech industry are supposed to be emotionless robots that work non stop, never take vacation, and care more about working than living their lives. People who fit that profile have some serious issues they need to sort out.

A solid 99% (even those high powered, C-level, well known leaders in the space) are just normal people with normal lives. Folks have kids, get married, get divorced, lose family members, suffer from chronic illness, adopt pets, battle mental illness, take care of sick family members, travel the world, run marathons, get in car accidents—life is a rollercoaster, and we’re all on the ride together.

Don’t try to live up to that weird robot stigma I mentioned above. It’s dangerous, and a terrible way to spend your life. Take care of yourself. Own your normal. Use all of your vacation time and spend it doing things you love. Take sick days and mental health days when you need them.

A photo of a blue toy robot.
Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

Could I have attempted to “suck it up and push through it” instead of taking that time off? Sure. But why? It just would have taken me longer to recover from the loss, and would likely have had a long, lingering negative impact on my productivity, quality of work, and my personal life. Everyone grieves differently. Vacation days and mental health days aren’t a sign of weakness, they are a sign of self-awareness and power to truly own your own life.

They’re also a clear signal that you want to be able to do your best work for the long haul, that you don’t want to just stick around for a short, burnout inducing sprint. If you really care about your company and your team, take time off throughout the year.

In closing a quick reminder: Work isn’t your life, work is what you do to support your life. Take care of yourself so you can live it to the fullest.

I’m so grateful to work at InVision with leadership that sincerely encourages healthy work life balance. Thank you for being such an awesome boss, Mike.

UX Blogger ~ Product Designer ~ Sr Mgr of Design Community Partnerships @InVisionApp Opinions are my own ❤ (© 2014–2019 Jennifer Aldrich)