It’s Never Too Late to Help Others Feel Significant and Secure
Heather Peterson has two words posted in her Salt Lake City office: Significant and Secure. Those are the guiding principles of everything she does as a businesswoman and colleague, wife and mother, volunteer and church member, and also as a student, which she became yet again as she entered midlife.
After high school Heather attended Brigham Young University, but one year short of completing her degree she felt called to embark on the mission work that is a part of her Mormon faith. That first night, in the rural, impoverished village she had been placed in, Heather listened to the sounds of cockroaches scurrying around her bedroom and wondered how she would possibly endure the next 18 months. She let herself have a good cry, vowing that the next day, she would find the resilience to adapt, which she did. The community had little. Resources were so limited that an invitation to share a meal often meant that she ate while the family that invited her did not, and yet her hosts went out of their way to share what little they had. Through her time there, Heather learned to see beyond what lay on the surface and to value, far more, what was beneath. Each person needed to be seen and feel important, to be trusted and to feel safe.
When she returned home, there was no more money to continue her studies, so Heather put her degree on hold and found an office job to pay the bills. She met and married a man who she supported through the completion of his academic studies, continuing to put her own educational goals on the backburner.
Unable to conceive a biological child of their own, Heather and her husband began to pursue adoption, but everything about the process felt wrong. Becoming a parent should have been joyful; instead they found themselves surrounded by grief and pain. Leaving the mandatory adoption class one evening, Heather and her husband decided they just couldn’t keep doing it. That next evening, a heavily pregnant woman began driving between two Utah hospitals. The state had just passed a Safe Haven law allowing a baby to be surrendered with no questions asked, so the woman drove through the night until she was ready to deliver and give up her baby. Thanks to a serendipitous staffing change – the nurse who assisted the woman happened to be a friend of Heather’s – and following a few chaotic days, Heather and her husband were able to bring their new baby boy, Sam, home.
As Sam grew (and grew – he shot up to 6 foot 2, towering over his 4 foot 11 mother), Heather learned to balance motherhood and her career, finding meaning and challenge in the variety of roles her small company called on her to master. She also continued to volunteer, by mentoring teenagers weekly and in summer programs run by her church. Heather found that she had a knack for finding and connecting with that one teen who needed her most, the withdrawn girl sketching in a notebook as a pack of more social girls chatted nearby, or the self proclaimed “skate rat” staring off into the distance, shielding herself with a toughness Heather knew was only skin deep.
By her late 40s, now the mother of an almost grown son, Heather decided the time was finally right to do something for herself; she wanted to complete her college degree. Driving to her first class on campus, she worried she wouldn’t know where to park, how to find her classes, how to communicate with the much younger students, and that she might not even know how to be a college student anymore. To her surprise, her classmates welcomed her with kindness and respect. She discovered that her years of professional and personal experience were something others valued, often seeking her out for guidance and support. Heather loved being back in the classroom, so much so that, upon completing her undergraduate degree at the age of 50, she immediately undertook her next academic challenge: earning an MBA.
Each aspect of her life – growing up the eldest of six siblings, leaving the comforts and familiarity of home to engage with a very different community, facing challenges in becoming a parent, mentoring teenagers, taking on a myriad of different and ever expanding responsibilities in a growing company, returning to school as an adult – reinforced Heather’s belief in those two words she keeps in her office. Each person deserves to feel significant and secure in their home, in their community, and in their work, and fostering that feeling in others has become part of Heather’s mission in all the various roles she plays.
It’s never too late to help others feel significant and secure.