The following is an excerpt from my book. It is available at:
A true story about how I connect the dots looking backwards to discover the true meaning of being healthy within in the world– by being healthy without. Oftentimes, it’s through unexpected loss that we experience our greatest gain. May you read this book and learn to value things you can never lose in life. Realize how past and present thoughts, relationships, pop culture, news and daily habits impact your overall well-being. Discover your power to change thoughts at any moment. Acquire healthy coping mechanisms during dark times to shine light to reveal your true values and higher purpose. Know you are beautiful and loved right now with all your flaws. Journey through pain to transform it into self-awareness, acceptance & art. There should never be any loss in life –only transformation. You are not alone. Explore being Healthy Within.
PREFACE: Early Influences
The year is 1984. I schlep a must-have accessory for the 80’s aspiring female executive, a soft, brown Italian leather briefcase that protects my bibles of business inspiration; The Woman’s Dress for Success by John T. Molly, In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. and The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. I am an Italian-American, wide-green eyed and wider-smiled, petite, slender brunette from Brooklyn, New York.
I am a middle child with two siblings. Parents aren’t supposed to label their children, but mine continually call me “the smart one” and the one with “a big heart.” The first from being an encyclopedia nerd, and the latter from dragging in stray or injured pets to nurse back to health, and friends who are hungry or need to escape an abusive household. Our door is always open to the less fortunate. Brooklyn is a small community, where neighbors are one big happy, albeit dysfunctional family. My interest into the human psyche, communications and health ignite early as I witness the ravages of addiction, and try to understand or save these colorful cast of characters I love. The constant flurry of activity in our home and that of relatives and friends prepares me for feeling perfectly at home the first time I enter a chaotic newsroom. I am used to remaining calm and centered amidst crisis, breaking news and dozens of people speaking at once.
My mother, a homemaker and part-time seamstress from Italy courageously arrives in Brooklyn by plane alone, at the age of sixteen. My father, who she has only met once in Italy, arrives in Brooklyn by boat before her. His sister has already married my mom’s older brother, so they are introduced through family. They write love letters to each other for months, which I later find hidden in a kitchen cabinet, when I climb our washing machine to reach a box of cookies. At the curious age of ten, I immediately recognize my parent’s hand writing, and feel giddy at seeing the word “amore” repeatedly. Each day after school, I look forward to secretly reading more of the Italian letters before mom gets home from work at 3 p.m. I am overjoyed to discover their love for each other.
After six-months of dating, they marry after both families give their blessings. Family approval is mandatory prior to marriage. My father takes whatever work is available when he arrives in America, but the entrepreneur in him is frustrated at each job, so he quits a string of them. Finally, after working in construction in New York City, he saves enough to open an Italian restaurant, where he finally thrives. We reside in a comfortable three-bedroom brick home, as he continues to work a bazillion hours before retirement. He has six siblings. While attending grade school, I am sent home with a letter telling my mother that I must learn to speak English. I know no other language than Italian, but just like my parents, I learn. I grow up within a mile radius of twenty-four cousins, who I adore. We are still close to this day, honoring my grandparents wish for all of us to “love each other”. They ingrain in us an unbreakable lifetime family bond of unconditional love, laughter, joyful traditions, commitment, values and hard work.
In 1984, my parents sacrifice it all to send me to college. The economy rebounds and the United States enters one of the longest periods of sustained economic growth since WW II. My grandparents tell me stories about needing to dig a ditch in their backyard to protect themselves during bomb raids. There is no TV on their farm in Italy, only a fireplace, where they seek warmth and share stories with their eight children. I am told I have it good today because times were tough back then. I watch grandma cook, clean and scrub clothing by hand on a washboard in her bathtub –all with a smile.
In my world, consumer spending is up in response to federal tax cuts. I am given an opportunity my parents never had –to attend college in the greatest city in the world. I work part-time every spare minute at Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Fifth Avenue and Saks Fifth Avenue, earning $8.00 an hour at each job. My earnings since high school, afford me employee discounts on loads of books, and satin blouses with bows, and wide-legged, loose slacks with matching blazers infused with oversized shoulder pads sewn in.
They create the illusion of having broader shoulders, like Walter Payton, the most prolific running back in the history of the NFL, nearly indestructible and infinitely powerful.
It helps me proclaim myself as an equal in the male-dominated workforce of network news.
My nickname during college is Jackie O.
My inspiration for my career choice is from an early love of writing, which garners five stars, as early as grade school at Saint Ephrem, a private Catholic school. I also win awards for creativity in designing graduation brochures, decorating classrooms and painting local store windows during holidays.
I have a natural curiosity about health and news. We do not have a fireplace in our home. Instead, we gather around a brown, Magnavox TV, known as “the cold fire” with an antenna on top, which needs to repeatedly be adjusted to avoid fuzzy programming. Sometimes, I stand there and hold it during an entire show. This is the norm back then.
One Saturday at 9 p.m.in 1970, six-year-old me is inspired watching the first single, independent career woman cast in a leading role on TV. It’s The Mary Tyler Moore Show, an American sitcom created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, airing on CBS. I watch in awe as Mary applies for a secretarial position on the “Six O’clock News” at the fictional TV station, WJM in Minneapolis. She is told the job is filled. So, she is offered an associate producer position. I’m thrilled. The opening sequence ends with Mary tossing her hat in the air to the theme song, “Love Is All Around.” She looks confident, independent and happy. Then, a cat meows as the MTM logo appears, which tells me a woman can be all that and own her own company too. Fourteen years later, I channel Mary Richard’s enthusiasm to smash the glass ceiling in broadcast news.
Love Is All Around Me.
Or so I think.
In the ‘80’s sad songs about love dominate the airwaves. One song was even called, Sad Songs Say So Much by Elton John. Pat Benatar shouts, Love Is a Battlefield. The number one hit song is Tina Turner’s, What’s Love Got To Do With It? These songs play like a broken record on the radio infusing my mind with the message that love leads to a broken heart. So instead of making love a priority, as my parents and grandparents did, I place my efforts into building a career. I will be different. I will be a career girl just like Mary Richards, even though on my first day at NBC, an anchorman, who is my perceived equal says, “Here kid…Xerox this.”
Clearly, he doesn’t see my Frisbee-size shoulder pads. Yep, I am powerful.
I carry a large can of ACQUANET hairspray to tame my power, bouffant, Jackie O. brunette hairstyle. I am grateful to all the women before me who worked so hard to pave the way for me to me to push through the revolving door at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in my Columbo inspired trench coat and overstuffed briefcase.
It’s the year of “supply side” economics. Ronald Reagan is President of the United States. George Bush is Vice President. Unemployment is at 9.6%. I use my artistic skills to sketch designs of more power suits, which my mom enthusiastically sews for me with linen material on her Sear’s machine. It enables me to dress like Royalty, even though I’m only an unpaid Intern at NBC in New York City. Anchorwoman at NBC ask where I get my clothing. When I tell them, they offer to pay my Mom any price to make their suits. Mom turns down the offer, saying she prefers working with her friends, who speak Italian at a factory in Brooklyn.
Meantime, in the rest of the world, Japan agrees to impose a voluntary quota on its car exports to the U.S. I read IOCOCCA, the autobiography of Lee Iacocca and MAYOR by Ed Koch. Nancy Reagan reinforces my motto in her 1985, “Just Say No” campaign to educate young Americans about dangers of drug use. Back then, top fashion models like Elle Macpherson run on the beach drinking pink diet TAB during commercials. The message is anyone who drinks diet colas and fits into slim designer jeans like Brooke Shields is healthy, even if they order a diet TAB with what we call “murder burgers’ from White Castle.
Four years later, Oprah goes on a liquid diet for months to fit into her skinny jeans. The world cheers. The movie, FAME moves dancing into gyms. The aerobics craze begins. I own a headband and mimic moves to the song, “She’s a Maniac…maniac on the floor.” Yep, I am fit and healthy. Or so I think.
Since I already think drinking TAB makes me healthy, it’s time to be WEALTHY. I already feel rich growing up because I always have nice clothing. I have brand new white shoes for church on Sundays, new earth shoes for school, and one pair of sneakers for after school. Mom delights in sewing lots of identical outfits for my sister and me in pastel colors. Jeans are a no-no. I’m told bad kids wear them. Imagine my shock when I first see my cousins Giulia and Angelina wearing (gasp!) Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, while I stand there in plaid pastel pants. Well, at least I’m not a hippie. I am a clean-cut, well-dressed kid with tons of food in the refrigerator and clean linens in a warm, cozy bedroom with all white girly furniture.
I also have a jump rope, polo stick, hoola-hoop and bicycle to keep me active. Today, Mom says I influence her with healthy habits, but back then she influences me. I recall her saying I would not be able to think in school if I did not eat a healthy breakfast. Two boiled or poached eggs were always ready for me. She packs a tuna or turkey sandwich with an apple for lunch, and makes pasta for dinner. If she isn’t around, I know a dish covered with tinfoil waits in the refrigerator for me. I can heat it up myself. I am taught to cook and clean as soon as I can stand on a chair and reach the kitchen sink to wash dishes. I am aware some neighbors are richer because they have a dishwasher. In summers, they also go to something called, “the cabana.”
All I know is the cabana has an in-ground pool. I go to the nearby park with free sprinklers or look out the back window until my neighbor with an above ground pool invites me in. They can only see my sad face pining out the window. What they don’t see is I already have my swimsuit on when they ask me to join them. I still feel rich.
It isn’t until I see the first television show featuring the lives of the wealthy that I feel dirt poor. Suddenly, “…champagne wishes and caviar dreams” enters my mind. Once again, my thoughts are infused and influenced by external influences. I enter the workforce in a new era of celebrity worship. Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” brings the extravagant lifestyles of moguls, athletes and entertainers right into our humble living room. I am mesmerized by the lavish homes, fancy cars and opulence. To top that off, I am exposed to the sagas of Dallas oil magnate, J.R. Ewing and his family, and Dynasty, another wealthy Denver family in the oil business. I begin dressing like Krystle Carrington with Billy Joel’s, Uptown Girl playing in my impressionable young mind. Suddenly, New York City represents everything Brooklyn is not.
My parents tell me if I attend Pace University, they can afford the 6K tuition a year, so I don’t have to get a loan. I accept, even though at the time, Pace is an accounting school, and I hate accounting. I will make the best of this privilege. Fortunately, accountants hate journalism, which enables me to stand out, and be placed in Sigma Tau Delta, the National English Honor Society. Uptown girl begins living in her Uptown world.
I also agree to continue to work part-time in Barnes and Noble bookstore as a sales associate (fancy title for working a cash register) to pay for my textbooks. I transfer to the one across the street from Pace University in freshman year. I also continue to work at Saks Fifth Avenue as a “sales associate” in New York City on days off, only so I can be closer to where I really want to work, NBC, the National Broadcasting Company.
NBC is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which peaks my interest. Every time I want something my Dad yells, “No…we are not the Rockefeller’s!” Clearly, these Rockefeller people are not average. The average median price of a house in 1984 is 75K. The average rent is $375/month. The average new car cost 9K. A gallon of gas is $1.09 and a movie ticket is $2.75. The median average income is 22K. I want to be ABOVE average, like the people I see on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Dallas and Dynasty. So, the first time I see a building with the Rockefeller name on it, I am determined to work there. It must be where “…champagne wishes and caviar dreams” come true.
During my lunch hour, I run to 30 Rock to get in line to take the NBC tour. During each tour, a Page asks, “Who wants to be Johnny Carson?” I eagerly raise my hand and get to play Johnny on a mock “Tonight Show” set. When I’m not practicing to be Johnny Carson, I read every book on success while at the bookstore. I am in heaven, having access to the greatest minds of all time. I add Stephen Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to my collection. Success and wealth are at the top of my priority list, more important than personal relationships. When I have free time, I spend it taking ski lessons, getting certified in scuba-diving, learning to sail, water-ski, learning other cultures, write produce, edit, report, sketch and take voice lessons to get rid of my Brooklyn accent. I fear it all.
Fortunately, I read something by Eleanor Roosevelt that stays with me. She says, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
These are all things I think I can’t do, so I do them. Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Looking backwards, I see my 3 primary values are externally influenced, materialistic, shallow and ego-driven:
The above list is the polar reverse of being HEALTHY WITHIN. I’m also spiritual. God first.
It would take the loss of every “thing” in my life to gain this wisdom. I reverse all these superficial thoughts and priorities, and return to the intangible values my family instilled in me from the start. I learn self-awareness brings health in mind, body and spirit and self-love, which leads to genuine love and peace in all your relationships. Then, all the rest falls into place. Out of my loss, I gain a spiritual awakening into what it truly means to be healthy and wealthy. I had to journey from darkness into this light. It’s the only time I toss my hat into the air like Mary Richards, to the tune of Love Is All Around.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” – Proverb
“The Beauty You See In Others Is Within You.”
Fast forward. 2007. I think the world is over. During this time, I hear the most powerful words ever said to me. They are, “The beauty you see in others is within you.” They are emphatically stated by an elderly woman, who says them to me, as she grips my arms in a crowded store, before vanishing into thin air. She is a stranger. I tremble from the experience. Never, in all my life, have I previously been so conscious of God’s presence.
Who was she?
FOR MORE PICK UP A COPY OF “HEALTHY WITHIN” (LINK BELOW)
HEALTHY WITHIN: A STORY ABOUT LOSS AND GAIN is a story about how I redefine the true meaning of health and beauty in the world following a personal tragedy and spiritual encounter. I gain so much wisdom from the experience that I fee; compelled to share it with the world. Chapters include recognizing major stressors in life that cause illness, healthy coping mechanisms for them and powerful advice on how to fix existing problems in oneself and in the world. It takes you along on my lifelong journey to redefining health from the inside out. If little “health nerd” me didn’t know the true meaning of health, then I can only imagine what is going through young minds today. These same influences are there. Time to stop and pay attention. I believe every person in the world needs to read this book. It can change the world, making it a healthier place –one person at a time, from the inside out.
MY FIRST REVIEW (ALWAYS THE SCARIEST!):
“Just had the honor and privilege of pre-reading (proofing) this amazing new book by Maria Dorfner ! It right sides up everything wrong with our current world; offering simple easy things you can do to start living Healthy Within. Compelling, timely insight everyone needs to read now! Highly recommend this wonderful book nominated for the Pulitzer Prize! Awesome work Maria! Carpe Diem. A timely masterful work desperately needed for NOW…for everyone, a must read and share with the world! I Highly recommend it!” -Lisa Ditalia
TO PURCHASE A COPY OF HEALTHY WITHIN: A STORY ABOUT LOSS AND GAIN
Maria Dorfner is the founder of Healthy Within Network and NewsMD Communications, LLC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org