Mary Johnson

Sharing stories of resilience at HERWorld Connect

Blog Post created by Mary Johnson on Sep 27, 2017



It wasn’t supposed to be the theme of HERWorld Connect, which we hosted last week at the Hotel Derek in Houston thanks in large part to our sponsors, Merrill Lynch and BP. We were supposed to talk about how each woman is her own greatest asset.


But we realized, in the wake of such a devastating hurricane season, that part of being your own best asset is being able to bounce back, no matter what life throws your way.


Part of that ability lies in being prepared financially. So Susi Knight, assistant vice president and financial advisor with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, talked about health, wealth and purpose and the importance of determining what you want your wealth to do for you. We don’t like to talk about money, but we need it, particularly when disasters like Harvey come our way.


And then there’s the importance of solid coping strategies and a willingness to learn as we go. Our incredible panelists spoke to that piece, unpacking the challenges they’ve faced, how they survived (literally, in some cases) and what they’ve learned as a result.


Life challenges


Suzette ColtonSuzette Colson, head of settlements – NAGP at BP, talked about how she has spent her life conquering fear.


“As a child, I was very fearful. I was scared of everything,” Colson said. “I went to college and got that damn accounting degree. You know, I don’t even know if it was something I wanted to do but other people wanted me to do it.”  


Then, at the age of 28, she decided to give it all up.


“I bought a sailboat with my boyfriend. I had no experience sailing before, and then we went and sailed in the Bahamas for nine months,” Colson said. “It was one of those things that was super important to me because I decided not to be afraid.”


Twenty years later, Colson was diagnosed with triple negative stage 2 breast cancer. She was just 48 years old.


“I was so scared again. But again, I came back to how I felt when I decided not to be fearful,” she said.


Emily Fletty, the former director of talent management at Direct Energy, talked about a time in her career when she was working for an energy company that went through three reorganizations in the span of 18 months.


“My boss had been forced out. My CEO, who was a very inspirational leader, had left the organization,” Fletty said.

It was looking like Fletty’s job could be next.

“People talk about work-life balance, and I don’t think there is such a thing. There’s just life. Sometimes one takes priority over the other, and you just try to go where the need is at the moment. But I don’t think it’s possible to be so stressed at work all the time and then come home and be your best self,” Fletty said. “The stress started to get to be too much for me. I knew my role was likely to be eliminated, so I decided to leave that company.”

Jennifer Hohman, the director of information technology at ConocoPhillips, talked about a near-death experience that started when she got a fever that lasted nine days.


It never broke. She was rushed to the hospital. Her blood pressure crashed — twice — and she was put into a coma.


“I was dying,” Hohman said. “My husband remembered I had gotten bit by a flea and told my doctor … Come to find out I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, an extremely rare disease that can be fatal.”

Hohman survived, but recovering kept her home for eight weeks.


“That’s hell, by the way, for a working woman. Daytime TV sucks,” she said.


How They Cope


Colson survived her brush with death, too — in part because she learned how to focus on life after treatment.


“That was the big thing I kept thinking about, especially as I was going through treatment: that this pain will go away, and I’m going to need to remodel my bathroom. It helps you get through it to focus on other things,” Colson said. “It’s going to change. It’s not going to be the way you feel it is right now, no matter what you may be going through.”


Fletty ended up taking three months off after she left the energy company, which wasn’t easy for her.


“I have a high need for security,” she said. “The first thing I did was I redid my budget. And I broke up with White House, Black Market.”


“It was sad. We both cried, but we’ve all moved on,” she said as the crowd laughed. “And my daughter and I have spent a lot of quality time together, but we did a lot of things that required physical activity. So just taking care of myself physically, which I had not made time for during this period of stress and turmoil.”


Hohman's illness helped her learn to lean on others. It was hard. When friends would call and offer help, she’d still decline.


“Usually you’re so independent as a woman that you’re just like, ‘No I’ve got it all covered.’ And a friend stopped me and she said, ‘You know, it’s not just about you having to rely on other people. It makes them feel good, too,’” she said. “So my coping strategy was to try to pull myself back and let others just take care of me.”




Now, Hohman’s advice to others is to slow down. And listen.


“I was forced to slow down. I had no choice,” she said. “I wanted to go back to work after four weeks because I felt mentally like I could. My daughter told me, ‘No, you need a therapist, and you may have PTSD so you’re going back in eight.’”


True to her budget-conscious coping strategy, Fletty advised saving over spending in the face of a challenging situation.


“Save your money because that does give you so many more options that you won't have if you don’t,” she said.


And Colson reminded everyone that tomorrow is not promised, so cherish the present.


“Through my experiences, I’ve learned life can be very short. You never know what’s going to happen, so there’s a lot of people that plan for the future,” she said. “I do plan for the future, but not at the expense of the present. We tend to not live in the present, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”