Jennifer Calland: My TechUPWomen Story
by Jennifer Calland, TechUPWomen Alumna
Tears. Tears of joy, redemption and worthiness. These hot tears on my cheeks remind me that I am alive, that I am adaptable, determined and resilient. Grateful. And beloved.
I am alive. I came to the kick-off TechUPWomen Durham residential on the heels of coming off a wellness retreat in Devon while trying to get over the trauma of being a parent-carer in helping my youngest child survive her cancer. Meanwhile her older brother was diagnosed Autistic in that time. I walked into the lobby, still half expecting some mistake had been made, but then EmJay looked up at me and asked, ‘Jennifer?’
Acknowledgement of my own identity, beyond anything I have had to be sharp-elbowed and heeled about for my kids’ sakes, is such a rare thing for me to experience. And then what is more… I belong.
I am adaptable. Six months to take on and conquer this curriculum on top of juggling being mom, School Governor, wife, housekeeper, administrative assistant, nurse, cook, negotiator and confidant. All the while, because I am middle-aged too, coming to grips with changes in my own body which are still too taboo to talk about openly – but then I think that is changing. I was never my absolute best at any of these, only because I spin so many plates. However, I am deeply proud of my contribution to each area, and I am fortunate to know that my contribution to all of them has been both beneficial and appreciated. Thankfully also, the TechUPWomen program was adaptable too.
I am determined. Latest stats still show that parent-carers who are forced to quit their jobs to take on care, largely do not return. Only 16%, according to the Ordinary Lives paper 2005. Given the network and the pathway that TechUPWomen provided, I blew that stat right out of the water.
I am resilient. That piece was already known, and I made it known even further. In a way, talking about my resilience was an expression of my need to get out of that space and to get me to a new space where I felt growth and hope. If I am honest, right now, especially during the pandemic, there is very little light and hope for parent-carers who have lost all their support so that clinically vulnerable loved ones around them can remain. Their resilience is shining bright against the path I have been given out of that space.
I am grateful. I would not be working now, and I would certainly not be chasing a Master’s in Big Data Analytics, if it had not been for the investment and trust in me. Despite the pandemic backdrop.
I am beloved. January 2020 was the last time I saw the gals who went on this journey with me. I miss them fiercely and we keep in touch, so I know they miss me fiercely too. We have a sisterhood between us with a deep abiding respect that I have always wanted from my friendships with women. Each woman is so bright and beautiful, moving forward on her own strength like celestial stars.
For myself, it took gaining a place of safety where I was appreciated for myself and was supported to become once again whole. And then jettisoned and accelerated to the next level through learning, mentorship, networking and workshops. Cherries on top included forging so many new friendships.
Even more rewarding to me is the ‘after’. There is at least 100 women who now have my back, in a big way. This is the best I can do in describing what a life transformative experience TechUPWomen has been for me.
And also, for once… I get to be me again.