Caminante, no hay camino: Of chaos and order
For long, Occupational Health was the least attended of my dimensions of health. My personal happiness and self-realization process had mostly involved physical improvement, social endeavors, emotional connections: all parts of belonging and engaging with a community.
As much as I prioritized my education, my occupation was not the main priority to me. I often felt shame from not feeling the same way my peers did, looking for ways to get promoted and reaching a voluminous salary. To a possible fault, I never truly caved into that need. Later in life, I realized that although I had grown in poverty, my family found fulfillment in sharing laughter and happiness together. To me, this happiness I found at home was the richness I wanted in life. It was the most certain feeling I knew at the moment.
Soon after graduating from the University, I started working as a Health Coach for EngagementHealth. I enjoyed the premise of being able to spend time with employees who were interested in learning about their own health. I also educated all kinds of people - middle-class heads of household from all backgrounds, and people I had not gotten a chance to meet previously in life. It was my privilege and duty to maintain a relationship with them during each call.
Three months into this experience, I suffered an accident that fractured my ankle. My first bone fracture at the age of 21, and just months into being introduced to what in college we called “the real world”. I was worried that this temporary disability would slow down my development with the company, but that worry was soothed after my team sent me a care package, letting me know that it was okay for me to continue working from home even through our monthly training sessions.
A temporary disability like this one brought challenges to my psychological needs. Suddenly I wasn't able to go out and meet with my community, nor could I exercise outdoors. I developed a sense of solitude that was contrary to my regular life.
Amid the sadness and disconnect from my community, I was able to find purpose through every engagement with the people I coached. I was able to lead my own Seven Dimensions of Health, with Occupational Health in the front wagon. Since I worked in the afternoons, 2pm - 8pm, I was able to maintain a healthy morning routine: Wake up, exercise, cook breakfast, read, and do home chores in preparation for my work day.
On June 16th, 2015, at 1:45pm I got a call from my Manager. After we engaged in small talk about my morning, I told her about getting started for the coaching sessions I had scheduled that day. My manager, stumbling on her words as she was about to tell me the kind of news she has never delivered in her career, told me that I will not need to come into work today. I started probing for answers, but they were still nebulous. What I gathered was that the organization decided to retribute our budget from Coaching on to Sales Consultancy. It was clear at this point that there was no negotiating my standing with the company; the first company I ever worked for, the office that provided me with a family of like-minded professionals. Much like the heartbreak of a rupture, I immersed myself in insecurity and asked what I could have done better. Examples were provided on what I could have done better as a new employee. These were examples I kept in mind for the next year as I still grieved the loss of my employment and sense of belonging in corporate wellness.
A year later, as I began my role as an Account Manager at Interactive Health (a role I had taken into consideration since working with EngagementHealth), one of my new colleagues informed me that EngagementHealth had just filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors.
The heart of relationships
Four years passed during my development as a Health Coach, Team Lead, and eventually Account Manager (Level 1 & 2) at Interactive Health. We went through developmental training that solidified my interest in staying with the company. While we didn't have the same perks as other companies, I felt satisfied and warm in the small office the company had just opened up in the West Loop of Chicago. As a practice to my commitment to this culture, I moved into the neighborhood and reduced my commuting time to 15 min bike rides from the office.
I loved my manager, my colleagues were down to earth, and I was able to do work that advanced my mission of bringing equitable care to various communities. Eventually, my manager moved on to an outside opportunity, and her absence made an impact on me. I did not realize then that this was the beginning of workforce attrition that affected me and other workers.
A few months later, on an October day at around 2:30pm, I heard a colleague start crying while on the phone. I was hoping it wouldn't be anything bad, as I was getting flashbacks of bad news being delivered over the phone to me four years ago. My colleague gathered her things, and managing to wipe her tears while taking her items from the desk, was only able to gather enough strength to say "Bye." The day after, we learned that her role, along with that of around 20 other employees, were terminated immediately. We never got a notice about it from the company. Shortly after, more under-the-radar lay-off rounds came around - we had to resort to looking up our colleagues by name on JIRA to know if they were still active or inactive. For someone who saw family ties in the corporate setting, this came off as dystopian to me.
More influential managers were let go of, with one of them being someone I held in high regard, as he was the person who trained me and inculcated me with great client relationship management habits. His position was absorbed into a couple of other roles, and the tension at Interactive Health was certainly building up.
My fellow Account Managers and I were without a doubt worried about the future of our careers. I personally held on to the idea that our role was too important to be cut off, as each of us nurtured an average of 50 client relationships. Ultimately, this was the case, as my team remained untouched up until the day the company decided to close its doors altogether.
On Sunday, June 14th, 2020, my fiancé and I went on a long bike ride at the North Branch Trail in Chicago - a place to commute within nature, where hours can pass by without a worry. We were simply surrounded by our favorite local trees, and the sky was clear - nothing could have distracted us from this environmental bliss. Later in the evening, it was time to go home, so we started heading to our car, where we loaded up our bikes and were mentally prepared to talk about our favorite parts of the day to consummate our day. Before driving, I pull out my phone to get Google Maps started, when I notice that I have several missed calls from my manager. Although our relationship was great, we never found the need to call each other outside of working hours, so this was a first. I hurried to open up my work email, where the first message is from the CEO going to the company-wide list:
Earlier today, Interactive Health Solutions, Inc. and its affiliates filed a petition seeking relief under chapter 7 of the United States Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The commencement of the Chapter 7 case means that Interactive Health has ceased operations as of today. Please do no further work.
I returned the call to my manager and received the confirmation that the company had in fact been dissolved. When we hung up, I was taken back to the same kind of grief I had experienced exactly five years ago, but something felt different. Luckily, I had gone through very intentional emotional and spiritual growth that allowed me to understand this was an event affecting a community of over 400 employees, not just me. I was soothed by a calm and compassionate demeanor during my ride back home. I was being compassionate to myself, because I knew I needed to offer my compassion onto others.
The next morning, we had a Town Hall meeting where the CEO provided minor details on what steps the leadership team took to secure additional investing capital. As it turned out, there was a meeting that happened on Saturday morning that weekend, where the prospect investors decided to withdraw, making the company have no other option to cover its debt than to liquidate all assets.
Even as we were provided with the reasons, no amount of explanation could have satisfied the broken hearts of hundreds of people who had dedicated their lifes and careers to the company. Many of the people I worked with were with the company since its inception in 1995. My thoughts were also present with the three other Account Managers who had just become mothers for the first timfe, the sales rep whose wife was expecting their first child, and other colleagues whose health and families depended on the employer sponsored health insurance they needed.
I went on to call my colleagues to check on them, and to show myself present during these times affecting us all. Their voices on the phone had a different tone than what I was used to - the grief was palpable, but there was a new sense of joy as we were for the first time communicating with one another as equals, as friends, rather than as workers. One call after another, I was able to bring to resolution the main massage from my meditations from the past few months: My experience at Interactive Health served for the spiritual, mental, and psychological purpose of building healthy relationships. It was during these calls that I realized the underlying need that I was practicing during my time here was to establish emotional connections with my internal and external contacts.
Looking for connection
Within the month, I connected with a Recruiter from Dublin who reached out as he was scouting for a Client Success Manager in the US who met the criteria that his client was looking for. We talked about my qualifications, and even though the wound was still open from what had happened at Interactive Health, my focus was to communicate the lessons I learned on building healthy relationships. What’s more, every time he called me, I had just finished a long morning meditation session followed by readings of the Bhagavad Gita. Every time we chatted, I had this bright orange sacred book always next to me, reminding me that every encounter had a purpose for the development of everyone’s soul.
After various LinkedIn messages and calls, we agreed to finally set up a meeting for me to meet his client, patientMpower. There was a six-hour difference between Chicago and Dublin, so there was only a 2-hour window where the team and I could meet for what became the two interview steps I went through. These meetings were candid, amicable, and promising. I presented a small deck on my practice and its future applications with the company’s tech solution and introduced the founder and my future supervisor to the Seven Dimensions of Health. This encounter reinforced my idea that there was always space to speak from the heart and from a place of passion in the interviewing setting. A week after, I was given an offer letter.
Imaginative as I usually was, I fantasized about my future with patientMpower, the international team I always seeked to collaborate with. Thinking of this future was what occupied most of my afternoon 5K runs. As I ran through my favorite routes in downtown Chicago, I imagined an entrepreneurial future where I got to meet with the founder whenever he came to visit Chicago after the pandemic. These visions provided an enormous confidence boosts that fueled me, as I was shaping my mind and body into the person I knew I was becoming.
Once I started working with my team, I prioritized social connections to heal from the community disconnect I had experienced in the pandemic. I craved moments of inspiration with my coworkers - any chance I got to meet with someone to learn about their role, I also made sure to go deep into understanding their purpose statements.
As the psychological symptoms of pandemic isolation started to settle, I held on to the hope that things would improve, and that I would be able to meet my colleagues in person sometime in the future. Still, something felt empty, and it was at this point that I knew that I was experiencing depression. The isolation had finally taken a toll on me.
Depression and anxiety simply lied to me, as they do with everyone. These comorbidities made me doubt my capabilities, and my work suffered. It was almost impossible to connect with faces on the Zoom meetings, and so I started dissociating. There was a constant struggle between admitting how much I had under my control, and how much was a transmittable symptom from being surrounded by other people who suffered from burnout. Yet, there was always the silver lining that I belonged to a company that developed solutions for COVID-19 remote patient monitoring. This product was useful for families all around the world. Unexpectedly, the time came for me to provide this service to my own family
On April 19, 2021, I was added to a WhatsApp group made up of all my cousins from my dad’s side, all of them living in Peru. The opening message informed us that our oldest uncle, one of the seven siblings my dad was part of, tested positive for the Delta variant of COVID-19. We assembled all the help needed to make sure that all of my dad’s siblings were taken care of, as they all lived in the same building and lacked health insurance. I took on the role of care management and nutritional planning, and instructed my family and at-home nurses on the use of the remote patient monitoring solution my company developed.
As six out of the seven siblings tested positive, one after another, I was involved in communicating the news to each one of them about their status. This was a collective effort among all cousins, and one that kept us glued to the WhatsApp interface from our waking hour until the end of the night.
As time-consuming as it all was, the reward was being able to stay connected with my dad through the entire at-home treatment. My siblings and I had the chance to connect via Zoom meetings and shared moments that we didn’t realize we missed for close to two decades. We laughed together and strengthened each other’s faiths. Every moment was unique. Even during the times my dad couldn’t talk as he focused on maximizing his oxygenation, I was able to share with him the most beautiful philosophies of meaning and being that connected us both.
Unexpectedly, on May 2, 2021, the struggle culminated into an unforeseeable outcome. My dad, aunt, and uncle ended their fight and passed away within hours of each other. They were called back home to the source of their spirits.
Coming home to myself
This process my family and I went through was not in vain - we couldn’t allow it to be. We reconnected and created meaning behind the sacrifice that our loved ones made. Their hearts had taught us how to love so much, that even in their passing, we perceived their being liberating itself from material existence into blissful love, now occupying everyone in the family.
This newfound meaning occupied our minds and hearts. While we were grieving, we were also healing, and this was our priority as a family. I took care of my sisters and mom, who were with me, and I spent all my energy with them. Work was secondary at this moment, so secondary that when I got the news that I was being let go off from patientMpower, my heart was still with my family.
This third lay off notice was different from the first two in this story. I was now possessed by compassion for the people giving me the news and for myself. This third time, the effect of a lay-off was not something that was happening to me, as it was actually happening for me. I understood there was meaning behind the fact that the company founder was the one who delivered the news, as I remembered that this company was founded for him to cope with the loss of his own father. Now the opportunity for growth in the midst of chaos was given to me. This was a burden that carried a blessing within.
I seized the moment for what it was, taking this as an opportunity to dedicate my full time to the healing of my family. The next few months were spent reuniting my family, hosting cousins, and creating new Father’s Day traditions. Chaotic as all things were, I had a chance to pave a road for my family and I to walk through the road of grief together. The Spanish phrase “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar” materialized its meaning into my life.
The spirit of my father walked alongside with me through it all. At my deepest moments of despair, all it took was visualizing my dad sitting in the same room as me, watching me with a smile on, reminding me that he was still there.
His spirit was there on my flight back to Lima on June, when I visited to say a proper a goodbye to his tomb. His words were encoded in the ephemeral waves of the Pacific Ocean, welcoming me back home and whispering inspiration into my heart. As I walked into his apartment in Surquillo, a second home for my inner child, he was there waiting for me in his room, where I slept for the entire week of my stay. His spirit guided me to the specific places I needed to visit for my own healing. The spirit guided me to find the notes he had written to himself for years, on his projects, and occupational endeavors. Through this healing process, I learned how much of his ideals were still present in me, even if he never physically taught me how to approach a work-life balance. The emotional and spiritual blueprint for a fruitful life was all in this room.
By the time I was flying back home to Chicago, I understood there was a milestone to reach in my grieving process. I now had the opportunity to honor my father’s spirit in the next opportunity I was meant to achieve. I spent the next seven months recalibrating my compass and redefining the meaning that I wanted to create for my occupational life. This was a process that taught me the only way out was to fully integrate myself, as my next opportunity needed me to be fully present, mentally and spiritually.
I went through many lows, bargained self-esteem, and reconsidered the story of my career before fully surrendering to my community. After months of incubating myself and learning to speak only from the sincerity of my heart, I was finally ready to present myself to a team that cherished me for exactly who I was. Serendipitously, after finding acceptance in the loss I needed to go through before starting a new life, I was given the opportunity to meet with a group of healthcare innovators who wanted to meet me.
Meeting and conversing with this group did not feel like an interview. Rather, it felt like pure collaboration happening, as we were already mentally building the ideals that we wanted to see flourish in the healthcare space. For once in my life, it did not feel like they were probing me looking to hire an employee - they were looking to hire Daniel Gutiérrez Mena. These conversations were highlights of my weeks, and soon enough, I was given the offer to join a working community that offered me true belonging.
This long process of chaos, naturally placed into a life of work, came to a resolution. Looking back, I can now see the same natural process of chaos that builds new life. At different scales, molecular parts of my identity were falling off and floating, looking to find the right combination for new sedimentation. It took perfect chaos to crystallize my new being. Understanding the closure of this cycle, I gained awareness of who I was looking at internally. My old self fulfilled his purpose, and sacrificed to become who I was meant to become now.
My future and my aspirations are currently being built every day. The end of this story is not a fully defined chapter yet. Its definition lies the path ahead, and lives on the future days built on a new foundation. I now understand clearly that there is no path to follow, that the path is built along the walk: Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.