Personal Development Interview
Sharing real-life experiences and tips to help on your personal development path!SUPER HAPPY to start sharing real-life interviews about what it takes to dig yourself out of a hole to keep progressing and growing as a person. As everyone’s story is different, I’m really interested in learning the tools used by different people to find a way towards happiness. In the end, all we all want is happiness and that’s the struggle we face. How do we get there? Let’s explore it together.
Today, we are interviewing Erika Del Pozo. She’s an Occupational Therapist.
+ A Hint of Life: For those who don’t know you, share a little bit about yourself. Where you were born, did you go to school, where do you live now and what do you do for work?
- I’m Erika del Pozo and I was born in Miami! I grew up in Miami but now live in Delray Beach. I went went to FIU for two years then transferred to NSU in Fort Lauderdale. I majored in dance then went on to get my Master’s in Occupational Therapy (OT). I work as a pediatric therapist and adjunct professor at NSU in the OT department by day, and by night I’m CEO/founder of Joy Energy Time, a business dedicated to helping healthcare professionals learn stress management and prevent burnout in the workplace.
+ A Hint of Life: Have you always worked on the same industry? Or have you moved around until you found what you loved?
- I wanted to be a dancer and got my Bachelor’s in Dance because it was my passion for the longest time. I worked myself to the bone and burnt out. My dreams slowly fell apart after breaking several bones in my feet from overworking them. I realized that I wanted to pursue something in healthcare because that was another passion of mine since I was a kid. A lot of different experiences and a difficult journey of anxiety, stress, and burnout led me to starting my own business. I’m thankful for all difficult experiences because they have made me stronger and led me to this mission of helping others who are going through what I’ve gone through.
+ A Hint of Life: Aside from work, what is something that you are passionate about?
- Travel! My husband and I absolutely love to travel. Our wedding registry revolved around a honeymoon fund which brought us two amazing weeks in Thailand! We are adventurous, although I prefer a little more luxury when I travel- which my husband makes fun of me for. I also love exploring new restaurants, cafes, and bars, and Miami has the perfect scene for that.
+ A Hint of Life: Tell me about a difficult time of your life – what happened and how did you feel?
- My first few years as an occupational therapist were rough. I hit rock bottoms and felt incapable of being a good therapist. My workload at one point felt uncontrollable and I had a burnout breakdown one day at work. I was exhausted and I just began crying. I felt detached which wasn’t easy. I had to pull back some hours and as a result cut my pay too, but it helped me crave time out for myself; time I didn’t have before due to my hectic schedule. I was working from 9am until around 7pm everyday!
- After my husband (fiancé at the time) and I moved in together, I had to find a new job closer to our home. Again, I hit some rock bottoms and was crying after work, counting down the days til Friday, and feeling completely miserable. In both cases, I was so riddle with adrenaline that I was throwing up at work. Stress, anxiety, and burnout controlled me. Learning how to cope in bad situations really pushed me to stand up for myself. When standing up for myself backfired, I knew I had to leave the unsupportive work environment I had been a part of for a while. I was proud of myself because I was doing my best to stay true to my values.
+ A Hint of Life: When this happened, what thoughts went through your head?
- So many thoughts. I felt weak like I couldn’t manage a normal day in the life of an occupational therapist. I thought, “this isn’t for me.” I felt like I was being thrown into the deep end everyday for two years. I just thought: I better get used to it– get used to not having any time for myself, get used to being exhausted, get used to negativity in the workplace, get used to living a draining life, get used to living for the weekends. It was rough. And I held onto my friendships so much and going out in excess on the weekends because it was the only thing I lived for.
+ A Hint of Life: Was your health impacted in a negative way because of the stress/depression/anger?
- Absolutely. Although I come from from a very disciplined lifestyle from dance and have always maintained my physical health and worked out, I was SO stressed during my workouts. I was stressed all the time and I’d get panic attacks at the gym. I probably had adrenal fatigue but didn’t know what that was at the time. My mental health suffered greatly and I was in a state of fight or flight almost all the time without realizing it.
+ A Hint of Life: What steps did you take to dig yourself out of the situation?
- I cut back on my hours and spent more time recharging my batteries which was a start. I focused on working out even though the workouts I was doing and the way I was going about it didn’t help with my stress and anxiety. I went to the doctor and told them I was having panic attacks and throwing up at work. She prescribed me medication right away. I trusted her because she was my doctor and I know it did help, but ONLY temporarily. I was taking the medicine everyday relying on it to “cure” me 100% without ever thinking about how I could connect with my mind? I was putting a band-aid on something that needed much more. I started to get into personal development because I started to health coach online at the time. Personal development saved my life. I started to learn how I don’t have to be the victim of my anxiety. Even though I have anxiety, I am not anxiety. Even though there is stress in my life, it’s not about the stress- it’s about MY stress management. This process wasn’t a linear path- I went months in that job where I was running on no personal development and just plain suffering. I realized that it’s not a perfect road and you’ll never be perfect, but when I decided in late 2016 that my mental health comes first, everyday I am learning how to better care for myself and have let go of so much. I don’t take medication anymore and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing or unnecessary or telling you to go off yours. I’m just saying in my case, once I learned coping skills, I knew medication wasn’t for me.
+ A Hint of Life: Although we say, you must flip the page and move on… it takes A LOT to do that and it’s not easy. Describe your internal process or how you moved from point a to point b until you felt a little liberated.
- I felt liberated once I left that toxic, dominating work environment that suppressed me. There should be a match and a good fit between you and your work. If you’re feeling like you are in a box and your needs are not being met – whether that’s financial needs, recognition, being respected, or you’re somewhere that goes against your core values and beliefs, you need to question if that’s the right place for you.
- I think that pulling back and working part-time as an Occupational Therapist and having Joy Energy Time (my business) gives me such absolute freedom. I feel like I’m finally living my purpose now and living a life that works for me. Although I have a lot of work on my plate, I feel fulfilled because I’m working towards something very special to me. Once you feel like you’re aligned with your purpose, you’ll know it. I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but I know I’m on the journey and that’s all that counts. Having the coping skills like practicing mindfulness and having an internal locus of control has brought me so much richness in my life, something I was lacking before.
+ A Hint of Life: When bad things happen, I don’t think we ever really get over them. Today, what are some things you do on your day to day to keep improving? To keep moving forward instead of dwelling in the past?
- I meditate everyday. At first you feel like nothing is happening and that your mind should be completely shut off. I don’t think it’s about not thinking, it’s more about channeling your attention on yourself, because for me at least it’s impossible to stop thinking- so don’t feel guilty for thinking during your meditation. I use an app and although I’ve been doing this for two years, I still feel like a beginner. But I show up almost every single day every morning after my breakfast. I listen to a personal development podcast or read a book- I consume something in some form everyday which has just brought so much self-awareness. Having mantras has helped me TREMENDOUSLY- I used to be a huge dweller in the past. I look back on what could have gone right and stupid things like “I should have said this or that or done this better-” Honestly, it’s done. Let it go.
+ A Hint of Life: Once you “turned the page” what happened and were you surprised with the results?
- Yes! I find that I can understand when I’m being reactive or proactive- BIG difference. We as humans largely live our lives reacting and don’t even know it. Being reactive doesn’t always mean being angry or aggressive- we can react by being passive, being a people pleaser, etc. all because we don’t want people to not like us or don’t want XYZ to happen. I want to help people at the individual level and people in groups at the work-unit and organizational level to put certain practices into place that will strengthen their resilience and coping skills but also add systems in place that will prevent burnout and increase true satisfaction in work which will spill over into life.
+ A Hint of Life: When we are in bad situations, we do things we normally wouldn’t do… what’s one thing you regret during this time period?
- This is a tough one. I can say I regret so much from that dark time but in a sense I don’t regret anything. It was a part of my journey. It was a part of my struggle which has led me to where I am now. It sounds cliché but I feel like this totally imperfect journey has brought me a ton of purpose now. (VERY related to this post about everything happening for a reason)
+ A Hint of Life: If there are 3 tips you could give someone going through a similar situation, what would you tell them? How can they be strong enough to pull themselves together and improve their mind health in order to get out of darkness?
- #1 WORK ON YOURSELF FROM THE INSIDE OUT. Once you begin your internal work, you are growing your roots further into the ground so nothing can shake you. If really amazing things happen in your life- great! Be happy with what you’re building externally, but know that once that disappears, you have your fortitude and mental strength. When you’re going through tough and stressful times in your life, knowing that you’re in control of how you respond is key. Reading books, listening to podcasts, going to events that take care of your emotional and/or spiritual growth on a regular basis is like taking your vitamins everyday. We think of self-care of taking a bubble bath once a week, but it’s much more than that!
- #2 THE OUTCOME SHOULDN’T DEFINE YOU AND SHOULDN’T BE YOUR ULTIMATE FACTOR IN DETERMINING YOUR HAPPINESS. What does that mean? You should think of yourself as a tree with strong roots. Whether it’s sunshine and birds outside or pouring rain and dark, you’re still standing. You’re not any more or less a tree because of what’s going on around you. Saying things like “ I’ll be happy when this happens,” or “I’ll be sad when this stops” means you’re letting the external world shape your happiness. I think we place our happiness on outcomes that may or may not happen but don’t pay attention to how we’re getting there.
- #3 BECOME A HUMAN BEING. We are overfed, yet undernourished. We are overstimulated, yet under occupied. We live during an amazing time where technically we have less to worry about- we are living longer, yet we are more stressed than people were 150 years ago. Why? Because we are always connected. I urge you to UNPLUG from time to time and just be. We are human doings now, and doing too much yet not enough. This looks different for different people, but find time to be a human being every once in awhile. I love going to Europe because I think they got that being down pact! Sitting in a cafe for hours, not even bothering to check the time. Now that’s doing.
This interview put me in a ZEN mood; how did it make you feel?
I really hope this interview resonates with you and gives you some takeaways for dealing with any kind of “bad” situation you going through.
As always, I appreciate any comments, thoughts, feedback – feel free to leave them in the comments section below or email me at belen @ ahintoflife.com