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D Academy Fellow Talks Grit – Frances Yllana

Frances Yllana is a 2015 D Academy fellow. Yllana and seven other fellows gave talks on the meaning of grit, inspiring blog posts. 

On March 13 at Union Coffee House, I gave a talk about the meaning of “grit,” as part of the Big D Reads series of events, along with 7 other D Academy fellows and alumni. Prior to it, the MC mispronounced my last name. Which is what I’m used to. But it was very appropriate. Here it is:

I’m wholly unprepared. I finished this talk last night. And that scares me. Speaking scares me. But I’m doing this for the challenge. The growth. It’s therapy. And also, Krista, and everything she’s done for me by looping me into this wonderful world of D Academy and the awesome inspiration that has come after it – has indebted me to her.

BUT …  I’m going to read this. If it’s against the rules, I’m going to elect to use what I think Mattie and Rooster would have said, “I do what I want.”

So here goes.

So the word GRIT in psychology is a positive, non-thinking trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve what they want to achieve.

This perseverance helps to overcome the obstacles and challenges that lie within their path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in realizing their goals.

GRIT is associated with the words “”motive,” “effort,” “perseverance”, “hardiness”, “resilience”, “ambition”, “need for achievement” and “conscientiousness”.

GRIT is about accomplishing something rather than growing a skill.

GRIT and the ideals of persistence and tenacity have been understood as a virtue since Aristotle.

Individuals high in grit keep their determination over long periods despite failure and adversity. Their commitment towards the long-term is THE overriding factor that provides the stamina needed to “stay the course” amid challenges, set-backs and naysayers.

GRIT wins the marathon, not the sprint.

I’ve been told, that I’m seen as driven. Tenacious. I’ve got spirit and passion and all the things you expect with anyone who has tasted success. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m involved in a lot. I’m always posting about something I’m doing for work or the community. I present myself as someone who might have the characteristics of GRIT.

As an aside, for those of you who’ve never met me, or you’ve just recently gotten to know me, or have friended me based on D Academy or something related, you’re about to get to know me a lot better than most people I’ve known for a while.

If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll know that I’m very transparent. I talk about trivial things and heavy things with the same openness.

Hey everyone, I love my life. Check out this baby elephant taking a bath. OMG, I’m so lucky to do what I do, and be involved in the things I’m involved with. I’m blessed by my friends, my mentors, and check out all these people that inspire me. True story, I watched The Interview three times the first day I downloaded it (it’s really really good).

This transparency is intentional. This transparency is a weird organic social media strategy for the organizations I’m part of leading. But it is also a concerted effort to make myself approachable.

This transparency works. In the last few years, people have asked me why I’m so involved and why I care so much. And usually – I don’t have any answer to that but that I love the work I do, and volunteering inspires me, and they could feel the same way the more involved they get.

And this is all true. But there’s more to my drive than just that. And some of you know this. Some of you have heard bits and pieces in passing. But it’s March. And March brings with it a set of anniversaries, which always challenge me to contemplate what I’m doing. Where my life is going. And so I’m going to share a part that a lot of people haven’t heard — the complete timeline of losing my parents. It will explain a lot.

Two years after I graduated college, in the summer of 2003, my dad was rushed to the hospital. His speech was slurred. They figured out he had been having mini strokes for a year. So, he and my mom moved from where I grew up in Dallas proper to Mckinney, TX to live with my sister and nephew. Since my dad had been out of work for a while due to health and age issues, it was best to have him live at my sister’s who could respond more quickly if anything happened. My mom kept her job in downtown Dallas, though, and she drove back and forth from Mckinney, 5-6 days a week.

She was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine sarcoma in October 2003. She was in pain for over 6 months before that, but didn’t say anything bc she didn’t want to worry anyone, especially with my dad’s mini-strokes. The doctors gave us very little hope. The rate of survival was 4%. But she fought it. She had the surgery. She went through chemo. In between treatments, she kept working as many hours as she could, so she could keep health insurance for her and my dad.

On Good Friday, 2005, she went into remission, and went back to work full-time. Again, mainly to qualify for the insurance to cover a long-needed heart surgery for my dad – which we scheduled immediately. What was just to be a bypass turned into a quintuple bypass. But his body couldn’t handle it. A few days later he suffered a massive stroke and we had to put him into a nursing home. My mom’s day consisted of her driving from McKinney to work, to the home to see my dad every day, and then back to my sister’s. She was diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer in November 2005. And we lost her March 4, 2006.

Back to my dad – his stay in the home was a long steady fall. We had to deal with medicaid and insurance, moving him between facilitiies based on changes in policies. He didn’t get any better. The longer he was in there, the less life there was in his eyes. We lost him, finally, to complete kidney failure March 15, 2008.

Before I lost them, I had drive. But this struggle gave me perseverance. The hardest thing I would ever have to deal with was behind me, before I turned 30 – leaving the future ahead – full of incredible optimism. It makes me more willing to try, and fail, and to accept challenges – because “what’s the worst that could happen” – already did. My appreciation of how precious life is – and how little time we have – transformed my activities outside of work from just attending industry events into this goal of turning anything I’m involved in — into something better than it was when I joined. To leave a mark.

Now my transformation from grieving to volunteering and overwhelming gratitude didn’t happen immediately. When I lost my parents initially – I didn’t deal with the grief. I cried a little, I drank a lot. And I didn’t ask for help. I pushed people away. I built a wall of promotions, 100 hour work weeks, awards and dedication as masks of “strength and grit.” But that can only work for so long. Not pausing and dealing with it was toxic. But the distraction of getting more involved in the community, welcomed the people in my life, who just by their grit, and heart, broke down the walls I put around me.

When I joined D Academy, one of my answers to the initial interview after being accepted was, “I want people to be able to say my last name.” Because, the secret to my grit, if I truly have it, is, honor. Their honor. That passionate motivation that fuels my drive. My work ethic. And the sense that I can’t wait to make an impact later.

My name is Frances Yllana (pronounced “ill-yawn-uh”). Today is precious. There’s no better time than now to start showing your grit.

 — Frances Yllana

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