Powerful Women Let's Talk - 028: Beth Fisher

Jan 11, 2021

Beth Fisher
Credit @nicolesiemborphotography

Beth Fisher is an author, speaker, business leader, cancer-survivor, and marathoner with a passion for helping others overcome.

After spending over twenty-five years in corporate sales, today she is following her true professional calling at Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids.  Beth Fisher joins us on this episode of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:

Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live Powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by family fare, keeping it real.

Shelley Irwin: Beth Fisher is an author, speaker, business leader, cancer survivor and marathoner with a passion for helping others overcome. Spending over 25 years in corporate sales today, she follows a calling vice president of communications and advancement for Mel Trotter ministries her books are out as well, let's talk about that and well, also about how fast she runs. Welcome to our Powerful Women, Let's Talk conversation Beth Fisher.

Beth Fisher: Hi Shelley thanks for having me.

Shelley Irwin: How fast do you run?

Beth Fisher: It depends on the day right? And right now, after last year and the pandemic when my training has completely plummeted not so fast it all turns out.

Shelley Irwin: Stand by we'll talk about running because we know it's part of you. We need to talk about the many hats you wear thus far in life. What brought you to Grand Rapids? Knowing that you aren't a native.

Beth Fisher: Yes, I'm a Midwesterner at heart. I grew up in Ohio, a very small town a village in northeast, Ohio and then I was in Indiana in Fort Wayne Indiana for about 19 years. And what brought me here to West Michigan is the fact that I did what I said it was never going to do again and got remarried. So my husband has been in Grand Rapids about 20 years and as part of the leukemia and lymphoma society I was doing some volunteer work for them and part of a campaign that I was running, I met him through that. My now sister-in-law his sister-in-law at the time was a part of that in Fort Wayne. So I lived like a mile away from my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law in Fort Wayne and my husband, Ryan came to Fort Wayne once and met him and I begin dating him and said you know after he asked me to marry him, I said “yes I’ll marry you, however I'm going to stay in Indiana and you can stay in  Michigan and we’ll just like make that work,” because I’m super independent and was fearful of getting married again but, very thankful and up actually liking him you know what a concept and now I’m here and been here for 4 years.

 Shelley Irwin: But does he know that you never wanted to get married?

Beth Fisher: Oh yeah, I was pretty clear about that.

Shelley Irwin: Nice. I want to get into somewhat of a, I think maybe the elephant in the room, you working and volunteering for the leukemia and lymphoma society. Was there a personal reason?

Beth Fisher:  Definitely yes. So, I was 25. I had just turned 25 and was diagnosed with leukemia, I couldn't even spell leukemia, I didn’t know it was. I was in the middle of a divorce. I married my daughter's dad right out of college, I’m a very type a checklist kind of girl and I thought well circa 1995, what do you do next right? you get married, that's the thing, I'm like well okay, we're together because this is the guy marry not a lot of forethought in that. So, he and I were married young and my daughter who's almost 24 was born when I was 23 so don't do all the math but, yeah we were married and then he moved us to Indiana that’s how I got from Ohio to Indiana. He took a job there and then he went back to Ohio without us. I thought I got this I can do this on my own so in the midst of all that when I was picking up those impending pieces that's when I just thought I had a cold and that I was losing weight because the stress of a divorce went to the doctor the next day they called and said yeah this this is not looking good so. Again, had no experience with with cancer had no family history. The first question I asked the doctor was is this hereditary because I just thought of Olivia who was not quite 2 years old and they said no and I did a lot of research, it's environmental looking back and get on a second but, yeah I had a bone marrow transplant when I was 25.  I was not supposed to live they said there's no cure, I said what I do? You know, I don't want this, Olivia is a baby I want her to grow up with a mom not without a mom what are my options here and they said there is no cure the only thing you can try is a bone marrow transplant, but sort of parenthetically good luck because not a lot of people make it out of that and sure enough I was in for 35 days university hospitals of Cleveland the Ireland cancer Center and I was the only person who walked out of there alive. You know it did a lot for my world view, but what's interesting is not at the time I went through it. It’s more now been in retrospect obviously I think that that's why I have such a passion for not only helping people through adversity but, just for understanding who they are and not going through a lot of guilt for responding or not responding in an expected way. You know one of the very first things people asked me when I left the hospital, even a couple days after, you know I’m bald, I'm exhausted, I'm mentally and physically at my wits end but, hanging on and people ask me are you so close to God now? Do you stop and smell the roses? And I’m like, I don't know the protocol here like I haven't been through this before. what am I supposed to be doing? I'm just trying to go home and resume life and be a mom and you know go to the bank, go to the dry cleaner and cook an actual meal like get back into the swing of life. So many things I think often times we take for granted not purposely but, man when you don't have those things as we all know coming out last year, it's interesting how people deal with that in life.

Shelley Irwin: did they ever discover the why’s of your diagnosis?

Beth Fisher: So, I had I think in theory they did and I like I mentioned, you know what I mean, you know, I don't sit still very often even when I'm cooped up in a hospital room.

Shelly Irwin: We’ll keep you here for another 10 minutes

Beth Fisher: but, I did an infinite amount of research. I want to keep my mind busy but, do I always want to know the why for everything and so I thought where did this come from? I think it's more like an Erin Brockovich story, it’s environmental I grew up as a four-season athlete I played sports my whole life and again very small town in northeast Ohio little village and I don't think the water source was super safe. So, I think in my case what happened is that 2 genes kind of switch like chromosomes like 9 and 21 switched at some point in childhood and then something triggers that in you know in life and for me was the stress of a divorce it was just the incredible amount of stress that I had going through that the triggered what had been dormant in my system, but I think it was the water. You know I was like the girl that would ride the bike out through the cemetery race, the boys, do the dirt bikes, play basketball everything that there was something to do outside I was out there.

Shelley Irwin: You can still do that you know?

Beth Fisher: I do. Yes.

Shelley Irwin: Thank you for that journey, that Healthcare journey. But you've also had a journey from the corporate world to the nonprofit world give me that summary.

Beth Fisher: Yeah so 25 years in corporate sales, I would go into organizations industry agnostic all sorts of industries, sizes, shapes, locations, the number of people I just love people and love business process. I have a pretty high business acumen and love for just what goes on in an organization and I did that for 25 years loved every minute of it. However, the older I got and again that retrospect and the experience and knowledge, especially coming from transplant, I thought: kind of what's the point not of the job itself but, of life right?  And so, I knew that I loved people but, I knew also that I wanted to do more and so when I moved to Grand Rapids I said to my husband, “Ok yes, I'll do this. I can still maintain that job I can work remotely but, when I get there, here are the 2 things I need: a running community and I need a place where I can give back and help people understand that they matter and I need those things not in that order,” so I went right to Mel Trotter Ministries and as part of my journey, my faith journey I grew up catholic I tell people you know, I'm Irish and Italian, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter, I’m going to be catholic and I really thought that I got cancer because of my divorce that was my theology at the time. I thought that God is punishing me for doing something that you know, thou shall not get divorced, that's all I heard it as you know when you have an achiever mentality and sort of are always striving and always wanting to get the A and crush the goals, it's really hard to listen to instructions because I'm a lifelong learner as well and not feel instantly guilty or anxious or remorseful if you mess up right. So my Catholicism while was very sentimental to me and I still hold a lot of that with high regard, it was also the teacher for me that made me think “wow mess us up and I'm kind of like out,” right. Catholicism has this purgatory in between thing which is not good for anybody who likes to arrive someplace one way or another one to know getting stuck is never good for me, but I just ultimately thought there's got to be more so I went back to school, I got a couple master's degrees in theology began to teach and as part of that when I moved to West Michigan fell in love with Mel Trotter ministries and I just started to volunteer there, I was  teaching devotions, I was teaching people who society had sort of taught were meaningless or at least that's the story and the narrative that they have heard repetitively throughout their lives and I thought I'm just to show up here and hang out like I'm just going to show up here and talk about what faith means to me not in the like, let me just tell you the one way because my experience has been that's like more of a turnoff than a come and learn more together.

Shelley Irwin: You actually say you learn by teaching. What does this mean?

Beth Fisher: I think that you know I’m a big believer that we all know who we are from a very young age and that societal pressures and social constructs in the world kind of gets us off of our track. I've always known that I have a gift for gab right, I love to talk, I love people, I love to think about ideas and really get down to the why’s of things and for me teaching is the best environment to question to say to a room full of other questioners who are trying to get through this journey of life because we’re all on it. And so, I would say “what's been your experience? Teach me what you've learned,” and then there's the reciprocity in that. I really you know in the preparation if there's a curriculum that obviously I learned through that but, more so just being around people, hearing their stories and then sharing mine, to me that's the beauty of life.

Shelley Irwin: And where do you find time to write a book or two?

Beth Fisher: Well that now is actually part of the journey too, from my former career an employer to Mel Trotter is that I went to them after 23 years and said “I’d like a sabbatical because this book thing has really been weighing on me for a long time and my daughter graduate from IU and I've learned more from her than I'm sure I've taught her and she said to me “mom I'm going to move to Grand Rapids  after I graduate, you know if you're okay with that,” and you she likes me again so I was definitely ok with it. Teenage years were a whole other story.

Shelley Irwin: Good, you know.

Beth Fisher: But, she came back and she said “I'd like to hang out live before I go on to my graduate work, why do you take like a break from your job it’s probably the last time we’ll ever live together and you could write your book,” so I was like well, that’s kind of a genius idea but, at first I was completely no, I pushed back and said this can't happen, I’ve been working since I was 14 years old what do you mean take a break? But, I went to my boss at the time, and I said, “what you think about this?” he said, “well how long would you like?” I didn't even contemplate that because I had never written a book before, I thought well how long so I don’t know 9 months. I think I equated it to like having a baby the gestation period, I had no clue. I said 9 months sounds good.

Shelley Irwin: Did it take you 9 months?

Beth Fisher: No, it took me like two and then I got bored right so I was like then what? And so, I was actually at a leadership Conference here in Grand Rapids and that's when I saw my buddies from Mel Trotters. I had known them for 3 years of volunteering they said, “hey like what's the scoop with the book and what are you doing?” I'm like well it's done, I’m waiting for it to go to publication and in the meantime, I don't know I'm just kind of taking it every day putting one foot in front of the other kind of seeing where these doors may or may not open and they said, “do you know how to raise money?” and I said “you guys I’ve been doing it for 25 years, yeah, why?” they said “send me your resume,” like HR and I said “ok, I’m on the way.” it was interesting like my stomach sank like I was a 7th grade girl at a dance. I did not have any intention whatsoever of changing careers, changing employers, you know, it didn't even cross my mind and that's I think why I'm so always interested in saying to people don't give up, don't give up because you have no idea what awaits you what's around the corner, if you just are open to the possibilities.

Shelley Irwin: Yes, what does make you laugh?

Beth Fisher: Really off-color humor. You know sardonic sarcastic, unexpected humor makes me laugh.

Shelley Irwin: And tell me about your running career

Beth Fisher: As I mentioned I grew up playing sports I ran track, I ran cross country back in the day and then, I went to college and became a mom and went through the cancer, so I was not running in my 20s. Then when Olivia, my daughter turned 13 or so I though I’m going to have to figure out something. I have to get through these teenage parenting years.  So I went to the Y to work out and I saw an advertisement stating hey if you ever want to run the half-marathon sign up for the program and I thought, well that sounds cool and it was the Indie half marathon and so then once I started to research it and realize that okay under 2 hours is like the goal like I’m going to do this thing and so never had any intention of becoming a marathoner I felt like this is one and done but, man it gets in your blood and then as a competitive person anyway I ran in Indianapolis and that was in 2008 and I have never stopped. I’m like Forrest Gump over here.

Shelley Irwin: Once you’ve done Boston, I don’t even know where you go from there but, congratulations on that. What do you define success, what does success mean to you?

Beth Fisher: It’s something very different at this point my life than it was in my early 20's, right and so I think especially now as when I'm mom and part wisdom, you know as Olivia’s is open to hearing that some of the things, I say to her are you know just be open. There is no arrival like you know, when you always feel like you're chasing some sort of finish line or some sort of thing that you have to accomplish you miss out on the process of it and you know, you asked me about Boston and I said I don't want to go back because I like the 18 weeks of training much more than I like that 3 plus hours or whatever take spending on the day when you're there on those nasty hills. You know I like being in those continual moments and I think if you're so fixated on a goal that you miss out on the beauty of actually every day right the everyday living. So, in my 20's success was I'm going to have a bigger title a better career, I’m going to make more money, I’m going to do all the things that typically kind of get into our early early brains and now to me success is lifting other people up. You know success is to say how can I give back and how can I experience joy literally in every moment as opposed to this thing up ahead that is really just nothing more than sort of a self-created goal because that doesn't really bring you continual joy it’s like okay, I did that thing what's next? You know it's exhausting to live like that so I’m all about bringing people alongside.

Shelley Irwin: But, you know that somebody’s training for Boston and feeling that same feel. Do you have a favorite motto? Which you might have already mentioned along our conversation journey that does help you with your motivation that might help me with my motivation.

Beth Fisher: Yeah, you know, and I realized this was not credited, I’m the girl who had sticky notes. Like everything, you know Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt and RBJ, you know everybody that I can learn from who said inspiring things and all I’m about the quotes but, I think at the end of the day for me it's never, never, never give up that’s it and I think Winston Churchill was given credit for that even though I don’t think he said it at the address but, just don't stop right? Never give up and the other thing too I would say is that consistency is key and also contagious, I remind myself of that daily. They don't just land somewhere on a day .. you got to keep showing it.

Shelley Irwin: Tell me about your book journey first of all I need of the title of the two you have thus far and just a little synopsis of what we find.

Beth Fisher: Yes, sure so my book was released March 3rd of last year. So you know this whole life-long dream of writing about people said for many years “you should write a book you should write a book,” and I think what happens is that the spiritual gifting that you're given whatever it is that is so close to you is often the hardest thing to actually do in my case I kept busy doing everything but, that I would write newspaper articles and resumes and write every possible thing I could write other than the actual book.  I wanted to put it on the world, and it is very vulnerable to do that. So, at any rate I finally did it and it came out March, 3rd of last year and I thought well if you're ever going to do this thing why not on the onset of a pandemic right? What better time could there be? So, it's called Remorseless learning to lose labels expectations and assumptions without losing yourself and remorseless the definition is this: without guilt in spite of wrongdoing. So, for me, again as an achiever and somebody who always wanted to continue to do more and yet the negative self-talk that I allowed myself to creep in always told me that I had this underlying layer of guilt like you could have done better, you could have done more, you should have, you should have and a lot of that too I allowed to enter in from societal expectations and for me it had a religious bent. So again, growing up catholic I always heard the shame side of God and theology as opposed to the hey the other part of this deal is that like you matter and your loved and your unique and you're forgiven and don't get yourself stuck on this journey because of what somebody else who is equally as human is telling you. I didn't have a lot of the agency to fightback, I’m a little scrappy by nature, but I never really understood and fully believed and accepted that I was good enough based on how I was created. So Remorseless is the journey of saying hey these are the crazy decisions I made before I really knew that I mattered, these are things that I encountered, and this is now what I know. So, I loved everything about the writing process except the editing because I had to edit out some words that were apparently.

Shelley Irwin: Well, thank you. I love the title.

Beth Fisher: Thank you, I also have a companion workbook as well that I self-published a couple months ago and I'm really proud of that as well and it takes people on a coaching journey, you know I do some professional leadership coaching and incorporate that as well as tasks and just things to actually remind people to show up and be who they were created to be.

Shelley Irwin: Thank you for sharing your life Beth Fisher.

Beth Fisher: Thanks for having me Shelley

Shelley Irwin: And thank you for listening to this inspiring edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I’m Shelley Irwin.

Produced by women about women, these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real. It is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.