By Vicki Akenhead-Ruiz
My intention to return to the NCRA Annual Convention this year in August was driven by my desire to return to wonderful memories and reconnect with life-long NCRA friends. You see, I was installed as the NCRA President in Chicago in 1999, and seventeen years have elapsed since that time. I had not attended a reporter convention since retiring from the profession in 2008, and it was almost surreal to be walking through the Exhibit Hall again, seeing so many new faces and catching up with old friends. I don’t mean “old” friends in the literal terms, but let’s face it, it’s the direction we are all going, and in my opinion, life is moving way too fast.
I truly loved the reporting profession and devoted thirty-five years of my life to doing what I could to make a difference in it. I was an official reporter, a freelance reporter, a court reporting teacher and administrator, and, for 18 years, was a managing reporter for the Second Judicial District in Albuquerque, N.M. I was heavily involved at the state level with our appellate courts, worked with many states as a consultant, and served on numerous NCRA committees well beyond my year as Immediate Past President. I do not regret one chapter in my life as a reporter. It provided wonderful opportunities, challenges, and experiences, and most of all, very special friendships that continue to this day.
I chose a very different direction after leaving the reporting profession, and today, I am a licensed mental health counselor with a Master’s Degree in human behavior. I had no idea that higher education would lead me on this journey. I always knew that I wanted to return to school at some point in my life. At 57, I was suddenly running out of excuses and perhaps even time. My youngest sister passed away in 2008 at 46 years old – an experience that changed my life and me – and after her death, “time” took on a very different meaning. I remember going to receive NCRA’s Distinguished Service Award shortly after her death and re-committing to returning to school in honor of my sister’s life, as well as to figure out my own life. I never realized what a lofty endeavor this would become.
Returning to school was one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. I felt old and ill-equipped technologically. I was stepping out of my comfort zone. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot on the first day, reminding myself of all the reasons I could not walk through that door. I then reminded myself that the first step is always the hardest; that, if I just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, eventually I could seek refuge in the very back of the room. It worked, and that was the beginning of another challenging and very rewarding chapter in my life. I completed my Master’s Degree, passed my state boards, and became licensed to practice in New Mexico shortly thereafter.
My sister’s death became the impetus for my desire to work with individuals struggling with life-long illnesses and, more specifically, children in treatment for childhood cancer. It is amazing how things work in life when you just allow for possibilities beyond your own designed plan. Children have taught me and continue to teach me more about life and myself than any textbook I have ever read. Children help me reconnect with being a child, with singing out loud, and with using my imagination to do anything or go anywhere I wish. I dance with them, create with them, and help them through enormous pain and fear – each time, allowing their experiences and our relationship to shape my life and how I live as a human being. Each one is a gift to me.
I also work with adults and families battling some of life’s most horrific losses and addictions. I work with depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and PTSD, just to name a few. Each individual I work with becomes my student and my teacher. Each experience allows me to learn more about life and the resiliency and courage of people facing pain, loss, and enormous suffering. Each experience and relationship continues to allow me to heal and learn as well, so that this is no longer a profession or a career for me, but a way of life, a way of living, giving, and receiving.
I am challenged each day to focus on balance in my own life, to strive to remain emotionally and physically healthy so that I can be healthy for others, for my own family and for myself. This is not a blueprint that I follow, but a daily commitment to meditation, exercise, nature, time alone, and time with those I love. This requires a consciousness, a daily practice, that reminds me of the importance of “this day, this moment.” In addition, this requires a commitment to mindfulness, a commitment to being the best person I can be each day, knowing that imperfections, disappointments, and loss are all part of life. However, my focus now is on life, one day at a time, and all that life encompasses. My goals for life have changed since my days as a reporter, and while long-term goals can be wonderful mile markers to our future, my goals are daily goals with the focus of ending each day with a feeling of satisfaction for giving my best to others and giving the best to myself.
I have committed to writing another article that offers some tools for staying mentally and physically healthy. I will address how to be more mindful in our daily living so that we are conscious of what we can and cannot change each day. I know that stress that comes with the world of reporting and with life itself, and I also know, as you all know, that stress does impact our health and our lives in very negative ways. There really is no perfect plan to live a perfect life, but there are practices and tools that provide a way to manage stress, to strengthen our minds and bodies so that our lives are enriched in a way that we feel good not only about what we “do” but more about who we “are.”
I will end this article sharing the way I begin and end each day: by expressing my gratefulness for my reporting career, my memories, my friendships, and the lessons learned along the way. I am grateful to my family, especially my youngest sister, my wonderful friends, and most of all, I am grateful for laughter, love, and life.
Vicki Akenhead-Ruiz, RPR, CMRS (Ret.), is a past president of NCRA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.