Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

March 30, 2012

There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:57 am

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat, Kara,” he said.  I can still hear my dad’s voice, offering up the advice that would change my life’s direction more than once.

I was eight or nine the first time I heard him say that.   Back then I was going to be a veterinarian.  I couldn’t spell it but I was determined to be it.

My friends who are older than me have often lamented that their life’s limited options were to become a nun, a teacher, a housewife or a nurse.  But, by the time I was old enough to even imagine, I was going to be a vet.   Sure and simple.

I don’t recall the instance that inspired my dad to offer up that phrase.  Up to that point, my decision to be a vet was based largely on the idea of me getting to pet kitties and puppies my whole life.   The perfect job.  I would hold them and pet them and put Band-Aids on their ouchies.

The day my dad told me that, not only were cats going to be skinned, but that there were several ways to achieve such a horrific end, I decided I was absolutely, positively NOT going to be a vet.

Fast forward forty years and I am currently winding up one of four jobs I held this winter, hearing my dad’s voice in my ear yet again.

I conduct phone interviews for former students from my high school.    The job is perfect for me because I am able to schedule my calls around the symptoms of my injury.   I am able to work out of my home and not have to perform when I have a headache, my balance is bad or my speech isn’t having a great day.

During these interviews, I am reminded again and again that “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

These young people have reported their future plans and many of them are choosing medicine.  But they are no longer restricted and constricted to the narrow possibilities that so many from my generation and those before me suffered.

In answer to my question about what they are pursuing, I have heard doctor, nurse, and even dentist.  But I have also heard anesthesiologist, radiology technician, pharmacy technician, plastic surgeon, cardiac surgeon, medical research, gynecologist, surgical nurse, medical administration, optometrist and more.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

As we recover from brain injury and begin to restart our lives and, hopefully, our work lives, it’s vital that we recognize that our options have not become more limited.  They have grown.

I have written on blogs before and have included in my speeches the dozen jobs I’ve held since my brain injury.   They are as diverse as my abilities and interests.   They are as abundant as my imagination.

My dad is chuckling somewhere.

I saw a news story a few weeks ago about a company in Ohio that is trying to fill two dozen welder positions starting at thirty-three thousand a year.   I  thought, Hmmmm…..

I didn’t think to myself, “I’ve never been a welder.”  I didn’t think, “I could never do that.”   I was more concerned with being a Michigan Wolverine in the state of Ohio during football season.

Seems we have come to believe that there are no jobs in this economy when, in fact, there are a lot of businesses trying to hire people but having a hard time finding those with a complimentary skill set.

We brain injured are not the only ones needing to find other ways to skin cats.  People are downsized and severanced.  Businesses close.

Somehow we have to find a way to jump that emotional hurdle and open ourselves up to more possibilities.   We have to be the newly-unemployed dentist or soldier or caterer or teacher who is able to say, yes, I can be a welder.   I can do phone interviews.  I can work landscaping.

I just saw on the news the story of a couple out of Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan who sold their wildly-successful computer business and have now built (literally) a village in Detroit that helps poor and disadvantaged people get a start to a successful life.   They started with one house and now have purchased and transformed an entire block of houses in order to provide services to those in need.

There are cats everywhere without any coats on….

In a world that boasts so many breath-taking destinations….In a day where there are so many miracles just outside our back windows….In our bodies where there are so many countless, complex, mind-boggling mechanisms….

I find it hard to believe that we have to be just one thing our whole lives.   That we are incapable of doing more than the one job we held before our injuries or before we were downsized or our business closed.

At a speech I gave a few weeks ago, a woman asked me for advice on how to get started again.  How to choose.   I told her simply to do something she loved.

If you love animals but can no longer be a vet, maybe you can teach veterinary medicine.   You can write for a dog magazine.  Work for a pet store.   Be a professional dog sitter or dog walker.  Get a job on a horse ranch.   Raise assistance dogs.   Breed puppies.  Milk cows.  Paint dog and cat feeding bowls.   Volunteer at the Humane Society.   Get a job on Animal Planet.  Work the vaccine drives.  Go work with the Iditarod in Alaska or in the penguin aquarium at the local zoo.

We weren’t all meant to live in a ranch in the suburbs.   On a farm in the country.  In a tiny apartment in a city high-rise.

We weren’t all meant to watch the same thing on TV.   That’s why there are eight hundred cable channels.

There are a million different ways our lives can go and a million different ways to be happy and successful.  We can feel free to strike out in new directions because everything we have ever done was done without having done it before.

That first taste of broccoli.   That first time up as a batter.   That first free throw.  First painting.  First song.   First kiss.  First road trip.  First time on a plane.   First job.   First house.  First serious relationship.

New is what sculpts us.   What grows us.  New is what gives us a fresh layer of perspective and experience and understanding.  It makes us interesting.   It makes our lives interesting.

Stepping out of our comfort zones offers us the opportunity to learn about different people, different lifestyles, different areas.   Too many times we shrink away fwith fear when, really, we need to embrace the myriad options.    A former caterer from Michigan CAN be a welder in Ohio.   A former caterer can write books, can paint bird houses, can make jewelry, can give speeches, can announce sports games, can do phone interviews….

When we were fresh out of high school, we all chose paths to take.   Some fit us, some did not.  Some we stayed with, toughed out, suffered.  Some we enjoyed, relished, were made for.

Now, again, after brain injury or after losing a job in this economy or for whatever reason, we are those fresh-faced teens again.   But with experience and perspective!!!!

We are capable of doing more things than we’ll ever have the time, in one lifetime, to do.

Spring came too early to Michigan this year.   I was watching, incredibly, robins hopping around on an eighty-degree day in MARCH.   Hopping, hopping, hopping….I thought to myself, “Why don’t they fly?”   “Do they even know they can fly?”

Maybe we need to ask ourselves the same questions.

Just ask my dad.  He’ll tell you.  😉



  1. What a refreshing blog. Thanks for writing this as it IS something I’ve been hearing, thinking, internalizing yet just not really “getting”. My Therapist, yes I finally started seeing one, has been telling me that I need to let go of the “old me” and what I once did and focus on what I can now do. Try as I have, it has been tough to grasp. This post kind of gives me pathway.



    Comment by Thomas — March 30, 2012 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  2. I still think you can do anything. You are a HERO!

    Comment by Barb G — March 30, 2012 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Barb. I always appreciate your support. :)))

      Comment by karaswanson — March 31, 2012 @ 12:48 am | Reply

  3. You have just made my day, Tom. That really makes me happy. Way to go!!!

    Comment by karaswanson — March 31, 2012 @ 12:47 am | Reply

  4. Your dad was such a cool guy. It’s wonderful the ways that you’ve taken after him. I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice or even get angry for that matter. And you have that giving spirit like your mom. Whenever I think of them I smile. And the same for you! But – sometimes I crack up! 😀

    Comment by Cathy (Ciagala) Gothro — April 3, 2012 @ 9:19 am | Reply

    • You make me laugh, Cathy. We are blessed to have such wonderful memories of a childhood we were so fortunate to enjoy. Our parents, our families, our neighbors, our communities….they felt safe and warm, even when the neighbor mom was scolding us. Ha.

      Comment by karaswanson — April 3, 2012 @ 12:57 pm | Reply

  5. […] have a look at Kara Swanson’s blog post for March 30, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” If you fear that life after brain injury means you can’t do what you used to do, she gently and […]

    Pingback by Once Upon a Time « Journal After Brain Injury — April 4, 2012 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

  6. Hi Kara, just a quick note to say I am very impressed with your blog and the optimism and hope you have in your posts. I am just now 2 years out from an ABI which saw me lose every skill (had to relearn how to walk, talk, eat, etc) and am now trying to rebuild my career for myself and family. As I was the only one working in our family with 2 kids under 4 it was important for me to get back to being able to provide for the family. I am back at work but still have a lot of anger and resentment about what I lost as a result of the ABI. I keeping thinking why me and wondering if I can ever get back the things that I lost.

    I only just came across your blog so I have about 3 years worth of posts to go back through but based on the few I have read so far I look forward to it.


    Comment by tesit22 — April 21, 2012 @ 6:40 am | Reply

    • Hey Mark: Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you stumbled on the blog. You are welcome here. Please check your personal email for a note from me. K

      Comment by karaswanson — April 21, 2012 @ 10:58 am | Reply

  7. Kara, this post is extremely motivating! I’m looking for all sorts of odd jobs to do and wondering what my title is! This is wonderful. I used to think it was motivating to think of all the things I used to be able to do–write a college paper with the radio on, read on the bus, work 14 hour days with a bike commute on either end, hang out in loud restaurants or dance at clubs, sit still. I would think and think about everything I had achieved but always end up a sad mess. A mentor pointed out that ending up a sad mess doesn’t sound like motivation was achieved! Imagine my surprise when she told me that it wasn’t motivation; it was bullying. If I choose to see “little” things as successes, then I can fill my day with successes. Hey, nice job using your day planner! Great work remembering the route from here to the store that you go to every week! Volunteering with others wtih brain injury filled the void of needing a purpose to my day that work used to fill. And agreeing to live in the present reminded me that there doesn’t have to be a void at all.

    Comment by brainreel — April 21, 2012 @ 10:19 am | Reply

    • Hey Brainreel: You sound like you are doing great!!! Yes, I think we all spend time lamenting everything we used to do so well. Now we get to start tallying those victories on THIS side of the fence. Sounds like you are really doing that. Way to go!!!! You’ve got it.!!!! I’m so happy for you. :))))

      Comment by karaswanson — April 21, 2012 @ 11:20 am | Reply

  8. Kara, you and your wonderful words mean the world to me. I don’t always keep up with your blog on a regular basis, but when I take the time to sit down and read through all the posts I’ve missed, I smile or cry or feel inspired or reflect or just feel it’s okay to be who and what I am and realize it’s okay to experience what I am feeling at any given moment. Thank you for seeing past what’s wrong and delighting in what’s so absolutely right. You are one in a million. Thanks!

    Comment by Jean — May 5, 2012 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

    • Love you, Jean!!!!!

      Comment by karaswanson — May 8, 2012 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

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