“This is a daily process, and now I have the tools to examine what I do, and modify my decisions to help me keep aligned with my core values.  These tools apply to every aspect of my personal and professional life.  The Good Life Designed program is like learning math, it is like that Aha moment…when things make sense.  It is a journey; I go a bit of zigzags but with the right compass.”

Being too busy to stop and ask yourself if you are happy with the way you live your life, has got to be the number one reason so many of us lose track of who we are and what we want to do.

For Marcia Cruz-Correa, MD, PhD, UPR Cancer Center and professor of Medicine & Biochemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, that was very much the case before she invested the time in making some fundamental changes by following the Good Life Designed online course.

Her job was going fantastic and as a leader she took on more and more responsibility. However, she felt she was running in circles, mentally tired and juggling too many things at once with limited time to pursue discovery; the one thing that actually drives her the most as a scientist. This is something many of us can easily relate to; Getting out of touch with our most important values.

How would you introduce yourself?

I am a 47-year-old Latina born in California from Puerto Rican parents.  Grew up in Puerto Rico where I did my undergrad/medical school training at the University of Puerto Rico.  I was attracted to research during medical school and had the opportunity to complete a doctorate degree in research and genetic epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.  During the last 15 years I have had a career as a physician scientist, with a practice in gastroenterology and an active research program focused on hereditary cancer and cancer genetics.

I am very passionate about community service and increasing awareness about cancer prevention.  Working with other colleges we established the Puerto Rico Colorectal Cancer Coalition in 2007 (www.coloncancerpr.org).  Our foundation has provided educational programs focused at increasing awareness of colon cancer prevention for health providers and the community.   I am the mother of a wonderful 23-year-old young woman, who means the world to me.

What significant change have you recently made in your life?

After a period of soul searching and introspection I have made a very important decision of aligning my values with the time I invest in every aspect of my career and life.  This has allowed me to explore ways to continue to advance my career by focusing on what is really valuable for me.  This may require moving to a new institution or changing my responsibilities in my current institution to continue my mission of service and learning as a continuum.

The process that allowed me to evaluate where I was, assess my needs and values occurred with the guidance of Coach Pernille Spiers Lopez  of Good Life Designed.  Her program allowed me to question my core values, develop my mission and then establish a reasonable plan to guide me in the process.

Why did you decide to make a change or take the step? 

During the last year or so I have been accepting additional responsibilities in leadership for multiple reasons including my desire to serve, leave a contribution/legacy.  However, I felt I was running in circles, mentally tired and juggling too many things at once with limited time to pursue discovery (as a scientist that is what drives me the most).  Thus, I thought that I needed additional skills as a leader to help me be more efficient and prepare me for my next career stage.  I started to look for leadership training opportunities and learned about a women’s leadership development program (Women Executive Leadership Program by the Impact Center).  I was very excited about this opportunity of having training and having a career coach that would work with me in this process.  Little did I know at that point that my quest for additional leadership skills would actually help me redefine my vision by understanding my values and in doing so, it lay the foundation for a transformation.

What had been holding you back?

I think I was just busy, too busy to stop and think, to even realize I needed to examine my priorities and take a set back.  Being busy was the easiest way to continue running, rather than examining all the aspects of my life.  It simply kept me away from doing soul searching and looking at myself.

What obstacles did you overcome in the process?

The process was simple, yet it required time commitment, a genuine desire to learn and humility to see inside myself.  Every session with Pernille required for me to prepare, study and do introspection. In fact, at times it felt uncomfortable to be questioned about my motives.  Pernille was very candid and open during our sessions. Our sessions became a safe space, and I felt protected.   I remember one session when she was not happy with my progress (or lack of it) and she confronted me. Journaling, or the power of writing things down was the first step. Carving out time to write in my journal was key, but it was difficult for me.  The first few weeks I was just writing bullets, and almost dreading it.  However, with practice it became easier and then it was actually a space for me to think and talk to my inner self.

How was it going through the online course? 

The lessons were fantastic!!  They provided a simple yet very insightful way for advancing and acquiring the knowledge to take you to the next level.  The material was very clear, easy to understand, had cases/examples to place the concepts within context.

What was the biggest challenge in the process?  

Investing time, being consistent, committing to the program.  We are so busy and we prioritize.  I was clear that the only way to have a significant growth was by committing.  

What is the biggest takeaway? 

Many, many, many!  I learned about values, my core values and how my work/life and time spent in each activity had to be aligned with my values.  When my work was not supportive of my values, then I became unbalanced and felt rushed and my satisfaction with my career and personal life dropped.

I also learned about evaluating every aspect of my life, and having/accepting “uncertainty”.  I learned that it is good to have a space to think and wait until the answer/idea comes.  My previous modus operando was basically from happy-to-unhappy-to-action…there was not a space to think or contemplate.

I developed my life mission statement, which allows me to examine my time investments, activities, and efforts in the light of my life mission.  This was empowering and invigorating…it gave me a written compass. 

What are your values? 

After examining over 40 different values and classifying them into subgroups, and looking at the patterns and what resonated with me I ended up with these values:

Spirituality, Learning, Loyalty, Service. 

These values became the guide to measure how I invested my time, both professionally and personally, and I realized how unbalanced I was since I was dedicating very little time to learning and spirituality (as compared to service).  With this information/tool I could examine and re-adjust my time and align my efforts with my core values.

 What is your personal mission statement?

The tool was fantastic, working with Pernille and the tools allowed me to develop a mission statement that spoke to me and communicated to others my purpose.

“To have space and time to discover new methods and ideas to improve human health including my own; and through those discoveries empower me and others to live better lives and reach our full potential.” 

What is the best tip you can pass on to others? 

Take time to discover what you stand for, define your values, they will allow you to perform an introspection of your life and guide you.  Then, understanding that uncertainty is a legitimate stage, not to consider uncertainty as a negative stage, but rather a stage to reflect, examine, learn, or simply wait.

This course gave me the tools to design my life by first understanding me and making a personal commitment, allowing me the space to reflect, examine, prioritize and move my life in the direction that is aligned with my values.  When I do that I feel at peace.  I made very important changes to my life that I will treasure forever….and this is just the beginning.

How do you define success?

The state of happiness where you are fulfilling your mission; success is a journey not a destination.  I am successful every day, because I start with gratitude, understanding my core values and striving to live my life aligned to my values.   I loved this quote by Nelson Mandela:  I never lose, I either win or learn.

How do you feel having made a change and gone through this process? 

Energized and at peace with my life.  This is a daily process, and now I have the tools to examine what I do, and modify my decisions to help me keep aligned with my core values.  These tools apply to every aspect of my personal and professional life.  This program is like learning math, is like that Aha moment…when things make sense.  It is a journey; I go a bit on zigzags but with the right compass.  Thank you Good Life Designed!!

I am still at the UPR Cancer Center and in fact have decided to modify my responsibilities, spending more time in research (discovery!) and feeling more satisfied.  Haven’t ruled out moving at a latter time, but right now I received a new award and have many ideas that are moving forward as a scientist and helping my community in PR.  Pernille helped my to re-design my live even without changing jobs (at least for now).