Lauren Lefkowitz Overcoming Chronic Pain


Lauren had a very successful career in HR that she liked but she was hiding a secret. She was suffering from chronic pain that was undiagnosed. In order to hide it she worked harder. She basically just worked and slept. After finally getting some help with a diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic and suffering another medical brick of breaking both her shoulders. She started to hear the whispers that it was time for a change in her career. After going through extensive rehabilitation to be able to use her shoulder she returned to work and then covid hit. She knew it was time to make a change. She now is a career coach and she is living a life she loves. She reminds us that if you want to you can always make a change in your life.

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Episode Transcription


Intro Plays


Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun. I’m your host I have with me as my guest today, Lauren Lefkowitz who is an executive leadership coach, partnering with clients to escape the trap of being fine. And break the work, sleep repeat cycle. Lauren partners with individuals and small to medium sized businesses to support clients who are ready to find joy, excitement, challenge, and balance their careers and have a personal life to love. Lauren was an 80 hour week executive is a recovering people pleaser, and has lived with chronic illness for 15 years. And once she actually broke both of our shoulder, shoulders, chasing a vacuum that’s going to be an exciting part of our discussion today. I’m sure she was living in the fine trap. For years, everything is fine, convincing yourself that working all the time and never feeling well. We’re just part of life. Despite these challenges, she decided to take control of her life. She learned to set boundaries, create opportunities for personal choice and re launch her own life to find her version of success and joy. Now she coaches people in teams who function the way she used to, and find their own versions of amazing. Lauren makes it comfortable to get uncomfortable, create powerful goals and create real sustainable career and life transformation. Please help me welcome Lauren. Lefkowitz. Lauren, how are you? I’m so well how are you? Living the dream living the dream always, always amazing. It absolutely is. Absolutely. It’s great seeing you. And thank you so much for coming on the show. I really, really appreciate it. Now, as you know, the name of the podcast is whispers and bricks, the whispers are those voices telling you what the right thing to do is and they represent the good in life. And the bricks represent the bad things that we go through in life. And we all know that, you know, life is not a straight road. It’s not a straight line, many ups and downs, many bumps in the road, we get hit with many bricks, I got hit with mine and 911. All of my guests have been hit with a brick at some point in time in their lives. And that’s why we do the show, to show people that no matter what you’re going through, there are 1000s of people that are going through the exact same thing and you are not alone. Now your life seemed really good. You climb the ladder of success became an HR executive. Things were going well until you got hit with the first brick. you wound up with chronic illnesses. Tell us about that.

Lauren: Yeah, thanks. Yeah, so I saw early careers, tried a couple of different things, found HR and really loved it and was enjoying my life enjoying my career. And when I was 29 years old, I had a grand mal seizure that came out of nowhere. And we never exactly discovered what caused it. And it caused this trigger effect of my body attacking itself and having an autoimmune response to itself. And my respiratory system, my endocrine system, my dermatologists, dermatological system, everything just went in reverse. And I every year or two would get a new illness, a new set of symptoms, a new set of medications. Eventually, I was led to the Mayo Clinic where I got a really comprehensive evaluation from a number of different specialties. And they theorized that I had had a virus that attacked my brain. And my brain’s response was to panic and try to protect my body and in effect it over protected my body and made me really sick. And so every time I would go to a new doctor, I’d get a new set of bloodwork and have new issues and I had muscular issues, I had fatigue issues. And eventually was on 23 pills a day, and an inhaler. And new symptoms and new things were coming up for about seven or eight years. I spent over two years in physical therapy, rebuilding my muscular system and, and retraining my brain to ask my muscular system to do stuff because it wasn’t connecting anymore. And all of that time can I ask you something,



Ari:okay. How do you like retrain your brain to connect with your body. Yeah. How does that happen?

Lauren: I didn’t do it. I mean, I guess I did my brain, my brain reconnected. But I went to someone who specializes

Ari: Okay, so you’ve got all this stuff going on? God. And this lasted for eight, nine years.

Lauren: Yeah, so the you know, from sort of start to a good maintenance level, and it still lives with me, it’s, you know, it’s more than 15 years later, and I still take 23 pills a day, I still have an inhaler. I still have a lot of specialists. But everything is maintained. So I feel like I’m living well, now. I’m good. Thank you.

Ari: Good. 20 sales and hail whoever. But you know what, God bless you look great.



Lauren: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it was about fighting for myself. When I went to doctors who said there was nothing wrong with me, it was about wanting to live well. And knowing that there had to be something better than what was happening to me at the time. But it’s there’s a lot of embarrassment associated with chronic illness because you don’t see it. So you assume that people are fine. And you associate tired with lazy and you associate and when I say you, I you know, it’s really more me, right? It’s in you internalize. I’m this like, really tough, really vibrant person, I don’t want anybody to know, I’m six. I don’t want them to think I can’t do the job. I don’t want them to think I can’t participate in things that I shouldn’t be a leader. And so as I was getting sicker and sicker, I was working harder and harder to compensate.

Ari: So I was gonna ask, but you just answered the question. Were you working throughout this whole period? And the answer obviously is yes, you are. Yeah. That’s a it’s just mind boggling. It’s absolutely amazing. Okay, so you still live with it? There are no outside symptoms that I can tell. So you know, thank God for that. But as time went on, right, I think you got hit with a second brick. Another major brick kid. Yeah. A slip and fall. Are please tell us about that. Because I know you told me a little bit about it my audience. I don’t mean to be mean or anything but they need a good laugh.

Lauren: Look, it’s the funniest and most terrible thing that has ever happened to me. And you can’t help but laugh about it because it is so ridiculous. And also I fortunately recovered. And thank God you know that there’s there was a lot of hard work in there and a lot of luck. But yeah, so I was in the process of organizing my apartment. I live in a condo and every once in a while you know you just want to go through everything purge everything clean the baseboards really just make the place shine. And in my pursuit of perfection. I had almost gotten there wherever there is right in our minds. And last, the last thing I was doing was running my Roomba vacuum you know the robot vacuums that self clean. And it was a snow day. So I was I was at home this was you know in the before times when we used to go to offices all the time. And I was home for the day working from my couch and I saw the Roomba going towards an unplugged glass lamp. And I thought oh my gosh, the Roomba is going to hit the glass is going to hit the cord. The lamps gonna shatter on the wood floor. I’ve got to get to it right split second decision, jumped off the couch ran across the wood floor in my socks slipped on my way over to the Roomba reached my arms out in front of me to try to catch the table that was way too far away to catch. And my arms went over my head I slammed down face first and I broke both of my shoulders. The Roomba turned the Roomba did its job. So if you have a robot vacuum, trust it, trust it to sense things and make its turn it did not go for the lamp. And it turned out in that fall that I broke both of my shoulders.

Ari: Oh my god. Yeah. And I’m assuming that put you out of work for a little while.

Lauren: That did that one took me out. 10 years of chronic illness and I just like powered through. But yes, when you break both of your shoulders, you can no longer type on a computer. So I was able to get myself into a seated position was able to sort of crawl over on my butt to my phone and phone, a friend who came over and we called an ambulance. And sure enough, I broken both of my shoulders, and I lived in rehab centers, and hospitals for about three months. And then I was at home for a month before I could really get out. I had to be able to open doors, right, which you use your shoulders for everything, even now we’re talking and our shoulders move as we’re expressing ourselves. And so I had to rebuild both shoulders at the same time, in order to get back to my regular life.

Ari: Wow, how did what like what do they do for that when you break the shoulder?



Lauren: Well, it depends on the break. For one shoulder, they just immobilized it and they had been a sling for the other shoulder, they had to rebuild it, put it back together, I’ve got a plate and it doesn’t screws in that arm forever. And so I was Double Sling, because they can’t cast your shoulders right easily. So I had two slings criss crossed across me. And when I was able to I had to start learning to eat with my non dominant hand, which was the first one I was allowed to use and brush my teeth and all of that. But if you imagine losing the ability to use your shoulders, you can’t go to the bathroom on your own. You can’t feed yourself, Take glasses off of your face, you can’t do anything. People would come and visit me and they bring me magazines, and they’d walk in and they go Oh

Ari:was it thinking oh my. Sorry. Wow. Yeah,

Lauren: it was quite a time.

Ari: Wow. That’s it’s just like alright, so you’re out for a while. I guess what was what was going through airports like you set off the machines every time.

Lauren: Fortunately, whatever kind of metal This is, does not set off a metal detector. I didn’t need a you know, a spare parts card or anything to carry with me.

Ari: Okay, great. Yeah. So. So after this, you went back to work again. But this time, but this time, I think things were a little different. As memory serves me correct, you no longer really enjoyed what you were doing as much as you liked the HR business. You started listening to some whispers? Tell us about that.

Lauren: Yeah, so I, you know, I think the first whisper was in the form of a metaphor and breaking my shoulders. Because my MO as a professional, as someone who was working with chronic illness as someone who was a people pleaser, and a workaholic. I was also a chronic hand raiser. And so if there was a project to be done, if there was a room full of people, and somebody said, who will own this, who will wake up in the morning thinking about this, I was always raising my hand. And so I was sort of the vice president of everything I was, I was the VP of HR, but I was sort of the vice president of any project that came up. And the immediate joke when I broke my shoulders was you literally cannot raise your hand Lauren. So it was this metaphorical life lesson, right of stop raising your hand you have your hands have been put down. And I promised myself that when I went back to work, it would be different. And I had been job searching a little bit before the fall, because I wasn’t enjoying HR the way that I used to. And so I was trying to figure out, is it HR? Is it the company? Is it you know, the whole profession, what what am I not satisfied with. And I had this accident and I went back to work with the promise to myself that I was going to get some balance, I wasn’t going to work these 80 to 100 hour work weeks anymore, I was going to stay in my own lane so that I could figure out if I really still liked HR, or if I was using these other projects as an excuse to stay busy and interested. And I just went back to my old ways, working all the time, raising my hand for everything, feeling extreme gratitude for my company being so kind to me while I was out for four months, which is a long time and also feeling guilt that I had missed that time and things were behind and and then the pandemic started. And everybody turned to me because I was the go to person and also human resources. And they said there’s a pandemic, what do we do? And I thought, well, it’s my first pandemic too. And so I had this whole new workload of what to do with an entire staff a building We were in the process of constructing our new office space, a million dollar project that I was in charge of, not surprisingly, and, and I had to figure it all out. And I thought, This is it, this is the sign this is I don’t want this to be the rest of my life that I’m just the pickup for everything that comes along. And so I had always done side gig work first as a resume writer than, you know, teaching people how to job search. And that eventually led to coaching as a side business. And I also coached employees internally, it was never part of my job description. But it was always the thing I looked most forward to, it was the thing I would squeeze in no matter how much I had on my plate. And I was speaking to a friend who had been coaching, and had put something up on Facebook about coaching, and we reached out to each other. And I was talking to her about coaching as an occupation on its own. And I said, you know, I don’t know that you can actually really make money with coaching, she said, I do. And that began my my path to figuring out how to be a coach myself, I hired her as my coach, right? To help me untangle from all of this overworking and from the connection, I had to chronic illness being a weakness, and therefore I had to compensate by working all the time, that was my platform was nobody will know I’m sick. So I’ll work twice as hard as everybody else. So they’ll think I have the most energy of anybody. And then I’ll go home and sleep until the next morning when I have to work again. And that’s where the work, sleep repeat comes in. And and so I started on my path to figuring out how to become a full time coach, I hired a business coach myself, and told that business coach that I wanted to be doing this full time within five years, and she said, How about six months? And there I went. And in six months I was out on my own and it is exactly what I want to do. It is exactly the career I was made for.

Ari: Great. Let me ask you something, during the time that you had the chronic illness and you broke the shoulders and everything else, do you ever reach a point where you were like so low that you went like, you know what, this is too hard, I can’t do it given up on my dreams, I don’t care. And you know, I’m gonna roll up into a ball and die. And if you if you did get to that point, obviously you made a great comeback. Alright, so the question is, how did you manage the comeback?

Lauren: Yeah. Oh, such a great question. So I remember this, this moment in time, I was in my mid 30s. And I was seeing a therapist, because there’s a lot of grief associated with chronic illness, it’s all of the things you thought you’d be doing. And all of the person you thought you’d become gets stunted. Because you’re working so hard to just be on normal, right and to be at level. And I remember saying to that therapist, it’s not that I want to die. But I would love to get a diagnosis where that like is, is terminal or is fixable. Because this in between, is horrible. There’s so much not knowing, you know, if I found a doctor who said, put a teaspoon of peanut butter on your nose every morning for the rest of your life, and you’ll be healthy, I would have done that. If I had found a doctor who had said this is terminal, you have six months get your affairs in order, I would have had something to do. Being in that in between and not having an official diagnosis or an official way to make it better. We’re an official knowing that it’s going in one direction or another is like this abyss of uncertainty and hopelessness. And so that was my lowest point. And what I learned from that was I could stop there. I could let all of this get worse, I could become homebound. I could get a handicap parking permit. I could go on some sort of disability. And I could just give up. And that’s not my way. And what I realized was I needed an answer. Whether the answer was we’ll never know. But here’s how you live well with it. Whether the answer was this this terminal or whether the answer is here’s how you get better. I needed something and so I doubled down on finding new doctors. And I doubled down on dismissing the doctors who said oh, you know lots of women in their 30s are tired. That’s just what happens as you get older, exercise more and right i I know I, you know, it’s you scoff at it. But there are a lot of doctors out there who have opinions about, you know, there was a point in time where I gained 20 pounds in six weeks. Totally not normal. They found what was causing it and they treated it. But it was so fast that my skin hurt. And I went to one doctor, and he said, Well, you’re gaining weight, because you’re not exercising. And I said, I just did a 39 mile charity walk. I couldn’t complete the whole walk. But I did about 25 miles of it. So it’s not like I’m not trying, right? And so what what that incentivize me to do when I realized that I was in this hopelessness, was to find doctors who would help me. And what I finally came across was a doctor a rheumatologist who’s wonderful, who said to me, you have to stop going to individual doctors, let’s get you into a clinic. And he wrote me a really compelling letter for the Mayo Clinic to take me in as a patient who gets passed around to all the departments. And that’s what, that’s what ultimately helped me.

Ari: That was in the Mayo Clinic. Wow.

Lauren: I mean, I’ve again, obviously, who hasn’t heard of the Mayo Clinic? I never knew anybody that actually was there. Yeah. But it’s, I guess it’s a tremendous testimonial to, to the Mayo Clinic, I guess. Wow. That’s, that’s just amazing. And they were able to help you they found whatever it was, and they, and they worked with it. And today, you’re living a more comfortable life, I assume?

Lauren: Yeah, I’m living really well, I’m living the best I’ve lived in my adult life. Wow. And I’m having a lot of fun.



Ari: That, hey, you know what, it’s the most important part. Let me ask you this, who’s the one person that you would point to? That you would say had the most influence in your life? And why?

Lauren: Who, you know, you told me in advance this question was coming, and I just keep thinking about it. And who can choose one, right? But for the purposes of this conversation, I will choose my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, okay. Why she was just a really tough lady. And funny, she kept her sense of humor. And she had lost her eyesight throughout my mom’s childhood. And wow, they thought that it had happened through a fall, that she had felt fallen and hit her head. But it turned out to be multiple sclerosis, which they didn’t know until she was in late adulthood. Because they didn’t have the tests back in the mid 1900s. To figure out what it was. And so here’s a woman who lost her eyesight, who lived independently. My grandfather passed when I was about three. And she had helped my mom and her sister, you know, came frequently to help. But she continued going grocery shopping, living on her own cooking your own food, she sewed. And, and she just stayed involved in life, she took a walk every single day. And despite this illness, that caused her to lose her vision. She just kept doing it. And for me, as I navigated through my chronic illness, I thought of that all the time. You just keep doing it. You just keep going. Because the alternative is you give up and you live a terrible life. Yeah. So you take what you have, you take what you can do, you use the energy you can use. And you make the very best of it. And then you keep doing that. And as it gets better. And as it gets worse you adapt. But there’s always an opportunity to be resilient and to be tough. And to choose to go ahead anyway, even though you’re sick even though you’re tired, and, and to figure out how to work around all of the stuff that gets in your way.

Ari: Wow, that’s that’s incredible. She’s still with us.



Lauren: She’s not,

Ari: she’s not okay. Where was she? Like, where was she born? Was she born in America?

Lauren: Well, she was born in Austria, and came over here when she was two. So she essentially grew up here. My grandfather came over from Poland when he was 18.

Ari: And when was that was that before the war?

Lauren: That was right before the war. So the Cossacks were in Poland and his whole his whole family was lost in the Holocaust. So he was the only one who made it over right

Ari: and your grandmother was was basically move was here already so she Yeah, I hear okay. Wow. That’s That’s fascinating. Now do you have any words of wisdom before we go any words of wisdom for my audience something you could leave them where some of the some takeaway that they can take with Um,

Lauren: I think my, one of my mantras is, you always have a choice. Things happen to us all the time. Terrible things happen to us terrible things happen to our friends and family. You always have a choice in now what? Right? And so you can decide in your life and your career. If you don’t like what’s happening. Now what? There’s always a place to start from and look in another direction.

Ari: Wow, that’s great. You know what that just follows along the format of this podcast whispers in bricks, you have a choice. You can listen to the whispers or you can wait for the break. And obviously, you chose to listen to those whispers because the bricks weren’t a whole lot of fun, was it? That’s true. Okay, Lauren, before we go, if people want to get in touch with you, where can they find you? What’s the best way to do that? You have a website, email, but social media. Come on, give it all to us.



Lauren:  You got it. So I am super active on LinkedIn. Under my name, Lauren Lefkowitz, I have a website with a tool that can help you discover if you’re fine. And if you’re stuck in the trap of being fine. And that website is fine. Is a And my website

Ari: whoa, wait, wait, wait. Oops, sorry. Yeah, give me that again. What was the website?

Lauren: Fine. Is a 

So it’s F I N E. I S A T R A P. Dot crumbed. Yeah. Wonderful. Okay, that’s one that’s a website. Good.

Lauren: And my main website is Lauren Lefkowitz,,

Lauren Lefkowitz, coach that calm. So those are the best ways or I guess I assume that if you go on social media, they can find you. They can click, and then they’ll get to you. Correct. Absolutely. 


Ari: That’s wonderful. Lauren, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. It was it’s truly inspiring. Good luck going forward. You’re doing great. I’m so happy that our paths crossed that you agreed to come on my show. I think my audience has gained a lot from your story. So thanks again. I look forward to seeing you in the future. You’ve been listening to whispers and bricks and I’m your host Gary Sharma. And remember, if you feel like you’re stuck in the mud like you’re spinning your wheels, wasting time in your career, your business your life. If you know you’re not enjoying all the success, satisfaction significance that you desire, then it’s time for you to book a call with me at www dot call with Check out my whispers and bricks Coaching Academy. And until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the breaks and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.