Loss and grief are not just limited to a death. There are many types of loss in life and that means there are many types of grief to go along with them. S. Renee Smith-Larry, author, coach, and strategic partner to senior leaders, talks about how her life has been shaped by the loss of dreams and aspirations and how she learned to grow through each loss.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I was raised in a loving and nurturing home in Dover, Delaware. My parents were high school dropouts who understood the value of serving God and building a family. They took my four siblings and me to Sunday School and church every Sunday — unless we were on a family vacation — and we had Bible study and prayer in our home. Their faith in God was the foundation on which they built their marriage (59 years as of today), family, and successful masonry business. My mother later returned to school and earned her high school diploma and two bachelors degrees. In fact, my mother and I attended the same college at the same time! She graduated a year after I did. She became and remained a pastor for twenty years.
I’ve had a vibrant life and career. My first entrepreneurial venture was at age 16. I baked and decorated cakes for birthday parties, weddings, and special events. I also worked on weekends at a fast-food restaurant and during college at a children’s shoe store.
I graduated cum laude from college, and I accepted a position as a marketing representative for a Fortune 500. I didn’t like the job, nor my boss and I don’t think she liked me either. Within a year, I left and pursued my dreams—a modeling and acting career. After being denied access by agents who said I wasn’t modeling material, I launched my career. For a decade, I modeled for the QVC Network and did other print, runway, and commercial work. I worked with celebrities IMAN, Susan Lucci, Victoria Principal, and others. After landing significant gigs, I was later picked up by several agents.
While modeling, I had opportunities to host various television projects. After being a stand-in host for a television show in New York, I launched my own talk show. It failed after a few months. I started interviewing for television jobs. I was told, “You look good and sound great, but you need experience in a smaller market.” But—that’s not what God told me. So, I continued to believe. One day while flipping through the channels, I stopped when I saw a woman hosting a show. I had a feeling that I was going to work for the station. I watched until the credit ran and contacted the executive producer. I landed a job as host, producer, and spokesperson at in Philadelphia at United Paramount Network (UPN).
After leaving television, I started a business. It failed. I worked at a university as a director of public relations. I got fired. After making a few other career stops, “the heavens opened,” and I launched my speaking and writing career.
Since then I’ve worked with over 100 organizations across nine industries, coached hundreds of people, written six books (two of which were book deals), served as a resource to the media, and most importantly, helped clients either launch their businesses and increase their profitability or become award-winning employees, land promotions, and increase their income.
I enjoy traveling, talking and spending time with my husband, HL Larry, a senior executive with the United States Air Force. I also enjoy reading, writing connecting with God while taking 3-mile walks, and playing golf (although I haven’t played lately).
We all have dreams, sometimes that start when we’re children. What was your dream and how did that influence your professional journey?
My dream was to model, host a television show that inspired people to reach for a better life for themselves and to travel the world speaking. As they do today, my dreams influenced my decisions. I’ve done everything that I thought I would. The vision to write three books didn’t come until age 27. My first book was published ten years later. My doubt delayed its manifestation. Once my faith kicked in, six books were written in 14 years.
When it seemed like your life wasn’t going according to your dream, how did you react?
I would write in my journal and vent to God. Well—more at God. I’d tell Him how frustrated I was that things weren’t going as planned. I’d remind Him of His word. I’d let Him know that it didn’t seem like His principles worked. But by the end of the entry, I’d say, “But, I’ll trust you, God. I know that this is for my good.” Yep! I’d have a temper tantrum, and when I was done I’d reflect on the situation and ask myself, “What do I need to learn? What am I not getting?” The key for me is always to check myself.
What advice would you give for “grieving well?”
Loss comes in many forms and for many reasons — the loss of a loved one, relationship, job, contract, or earthly possessions. The intensity of suffering is different and unique to every person and circumstance. However, it is not unusual to experience an overwhelming sense of powerlessness whenever something has been taken away from us that we claim ownership and value.
During those times of anguish, we often repeat what happened, why it happened, and what would have been a more acceptable outcome. When we yearn for what was, it becomes difficult to see a ray of light on the horizon.
When we go through a tunnel of darkness, we take back our power by shifting ourselves into consciousness and gratitude. As difficult as it may be, we must “in all things” thank God for the opportunity to see and experience the moment, as it really does serve our good. It is because of our loss that we awaken to more of ourselves and our priorities.
Good qualities are trying to emerge from within. Being thankful for lessons learned and wisdom gained opens the door. By following this pattern daily, you activate your faith and directs your attention toward forward movement.
It doesn’t change the loss, but it loosens the strength of grief.
What is the best way to rebuild after a loss?
I don’t believe that there is the best way to do anything. There are right ways to do things, but even suggesting that it’s the right way for everyone is judgmental and subjective. The type of loss determines how to rebuild; however, for any loss, I encourage the following steps: faith, acceptance, and the meaning you attached to the loss.
Suffering from a loss is hard. Moving beyond the experience is challenging. I believe that rebuilding requires praying for what you want, meditating and listening for guidance, and having the courage to step into the unknown.
My favorite word is possibility. I encourage people to dwell in possibility while you wait for the right opportunity. Let me explain what I mean. Suffering can blur our vision and distort our worthiness to have what we deserve. Standing in a place of possibility is knowing what we want is achievable while you take steps to discover new opportunities that await you. The moment you confidently open yourself up to embracing new opportunities, you begin to rebuild your life.
I leave you with this one fact I know for sure: God is with you, for you, and in you.
S. Renee is an advisor, coach, and strategic partner to senior leaders with a focus on organizational change through talent development. Her area of expertise is in soft skills for current and future leaders. In her early thirties, she landed a seat at the table as the youngest member of a university president’s cabinet, and has since spent a considerable amount of time sharing the stage and working with corporate CEOs, mid to senior-level leaders, and small business owners of multi-million and billion-dollar operations. However, she effectively provides talent development at every level of an organization.
Her accomplishments in the area of talent development resulted in her expertise being sought and published by the world’s bestselling reference brand series, For Dummies. She is the co-author of Self-Esteem for Dummies (Jan. 2015). Additionally, one of the fast-growing online publishers, Callisto Media, hired her to write 5 Steps to Assertiveness: How to Communicate with Confidence and Get What You Want (May 2018).
S. Renee is known for her ability to help clients shatter old beliefs and breakthrough mental barriers. Ultimately, her clients present and communicate with confidence and make more significant contributions to the organization’s performance. Client success stories include becoming highly effective leaders and award-winning performers.
S. Renee is also author of Harness the POWER of Personal Branding and Executive Presence: Elevate Your Life and Career Now!; The Bridge to Your Brand: Likability, Marketability, Credibility; There Is More Inside: Personal Essentials Needed to Living a Power-Packed Life; and Our Hearts Wonder: Prayers to Heal Your Heart and Calm Your Soul.