Full-time student, mom shares wisdom of “grit and grace”

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Despite a global pandemic and social and political unrest, these days, Kristin Wright feels unstoppable. She didn’t achieve such confidence without personal setbacks and challenges, though.

“It took becoming a mother, going through a divorce, and having my life turned upside down to really dig deep and find out who I was, what I wanted, and what I was going to do about it,” Wright said.

Much like Wright’s life at one point, in 2020 the world seemed to have turned upside down. In the wake of a global pandemic, joblessness increased, medical centers became overwhelmed, learning and working from home became the norm, and personal plans were put on hold. Now, with the arrival of 2021, and the world still grappling with an unprecedented virus, many still look for answers to the tough questions they are asking about the world, the country, and themselves. The past year has felt dark for many, and many look for light in 2021.

As for herself, Wright has bright plans for the future. Retired from the Coast Guard, she is currently a full-time student using her VA benefits to earn a degree in dietetics from Virginia State University. “I graduated from Lloyd C. Bird High School in 2006 and then attended National Personal Training Institute in Altamonte Springs, Fla.,” she said. There, she earned both a personal training and a massage therapist certification. “Now, 15 years and two kids later, I’m one semester away from my BA in dietetics.”

Once she has completed her degree, Wright plans to participate in a dietetic internship that will last between six months and a year. Upon completion, she will take the Registered Dietitian exam in hopes of owning a private practice. She also plans to do “a lot of my work virtually to further my reach of potential clients,” she said, the flame of that trend fanned by the year’s social distancing protocols and stay-at-home orders.

Like a lot of people these days, Wright has had to learn to balance several priorities at once, primarily parenting and studying, and she credits her own mother for making it all possible. “She is always willing to help me with the kids when I need more time to finish an assignment or have a late class. I am so appreciative of her,” Wright said. Although her mother cares for Wright’s children for several hours a day, four days a week, Wright said she “always makes it a point to stop [studying]early and make the kids dinner, spend some time with them, do their nightly routine, and get them to sleep before finishing any work I have left.”

The demanding schedule often leads to late nights for Wright, who said, “I do most of my work when their days are over and they’re sound asleep, which usually means sleep is out for me, for now. I hope to bring that back into the equation soon!” Despite a constant lack of sleep, Wright says her children, ages 3 and 5, “are my best friends and my reasons for all that I do. Everything else can fit in where it can. I start and end their days with them.” They are, after all, what keeps her going, she said. When things get tough, she thinks “of the life I want to give them in the future, the stability I want to be able to offer them. I also know that if I want my children to believe in themselves, and to chase their dreams, then I need to model that.”

In addition to her children, “people [who]face challenges head on and don’t allow their circumstances to define them, but also never run out of kindness or compassion for themselves or others” inspire Wright. “I am inspired by people who have mastered both grit and grace.”

Though unlikely to acknowledge it, Wright herself has mastered the grit and grace she admires in others. In addition to gracefully exiting the Coast Guard when she became a mother to pursue other, more family-friendly goals, she competes in body building competitions and in Nov. 2019 earned her International Federation of Body Builders pro card. Despite this accomplishment, Wright denies that she is a “fitness guru,” instead explaining that she is “sort of fit usually and very fit sometimes.”

Another example of Wright’s grace comes in the form of the advice she offers to working parents, especially during these difficult times when so many are trying to juggle educating their children at home while working from home. Her first instinct comes in the form of “lots of caffeine, deep breaths, and Jesus.” Then, she grows more serious, advising that parents do “whatever they need to do to make it work, guilt free. Every job is different. Every kid is different. There is no cookie -cutter recipe for success when it comes to children. The best thing we can do is give ourselves and our kids a little grace while we figure out what works best.”

Wright also shared advice for people considering New Year’s resolutions. Don’t focus, she said, “on how long and how much work it will take to reach them [your goals]. The days will pass, one way or another. Those days will either be spent getting closer to or further away from your goals. Letting go of the idea of an easy fix and embracing a long journey is the best thing you can do. Every step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. Just keep moving.”

As for grit, she honed that trait during her time in the Coast Guard. “I learned to be on time,” she said. “I learned how to keep my mouth shut when I disagreed. I learned to suck it up when I didn’t think something was fair or when I felt overworked or tired, and to just do what needed to be done.” These are lessons Wright applies to her current life as a full-time student and the mother of two young children. She said she manages it all “by using every second I’ve got. I don’t leave a lot of time for other things or people. I have to figure out which balls I need to drop in order to keep juggling the most important ones.”

Right now, Wright says she isn’t able to spend time with friends, with extended family or attending fun events, and while she regrets that, she also accepts it. “It’s the season I’m in currently. It won’t be forever, but I’m doing what I need to do; we can’t be the best at everything all at once. Sometimes we have to drop some balls and pick them back up when we can.” It’s the season we are currently in. It won’t be forever. What better advice could there be for moving out of a year like 2020 and into a year more pregnant than any in recent memory with hopes for progress, health, stability, and balance?

Most will agree that 2020 has been tough, to say the least, on both a personal and a global level. As for her own tough times, Wright feels grateful for resulting the growth and strength. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk with so many … [who]feel lost or disheartened, and I’ve been able to connect with them and encourage them. And that’s what I’m proud of: that the darkest parts of my life can help me share light with someone else during the darkest part of [his or hers].”

As the saying goes, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. May we all, as Wright has done, grow in both grit and grace from the darkness of 2020. And may the darkness of 2020 give way to brighter days in 2021.

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