Updated: Jul 26, 2021
We all have a story to tell and a history that has influenced that story. DNA, family of origin, and life events are some of the primary pieces that create the puzzle of our life. Vanessa is my friend, an amazing human being and her interview is unique and extraordinaire. So, if you are looking to be inspired by someone who has lived a lot of life, dealt with big challenges and has persevered, this is one interview you don’t want to miss. I believe we can gain insight and inspiration from one another which is why being in community and surrounding yourself with positive people who have the capacity to support you is important. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own life, but it sure helps to know you are not alone. Vanessa will share her thoughts on family, faith, health, happiness, life purpose, and more. Keep reading because I am sure you will identify with her story and I guarantee you will be inspired.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida in a large rambunctious (crazy) catholic family. I am the 3rd of 7 children (4 girls and 3 boys). We moved to Hickory, NC when I was 9 years old and lived there until I went off to college.
2. What are you currently living and doing job wise?
I live in Charlotte, North Carolina and have worked for Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System) for the past 18 years. I am a family physician and an Assistant Medical Director for Family Medicine for Atrium. I see patients of all ages and I am a physician leader in our system.
3. Are your parents still alive? If so, where do they live?
My parents both grew up in post-depression, poor families. They were hard-working, blue collar small business owners who did the best they could raising us while running the family business. We were typical “latchkey” kids who had little supervision. We played outside a lot, riding our bikes and running around in the woods until dark. It was chaotic with a lot of fighting, throwing and breaking things, but also a lot of fun and love. My parents are both deceased for 19 (Mom) and 21 (Dad) years. My mother died at 61 years of age from COPD caused by smoking; she smoked through all 7 of her pregnancies. My father died at 69 years of age from a heart attack. He was obese, a diabetic and a smoker and a “non-compliant” patient with a very poor diet. The fact that both of my parents died from totally preventable diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyle behaviors greatly influenced me personally and my practice as a physician.
4. What were the greatest lessons you learned growing up in your family?
Self-sufficiency and a strong work ethic. I became very resourceful and resilient.
5. What makes you happy or what does happiness mean to you?
I am most happy spending quality time with my husband and kids, when I am giving myself to help others, and exploring new places and experiences such as traveling, scuba diving, skydiving, or being in nature. Yoga.
6. What does healthy mean to you?
It’s more than freedom from disease. It is a state of wholeness and vibrancy of the mind, body and spirit. Thriving not just surviving in all 3 of these areas.
7. What is your life’s purpose and what helped you find it?
Helping others achieve optimal health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This was shaped through my family of origin, my experience in my career treating patients over the past 24 years, and through my own life journey overcoming an unhealthy relationship with food and alcohol.
8. What is your favorite word and why?
Equanimity. Because I love the concept that everything can be okay, already “IS” okay, regardless of external circumstances and whatever is going on around me.
9. What is the most powerful force on the planet and why?
God (however one chooses to define it), which to me equals Love. It resides within every one of us and connects us with one another. I think of God/Love as a divine Energy that when harnessed, has the ability to transform us mentally physically and emotionally. It can transform relationships (sometimes in a matter of minutes) and allows us to realize our divine Purpose and manifest our dreams.
10. Who do you most admire and why?
My mother. She was the most selfless, giving, nurturing woman. She never needed any “me time”. The closest she came to that was going to the beauty parlor every Wednesday with at least 4 kids in tow. She was happiest when there was a house full of her children and the neighbor kids running around. She was so welcoming and inclusive; she was loving and beloved. Her mottoes were “the more the merrier” and (regarding cooking food) “it’s better to have too much than not enough.”
11. What are 1 to 3 things in which you are grateful and why?
My marriage. After my divorce I prayed for God to put the right man in my life and he sent me my husband. He is such a smart, sexy, strong, protective, and hardworking man. He had a very traumatic childhood and served as a sniper in the US Marine Corps right out of high school. We have learned and grown so much together. We are very passionate people and challenge one another. We both grab life by the you-know-whats. He accepts me as I am.
My children. They light up my life and give it meaning. It is so amazing to see them becoming young adults. They never cease to amaze me with their awesome-ness. So smart, sensitive and socially conscious. I just feel so fortunate to be a witness to it.
My medical training and education. It has allowed me to live my life’s purpose helping others and has opened so many doors for me. I am in love with my profession and it is truly a privilege and a calling.
12. What has enriched or changed your life the most and why?
My spiritual journey. I grew up in the Catholic Church as a child. In college I rejected religion and the God idea completely and considered myself atheist for most of my adult life. Thankfully, I reconnected with my Higher Power through a spiritual-but not religious-journey in 2011. It has radically changed my outlook on life. Previously I was never satisfied, always wanted MORE. Now, I am so much more content and grateful for everything I have. I think less of myself than I used to and more of others. I’m so far from perfect, but I’m okay with that. I can still be selfish and fall short when my ego gets out of check. I am accepting my human-ness.
13. What are you most proud of and why?
The work I did as part of my 12-step recovery program because it gave me this new life. Including freedom from my eating disorder and alcohol, which previously I needed to use to “medicate” my anxiety, irritability and restlessness. It allows me to get out of myself and think more of serving others. It’s given me an inner peace that I was previously seeking in external things.
14. What empowers you to take action?
Pain! Often pain is my biggest motivator for change. Sometimes it has to get pretty bad and go on for a long time but eventually I get to the “jumping off point”.
15. How do you deal with stress?
Meditation, staying in the moment and out of my head. By doubling down on basic self-care such as adequate sleep, healthy and regular meals, minimizing non-essential tasks and activities. Saying “no” where I can. Saying “yes”’ to fun and laughter. By not taking myself too seriously.
16. What advice would you give someone who is struggling to find their purpose?
Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day while doing various activities. When are you in a state of “flow”? What gives you energy? (And What drains you?) what are the bodily sensations? Try to develop a mindfulness practice so that you can be awake and aware to opportunities when they present themselves. Often the universe sends us messages through other people. Follow through on the whisper, the little “niggling sensation” that suggests you check something out.
17. What advice would you give someone who is stuck in a bad situation?
KNOW that this is not permanent and that there is ALWAYS a lesson to be learned. It will get better; it always does! You’re never truly “stuck”; there is always a way out. Don’t isolate! Be vulnerable enough to reach out to a trusted friend and share what’s going on and ask for help. You may actually be helping them by allowing them to help you.
18. What drives your life decisions?
I try to make choices based on what I think is aligned with Gods will for me. What is in alignment with my spiritual principles. What makes me happy and what is helpful and good for me and my loved ones.
19. If you had to write a purpose statement for your life what would it be?
To seek God's will every day and attempt to shine my light to others. To forget myself and be free in service of others.
I thought it both appropriate and poignant to end this article with Vanessa’s favorite quote.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Maryanne Williamson
This quote challenges me not to ever give up and stop shining my light. Not to hold back for fear of what others may think. Not to doubt my ability to manifest the dreams that my higher power has put in me. Not to doubt my worthiness or lovable-ness.
Powerful words by Maryanne Williamson and Vanessa McPherson Sprague. There is not much more I need to write except, keep inspiring other people, keep being inspired and know that your story matters so don’t be afraid to share it and your wisdom with others.
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