Terri Levine, Ph.D. captures the attention of a room by speaking powerfully about ways that listeners can enhance their lives and fulfill personal and professional dreams. Small in stature, but expansive in presence; she has experienced what may seem like several lifetimes this go-around. They include travel and adventures, marriage, and creating her own successful business.
I met her at a professional conference where she was one of three speakers, encouraging us to put our hearts and souls into our visions for our lives. I was inspired by her attitude as she let us know that despite appearances, she was facing an often debilitating disease, called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.
You call yourself a ‘Heart-repreneur’. How did you come up with that concept and what does it mean to you?
Several years ago, I was meeting with my publisher and we were discussing a new book that I was working on. During that conversation he called me a Heart-repreneur. I asked him why he called me that and he told me that I was an entrepreneur who built million-dollar business in a unique way and it was heart-based and the world needed to have this kind of conscious capitalism. At the time I got home from that meeting I realize that this meant a lot to me and I quickly changed the name of my company, changed my branding, registered and trademarked the term and have been on a mission now to transform the way business is done. This has become a cause and over 2000 people have joined in so far from around the world.
Your business model is about relationships and I wonder how it plays out in your personal life as well. What qualities does that embody?
Whether in business or in life I come from a mentality of service. Caring more about the outcome or agenda that other people have versus my own in business and in life. This has deepened my personal relationships and has created a tribe of loyal family members.
Please share the delightful story of how you and your husband met.
When I was 16 years old, I proudly told my mother that I was never going to change my last name and that my name was who I was on the planet and I would never give that up for anyone. Shortly after that I was introduced to a boy the exact same age as me. I walked right up to him and said I’m just going to have to marry you because he shared the name Levine. And the rest as they say is history we have been happily married for almost 39 years
Were you raised to be resilient and did it prepare you to handle the challenges you have faced?
I was raised to be resilient. I saw my parents get up and stand up no matter what happened. The times when we had no money, the times when people had passed on, the times when people were ill, no matter what they just kept moving forward. This has helped me have a mental resilience and a physical resilience to keep taking action and taking steps forward no matter what.
Tell us about the adventures you have had; particularly the badass ones.
My life has been a wonderful series of adventures. I have done everything from professionally race formula dodge cars, to jujitsu, to speaking in many countries all around the world on stages as big as 8,000 people in the audience. I have also overcome adversity when someone tried to burn me alive because of my religion. No matter what has happened in my life I love to find a gift in it and I think of every experience and every day as an adventure. And to me everything is pretty much a bad ass when you do it with passion and choose to learn lessons from each experience.
When I met you at a conference in Philadelphia a few years ago, you spoke of an illness that impacts your life on a daily basis. What is RSD and what are the effects?
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy usually happens to someone who has an orthopedic injury. It is the number one ranked disease for pain on the McGill pain scale where even brain cancer and amputation are lower on the scale.
Imagine someone took the blood out of your veins and filled you with lighter fluid and then lit you on fire. RSD has been called the disease of fire, burning, or hell. People who have this disease get no relief and continue to feel like their body is in flames. Even a simple thing like having a cat enter your room can move the air and make you burn more.
There is no cure for this disease. For me the impact is that for 18 months I was in a wheelchair and then off and on for the last almost 12 years now I have had times where I am not able to walk. I keep doing what I do every day and moving forward and living my life. I see RSD as a gift I was given and started a foundation for children who have this disease and need help and cannot afford it and we help the parents who need support as well.
How did you bounce back?
I bounced back by stopping the pity party that I was having and making a choice to focus on helping others. Once I started the foundation for children my focus went off me. I continually stay positive and stay focused on noticing only the blessings and joys in my life and not the sensations from RSD.
What gets you through the symptoms daily?
Although I have sensations all the time and they never go away, I simply focus on other people and helping other people obtain their outcomes and the results they want in their lives or their businesses. By turning the focus outwards and not noticing what I am experiencing I am able to move through my life.
Do you allow yourself to feel it all — the highs and lows of living with the condition?
One thing I absolutely do is feel everything. I even praise and honor the sensations that I have that come along with this disease. I feel each moment and experience and I’m grateful that I am alive and can feel.
A big brag for you; your recent TED talk. What was it about?
It was very exciting to do a TEDx talk in Wilmington, Delaware. The title of my talk was Work Yourself Happy which is named after my very first best-selling book almost two decades ago. I still believe strongly in the message that you need to find a way to do your work that creates joy and happiness for you. We spend too many hours at work, thinking about work, and focusing on work not to experience work as pure joy and pure bliss and I love showing people how to do this.
What do you stand for? What won’t you stand for?
I stand for love. I stand for forgiveness. I stand for embracing differences. I stand for honoring every person no matter who they are or what they have done. I will not stand for bigotry, prejudice, hatred, violence, and the mis-treatment of people or animals.
Any advice for those who are facing major illness/chronic pain?
If anyone has a major illness or chronic pain I invite them to embrace it. To learn to love it and to appreciate it and to focus on what is working in their life and the things they can solve and not to worry about things they might not be able to solve. I recommend turning your focus outwards and not being alone in isolation thinking about you and your problems. Go find other people less fortunate to help and think about them more and devote yourself to being of service.