Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Today may seem like an ordinary Wednesday, but to me it's a big day! 

Today is the day we kick off the Women Who Inspire series, which is something I've envisioned since before The Lucky Lifestyle was officially up-and-running. Each month, beginning today, I'll feature a profile of a woman making a difference: in her own life, in the lives of others, throughout her community and beyond. Each profile will be presented in a Q&A format so we can hear from each woman in her own words. 

So, without further ado, I am completely thrilled to introduce you to Shannon! I met Shannon when she was my supervisor at my very first internship out of college. I was in that position for almost a year, and during that time I not only got to watch Shannon in action professionally, I got to know her personally, as well. To know Shannon is to love her! I am so lucky that all these years later, I can count her as a trusted mentor and dear friend. I'll let Shannon take it from here:

Let's start with the basics! Tell us a little bit about yourself -- where you call home, what you do for a living, and who makes up your family.

I was born and raised and am now simply loving my life in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I hesitate to admit my long-standing roots in one locale; however, my living in the same county for nearly 40 years should not be confused with the traditional notion that I don’t wish to experience the larger world. In fact, I started traveling internationally when I was 21 years old (my first flight ever was to Sweden), and I have a great love for exploring new places. Settling in Lancaster County is a matter of practicality because our families mostly reside here, and we do love the area and its proximity to metropolitan areas, such as Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and NYC.

“We” consists of my wife, Amy, our oldest daughter Vivienne, and our twins, Cora and Jack. By day, I am a Communications Director and by night I am a mom, graduate student, freelance social media maven, and rather new-found fitness enthusiast.

What has your career path looked like? Did you always know you wanted to end up in the field you're in? What was your very first job?

When I graduated from high school, I was undecided in my college major. I started at the University of Pittsburgh but contracted a severe case of mono in my first semester, causing my withdrawal from school. I am a practical person, so after a few months of medical care, I decided to find my path by working. I landed a job in a real estate recruiting office and there was able to identify my love for communications and public relations. That’s when I decided to return to college part-time as a non-traditional student. For eight years, I took classes in the evenings at Elizabethtown College to earn my Bachelors degree in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations.

Throughout that timeframe, I also found my niche in non-profit work. I served in communications, marketing, and fund development positions for two countywide service organizations before I transitioned to a career at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. My experience at this international pretzel company proved invaluable as I worked on large-scale PR campaigns and grew the brand’s social media from the ground up. After about five years though, I recognized that I needed to feed my soul’s mission by returning to the non-profit world. For the past five years, I have served in communications with the largest suburban school district in Lancaster County, and it is a position I am enjoying thoroughly.

What are the most challenging -- and most rewarding -- aspects of your current position?

The cadence of working in a school calendar cycle provides respite during the summer months, which offers quality family time. My position is 12 months but the schedule certainly lightens. During the school year, I work long days, averaging about two nights per week for various meetings. That can be very challenging because my kids will sometimes comment to the effect, “Mommy doesn’t know that because she’s never home.” Talk about tearing at my heart strings!

While I would not trade my time at Auntie Anne’s for anything, at the conclusion of my career there, it became “just pretzels.” I needed my working hours to be filled with purpose, and I identify with the purpose of public education in my current role. Education is a shared experience, but today’s educational experiences look different than when I was in school. There is an infusion of technology that will serve our children well as they become career ready. As well, children are coming to school with increasing needs, and it has become the role of the school to serve the whole child – physical, emotional, behavioral. We take this seriously and yet are underfunded to do so.

How do you and Amy find a balance between work, home, kids, activities, other endeavors? Is there a balance to be found or is that just a myth?

Since Vivienne was born nearly 9 years ago, Amy has been the stay-at-home mama. This provides a level of balance for our family. It can also be taxing for Amy given my long working days, as she is the sole caregiver on those days. When needed, I try to identify supports for her, such as asking my mom to help with the kiddos so Amy can attend monthly PTO meetings at our own elementary school. Amy and I strive to plan one date night per month so we have focused time together, whether the outing is a nice meal or a shopping trip to a home improvement store to make selections for our next great home remodel project!

One area where I sorely need to improve in my balance is with my phone. As a PR professional, I am “on call” 24 hours per day so I will often peek at my email throughout the evening to ensure that I don’t miss any pending issues. I also find myself spending mindless energy on social media; it’s a way to decompress, but it takes time away from more important matters.

Over the past several years, I have come to appreciate that there are “seasons” in life and that balance, or the illusion thereof, hinges on that season (i.e. – kids ages, career goals, etc.) I strive to find gratitude in each season and recognize that we’ll be on to the next season soon enough, which will require a rebalancing.

In the past year or so, you have embarked on a wellness journey. Can you tell us what inspired you to do so? What are your biggest accomplishments so far? How has this journey impacted your life?

I grew up as an overweight child and carry a good bit of “scar tissue” related to my self-image and self-confidence. During times of stress, I find that my coping mechanism is food. Having children and wanting to be a role model in all aspects of my life forced me to consider how I handle various circumstance and respond to negative stimuli. I was tired of turning to food and also weary of not being able to keep up with my active family.

It’s been over one and half years since I’ve changed my lifestyle. I focus on protein intake to stay fuller longer, and I also find joy in moving my body. Always lingering in the back of my mind is my Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. While this disease has not impacted my daily activities to date (I was diagnosed in 2007), I know that it has the ability to stop my movement. In a way, this inspired me to start moving, simply because I don’t know if there will come a time when I won’t be able to move. We all face that reality to some extent, but my MS inspired me to increase my activity level now.

In this arena of my life, my biggest accomplishment so far is losing 90 pounds. I also like to focus on non-scale victories so this would include: finding joy in exercise, completing four sprint triathlons, training for a 25k trail challenge (coming up in September), and participating in my first long-distance Bike MS event (with my second, 35-mile ride coming up in October).

What would your advice be to others who are looking to make a significant, impactful, and long-lasting change in their health and wellness?

Gratitude, therapy, and a strong support network! When I find myself slipping back into old habits, I try to call to mind how grateful I feel in this moment. I journal these thoughts, share them out loud with someone else, or post them on social media. Also, changing years of deeply grooved patterns in your brain isn’t for the faint of heart. I have been working with a therapist, and I highly recommend it to identify self-destructive patterns and also resources and tools. Awareness is essential to long-lasting change.

I am blessed to have a strong network of people who support me in my efforts, starting with Amy. Despite our busy schedules, we work together to identify times when I can swim, bike, run, attend Sparta or barre. I have a group of gals who register and participate in sprint triathlons together. I work with a nutritionist and exercise physiologist and having these resources and tools to call on, when needed, are also critical to my success. If you are looking to make a significant, impactful, and long-lasting change, identifying and, more importantly, utilizing those supports are crucial.

What would others be surprised to learn about you? 

A few things come to mind right away. Some people are surprised to learn that I have MS given my active lifestyle. Additionally, I am a babyloss mommy. In 2008, Amy and I were pregnant with twins and, for reasons still unknown, Anya and Tegan were born early at almost 24 weeks gestation. They were born breathing but were unable to be saved. Our marriage survived that gut-wrenching pain, we have identified ways to honor and remember their brief but important lives, and we find absolute delight in our living children. Finally, I appreciate the opportunity to explore and travel. While not necessarily surprising, my most memorable trip was to a “surprising” location - the Amazon Rainforest where I spent a week with indigenous tribes learning about the negative impacts of oil production.

What has being a mom taught you about yourself? About life?

I constantly feel torn in various directions. While my family is the most important foundation of my life, sometimes I have to make difficult choices with my time that seem counter to that fact. For example, exercising takes time away from my family but helps my physical and emotional well-being. Being a mom has taught me that it remains important to make time for myself and time with my spouse, even when it feels selfish. I must continually remind myself that taking care of myself and my relationship are keys to being a good mom.

I admire you. Which women do you most admire?
I am honored that you think so highly of me, Jen, and the admiration is mutual!  
This list is truly too numerous to mention folks by name because there are so many admirable women in my life – starting with my wife and those in my immediate family. I admire their parenting, their strength of character, their desire to help others. In my professional life, I admire women who support and mentor other women. In friendships, I admire women who make time to check in with me through a quick text message, email or social media post and those who make time to chat over a cup of coffee, a pedicure or a grueling workout.
Rather than list names, I’ve chosen to highlight characteristics. When these women read this blog post, they will surely know who they are. I thank them and offer my truest admiration for the richness they add to my life!
Let's talk about your ideal day. If you could design it, what would it look like, from start to finish?

Since altering my physical lifestyle, my ideal day involves waking up anytime between 5:15 and 5:45 a.m. I have so much energy to offer this world! I use that quiet time in my house for self-care, and I treasure it. I do this while fueling up with coffee, of course!

If I didn’t have time constraints, as the kids woke up, we would snuggle, eat breakfast together, and read books. Sometime mid-morning, I would exercise and then we would plan to go exploring or volunteering together as a family. Teaching Vivienne, Cora, and Jack to find joy in giving back is part of the fabric of our family. My ideal day would then involve an afternoon Starbucks latte or Frappuccino.

I’d say we’d end the day by having both sets of grandparents (our parents) over for dinner, relax on our deck or sit around a blazing campfire, watch the kids jump on the trampoline and catch fireflies as the day winds down. Perfection!

Thank you so much, Shan, for taking the time to share with us and for being our FIRST Woman of the Month! If you want to connect with Shannon, you can leave any questions in the comments section and I will be sure to pass them along, or follow her on Instagram @ShannonMZimmerman


  1. Oh my heavens this is such a fab series! Love it and love getting to know Shannon!

    1. Thanks so much, Jessi! I'm thrilled to introduce her, and so glad you stopped by to say hi!

  2. Thank you for introducing us to Shannon!! Love the feature and really loved learning more! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

    1. It was all my pleasure, Biana! I'm so glad you liked it -- thank you for stopping by to say so! xo

  3. So much fun learning more about Shannon! This is such a great series! Sierra Beautifully Candid

    1. I'm so happy you enjoyed it, Sierra! I've known Shannon for nearly 10 years but her story still inspires me so much. Thanks for reading!

  4. Oh, this was lovely to read. I like when bloggers feature WCW or Women Inspired posts like this. I don't know one person who hasn't dealt with self-image issue of some form. Very relatable post.
    Thanks for sharing. /Madison

    1. Thanks so much, Madison! I'm so glad you feel that way and completely agree. We all have so much to offer and share with each other. I appreciate you stopping by and reading! xo

  5. Oh, what a beautiful and uplifting interview and feature to read! I think posts and series like this are so important in empowering women and building up our own diverse community. Shannon sounds like a remarkable woman, and I'm so glad to have read this! Thank you for sharing this :)

    1. I'm SO happy you enjoyed it, Melissa! I re-read it so many times -- so much of what Shannon talks about resonates with me! Thanks for following along with the series. :) xo!

  6. Thanks for stopping by -- so glad we connected, also! I'm really excited about the series, so I'm glad you enjoyed the first feature. :) Have a great weekend!

  7. Jen, that is such a neat idea you come up with. How nice. It is so encouraging to read stories, interviews and inspirations about other. Totally soul lifters. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Bushra! I'm hoping to feature one woman a month. Can't wait for you to follow along. :) Hope you're enjoying your weekend!

  8. I love this and getting to know other, what inspires them and how they live their lives. I love that she has twins and I can relate to a lot of what she was saying about balancing life.

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! I love learning about other womens' lives, too, and especially that balance piece. I'm always so curious how other moms do it. ;)


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