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My journey began in the shadows of a painful question: Why wasn't I chosen?

Taken from my biological mother at just one year old and plunged into foster care, while my brother was adopted by our wealthy grandfather, I was left grappling with seeds of doubt and abandonment in my young heart.

Was it something about me? Was it because I was a girl?

These early years, marred by neglect and abuse, were my first encounters with deep vulnerability – feelings I would carry and battle against for years to come.

🧱 This experience laid the first stone in the wall I would build around myself, a barrier against the world's uncertainties.

My childhood was a tapestry of contrasts.

Adopted at age five into a family where I had a younger brother and sister, both the biological children of my new parents, I navigated a world of differing realities.

While my adoptive family struggled financially, my father was adamant about providing us with a quality education, leading us to attend a prestigious Catholic school.

Here, my uniform served as a cloak of outward appearance, momentarily masking the disparities of my home life.

However, the mask slipped on days like picture day or during field trips.

Wearing outdated clothes amid peers adorned in the latest trends, or staying behind while others explored, I was acutely aware of our financial constraints.

🧱 Each of these moments added another stone to the wall, a defense against feelings of otherness and inadequacy.

In my middle school years, neurodiversity, often misunderstood in my academic journey, labeled me as 'dumb.'

Yet, each day, I pushed back against these labels with determination.

I studied harder than ever and began to excel in school.

🧱 My hard work and persistence laid more stones in my protective barrier.

High school brought a revelation that shook my understanding of family and belonging.

A pivotal conversation with my adoptive mother unveiled a truth that had silently shaped my childhood.

As I expressed feeling less loved compared to my siblings, her response was candid – her love for me, an adopted child, was different from the innate bond she shared with her biological children.

It was a love that grew over time, like a friendship that deepens with understanding and shared experiences.

This revelation was a turning point, teaching me about the complexities of love and belonging.

🧱 This conversation, while painful, added complexity to my understanding of love, even as it fortified the wall I was building, reinforcing my resolve to be self-reliant.

University was a battleground of independence and resilience.

Working tirelessly to fund my education, each tuition payment was a victory.

I graduated! I defied everyone who didn't believe in me, becoming a software engineer!

🧱 A testament to my strength and another layer to my protective wall.

Then, my professional journey began.

My journey in engineering has been marked by a series of confrontations with gender bias – each encounter a stark reminder of the barriers still faced by women in male-dominated fields.

In university, I was 'the girl' among 'boys,' my achievements used to mock rather than celebrate.

Working internationally, I encountered hesitations and doubts about my capabilities solely based on my gender – from concerns about handling all-male teams to unfair assumptions about my career ambitions.

One poignant moment was being overlooked for career advancement because of the mere possibility of motherhood.

Even in more subtle ways, like having my ideas overlooked in meetings or being hired to meet diversity quotas, the bias was ever-present.

These experiences, as challenging as they were, fueled my commitment to not just excel but also to advocate for change and equality in the workplace.

🧱 I added more bricks and mortar to an ever-growing wall!

Working abroad presented a mosaic of cultural challenges, each offering a lesson in adaptation and understanding.

As an American in Switzerland, I was often stereotyped as superficial and arrogant, while in the Netherlands, my approach was perceived as too indirect.

These experiences were a constant balancing act – deciphering whether challenges arose from language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, or personal differences.

It was a journey of constant self-evaluation and learning, pushing me to develop a deeper understanding of myself and others; if I try hard enough, I can blend seamlessly!!

🧱 More bricks!

Living and working abroad, while professionally enriching, came with a profound emotional cost.

The physical distance from family meant navigating life's highs and lows largely alone, with loved ones often just “voices” over mails due to time zone differences.

The reality of this distance hit hardest during times of loss – the passing of my father, uncle, aunt, and grandmother, all experienced from afar, leaving a void that professional achievements could not fill.

This distance also meant sacrificing personal time and finances, using most of my vacation days and savings just to maintain a vital connection with my family.

🧱 These experiences further solidified my barriers.

Then, life really deeply and profoundly happened, and I was gifted the wonderful gift of my daughter. I had never felt love like this before!

Was my mom right about unconditional love born with a child from our womb?

So confusing!

As a single mother working abroad, I often found myself stretched thin, trying to uphold professional excellence while being the sole nurturer and provider for my daughter.

The absence of a familial support network intensified these challenges, leaving me feeling isolated and drained.

In a bid to create an image of family stability, I made a hasty decision to marry.

This decision, made under the weight of loneliness and responsibility, led me into a toxic relationship.

🖤🧱🧱🧱🧱 This dark period in my life saw the walls I had so carefully constructed come crashing down.

🥚 In the rubble of my shattered defenses, amidst financial devastation and personal turmoil, something remarkable was born – a dragon hatchling, a nascent embodiment of my yet-to-be-realized strength.

It was in this raw openness, in the wake of my collapsed walls, that I truly discovered my power.

🐉 Embracing my vulnerabilities, I nurtured the dragon hatchling within, transforming my perceived weaknesses into sources of strength.

I took so many, many leadership courses over a few years: how to Dare to Lead, how to Be a Leadership Coach, How to Stretch to Fit, and so on!

I was determined to stretch and grow and use this newly embraced vulnerability to make a difference in this world!!

After a year-long leadership course I took, I wrote this:

Water: My Journey into Leadership

-Sarah Gruneisen

I always thought I was courageous. I had many hard things happen in my life. One could even say I was born into tragedy. I overcame this. I learned early on to face my fears and not rely on anyone else. People throughout my life recognized me as "strong, resilient, courageous."

I believed I was courageous, and I embodied this resilience. I saw it as a core strength I had. I'm afraid of heights; I climb. I am scared to fail; I try. The definition of courage is being afraid and doing it anyway. I lived my life daily, embracing courage. Or did I? Was this boldness only a lie? Not a lie I tell you, as I believed it, but I lie I tell myself every day?

I didn't realize that the genuine fear devouring my every quark lay deeper. My true fear lies deep within a castle I built around my heart. I protect this castle with a towering stone wall, one you can only access via mote and a wild journey across barren lands. No one is allowed ever close to it. But also, I am not a guest in this castle.

Follow me. The barren lands have begun to blossom with life. It's time.

As we cross the mote, enter the gate, and approach the castle, it appears that what lies there is a fear I have trouble admitting. Please have patience with me. Hold my hand. Look ahead; my fear is in front of you.

I fear I will live a life without purpose. If I don't use each moment to improve this world, what meaning did my life have? I am terrified to die without having given something to this world. I stand here trembling. Let's sit down.

Born from this fear was my ever-dying need to absorb the lessons of the world—Master the skill to bring good into it. Be a servant to others. Inspire. Motivate. Stimulate. I got good at this.

But, look over there. That door. The one that leads down those dark and eery stairs. They lead to a dungeon within. If you walk down those stairs, you will find that within the darkest dungeon of my soul lies a well. A small yet swelling well. It's been left untapped for a lifetime. It will seep into the stone and mildew if I dare not draw from it. It will rot the stagnant air around it and spread like a disease. I do not want to risk losing the life blossoming so green now around my castle.

A terrifying truth lies there. But it's time.

I am ready to speak it out loud, even when this pain immensely hurts. I will speak it out loud. Now.

I fear. I fear deep within. This fear fills every pore in my being, yet I have never spoken it out loud. Now. I speak.

I fear I am a burden. I am a burden to you, your time, your space, your air. Although I developed a way to ensure you can be who you are. I am afraid to be who I am. I am terrified that I will be the water that evaporates.

So, where is my power? Yes, I empower. I bridge your creative ideas into yours and yours. I light fires in your souls. But, where is My Power?

From now on, I will also dare to exist. I will not devalue myself anymore when I seek to empower you. I see now for what I am.

I am.

I am.

I am water.”

🐲❤️‍🔥 This shift in perspective revolutionized my approach to leadership, fostering an environment of trust and empathy.

My team and mentees thrived, finding strength in their vulnerabilities under my guidance, mirroring the growth of my inner dragon.

Now, through Avagasso, I mentor aspiring leaders to not only walk in my empowered path but to surpass it.

With each lesson I impart, my dragon soars higher, embodying wisdom, resilience, and transformation.

My journey – from a vulnerable child in foster care to a formidable leader in engineering – symbolizes the transformative power of embracing one's true self and the courage to face life's challenges with authenticity and strength.

It's a story of a dragon once hidden behind walls, now soaring high, inspiring others to find and embrace their own inner dragons.

🔥 What’s your story? I want to know.

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