An Interview with
Blind Curves Drive Her on the Road to Reinvention
By Donna Strong
Linda Crill knows both the risks and rewards of
reinventing herself professionally and personally. For more than twenty-five
years Linda worked with top executives in Fortune 100 corporations, first as a
VP at Citigroup, and then as a consultant with her own company, Opus
Development. Through her work she became an accomplished leader in
organizational development, team building and facilitating change management.
While Linda was well established in the
corporate sector, after the economic downturn of 2008, she sensed a need for
change. She and her husband Bill started their own video biography business
together — Fond Memories Studio. Just as the new enterprise was really
launching, Linda’s world was blindsided by the news that Bill had a very
advanced form of cancer. While he was given only four months to live, a lot of
love and ample alternative treatments allowed him to share another eleven
months with his devoted life partner.
Through the dark night of seeking a new life
after her husband Bill made his transition, she made a decision that was
totally out of character — to trek 2500 miles down the Pacific Northwest coast
on a Harley. Without any prior experience as a motorcyclist she was suddenly
propelled into a series of daunting challenges and exciting discoveries as she
entered the exotic new world of motorcycle riding.
Linda’s first book, Blind Curves, is full of wit and wisdom born of a stark reality of
loss and raw experience of stepping outside her known world in many ways. As
these times of rapid change are offering blind curves to many, her book is a
welcome contribution to the compelling and often demanding work of
transformation that has become a necessity. An intrepid explorer, Linda’s story
of finding new passion and purpose in her life is both inspiring and
Awareness: I wanted to ask you, Linda, what was
the spark that led you to sharing your motorcycle trip, which was quite
Linda Crill: Well, one of the big problems I
had after my husband’s death was how to answer the question of what to do when
nothing feels right — how do you move forward? My husband Bill and I had a
business together the last two years before he was diagnosed with cancer. We
did peoples’ life stories in videos and coffee table books. Just as this business
was taking off, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and told he had only four
months to live.
Awareness: Oh my.
Linda: We had one of those rare marriages that
many wish they had. We were able to keep him alive for eleven months, because
we did extraordinary things, including Chinese medicine and acupuncture, but
nobody recovers from it. I learned the difference between what I call healing
and curing a disease. You can heal a family. You can heal an individual, even
with a disease such as cancer. Although tremendous healing took place, we
couldn’t cure the cancer.
So Bill died. The next month our cat of
fourteen years died. My daughter had just gone off to college right before Bill
made his transition, so now there was no one at home but me. Then a woman in
New York that I had done business with died unexpectedly. My stepfather was
also in hospice and I was wishing I could spare mother the grief she would have
to face. The night before my stepfather died, I went to my neighbor that was
like a brother to me, and said, “Terry, I’m here because I need a hug and a
three-Kleenex cry, are you available?” He said “yes.” Terry died the next
morning of a heart attack. Literally, in two months I had four significant
deaths right after my husband died.
Awareness: That’s shocking.
Linda: It took a whole year to begin putting my
life back together. I was doing all the things experts tell you to do to pull
your life back together. I was eating, sleeping, and exercising, and not just a
little. I was doing 120 miles a week on a bicycle and three private one-on-one
Pilates classes. I was doing acupuncture every week and eating healthier than
ninety percent of the world, but every place I would go to see friends, they
wanted to give advice as a way to make my life better. They offered the only
thing they knew, and I would sometimes hear it as much as eight times in one
evening from different friends, “Linda, make sure you’re exercising, sleeping,
and eating right.” I wanted to say look at me, “Do I look like I’m not eating?”
but instead I always said, “thank you,” because they were really saying, “Here
is something I am offering you.”
Then finally one day it became like Chinese
water torture, and I couldn’t be nice anymore. It happened when my sister and
brother-in-law called me on the phone and he did the — I called it the eat-
sleep-and-exercise trilogy. When my
brother-in-law once again said the trilogy, I blew up at him. Not really at
him; I was just angry. It was the first time I actually said to somebody I am
doing all this and it doesn’t work.
And then I thought, what’s the most opposite
thing I can think of? If this isn’t working, I’m going to do the opposite
brainstorming exercise I do with my clients. First I came up with eating a huge
bag of potato chips straight through because I am from southeastern
Pennsylvania and we love our thick potato chips.
This shows you how non-creative I am, but the
only other thing I could come up with was to learn to ride a motorcycle because
I always thought motorcycles were loud and destroyed everybody’s peace, and
were unnecessarily dangerous.
So I announced that I was going to learn to
ride a motorcycle, even though I had no intention of ever doing it. Twelve
short hours later when I went to meet my friend, Ron, for lunch, he asked, “Linda,
how’s it going? Really, tell me the truth. I know on the outside you look
good.” It was true. It was my inner soul that was so unsatisfied, and I
couldn’t figure out what I was going to do next. What was I going to do as a
single person that would get me passionate about life again?
I responded to Ron, “I am defeated and
frustrated. I’ve over-achieved at following expert advice as well as the
choices I’ve made on how to rebuild my life, but none of it works. It’s so bad
I’ve even threatened to learn to ride a motorcycle.”
I expected this statement would elicit sympathy
but instead a big smile spread across Ron’s face. He said, “Linda, I have
organized annual motorcycle trips annually for the past ten years. In two
months we are flying to Vancouver, Canada, and riding Harleys down the coast.
“We need a woman rider and that’s you!”
Less than twelve hours after my brainstorm, the
universe had brought me the opportunity to do exactly what I had said stated —
I was going to learn to ride a motorcycle and go on this trip!
Awareness: That leads me to a question about
how your own inner guidance communicates with you? It is so important, and you
have many examples of tapping into it in your book.
Linda: I call it the internal guidance system
or IGS. It is going to be a chapter in my next book on reinventing yourself. We
get a lot of information given to us through our feelings and through our
bodies, such as when you go into a job site and immediately your body just
If we were to go inward and ask how do I feel
at this moment, there is a lot of internal guidance that comes through from
emotions and our physical bodies. It also comes from intellect. It’s an inner
knowingness if you allow it. I’ve known things in this world that I never
should have known and I believe if we tune in, we can know. I’ve always been
curious since the age of thirteen or fourteen about how this all really works
and I’ve always looked inward for answers. My psychologist father taught me to
go inward and look at emotions and thoughts.
Awareness: In your book you talk about how to
harness the urge to change, however it shows up, whether as a flashpoint of
anger or a spell of boredom. Would you speak about the process of reinventing
Linda: I think we’re all asking ‘what now?’ in
some part of our life, whether we’re just out of college, becoming a mother for
the first time or facing retirement. One of the things we have to be willing to
do is to expand beyond what we used to be and create more possibilities in
order to reinvent ourselves.
We can’t just say no, I don’t do those kinds of
things. For instance, my husband was not an athlete and I didn’t do very many
athletic things when I was married to him. Now that he is gone I’ve asked,
“What do I like to do? Who can I be now?” I have to try things I haven’t tried
before. So, part of the reinvention happens by opening doors labeled “not me”
and expanding our horizons.
Most people going through change would prefer
more of the same because failing can be more painful than continuing as is,
even if we stay in a situation that is not working. The blind curve piece of
the book was that I got to the point where more of the same was worse than
heading into the blind curve.
At least the blind curve gave me the
opportunity. I didn’t know what was around it. I didn’t know what I was going
to get out of the motorcycle trip, but at least I was trying something
different and there was a chance it might be better. If you take enough blind
curves one after the other — the next and the next — eventually you are
creating from a much bigger horizon.
Until you go out and try something new and go
around the first blind curve with that ‘oh my god’ feeling, you won’t know what
you really want. We have to be willing in this age to continuously try new
things. Of course, some of the new things that we try, we’ll say, “shoot, this
isn’t for me,” but a good part of reinventing is the willingness to erase some
old definitions and try new things. When you’re ready to go forward with your
life again, you’ve got to take some risks.
The motorcycle experience taught me that no one
should ever decide to learn to ride a motorcycle in thirty days and go on a
2,500 mile road trip on a full-sized Harley with fifty pounds of luggage,
trying to keep up with the experienced motorcyclists. After landing in
Vancouver, the first thing I did was to get on a strange motorcycle loaded with
luggage, and jump straight into traffic. That’s not very intelligent.
The point was, I was scared to death when I did
it, and yet I hung in there. Every day for the first eight or so days of the
trip there was something that scared me to death, such as the four-mile bridge
from Washington State into Oregon that has no sides.
On a motorcycle, you are exposed to the world
360 degrees. You see everything. You may not realize it, but in a car, you
don’t see a lot because of the windshield and the roof. On a motorcycle, you’re
seeing everything wide open. I am on this grated bridge, and my tires are
wobbling back and forth for four miles.
On top of that, there were crosswinds coming in
from the Pacific hitting us, and halfway across the bridge I am ready to give
up and say, “I can’t do this.” But what do you do? I mean, you’re on a
motorcycle halfway across the bridge and it’s just as far to go the rest of the
way across as it is to turn around, and you don’t dare panic because you’ll be
I can’t pull off to the side of the road; there
is no side of the road to pull off on. I had to make it across. The thing I
kept discovering on this trip was every time I was afraid of something and then
I did it and succeeded, the happiness that came to me was 100 times more
powerful than the 400 thread-count sheets or the massages I used to pamper
myself after all the loss.
At the beginning of my book I describe how I
felt when I finally passed my motorcycle exam, which I consider to be a miracle
on that full-sized motorcycle with as little practice as I’d had. The day I
finally did it was the happiest day in my life since my husband had died.
So part of what the Blind Curves trip showed me
is what happens when I take on something that is difficult. I failed at some of
it. I didn’t always succeed. I failed in that final test a number of times.
What I learned was that I wasn’t a quitter first of all, and secondly, I
learned I could handle my fears. I could take it moment-by-moment.
After my husband died, one of the things I did
was to pick up a book by Pema Chodron. Now I have read all of Pema Chodron’s
books at least eight times through. I’ve also picked up Jack Kornfield’s book, The Wise Heart. So you’ll find a lot of
mindfulness perspective in my book. I’ve always been curious and hungry to
understand how else we can look at life.
I’ve also learned that I’ve used spiritual
principles all of my life in the corporate work I do. Yet if I were to say to a
work group, this is a spiritual principle that I’m using, it would have scared
people off. I found if you just talk about how to approach issues in this
minute, just focusing right now — it’s amazing how responsive people are. In
the corporate world I never called it spiritual guidance. I never called it
intuition. I called it gut feel. Men in the corporate world will respond to gut
feel. So it’s always being re-interpreted.
Awareness: I want to say that you have achieved
some mastery in life experience. What are some of the greatest rewards for your
having gone through all the arduous, and I think, thrilling experience of
Linda: The reward for me is that every day, I
try to look at something differently than I did before, whether it’s to try a
new vegetable or to take a new way home. I have learned that I have all these
things in my basket that I can do someday if this job doesn’t work out. So to
me, the motorcycle trip really turned me into a life explorer.
The other thing I learned on the trip is there
is nothing so powerful as learning failure is a part of every process. Dropping
the motorcycle had actually saved my life. If I had not dropped the motorcycle
and failed the class, I never would have done all of that hard, slow practice I
needed so desperately to prepare for the trip.
If you study what all these great masters have
said about mindfulness, they have said that whatever has happened, act as if it
is what was supposed to happen. Later I realized, ‘oh my god,’ failing that
test actually saved my life! So I stopped judging day-by-day if this is good or
this is bad, and I act as if whatever happened is supposed to happen. If you
start living your life following that one principle, it changes everything.
Awareness: Yes. We would all stop
second-guessing so much.
Linda: People say that time heals all, but I
think perspective heals all. When we can see the larger picture things make
sense. My husband’s death did not make sense to me until much, much later when
I had a different perception of
who I had become and what had happened to him. Then I saw what happened as a
true miracle. Now you can’t say that to somebody in the first couple years
after death, or even four, or five. I can’t say it to most people because most
people wouldn’t get it.
Awareness: Yet you learned that there are gifts
even in what is the hardest to accept, correct?
Linda: Always. In fact, pain is what makes us
grow more. There is great resiliency that comes from facing ourselves, to be
able to say I know I can manage what’s being thrown at me because I’ve managed
before. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, and I went through
it as if it were the flu. I didn’t get angry. I didn’t get worried about
whether I would live or die, because I had already stood at hell’s gates —
watching my love dearly struggling for each breath, struggling in pain, while
wanting him to live and knowing he was not going to — that was much harder for
me than facing my own breast cancer.
In fact, I know now that I have the resiliency
to move forward in life. On the motorcycle trip I faced my fears and discovered
that I could finally trust myself again. I came back from that trip ready to
expand my horizons by trying some new things. Now I have a new life as a
speaker, writer and reinvention expert.
For more on Linda’s work,
visit www.lindacrill.com and www.blindcurves.com
Donna Strong is a writer,
creative catalyst and an ardent lover of bees. To follow her activities visit: