Entrepreneur Helps Others Navigate Major Life Changes

By Virginia Bridges The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Becky Sansbury uses her life experiences to help others understand how to navigate through the fog that follows a major life disruption, such as the death of someone close, a cancer diagnosis or divorce.

Those disruptions impact peoples' decision-making abilities, concentration and focus, she said, just as a kick in the stomach causes you to lose your breath.

"Any time we are going through a disruptive change, the types of feelings that brings about in us has a similarity to the grief process," Sansbury said.

In 2006, Sansbury founded Real Life Communication, a Raleigh company that helps people and organizations make a healthy transition after these life changes.

The company's services range from speeches to one-on-one guidance. They center on what she calls a three-step "After the Shock" process that Sansbury created by drawing from her own experiences, including spending 14 years as a hospice chaplain.

Sansbury, 63, her company's sole employee, said the process helps her clients move "from reaction to resilience."

Conflicting expectations, grief and vulnerability often complicate the recovery process, and sometimes require a "safe stranger" to guide them through the change, she said.

"It just takes someone who understands those dynamics and can bring a bit of outside perspective to the situation," she said.

For 10 years, Sansbury worked as a minister of music and an associate pastor at a Baptist church in South Carolina.

After a divorce, Sansbury received a master's of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest in 1988.

After a year of clinical training, Sansbury was hired as chaplain for Hospice of Wake County. She held that position until 2003.

"I felt that I was just going to lose my edge a little bit," she said about leaving the chaplain role. "I was wearing out." Two months later, Sansbury's father had a stroke.

Sansbury served as her father's caregiver and helped her mother adjust after his death.

In 2006, Sansbury hired a business coach to help her open and develop her own business.

She started by offering communication workshops at Durham Tech and other organizations.

She connected with Avadon Group, a training organization assembled to help professionals and others displaced during the Great Recession.

Sansbury provided free training, which was paid for by a grant and administered by Wake Tech, from 2007 to 2010.

"What (my role) really focused on was picking yourself back up as a professional when you have been knocked down by suddenly being fired," she said.

In 2010, Sansbury sought help from professional organizations and leadership groups as she continued to refine and define her business model, and the next year she hired another business coach to help her improve the "After the Shock" process.

Sansbury tested the system in 2012 by speaking to dozens of groups for free.

"Just to get a feel for, 'Am I on the right track?' " she said.

Sansbury started charging fees last year and had her first keynote speech invitation from a national organization, Fisher House Foundation, which provides military families housing close to loved ones being treated for illness, disease or injury.

This year, Sansbury is writing a book on her hospice experiences and creating a handbook to accompany her workshops.

"So one is an inspirational book, and one is a more practical handbook," she said.

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