Thinking About Taking a Leap of Faith (in Yourself)? I Vote Yes.
By Sarah Villafranco, MD
Posted in Blog, on March 16, 2015
When life presents you with the opportunity to hear your mother’s last heartbeat, with your ear desperately pressed against her chest while your brand new baby is crying in the next room, time has a way of collapsing and expanding all at once. Or did it implode? I’m not sure, but it made me think long and hard about my life, how it might not be as long as I have indicated on my calendar, and what I wanted to do with the time I have here.
I’m a doctor. Countless sleepless nights and a degree from Georgetown University will prove it. I trained as an emergency physician in Washington DC, where I saw everything from stab wounds to anxiety attacks to babies born in the ambulance bay to foreign objects inserted in places beyond your grossest imagination. I had the best work stories at any dinner party - unless it was with my medical friends, and then it was like a contest to see who had seen the most heartbreaking or surreal or ridiculous or life-affirming cases. I finished my training and moved to Colorado with my husband and our then 2 year-old daughter. Until that point, I had lived within 10 miles of my parents for my entire life. No longer.
Mountain practice was different – like an orthopedic clinic, with an occasional trauma case and lots of high altitude sickness. I brushed up on my skills, and was soon putting dislocated shoulders back in place with ease. Things were swimming right along until my mom came to visit a few months later. We were hiking when she had a brief episode of stomach pain. It passed with a little Ujjayi breathing, and we didn’t think too much of it. A month later, back in DC, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
After 16 months of aggressive treatment, my stepfather finally made the call to say “I think you’d better come home”. I numbly got on a plane with my brother and my second daughter, who was 3 months old. We spent a week in their house, caring for my skinny, ravaged mom, telling her it was okay to let go. She slipped into a coma not long after we arrived, and died 8 days later, at age 64. She was my most precious, beautiful friend.
Back in Colorado, I returned to work, but something was different. Of course, everything is different when you lose someone you love. But there was something missing in the work – as if I couldn’t define my purpose there. I knew I was helping people, and that I was a good doctor. But, at the end of a shift, I just felt exhausted and empty. Looking back, I think it was a sense that I had not, despite 13 hours on my feet without peeing or eating, made the world more beautiful, safer, or much healthier. I was taking care of problems that had already happened – basically putting out fires. I saw so many patients with problems they could prevent by simply choosing their own health over the cigarettes or fast food or alcohol or whatever else was making them sick. After losing my mother, who lived an incredibly healthy life and died anyway, I started to resent patients who took their health for granted. And I didn’t want to become a resentful human. So I began to percolate.
About this time, I took a class making soap at a local ranch. I was immediately transfixed: chemistry plus beauty was an irresistible combination. I converted a windowless room in a dear friend’s house (fondly referred to as the “meth lab”) and worked for 2 years on formulations. I exploded things. I coated myself with every plant oil known to man. I taught myself about emulsions and surfactants and preservatives. I was obsessed. When I worked a shift in the ER, I counted the hours until I could get back to the lab. I knew something had to change. I just had to figure out how. And why.
You know how, when you fall in love, there’s no answer to the why part, and we don’t really ask because it’s LOVE? That’s how I felt about making these beautiful, natural products. (Still do.) I wanted to shout from the rooftops: “Hey everyone! Let’s stop using all these chemicals that make little girls get their periods too early and cause cancer and fish mutations and are changing the planet and the course of our evolution! And, let’s do it not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because there are SO many luxurious, incredibly healthy options, and I know how to make them!!!”
(By the way, here I am. Standing on the rooftop, still shouting.)
The process of justifying it all to myself was excruciating. I am a doctor! I worked hard to be a doctor, especially while making babies at the same time! My dad is a law professor, my mom was a lawyer, and I’m going to be a SOAPMAKER? I suffered silently for a long time, and thought endlessly about it from every angle. But I kept wondering what my mom would say, and I could hear it as clearly as I heard her little heart stop: “Honey, do what you love.” When I finally said it all out loud, my prince of a husband cocked his head at me with a slight, confused smile. And then he looked at my face and said “OH. You’re serious. Okay, let’s make a plan.”
So we did. And three years later, I am CEO of our budding little skincare company. We have five full time employees in a 3000 square foot facility where we make all our products. I use my medical background to help people with specific skin questions and to encourage healthy life choices. I open my personal life to our customers on our social media feeds, and if one person goes for a run or quits smoking or takes up yoga because of that, I have practiced medicine. If we can educate people about why certain chemicals are bad for the world, and one person switches over to greener products, I have practiced medicine. And if the level of 1,4-dioxane in our water supply goes down over the next 30 years and fewer aquatic species are affected because of my company and companies like it, I have practiced medicine. And, most importantly, I have practiced love.
What’s your passion? And what’s your plan?
With love and faith from us to you,
Sarah and the Osmia Crew.