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Just Ask

Carol Lettko

I have had a fulfilling career as a speech and language pathologist for the past 40 plus years. As my husband climbed the corporate ladder and our family moved around the country to meet opportunities for him, I was always able to continue to follow my passion and find a job. From working on neurological rehab units with stroke patients, providing in-home therapy to pediatric patients, and building my own small private practice, my career has been one of feeling like I have made an impact in big and small ways on the lives of others, while at the same time feeling inspired by the families I’ve had the privilege of working with, side by side.

Carol Reading to a Girl at Work
Work-Related Reading to a Girl

For the past two decades I’ve worked with young children who were born deaf and whose parents decided to have their baby undergo surgery to receive a cochlear implant. The children usually came into my life at about 18 months of age, and it was my job to help them understand the meaning of sound, and attach meaning to the words, while at the same time coaching the families as to what they could do at home. It’s truly been an honor to do this work.

At the non-profit school where I worked, we used a total communication philosophy, which means pairing sign language with spoken words. For some children, as they began to understand what spoken words meant, I could drop the sign that was used as a bridge to work on their listening skills. For children with additional challenges, we created picture boards to assist them with communicating their wants and needs.

I loved my rewarding role there, as well as my additional part-time private practice. The added gift was my daughters were able to volunteer at the school while they were kids, learning sign language and becoming comfortable around children with varying disabilities.

Carol holding baby granddaughter, Kepi
Carol and Kepi

When my oldest daughter was expecting her first baby last year, I started to ask myself some big questions about what I wanted to focus on next. Being a mother to two daughters has been my biggest love, and to embark on being a grandmother was something I had only envisioned in my dreams.

Our first grandchild was born in the middle of the pandemic. Only one family member outside of the birth parents was allowed in the birthing center. The minute my son-in-law handed me our day-old granddaughter, that was it! I was in love, deep love, with this tiny perfect little girl and I knew my priorities had shifted.

I had taken a leave of absence in my early 60s for the fall months to help out with the baby and it was time to make up my mind about whether to return to my previous part-time position at the school. I knew in my heart I could not miss out on the life-changing opportunity of being a part of this baby’s life a few days each week. Still, the decision weighed on me. I’d been at the school for 20 plus years, it was my professional identity and it felt like a big shift.

I asked my younger daughter, who is a life coach, to help me with this decision. She asked me what my heart and intuition were telling me. Such a clarifying question.

Carol and husband, John, with granddaughter, Kepi
Carol and husband, John, with granddaughter, Kepi

I knew I could not return to doing in-person therapy anymore. My life was asking me to prioritize flexibility in my schedule to be where I was needed the most- helping out my daughter with the new baby. I asked our director to consider shifting me into a consultant role to provide monthly mentorship to the new therapist and write newsletters for the families. She agreed! With the support of the school, I created a new role for myself to keep my hand in my field while honoring what feels most important to me in this season of life.

In the end, asking for what I wanted was easier than I thought.

Another exciting opportunity came along this past summer. I was impressed and inspired by the founder of an international developmental toy company in which my husband and I are subscribers. Beautiful developmentally appropriate toys arrive every few months for our grandbaby. I reached out to the founder of the company to ask her if she might be interested in an online workshop I had created for new parents and caregivers. My millennial daughters loved that I reached out via Instagram. I couldn’t believe I got a response right away!

The next thing I knew, I was in a zoom interview for a role on their team of developmental experts. Competition was steep –– close to a thousand people had expressed interest in working for the company –– and as lovely as it was to meet them, I did not expect to hear back. My daughters and husband had a good feeling about it though. Sure enough, a few weeks later, I was hired to be an independent contractor on their company’s expert relations team.

What?! I was now working remotely for an international corporation for the first time at age 65? This was a plot twist.

Carol Hiking with dog Chloe
Carol hiking in the hills with Chloe

Saying “yes” to this role would mean stepping way outside of my comfort zone. I’d never worked for a big company before, and it comes with learning lots of new tools, processes, and platforms. My younger daughter advised me not to let the tech side of things dissuade me, and my older daughter, who is the CEO of a marketing agency, told me to feel empowered to be the expert. It’s easy to forget all that we bring to the table sometimes, especially when outside of our comfort zone.

In my new part-time role, I answer questions from parents who write in from around the world, brainstorm ideas with the team about products, and assist with resources for the disabilities team. I have remotely met an incredibly talented team of therapists, child psychologists, sleep experts and others. While it took me longer than a millennial to input my answers into their system and to learn the world of the Slack platform, little by little my confidence about the tech side of things has improved.

Two years ago, I thought I would have to give up my career if I left my job.

This experience has shown me the power of trusting in what I know is most important, asking for what I want, and stepping outside of my comfort zone. The best thing of all, is that I can do everything on my own time and keep my main focus on where it feels most important –– on my family and our granddaughter.

Caron's photo, Kayaker at Sunset, winning Honorable Mention Award
Kayaker at Sunset – Honorable Mention Award Photo

I am so grateful for this season of life. My professional cup is full, and my personal cup is overflowing. This season is filled with hiking the hills with friends, listening to podcasts while I drive through the Santa Cruz mountains to get to my granddaughter, leaning into my love of photography, going to my daughter’s yoga class, taking long walks with my husband and golden retriever, and spending quality time with friends. Most of all, it’s a season of deep gratitude for being healthy and alive, and evolving who I am and the work I choose to do.

Finding a balance has been so important. Sometimes all you have to do is listen to your heart and ask.

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The mother of two beautiful adult daughters, and a first time grandmother, Carol has found a way to stay connected to her passion as a speech and language therapist. When not playing with her granddaughter, Carol has re-created her role so that she can continue the impactful work she enjoys.

10 Responses

  1. What a beautiful transition! Win-win all around and for everyone. Would love to know the name of the toy company so I can subscribe for my own new granddaughter.

    1. Hi Lynn!
      Thank you for your lovely feed-back! To answer your question, the name of the developmental toy company is called Lovevery! I am honored to be on their expert relations team!

  2. What a beautiful story to share-
    Carol- it’s been a joy to work alongside you.. Helping parents navigate some of their most difficult days of loss and hopelessness to pride and confidence.
    You are a gift to all of us who know you!
    It’s always a joy to get a “refueling” of your positive energy and smiles!

    1. Thank YOU Jill for being such a huge role model to me. Your dream of opening a school for deaf and hard of hearing children is an on-going legacy that has changed families’ lives in incredibly impactful ways. I have been so honored to play a role in this incredible community of dedicated staff, all because of your vision.

  3. Well done my friend. It’s been such a pleasure watching you grow and blossom into, as you say, this season of your life. You are in inspiration.

    1. Thank you Sallie for helping me to grow and blossom. Your work as a meditation instructor is so powerful. Keep shining your light. I feel fortunate to be in your circle of friends.

  4. I think the photo of you smiling and Chloe on the hill with the background of the bay says it all.
    You have accomplished so much to help so many regarding hearing and so much more.
    Thank you for your support.

  5. The picture of you and Chloe with the bay in the background says it all.
    Thank you for helping so many young and not so young with hearing.
    It’s a pleasure to be around you and see your winsome smile.

  6. Love this article and this friend of mine! Carol, you’ve impacted so many lives both professionally and personally. I am proud to be your close friend!!

  7. Carol,
    I have tears reading this !
    I’m so happy for you and that beautiful grand baby of yours ! She’s one lucky little lady to have such an amazing, talented, smart, inspirational AND beautiful Grandmother to show her it gets done ! Way to go, Carol! So lucky and proud to call you a friend ! Xo

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