Bumps, Bubble Gum, and Bravery

May 09, 2018
Jill Vitale-Aussem, The Eden Alternative

Our new President & CEO shares this touching reminder that together we are stronger.

I travel a lot for work. But no matter how many flights I’ve been on I still get a little squeamish, especially in small planes and especially in turbulence.  When I needed to visit a community by flying on a small plane over the Rocky Mountains – a route that’s known for turbulent conditions – I was terrified.

Just thinking about the trip made my hands sweat.

On the plane, I sat next to a little boy who was traveling alone.

“Is this your first airplane ride too?” The adorable little guy asked.  I told him I’d flown quite a bit.

“Well, it’s my first plane ride,” he continued.  “I’m going to see my dad.”

He started digging into the huge backpack at his feet.  It was stuffed with snacks and toys.  He handed me a piece of grape bubblegum.  “Mom says it will help your ears to not hurt,” he said.

As we took off, the turbulence started.  I tried to keep a smile on my face, but I think he sensed I was uncomfortable.  My fingernails digging into the armrests may have been a clue.

He leaned over to me.  “Mom says it’s just like a rollercoaster ride,” he said.

“Yep,” he added with a big grin on his face as we bumped through the sky, “Mom’s right!  It’s just like a rollercoaster ride – but with snacks!”

And something about that big smile and alternate view of my situation completely shifted my thinking.  What if instead of being terrified, I thought of turbulence as fun and exciting?

We started celebrating the bumps.  We had bubblegum blowing contests.  We ate snacks.  We laughed. It was the best flight I’ve ever had.

I think about that little boy a lot.  And how his wisdom applies to the work we do with The Eden Alternative.  Dr. Bill Thomas said recently that those of us working to change the culture in our organizations live in the place between what is and what should be.  That place of uncertainty – of knowing something needs to change but not having all of the answers – can be terrifying.

Many of us react to that change the way I reacted to turbulence.  We freeze.  We tense up, dig our heels and our fingernails in, and try to stay as still as possible, as if that will somehow stop the world around us from changing.

We’ve all been there.  If we want to drive change we must first change ourselves.  And that bubble-blowing, rollercoaster-loving kid has some pretty good tips for us:

  • Open up and connect to others. That little boy intentionally connected with me. He asked if it was my first plane ride, offered me a piece of gum, and shared his mom’s wisdom. We need each other, especially when embarking on new adventures.
  • Celebrate the ups and downs. Just like an airplane trip, change can be bumpy and uncomfortable. Instead of trying to fight it, expect turbulence and celebrate it as evidence of momentum.
  • Enjoy the ride. Changing an entire organization is a daunting and overwhelming prospect.  But it all starts with taking one step.  As Suellen Beatty, CEO of Sherbrooke Centre, the first organization in the world to achieve Eden Alternative Milestone 4 status, says, we must lay our paths as we walk them. As you move along that path, find things to celebrate.  Eat snacks, be silly, and don’t forget to laugh.

As the new President & CEO of The Eden Alternative, I look forward to taking this journey with all of you.

Introducing Jill Vitale-Aussem – click here to read a letter from Jill.

Click here to read the press release announcing Jill’s new role.

5 Comments. Leave new

This is such a great analogy! I look forward to the bumps and bubbles as we move to new heights, and support others to do the same!


I love the analogy as well. I really love the willingness to venture ahead even though the path is not completely laid yet. It takes the whole team to create the path to person-directed care and I have not yet met a leader who does not reinforce that idea. If just one person could do it, we’d all be there right now … I look forward to whatever bumps lay ahead for all of us as we continue to evolve this philosophy and bring more people on the journey with us.


Jill: Your Bumps, Bubblegum & Bravery (Best Flight I Ever Had) came at just the right time. I am president of a newly formed (just 18 months old) Residents’ Association in a 100+ year-old CCRC. I was about to give my first “State of the Association” address and badly needed some humor to talk about the turbulence of the beginning of our first ever resident driven association. I was able to carry the flying motif through the entirety of my address, tying together the concepts I wanted to convey. Both your story and my application were well received. You helped us understand the bumps and to accept them with grace and humor. I am, indeed, very grateful for your story. It was a generous gift to me. (Of course, I gave you credit!)
Jim Maust
Souderton Mennonite Homes
Residents’ Association

Jill Vitale-Aussem
June 14, 2018 9:57 am

Jim, I’m so glad that the story was helpful to you and that your association address went well!

Christian Christensen
August 22, 2018 3:45 am

What a lovely history of transformation – I love it. Al the best for your endeavors.
Christian Christensen, Denmark


Leave a Reply