Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better, episode 43

Esskee Nance-Doucet

Tune in to YouTube to watch the whole interview!

A running theme on this podcast is the non-linear path to now. Whether for a change of heart or change of circumstance, the road people take often diverge multiple times from the one they set out upon. Sometimes, you have a few guardian angels to help lead the way. From teen mom to LPN to NP, Eskee Nance-Doucet has climbed mountainous terrain in order to smell the sweet, clean air of success. Read on for her story.

Esskee Nance-Doucet was one of my students from early in my career, graduating high school in 2000. She enjoyed her time taking modern dance in the studio; the expressive nature of dance resonated with her, especially hip hop. She took advantage of our dance club, but had some personal stuff that took her away from the studio (more on that below).

After graduating from Spring Valley High School, she attended college at St. John’s University. As life would have it, she transferred a few times and ended up pursuing the nursing field, starting at Rockland BOCES, then earned her Associate’s Degree in Nursing at RCC. She didn’t stop there; she continued her education and graduated with a Masters degree in Nursing from Dominican College. She is currently a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, providing care at Brooklyn’s New York University Medical Center in the Emergency department. Eskee proudly serves the underserved population in Brooklyn.

Everyone deserves care, no matter what your socio-economic status, your immigration status; that’s what our mantra is.

Who was Esskee?

Young Esskee was wide-eyed, ambitious, and hungry to engage in everything school had to offer. Her free-spirit led her along the path of being a young Renaissance woman.

I was super curious, I was always told ‘you’re so smart,’ I always did well in school and that was something I really focused on. Ran for class president, on Teen Leadership Rockland, cheerleader, basketball team. I really enjoyed school. Being at Spring Valley really prepared me for the world.

For all of the incredible opportunities Eskee sought and took advantage of in high school, she also faced quite a bit of adversity. At 16, while she was class president and taking AP classes, she was also pregnant with her first child. Thankfully, she had a great deal of support from her guidance counselors, who insisted that she was not going to be a statistic and that she would pull through the challenge ahead of her. They reminded her that she could make good decisions going forward, a message that Eskee needed to hear to bolster her self-confidence.

While she was disappointed not to walk with her senior class in June, she did finish her credits over that summer, graduated in August, and attended college that fall.

What dance meant to Esskee

One of the many reasons I continue to do this podcast is the ongoing discussions reflecting the importance of community and self-expression that is found in the dance studio. Years after students graduate, it is those reflections that remain embedded in their brains. Eskee danced throughout her pregnancy and she recalled a moment from class that stood out in her mind:

We were in the studio during modern dance class and I had my big old belly. We were in groups of three and we had to come together and you wanted us to make a statue of something that’s still. I took my two counterparts and I put them together and their hands were fused. I remember you stopped the class and you said, ‘wow, this is something special. What does this mean to you?’ and I’m like, ‘it means unity; we’re unified as one. We’re one people.’ I remember everyone clapping and I’m like, ‘this is why I love dance. This is who I am.’

In due time

As engaged and excited as Eskee was about all of the performing arts opportunities in her reach, she had to learn how to prioritize. She was very interested in participating in the spring musical for Thespians, but motherhood was fast approaching.

We were casting and I really wanted to do it, and you were like, ‘I want you to do it, but there are some priorities that you have to take care of first.’ I was so upset. I remember you saying ‘I’m not saying no, it just can’t be right now.’ I take that with me with anything that I’ve gone through in my life. We get bummed when we don’t get chosen or when we don’t get accepted, but it doesn’t mean no; it just means not right now, it’s not your time. Everything comes in time; I’m a believer in that.

Esskee, being the eager achiever in school, had a long list of things she wanted to achieve. Having a child at 16 meant that she had to learn to be patient, take care of the most important things first, and know that she would move forward on her list of goals in due time.

The winding road to success

Reflecting back on your high school self is tough, especially when the young person you once were is more than 20 years in the past. As the years fly and the layers of experience build, we tend to distance ourselves from our young selves. These conversations often strike a chord with my guests.

I asked Esskee what her adult self would tell her high school self now to help ease the way. She took a pause, and I could see the tears welling in her eyes.

You’re gonna make it. It’s hard.

What was the hardest part?

Believing in myself. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth; single parent home. There’s a whole world, and when you’re not exposed to it, you’re not aware of that other world, and you’re limited to Bethune Boulevard and Fred Hecht. Knowing that there are people who buy homes, have careers, and you’re privy to that, you just have to navigate it. I get upset when people say ‘they’re lazy.’ There’s not a laziness when you’re not aware or have a lack of knowledge or a lack of being exposed to things. I’m blessed in the fact that even though there were bumps in the road, I was exposed to things.

The things that many of us take for granted, because our parents modeled them and taught us how to make them happen for ourselves; many people do not have that exposure in their early development. Having a savings account, buying a car, owning a home: when your parent(s) can’t demonstrate that in real time, it’s hard to break out of the low-income, low achievement cycle. Esskee’s life was no longer her own; she was forever sharing herself with someone else who depended on her.

And, she was determined to break the cycle.

Guardian angels lead the way

At 19, Esskee was a single mom of two little ones.

When you don’t have the model for success at home, you have to look elsewhere to learn the right path to take. Fortunately, Eskee was blessed with a series of mentors and supporters along the way. They opened doors, provided encouragement and helped to teach her what she needed to know to have a successful future.

I put down a plan and someone showed me how to execute it and I promised myself that I wasn’t going to miss the mark. And I didn’t.

After having her daughter, she signed herself out of school and went to work at Costco to support herself and her children. There, she ran into one of her former teachers, who asked ‘you’re working here?’

I had such a bad feeling about myself.

That bad feeling was the culmination of her home life, a bad relationship, and the choices she made in that environment. Knowing that she had so much to give and so much potential for success, she knew she had to make a change. She got out of the relationship that didn’t serve her, moved out of her house and wanted to start thinking bigger. She just wasn’t sure how to do that. Yet.

She found a better job as a sales assistant for a car dealership, where she met Joe Segretti, the first guardian angel who took her under his wing. He was from a first-generation Italian immigrant family and he understood the struggle of figuring out how to be financially secure when you were starting at the bottom. He became her mentor and encouraged her to make a list of goals for herself (I call this the Segretti list); what did she really want to do with her life? What were her future goals?

She had never really thought much in terms of what she wanted to do with her life, because most of her decisions were immediate and based on necessity: what was best for her kids? Over time, he helped her to shift her thinking into more long-range plans and then taught her what she needed to know about the nuts and bolts of setting up her financial future. The Segretti list has stayed with her to this day.

Enter guardian angel #2, Liz White. After Sunday mass, Liz made an announcement that she was seeking minority individuals who wanted to go back to school to become nurses, free of charge. Esskee was interested. She filled out the application, took the test, got a perfect score, but was told there were no slots left for her that year, but there would be space for her next year because she did so well on the test. Devastated, she went back to the dealership. Her next step would have to wait.

Two weeks later, she got a call—there were a few open slots available. Though the program had already started, she enrolled and worked part-time while she completed her school work. She finished the LPN program in a year, but didn’t pass her boards the first time. This was when she acknowledged that this was “the Eskee way,” where success comes through adversity.

She took her boards again, passed, and got a job as an LPN where she worked for ten years. The first step to securing her future was complete.

While she was working as an LPN, she had a conversation with one of her nurse managers, who questioned why she didn’t have her RN (since she was running circles around everyone else). Esskee had a long list of reasons why she hadn’t pursued further schooling, but was inspired to go ahead and start the two year program.

Of course, she set off on yet another long and winding road. She started the program and stopped again, got married, had two more kids, moved in with her in-laws when her father-in-law had become ill, and started to wonder if her next goal on the Segretti list would ever happen. In a serious conversation with her new husband, he encouraged her to go full-steam ahead: it was now or never. With that support, she finished the two-year program in a year and a half. She got a job in the emergency department.

Who knew that was my calling?

One more angel crossed her path, a nurse practitioner named Patsy Kivlehan, who sat her down and told Esskee that she needed to become a Nurse Practitioner. Despite the usual excuses she’d always list for why she wasn’t working towards her long list of goals (kids, work, busy life, etc.), she filled out the application.

Two years later, I was a Nurse Practitioner.

Eskee at her NP graduation in 2022

The message that Esskee has had to learn is to get out of your own way. Through the years, she kept throwing obstacles and reasons why she shouldn’t move forward and pursue the goals she wanted for herself. It took some guardian angels to invite her to put the reasons and excuses aside and do the things she had always dreamed of doing. In the end, taking care of herself meant she could better take care of the family she loved so much.

Now, she has a career of her dreams, is at the top of her craft, and is showing her kids (both the olders and littles) how, despite the odds being stacked against you, you can dream big and carve your own path to achieve what you want. Just get out of your way, make a plan, and work to make it happen.

Becoming a master parent

As a young parent, Esskee had to move past the narcissistic and emotional tendencies inherent to adolescence and develop her critical thinking skills. This was a big shift for a 16-year-old.

I tried to weigh out my options instead of moving off of emotion. When you’re younger, you don’t necessarily know how to get your thought process out, make better decisions, ‘how is this going to affect me in the long haul.’ You’re a mom; everything that you do, you have someone who’s depending on you.

In her early life, Eskee had not one, but two young children by the time she was 19. In that space as a parent, she started to understand that she had to develop a well-thought out plan moving forward. All of her goals had to be weighed carefully to determine the impact on the ones who depended on her most.

While she was working as an RN, she fell in love, got married and completed her family with two more children. Once again, she was changing diapers and raising little ones, but this time she was older, wiser, had the support of a loving partner and a career she was proud of.

Now, the tides have turned and the community of moms around her look to Esskee for expert advice.

I’ve become a master parent, if you will. I have two sets of friends: friends with my “littles” and then a lot of my friends are a lot older than me because of my older children. My friends now come to me for everything; I’ve stepped into that big sister role for a lot of my friends because I’ve endured.

She’s proud of the job she did with her older kids. They have grown into accomplished young adults who are college-educated and have bright futures ahead of them. They have taken my advice, my guidance and we really grew up together. She looks at them now with a sense of awe of the people they have become, and they reflect that right back to her. At her daughter’s college senior night, Esskee told her daughter how much poise and class she had, how respectful and wise she was, and her daughter said, It’s because of you.

If that doesn’t say “job well done,” I don’t know what does.

Making lemonade

One of my favorite Esskee mantras is this:

Life gives you lemons; you either make lemonade or you walk around with a sour face because you don’t know what to do with them.

No matter what obstacles she faced, Esskee never lost the ability to dream. Even while raising two small children on her own at such a young age, she gave herself the mental space to think of what she wanted for herself, even if it had to manifest in the future.

No matter how hard it is, there’s always a glimmer of hope, of light, and I see that little light and I’m going to chase it. If you don’t chase your dreams, who will?

She still has the list of goals she made with her mentor Joe (the Segretti list), and she has been checking each one off as she moves through her life.

What is Esskee grappling with now?

Is this real? Am I supposed to be doing this?

After many years of working and grinding to get where she is, her professional career is really taking off. As I have discussed with many of my guests, imposter syndrome is very real in the minds of successful people.

You have to understand that ‘I am supposed to be here and I’m supposed to enjoy the fruits of my labor.’ Slowly but surely, I’m getting that confidence where I know that this is what I was meant to be. This is what I was supposed to do.

For the better part of 20 years, Esskee has been motivated to act out of necessity. When you spend so much of your life doing the work to get to the next step, proving yourself capable and worthy over and over again, and you finally reach an apex of that craggy mountain, you find yourself in a new space, breathing different air. In that space, a new question emerges:

Do I enjoy the achievement, or do I enjoy the climb of just trying to get there?

A new kind of decision is now before her: does she work to check off the last box on her Segretti list? Is it time to pursue one more educational step, the doctorate?

Before she can answer those questions, she must take into consideration the new air she is breathing. All of the certifications are done, she has walked in a cap and gown over and over again. She now has free time to dedicate to her family and developing her children’s activities and ambitions. There’s also space to further develop herself as a person; it’s time to give herself the permission to do so. Believe it or not, that is a scary space to inhabit.

Now, as an adult, what is it that I want to learn? What else is there that I wasn’t able to because I had to put to the side? Who am I? What is my artistic side? I love to paint, to dance, to move, to bike. Allowing myself to now use that free time to try to figure out what is it that I do enjoy?

More sage advice from Esskee

No matter what your circumstances are, no matter where you come from, we are in a great place where we can do anything. I am proof—when you put your mind to something, you can do anything.

Esskee has lived through the process of looking at the mountain, chipping away over time as she took each step. She learned that she had to methodically plan the smaller goals that led her to achieve to the bigger ones. She learned that time will pass, no matter what you choose to do, so choose wisely, even if it makes your life harder for a time.

With sacrifice comes reward.

Her mentors, the angels who came into her life at just the right time, gave her the gentle (or not-so-gentle) shove in the right direction. In their own way, they unlocked doors, taught her hows and whys, and allowed her to give herself the permission to choose herself.

When we have to put ourselves in a space of successfulness, be around people who are successful. You can’t want to be up when you are around people who are down, because being down is contagious. If someone is always pooh-pooing your dreams or your aspirations, they’re not for you and they’re not supposed to be around you. The worst thing is running in place when people are running past you. I didn’t want that. I come from a space where a lot of people run in place.

Perhaps the universal lesson she learned from her experience so far is that her children, who could have been considered her greatest obstacles, were actually her greatest assets. They taught her that she could become the woman she is now.

Esskee’s self-care strategies

  • Giving myself grace in the morning before I talk to anyone, I take that hour where it’s quiet and reflect, say my prayers, I give grace and thankfulness for ‘who, but me?’ that I’ve been given such opportunities.
  • Carving out the time to exercise and practice healthy habits, both for herself and to model for her children is very important for Esskee.
  • Professionally speaking, as she grapples with whether or not to move forward with a doctorate degree, she continues to adjust her five-year plan. Now that her life has leveled-out, those decisions are now a choice, rather than a necessity. It’s a really great place to be.

There’s so much more that we talked about, like raising adolescents (yikes!). Tune in on YouTube to watch our entire interview.

3 thoughts on “Changed for the Better, episode 43

  1. Wow! What an amazing biography of my neice ! Words cannot begin to describe how proud I am to be her aunt, and to still yet witness her continued accomplishments! Keep reaching for everything your heart desires my love, because there is no limits as long as God is right there beside you!

    Liked by 1 person

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