Today's Guest: Rosemary McKenzie Ferguson
Today, I interview Rosemary McKenzie Ferguson who is the Founder at Craig’s Table, a service for injured workers. She is also the Founder Injured Worker Well-Being Week May 31st-June 4th 2021, and a Women of the West Award recipient.
Rosemary is an overcomer! She struggled to find meaning in life, battling addiction and depression. She has found her confidence and realized that her purpose in life is to support others and share the same hope she herself has found.
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #3 Rosemary McKenzie-Ferguson
Digging Deep & Finding Meaning
Dr. Doreen Downing: Hi, I’m Doreen Downing and this is the Find Your Voice, Change Your life podcast series, where I get to interview people who have felt like they didn’t have a voice. And they went through an experience, sometimes really unpleasant, maybe it was no kind of support growing up, or maybe it was just the boss at work or, whatever the circumstances, it feels like the voice didn’t get to flourish. But we all have voices, don’t we? We all want to be heard. We all want to share our gifts We just have to be able to tap into the voice that’s already there. That’s the essence. Find your voice, change your life. And today, I’m really happy to introduce Rosemary McKenzie. And she is the founder– this is so exciting– the founder of something called Craig’s table, the world’s first training and community engagement for injured workers: no injured worker overlooked, no injured worker left behind. Isn’t that amazing? Just that whole concept of us being able to have a population of injured workers where there’s somebody like you, Rosemary, who’s a stand for it, who understands it– probably has been there herself. But the reason why this is also wonderful introducing you is that you’ve been a recipient of an award! So, I’m sure you’d like to share that with us– Women of the West award recipient. So, I want to hear about that. And you’ve also got a founder of this Injured Worker Wellbeing Week, which is going to be May 31. through June. Is it June? June 4? Yeah. June 4, 2021. So welcome, Rosemary.
Rosemary McKenzie: Thank you. Um, I’m always amazed when people read that out, because it’s like, I want to meet that person!
Dr. Doreen Downing: I get to meet her. Ha ha. That’s you!
Rosemary McKenzie: I’ll meet her after you do. It, because it’s, I guess it’s just doing what needs to be done. And then having other people look at it and go, “Wow, that’s great.” Or whatever it is that they say. They don’t always say “Wow, that’s great.” But it really is about just seeing the challenge, sitting with the challenge as long as needs be, and then working out how to overcome the challenge. And sometimes there’s no scaffolding to climb, there’s nothing– you really do have to start from ground zero and wing it, wish it, pray it, and believe in yourself because there are times when you’re doing something and you’re starting something that even your pet cat won’t believe in you because it is so bizarre what you what you’re attempting to do. And then before you know it other people are just going, “Oh, that’s actually working, and let’s investigate it” or “let’s find out more about it” or whatever it is that pulls them in.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Whoops, there was a little feedback. What would you say, though? You said nobody would believe you? And then what do you know, somehow you get to… What was the experience of not– let’s start there—like, not feeling like you had a voice, what was that?
Rosemary McKenzie: I became an injured worker in 1994. And I spent the first three years of that not knowing where I was, not knowing what was going on, not actually understanding the system, workers comp system. I fell into prescription addiction, and this is really quite a challenging part. But I attempted suicide three times in that period. I have no memory– no working memory– of the first two attempts. And what I call “smoke memories” of the third attempt. “Smoke memories” where it seems very, very real for a few seconds and then it’s gone again. So, I, the only real knowledge I have of the three attempts is what other people have told me and what I’ve, what I’ve read in my own medical files. And it’s terrifying to look at that and go “how close I was to not being here.” And how totally out of control I was just living from one day to the next, one set of tablets or medication to the next. And very quickly developing an opioid addiction that’s it’s happened so easily and happens by stealth. And before you know it, you’re not the person who you were. And coming out of that was no easy task. So, you really have to dig deep to find the meaning that’s left within your life to get there.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Yeah, what a what a beginning of a story around having lost your voice– actually, almost having lost your life. You don’t have a voice unless you have a life. But how to go underneath and find it once again, how did you do that?
Rosemary McKenzie: Um, it was actually quite by accident. Um, as most things– most of the good things in my life have been by a serendipitous accident. A person who loves me– I rarely talk about my family. So, I never I never mention their names. That’s a personal agreement that we have. But he said to me one morning, after he had got me out of bed, and cleaned me up, and set me up for the day. I don’t remember looking at him at all. But he said to me– and it was words that cut worse than any knife could ever cut– he said “You’ve got three hours before your next hit.” And so I didn’t quite understand what that meant, but I knew that it was hard. He was working night shift at the time. So, he went to bed. And I struggled for the rest of the day to, first of all, stand up, because standing up was quite difficult at that time. So, once I, once I actually stood up, got myself, you know, showered and dressed and everything, I gathered together all the medication that was in my house, including pethidine injections that were on the fridge door next to the eggs. Now, I’m sure my children while they were growing up thought it was quite normal for everybody to have pethidine injections. Um I actually had, at that stage, I was pretty close to learning how to inject myself rather than call the locum become an inject me. So, I gathered it all together in several large ice cream containers. I gathered all the repeat prescriptions. And I drove myself down to see my doctor. And I walked in, and I just put all this stuff on his desk. And he asked me what I wanted him to do with it. And I said, I didn’t care. I just didn’t– I knew I couldn’t have it. I couldn’t risk it being in my house anymore. So, we had a very long conversation, and he, he wouldn’t let me leave. He was actually at the point of hospitalizing me because he thought I was having a mental breakdown. But I was, as I said to him many times since, I was actually having a mental break out. Clarity had sort of hit me right between the eyes. He wouldn’t let me leave unless I took the repeat prescriptions back with me. So, I agreed to that. And, but I knew I accepted the weakness in my character enough to know that if I kept them, I would use them because the pain by then was really starting to get to me. So, I did what I thought at the time a very smart thing I just opened up wood fireplace that I had in my house and I just put the repeats in the fireplace and set fire to them. So, so I had no backup, other than I knew I could go back to my doctor and get whatever I needed. He couldn’t get me into a detox center. So, I quite literally went cold turkey. And I can tell you that there is no Hollywood movie, there’s no horror movie, there’s no anything that will cover the sheer grossness, terror, fear, anxiety, loneliness… What I put my family through for the next four to six weeks was a testimony to their love for me. Because they got me through it. And you know what, not one of them has ever said anything about that time. I think they knew that I wasn’t going to survive unless I got off the medication and unless they helped me through it I was definitely never going to come back. So, it’s a hard story and I try to keep it as brief as possible. But it’s important that other people know that this is not something that you mess with. And I would never, ever recommend to anybody going cold turkey because it really use hell on wheels.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Wow, to hear you reveal all the levels of the physical torture, as well as the emotional pain… but the bright message here around love, love that surrounded you. And there must have been something, you know, we talk about “find your voice” — there must have been something that you were listening to inside, there must have been a voice speaking to you.
Rosemary McKenzie: Yeah, I talked to– even though I’d lost my both my parents, my dad and I had a very strong connection. So, I’ve always been, I’m not a religious person, but I am of faith. So, my dad and I would read passages out of the family Bible. So really, when I when I needed something, one of my children would either read something that was marked in the family Bible for me, or I would just sit there and hold the Bible and I would talk to my dad because I was the youngest, his youngest child so, I probably was the son he wished he had but the daughter that he received, if that makes sense. So, I would talk to him and I would hear his wisdom and go “Yep, okay, I can do this. I can get through the next five minutes. I can get through the next”– sometimes it was as brief as, “I can get through the next 10 seconds. I can do this.” It’s odd, I remember at the time thinking– knowing that I was going to need a marker of some kind that needed to be able to grow with me. So, I planted a row of sunflower seeds and it was the wrong time of the year to be planting sunflower seeds. So, it was kind of like “if you grow, you grow; if you don’t, you don’t.” But this one particular sunflower just kept growing and I marveled at it and its tenacity to grow in the middle of winter. Because we’re just down here, or, where I was living at the time really was quite cold. So, sunflowers aren’t known for growing in the cold. So, whether I just put it in the right sheltered spot, or what, I don’t know. But I, but I realized, if it could make it, I could make it.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Oh, it’s so symbolic! What a metaphor and inspiration that you received from this one flower.
Rosemary McKenzie: You’re actually, you know, you and the audience, you are the first person I’ve ever told that to, because it’s—there are parts in my life that, you know, like I keep to myself, because I, I guess I’m like everybody else. I don’t want to appear to be overly vulnerable because it’s really doesn’t serve anybody.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Rosemary, your vulnerability, your vulnerability is your strength. That’s what I’m getting today from you is… and the way that you’re opening up and sharing and revealing very personal struggle that I think, can speak to so many people. Just you opening up and showing us where the struggle happened, but also, that there was a voice inside– it happened to be your father’s– who spoke to you. But I think that all of us who have had a struggle with finding our voice, we need to go way deep down so that we listen. Right? There’s some chord, but we have to, we have to go through all this stuff. And you had to give up a lot of stuff in order to surrender. So, the whole idea of that sunflower getting roots in the ground to get nourished, it feels like you went inside and got nourished by your dad’s voice.
Rosemary McKenzie: Oh, you know, you look for that, that thing, that hook that’s something that is very strong that’s going to– you can hold on to even in the darkest of nights, you can, you know it’s there. And you can put your faith in that. And you can go “Yep, I can, I can do this.” I think the challenge really was that I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t have… I didn’t have the understanding of really what was going on. So, I could tell people that it hurt, and you understand pain. But I couldn’t describe the horror, the fear, the vacuum of everything that was there. And, you know, sitting at the dinner table and looking at my children and knowing that I love them. And quite literally, I had walked through hell for them. But not be able to feel connected as connected as I knew I was. So, yeah, in some ways, I probably did have a breakdown, but it really was a break out. You have to turn around and go, “This does not suit me, does not fit me. It is not serving me. And if it’s not serving me then it is not serving my family.” So, you really do hit rock bottom. And it’s not a nice place to be. It doesn’t taste nice. It doesn’t smell nice. It doesn’t look nice. But you have to accept it as a place to start from. You grow from there. You don’t go from there. You grow from there.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Great. I’m having trouble with this sound so I’m going to unplug my microphone. There, that’s going to be much better. Wow. And so, well, you tapped into strength. And you, let’s say, you found your voice. And so now, so, having found your voice, what have you been able to do that you couldn’t do when you were stuck?
Rosemary McKenzie: Um, I had a chance meeting… I knew I was starting to get quite agoraphobic. I didn’t really, other than, I couldn’t go out in the front yard. I could go out the backyard and feel almost safe but I couldn’t go out the front yard, and I didn’t understand that at all, because I used to be on my children’s school councils and go to their sports days and all of that mum stuff. So, I knew I had to push myself to get back out into a community of some kind. So, I joined a poetry book writing type group for writer’s week here in in Australia. And I met a lady there who was also going through workers compensation, and her story was not quite as bad as mine, but it was it was bad in other ways. So, we decided that we would find out what this beast was that was challenging our lives. I’ve always been a book nerd, just give me a library and I’d quite happily live there. Hence, the image that’s behind me, that’s my stairway to heaven. So I quite literally just took on this challenge of trying to find out what workers compensation is, how it fits into a person’s life. Because it’s one thing to say that you have a workplace injury, but it’s certainly a different thing to understand the concepts behind it. So, I just started researching and trying to understand it, started writing letters to the various people who I thought should be able to tell me what it is. And it’s interesting there is, quite literally research, after research, after research of the system, from the system’s point of view. Nothing from injured worker’s point of view. So, the very reason that the system is in place, doesn’t get a look in. So, I said, I started writing letters, and I started pushing buttons, and I started phoning people. And I started sending faxes, because back then we had fax machines. I got noticed, not because I was doing anything out of the ordinary. But I was consistent. Because I really wanted to know what this, this thing is. Mind you, 27 odd years later, I’m still trying to work out what it is. But the system– I was living in Adelaide at the time, and the system actually invited me in to find out. They were thinking, as I’ve been told, the thinking was “if we tell her we will shut her up, she’ll go away.” They didn’t take into account the amount of Irish that’s in this body. Tenacity. And it’s not just that, it was, it was curiosity and a need, a need to understand and a need to help others. Because, by then, I understood that if I’m going through this, then others are also going through this. Yes. So, they invited me in. And the CEO in Adelaide at the time realized that I wasn’t going to go away. So, we had this deal. I would go in one week a month and I would learn a different department of the system for that week. By the end of the month, I had to better explain it to him. That actually allayed a lot of fear for me. But it also helped me understand that the injured worker community needs an advocate and needs a voice and needs a voice of cooperation rather than angry, constantly just harping saying, well, you got to do better, you’ve got to do better. You actually have to come up with a way of doing better. So, that requires a lot, of a lot of time to research it, to test it, to put your hypotheses into some sort of a framework and then jump off a cliff and try it. So I was like, okay, I believe this is what we’re going to do. I believe this will work and it’s quite literally as simple as gathering a group from the injured worker community together, giving them a framework to rebuild their own life, and tell them that that is their life. We are, nobody actually has the right to tell you how you will live, or what you can do. You know, we in the free world actually have so many choices. We’re not limited by anything. So, when you start to see that light, that spark coming back into their eyes and you know– the direction I’ve gone in is the right direction, not just for me, but it’s the right direction for countless others within the injured worker community. And it just, it just kept growing. And then you realize– by then I was actually, I had quite a few friends, colleagues within the industry. And one of them said to me, “well, you’ve got a– you’ve got something, you better actually frame it properly.” I’d met, through an International Congress that was held in Adelaide, I’d met several international people. So, I rang one of them. He’s he sadly, since passed away. I rang one of them. And I said to him, “this is what I’m thinking. This is the framework that I think I can put this in, but I can’t find it anywhere. And I’m never going to do an expert in accent.” And he just said to me, “Rosemary, if anybody’s going to write it, it will be you. Just write it. That “just write it” took me three years.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Right. The right way of finding your voice. So I think that that writing that three years, however long, it still came through whatever words…
Rosemary McKenzie: And then you then you do something strange, you realize that you’ve got black ink on white paper. And it looks pretty powerful, but it it’s just black ink on white paper. So, you actually have to name it. Which is where the name Craig’s comes in. As I rang a colleague in Melbourne, who had just lost his son. And I, you know, he knew exactly what I was doing. He’s part of the industry. So, he knew I was doing something. And I explained it to him over the phone. And I said to him, he said, “well, what do you want me to do?” And I said, “I want to name it Craig’s table.” Because it’s about inviting people in. It’s about sitting them down, wrapping them in whatever cotton wall they need, whatever steel wall they need, whatever framework they need, and just being “we can get through this together” and you do that at a table. You’re sitting somewhere, there’s always a table and then everything can be laid out there. I had met Craig just once. But he was that type of person who you fell in love with without realizing that you lost your heart to him. He was the most vibrant, beautiful young man he was when I met him, he walked into his parent’s house and he wrapped his himself around his mum in front of his total stranger and told his mum how much he loved her. And it was just one of those things that when I went, “yep, now I know why everybody says Craig is a magic person.” So when we lost him, I needed a way to honor him in a way that he would always be with us. So, Craig’s table came from him. He worked in hospitality as well so that kind of made sense. Craig was always the one who just said “put the kettle on, we’ll have a cup of tea,” all that kind of stuff. So, his parents said yes, that I could name my program after their son. So, that’s why it has nothing to do with worker’s compensation, it has everything to do with a young man that I fell in love with.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Right. And earlier, you mentioned being at a family table with your own children. So, I just think “table” has some significance for you. And gathering together.
Rosemary McKenzie: We are the same all over the world. You sit down with someone, you know, they’ll invite you for breakfast, or there’s always a breaking of bread somewhere. And once that bread is broken together, you have a connection that you can actually work with. So, I when I was in California at the end of 2015, I spent many, many happy hours just sitting at people’s table talking to them. I didn’t do any sightseeing. I went all the way over to the other side of the world and just talked to people.
Dr. Doreen Downing: So, that’s your, you talked about taking a leap and I had this vision of your voice having wings. And then you talk about flying over here. And using your voice to speak with people.
Rosemary McKenzie: It was, it was the most amazing 10 days of just being. Living a dream and waking up every morning pinching myself going “oh my god, I am in California.” And my host flew me over the California mountains, flew me to Catalina Island… It was just stuff that quite literally I never put into any kind of wishful thinking or bucket list. It just happened.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Well, this is just a wonderful story, inspiring story. You said that there was going to be a injured workers wellness week. Can you talk about that? And is there any kind of promotional website or something you want to give in case somebody’s listening and wants to join up?
Rosemary McKenzie: Okay, Injured Worker Wellbeing Week is quite literally– there is still very little information about for the injured worker community about where they can go for help… what questions they can ask… what is the difference between somebody telling them that your Uncle Bob had that same injury and he got millions of dollars in compensation, to… what is the reality of your really what really is going to happen? So, our group of us sat down. And we’ve been we’d been talking about trying to put something together before COVID hit. And we never actually found the space or the time to pull it all together. We all knew that something had to be—that there should be something, but we didn’t quite work out what it was. So, I am a scribbler. I’m the person who turns their bedroom mirror into a whiteboard because I wake up in the middle of the night and have to write something down. So rather than just having a little notepad alongside my bed, no– I’ve got whiteboard markers, because my bedroom mirror is the whiteboard, placed in the bedroom. And I woke up this particular night, and I just spent the next three or four hours just writing everything. It was kind of like this massive brain dump just arrived. And by the time I went to bed again, it was close to seven o’clock in the morning. Like that’s how I kind of realized I needed to get some sleep. I had written the framework for Injured Worker Wellbeing Week. Most people don’t know that the first of June is actually International Day of the Injured Worker, which is why it spans the end of May through the fourth of June. So, it really is about celebrating the amazing talent and the amazing achievements that so many of our community have done. There are Paralympians all over the world who started out just being an employment injured person, and then have gone on to represent their countries. And you know, they’ve got various color medals around the neck. But they would never have been there had they not been employment injured. And I find that totally amazing. So, it’s about celebrating them. But it’s also about giving people the information that they need to have. For instance, we have a chemist who’s going to explain how to take medication, what questions they should be asking their chemist… what it is that if you are taking a contraceptive pill, if you’re taking one of the pain medications, that may wipe out the contraceptive pill… you know, just things that people need to know but don’t think to ask or don’t think that they have the right to ask. So, it’s just a gathering really, of ideas. And it will be online and it will be on YouTube, on our YouTube channel. And it’ll be launched on Craig’s Table’s website. But the bigger idea, and as one person said– he knows that I plant an acorn and then I’m picking acorns off the oak tree a week later, because I really don’t have much patience for waiting– but the bigger idea is that next year, we will hold what we’re calling the Injured Worker Summit. And that is because the injured worker community, it doesn’t matter which country you are in, the injured worker community is the largest unrecognized community that that nation has. We have anywhere between 1 and 3 million injured workers in Australia. It’s a number that we really have no record of. They don’t have a voice. Nobody wants to know the social challenges or the life challenges that they go through. So, it’s time to have that conversation. And the only way to have it is to set that train in motion and go for it. So, I’ve already started to have the meetings with various people here to actually get that happening next year. And I’m not even sure yet that I can pull it off, but if I can pull it off, it will be the first time anywhere in the world that it will be a national conversation based on, really, what is the best way forward, not just for the injured worker community, but for the employers, and for the system itself… without politics, without egos, without any of the stuff that goes into that kind of thing. It would just simply be, “we can do better, we must do better.” There are highly talented, highly skilled people not at work today, simply because they have an employment injury. And nobody wants them. There was a thing on the on the radio news this morning, talking about skill shortages. And you know, I have access to as many skilled workers as you want, in whatever profession you want. And they are, quite literally, left to the side, because nobody thinks that these people can do anything. You know, I’m what is known as an incomplete paraplegic. And yet, you know, I’m not brain dead, I can still do a lot of things, my left hand doesn’t work as well as it used to pre-injury. I admit, I’ve never picked up one of my grandchildren when they were born, because, quite literally, I’m likely to drop them. But that does not mean that I can’t love them, care for them, have somebody pass them to me. I can hold them, I just can’t pick them up. So, when you’re when you’re talking about skill shortages, it’s about learning the workaround. Not saying “Well, you can’t do it that way. So, you’re not good.” If a teacher is in a wheelchair– and I know this because my one of my science teachers when I was at school, he was in a wheelchair. So, if you can, if you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean to say that you can’t teach. If anything, you actually teach better because you’re sitting at the same level as your students are. So, you’re always eye to eye with them. If you’re a master plumber, you can still train others to become a plumber, You can– we need to rethink the way we do things. We need to stop wasting the talent that’s there.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Well, in order to rethink it feels like it needed some attention to the problem, the situation. And that’s what you’ve done in a major sort of way. I’m so excited that by this, the International, the Worker, Injured Worker day, oh, my goodness, you know that you’re going to bring more awareness, you’re bringing more awareness to it. And this podcast is about finding your voice, changing your life. But what I just realized in listening to you that by finding your voice, not only have you changed your life, but you’re changing the lives of others, and that’s the power. It’s a ripple effect of what a voice can– what one voice, one voice can do for the world. So, how do they– where they go, to Craig’s Table dot com to find you find more…?
Rosemary McKenzie: It’s CRAIGSTABLE.NET.AU
Dr. Doreen Downing: Okay, say that one more time, because it’s different in our country.
Rosemary McKenzie: No, Yeah, I have a lot. We have a lot of followers from America. Its CRAIGSTABLE.NET.AU or they can look me up on LinkedIn. And, yeah, Craig’s Table will soon have its own site on LinkedIn. It’s– the amazing thing is you and I met, what, 10 days ago, something like that? So it’s easy enough to find me. If they find me, they find Craig’s table.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Great. All right, well, anything that you’d like to say to– any other words? It feels like you’ve really opened up a whole world that’s been attended to and now you’re bringing light to it.
Rosemary McKenzie: I kind of believe that—and as I started to say to you when we started recording– I really am an introvert, I much prefer to be stuck inside a book somewhere. But it’s about knowing that there is something that needs to be said. And, and quite literally, if the only person that you’re saying it to is yourself, then you’re not getting your message out. I started writing a weekly blog on LinkedIn, a weekly post on LinkedIn, because I got to the point where I had to scream at something. And I had to take the words out of my head and put them somewhere. So, it’s about just starting and committing to that start, even, you know… I write Monday muses, and there are times when I think I’ve, I’m not going to find anything to write. But I write it anyway. And I’ve never, quite literally, I have never missed a posting in, I think I’m up to about 360 Mondays now, something like that. So, it’s about starting and– find a group. I actually started learning to do public speaking by just joining a community college that taught public speaking. But join a group. Join your mother’s club, father’s club, whatever it is, just to start to hear what other people have got to say. And realize that the only reason you’re there is because you’ve also got something to say. You don’t have to agree with everybody. And sometimes the most amazing changes and outcomes come because somebody in a group said, “that’s not what I think. This is what I think.” Or, “if I was doing that this is how I would do it.” You really don’t need a big voice to change anything. You have to believe in yourself. One of my friends who I’ve met through this journey of mine said that she was forever running out of courage. So, I made her a courage meter. And every time that she felt that she was running out of courage, all she had to do was pop in a 20-cent coin into the courage meter and that courage meter would give her more courage to get through the day. That courage meter paid for her to go to Paris. She upped the ante by putting $5 notes in there instead of 20 cent pieces. She set the goal. And she realized the only way she was going to make it was to keep feeding her courage. So, she fed it and $5 $5 $5, and then she went to Paris. And one of the most amazing phone calls that I ever got in my entire life was when she rang me from the top of the Eiffel Tower and explained to me what she was looking at. That’s when she told me that it was the courage meter that actually got her to Paris. I just thought that she’d saved really hard to get there. So, it’s about, it really is about just finding that that step and taking it and getting up the next morning and taking the next step, taking the next step.
Dr. Doreen Downing: Wow, you’re a model. And thank you for, while sharing not only the difficult part of the journey, but also what’s come out of you finding strength and being willing to stand, do the research, take a stand for a community that not only you belong to, but one that you want to bring much more attention to. Thank you.
Rosemary McKenzie: Thank you.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: https://www.doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: https://www.doreen7steps.com.