Dance Away Sadness

Birgitte Tan, Grief Recovery Specialist, Joyful Riches Beyond Grief

listen to apple podcastslisten to spotify podcastslisten on amazon podcastslisten on google podcastsWatch on YouTube

Dr. Birgitte Tan, DVM is a Veterinary oncologist and a Grief Recovery Specialist.  After years of seeing the impact of grief on her oncology clients, and having been through a multitude of grief herself, Dr. Birgitte Tan understands how grief affected our daily life and the importance of being able to recover fully from grief.

She has turned her heartbreak and failures into the timeless treasure of being able to create a truly joyful fulfilling life for herself and even better still, helping many people do the same but with more ease and grace, and efficiency, through the system, she has created for you.

As a certified Life Mastery(TM) Consultant with the Life Mastery Institute ®: The Premiere Training Center for Transformational Coaching, Dr. Birgitte Tan can help you create a life that you love living. Dr. Tan is also Grief Recovery Specialist with the Grief Recovery Institute ®.

She has successfully helped more than 25,000 people move through and beyond grief. Dr. Birgitte Tan joins us today to share her journey of moving from life as a veterinary oncologist to a grief recovery specialist. She shares how to have the confidence to step outside your comfort zone and become the entrepreneur you were meant to be. 

Tan also explains the importance of dealing with grief, finding the support you need, and moving on to find your joy.  

Talking Points:

{01:33} What is grief, and what is a grief specialist?

{03:33} The journey that led Birgitte Tan into entrepreneurship.

{06:36} Finding the confidence to step outside your comfort zone.

{11:18} The role of an intrapreneur

{12:10} The fear behind starting out as an entrepreneur.

{16:05} The phases of grief

{21:30} The importance of support 

{30:40} Takotsubo cardiomyopathy

Welcome to the Talent Empowerment Podcast, My Friends, where we share the stories of glorious humans so you can lift your organizations, your teams, and your community. I am your humble host Tom Finn, and on the show today we have a very special person. She's a grief specialist for individuals and businesses. She has transformed herself into an entrepreneur that helps others. Her name is Doctor Birgitte Tan, and she Is on the line with us today, Doctor Tan.

Thank you so much, Tom. It's an honor and a delight to be with you here today.

Well, thank you for being with us, you've got a great story and I can't wait to get to it if you haven't had a chance to meet Doctor Tan, let me just introduce you to her.

She has successfully helped more than 25,000 people move through and beyond grief. And she's done that in a way where she relates well based on her experience and you might ask why. Well, she's a certified grief specialist. She's a speaker, she's an author, and she's a former veterinarian oncologist. Let me say that again. A former veterinarian oncologist.

Now Doctor Tan will provide you with effective evidence-based tools that will help you feel better immediately and recover from your heartbreak. Even when understanding and insight and potential mindset coaching have failed you, she's got a real gift.

And before we get into her background and her training and all the amazing things she's done, I've just got to start with what's grief. What, do we define that as, and what's a grief specialist?

Thank you so much, Tom. Many people think grief is only the big 4, death, divorce, dire diagnoses, and job loss, but the true definition of grief is the unsettling feelings caused by any change, loss, or hope met. Let me ask you, do you know anyone in your life who has not experienced any change in the last two or three years?  

Yeah, I think we all have, right? We've all experienced a tremendous amount of change in the last two or? Three years, some of its self-imposed. Some of it, you know, globally imposed, so to speak.

And even self-imposed, so to say change if it costs enough unsettling feeling not all change can cause grief, just like not everything that happens in life will make us stress, but many changes can cause us to have grief, even if it is something seemingly self imposes like a good thing. Getting a promotion or moving to a dream home or getting married.

And let's answer your second question. What is the grief specialist? So, grief specialists, we focus on, grief, and in general, we help people move through and beyond their grief using simple grief classes. Not as securely, not the same as counseling.

Well, well said. Yeah, counseling is a different modality and very much different capabilities, but also different laws and rules at the state level, certainly here in the United States, that warrant a different set of parameters.

And so how do we get here, though, help us understand. Where did this entrepreneurship come from, you started in veterinary science and as an oncologist in this space, which is super unique, just to begin with. And then you've moved into being this profound book writer and entrepreneur. Where did this all start?

Thank you so much. It started when I was about five years old back in the day, so I've experienced grief since I was about 5.  I grew up in an entrepreneur family, and as all good parents say, you know what the best thing for you to do, particularly if you're in a traditional, Asian family, they said the best thing for you to do is to either become a doctor, an engineer, or a writer.

Yeah, well, I'm not a fan of math or physics. I'm not a fan of laws. And all this thing. I can't remember them, and I love animals and so I said wow. And then I got to become a doctor. Therefore, I become a veterinarian because a doctor for animals, and in there I think because of my life experience experiencing grief since I was the age of five. I was able to relate to people’s emotions much more than many of my colleagues and that might have drawn me to the first seven, here I did emergency, and then from there, the way the science and everything I was drawn to do oncology.

But all along the number one thing that I did alongside. As well as in addition to being a Doctor, somehow, someway. Was to help people with emotions and grief and navigate the challenge, whether it's acute or it's chronic which is or more chronic, so to say protracted in the oncology realm, and at some point, with the pandemic, I decided that It's my calling to be able to help people in the hospital and do the grief part. Full time as well as expand to the workplace. I used to work with most individuals.

Yes, so this Is interesting for our entrepreneur friends out there because you've gone from a very specialized business, which is veterinary science, and you've moved into entrepreneurship in, really a meaningful way that touches you; and things that you think you can give to the world. It's your gift.

And when I hear somebody say, my gosh, I've been doing this since I was five, but my parents told me to go into veterinary science, right? I had to be a doctor because that's the way it was in our family and then years later you decide to turn it around and do that one thing that has driven you since you were five, it just warms my heart because there are so many people holding back that haven't taken that leap of faith.

Where did you find the confidence to do this?

So, a few things to for the confidence. First is to know that you are to be qualified. I mean there is one of my mentors I'm also trained in success coaching one of my mentors is a well-known dream builder or vision builder. You can be a dreamer. When you just say I want to do this. And then you just… You know, jump off the cliff, so to say that might not be the most ideal thing, but on the other hand, you say this is what I what's calling me and then take the step by step by step.

I am certified through three different institutions. That is, I'm not a therapist, but I'm certified through three different institutions to help people with grief in an awe and compassing manner, I and I'm trained by the 4th one. Get the qualifications, get what is it that you need and then start working toward that. With me, I have been helping people individually and then later on actually in the workplace as I was still surfing as a doctor. So, build your pet there.

And then at some point, you do need to be able to say, OK, you know what? I have built enough pets but You cannot get into the next door if you keep holding on to the last one. But as if you. Set yourself up that way.

Then it's a little bit easier and there is another part that we know that many people say is it's a study that shows with many elderly who say who was at the last days of their life and in that study they after elderly ends and they said. So, what are your regrets most? And people regret things that they do, they regret things that did not do so. If you set your path, then allow support, allow mentoring. I have had support all along. I have support.

Now I have mentors in terms of whatever you're transitioning in your life. If you are, if you're transitioning to become an entrepreneur. Allow the correct support, just like with grief, you want to allow the correct support. Otherwise, you might span around in a way that you don't want to allow the correct support all along.

Yeah, I love it. I love the way you frame that because of the courage that it takes to go from a very specific discipline, in your case veterinary oncology, and build the training path, build the skills, go, and get the certifications, take the time and energy in your nonworking hours to build up the new version of you. Takes a lot of courage. But when, when you break away from the old and create this new version of yourself, it feels amazing, right?

And it is. And one other thing I would say for people who are in the workplace and they're like, I'm not sure being an entrepreneur here. So, because sometimes I grew up in an entrepreneur family, but sometimes some of us don't, you know, right where you are. Right where you are. This is one thing I also do success coaching. So in other words, with my grief, I help people with grief. But many people who have been through grief say what's next, and I do help people with that.

So, one thing we help you to do is recognize what is right, where you are, and what can you do. And even being an A-Team member working in a workplace, being an employee, you can become an intrapreneur. Right where you are. What can you do? And this will be a win-win way instead of detracting which is one thing I did I work for a company I didn't own my hospital. I work for large corporations actually who owned the hospital. But, Be an intrapreneur right where you are in a win-win manner, so it will be a win for you where you are more productive. You start seeing ways to do things, but it will also be a great win for your Co.

And for those that don't know what an entrepreneur is, an intrapreneur is somebody who works in an organization and has the funding to start a new project, start a new product, to develop a new service within the walls of the organization within the funding to do it with real, not a whole lot of expectation of massive revenue gain right away.

So, an intrapreneur gives you the flexibility to test your entrepreneurial skills with a bit of safety. And it gives you the ability to transition your organization from a company that may be a little bit stagnant perhaps or doing things. The as like say, the way we've always done it and move into sort of a modern way of doing things and it's those entrepreneurs that are going to take us there.

So now you’re thinking about it. You know grief and you're taking on this new role in life. How did you start to build your first set of clients? Because that's a scary thing for an entrepreneur. You're leaving an income, you're leaving what we consider to be safe, in the corporate world. And now you're going… Well, I'm trained, but can I make any money at this?

Right, so a few things.

The first thing is… And the basic bottom line of everything is to get out of your comfort zone. Get out of your comfort zone like nobody's business. Ask yourself, what is it that you can do that other people are not doing mostly? And at the same time do what's the proven Part 2 but people, we all have unique. We all have uniqueness and so you want to rely on that, and you also need to be willing to do what's uncomfortable.

I know many people who say I'm not comfortable being on video. I know I'm it'll be good for me to be on social media and video. I'm not comfortable. Well, let me tell you, Tom. We did not touch this one in the previous conversation. I was diagnosed or labeled as a severe introvert in the personality test where you have one to 10. I was about 11 out of 10 on the introverted part of being. And so never mind speaking on camera. If back in the day or in my early life, you come and speak to me, I wouldn't even look at you. Because I was that shy.

So, ask yourself and again allow yourself support because a lot of time when you were in the picture, particularly if you know the first month, you're like, oh, I was hoping to get 5 clients I only got one. You can start to panic, so allow yourself support from somebody who has been doing that, somebody who has walked the path. And say it all right, honey, you can only see this, but it's this way and this way and this way, and this way.

One of my clients right now is transitioning. And she's like I can. So, I got to do this, and she starts thinking about 15 different things each of which will take 15 hours a week. I'm like, you're not going to do this, look. She goes to yoga all the time and then, and every day she goes to yoga, she loves yoga and said, what if you just come, (she wants to become a coach) What if you come about 15 minutes early and stay about 10 minutes late for yoga every day? There are plenty of women who will benefit from her service. And start getting to know people. Sure enough, within the first month, she brought to her and serve in a win, win manner two women. It's that simple. It's like you're already going to yoga. Take your shower in yoga before and after. That's all it is.

Meet people where you're already going to develop your first network of clients and start to build human relationships with them, where they see you as a valued and trusted advisor. That’s business 101. When we start to think about how we build a customer base.

And it’s interesting that you said that because there are so many people with specific industry skills that are not sure how to do this. Very basic or straightforward. Quite frankly, the first, step is acquiring clients.

So, you've got it down and now you're helping. You're helping with grief. And I want to unpack the word grief a little bit. So I've been through a whole host of levels of grief in my life. Save that for another show.

But that's why I'm so intrigued. Here is because I have some personal experience with it, so help me understand the phases of grief, how it works, and how we can fix this because it feels like sometimes, I carry a lot of burdens and a lot of weight on my shoulders, and I think others do as well.  

So, a couple of things with your questions. Thank you for the question.

The first thing I want to say we don't need to fix anyone who is grieving. And we do want to help you if you choose to, to recover from it. But a lot of time, the word fix when to start with, when something happened in life, something happened in your life for many people, when things go wrong, they feel that there's something wrong with them. And then the way people say it, makes them feel that there's something wrong even more with them than there is that they need to be fixed. There is nothing wrong with you personally. You experience grief. My heart goes out to you and if you choose to, there is there are ways to recover from it efficiently in an evidence-based based prompt manner. So how do we do that?

There are multiple different venues to do that. Some counselors and therapists are trained specifically in grief, so you might go that route. Some people discover that unless the counselor is trained specifically in grief that they've been through counseling, and it still doesn't help them. Indeed, 100% of my suicide watch clients are in counseling.

And the difference between that is counseling as well as a lot of mindset coaching addresses our mind to help us understand and have insight. Grief has very little to do with the mind, and most and practically everything to do with the heart.

And so one way to do that, is there are multiple different ways. One way that we do that with the grief specialists, including myself, we simply to teach you to apply. Plus, you learn the tool that you can use again and again, and that's the difference with counseling you go and talk it out. But something happened. You got to come back now.

There is absolutely a place for counseling. I love counseling. But what we with great knowing that life is life, Tom, something happened in the past, something happens now, and something will happen in the future, whatever it is. And so we systematically give you tools and skills, through multiple evidence-based studies of all the institutions that I am licensed with to help you move through it in a step-by-step manner such that you can relieve the grief and recover from heartache with me. It's a six-week class.  

A 6 weak class so somebody can work with you for six weeks in a class and go from some real pain. Whether it is loss of life, loss of a job may, maybe a diagnosis, those types of things that ail us or something as maybe more surface level or simpler than some of those big heavy ones?  

Well, a lot of time it is something that it's whatever causing you grief and could be the loss of something that you love. It could be a change that you feel you need to adapt to, so anything that causes you any of the 40 different causes of grief can. That is something sometimes some people say, you know, as I grew up and something that I used to believe, the loss of belief is part of grief. I used to believe in this. My family used to do this with me and now I just start feeling the loss.

People who are going through retirement actually, because that's for some people become a little bit of a loss of Identity. If you are a banker for 45 years of your life now, you're not. It's a change and a loss of identity to a degree. Even people who? Those who get married must move and change their name. That can be a cause of loss that for some people what are you talking about? You're getting married to your dream partner, but if it's changed, and any of those can come, then we can work systematically.

It's a 6 module. Some people completed it, and many people completed it in six weeks. Some people said I need a couple of weeks extra. Everything is tailored to you as well, in a way that feels good to you and your heart.

The listeners of this show are typically CEOs, entrepreneurs, founders, and those in leadership roles that are managing teams and intrapreneurs. These are very successful people that listen to the Talent Empowerment podcast. And what I wonder is…

When do they stop pushing through on their own and know it's OK and it's time to raise their hand and say I need support? That's a really important point. Because successful people tend to say I've got this. And there's got to be a point where we say I'm a little bit over my skis here. I could use some help and how, how do you help people find that point where it's OK to say I need an additional service here?

So, thank you for that question. I love that. So, I would say two things about that.

The first is… How much loss? You're talking about leaders. You're talking about people who are in a productive mode. How much loss of productivity do you want? While you are continuing to push trying to be strong on your own, why? Because grief causes loss of productivity in most ways than we could imagine.

In addition to that, grief is also invisible. But we've been shown using instruments as it afflicted. Everyone around us, even those across the room. So how much loss of productivity and how much affliction to your team member and your family and your loved ones do you while you are going through this?

Grief causes us to be confused, forgetful, irritable, and overwhelmed. If you take it to the workplace. You're confused and forgetful. You're not going to be performing at your optimal level. This is why grief costs the workplace 113 billion $113.7 billion every year in the United States alone, and this is in a 2017 study. So, this is before the pandemic, and we don't have this number now. And when I said “we” mean the grief Recovery Institute, but we estimated its two to three times there.

So, the first question would be how much loss to your team yourself to your company do you want to continue before you raise your hand and say OK, help me?

And then the second thing is there is a difference between being strong and being smart. I would say the successful one might keep pushing, but it is actually Tom any of my clients are very highly successful people, and the successful one, the true successful one, the one that's on top of the chain. They realize very quickly if things are not right and reach out just like that as fast as they possibly can. Many of my clients are highly successful business owners, highly successful leaders as well as highly successful attorneys and doctors.

And you see that the one that's like, OK, you know what they see this? This is not an expense. This is an investment. And highly successful people now invest in themselves as well as to invest in their results such that they don't keep losing and bleeding productivity, which at the end of the day we're losing and bleeding money, and let's get this taken care of. I mean if you have a pipe that breaks in your house. Are you going to say I'm going to try to keep fixing this here? I'm going to try to keep fixing this or you say, OK, you know what? And then, letting it continue leaking in a dramatic way and causing rot in the house constructions, let's fix this right now. Some people do way. But the highly successful and wise one actually allows help. So, I usually say don't be strong, be smart.  

Wow, that was a lot to take in. I feel like there were so many key points there that are so important for people. The idea of being doesn’t be strong. Being smart is a really important one for leaders because we tend to just push through. I mean, that's why we're good. And that's why you've climbed the ladder or built the business or become a founder, right? Or you're an entrepreneur or you're in deep management somewhere and you're running great teams. It's because you have that intestinal fortitude.

And what I tend to say is that at times, our weaknesses are just our strengths that have been overlooked. Right. So if you think about that, our strengths get us there, but if we overcook them, they become our weaknesses. And I think you're saying the same thing. If you just look at this from a different angle and say of course you're successful, of course, you're doing a great job, but you've got to make sure that you're smart along the way and you take care of yourself. Otherwise, we have diminishing returns on our brain, right, and we've got to keep it, but up.

You take care of yourself. You, you are smart. We're not saying and… And, we don't even say it as a weakness is sometimes things happen. And I say I put the analogy of wear wearing a crutch. If you break your leg, would you keep running on that, or would you allow a crutch and the beautiful things working with me and many of the grief specialists, but it the way that I -- include in my book -- that you can see there seeking peace.

I very much believe in creating something even better, so creating advantages to all from adversity, creating all profit from pain and so. You will also afflict clients who have worked with me says you know. Yes, it helped me heal from my heartbreak, but it's also helped me improve my relationship with everybody else. And it's improved my productivity because I will learn tools and skills. In there that will allow you to communicate better. That will allow you to relate with others better. If you are for leaders, those are key things to be able to communicate and relate better. To be able to increase productivity even when you're not feeling good, you can still be on optimal level. Not so you can be pushing. But sometimes there are just times you got to do that with an attorney for instance, there are times they're like, oh, God, this is what have you. I got to go to court. So, we teach you tools such that I got to or you got to go into a board meeting. We teach you tools to be able to do that.

Yeah, that's wonderful. So, share with us. The impetus for writing the book. I mean, where did this come from? Is it something you always wanted to do tell us a little bit about the book?  

Thank you. So with the book, it is something I feel called to do book it's called Seeking Peace, the Proven 5 Finger Method to Drive Through Change Effortlessly something I have I wanted to do or I feel called to do, and then as we know Tom, in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown and all this thing happened and that's I was the final push of me that's been sitting on this book. And say you know what, you got to get it out like now.

And so, the book was published at the end of May 2020, actually, really to help people to navigate through changes and adversities in the book, it's I share what I call the five-fingers method. Using your fingers right here in a very simple straightforward, easy remember. That's why it's the five fingers you have your fingers as the reminders right here. You can also use your two toes to go in a systematic and step-by-step way, but not rigid. There's a systematic and rigid this of the five key tools, you can pick any of them, on any day that suits your need of the days. And so that's the book basically is all about how to help people with more ease and confidence, move through challenges and adversity.

Well, it sounds like a fabulous book, and we'll put that in the show notes for folks and as if folks are dealing with grief and support, we’ve talked a lot about the mindset here.

Anything that happens to the physical body?

Yes, absolutely. Grief impacted us in such a way that most people can think of. And talking about the physical body in there is a very well-known term, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. This was even one of a cat talk in I believe, 2019. But what happened is grief. When you are experiencing grief. It is basically equivalent to massive stress to your body, and it causes significant inflammatory reactions and changes in your chemicals and biochemical thing. So much so that in takotsubo cardiomyopathy, it's basically where you. You know where our hearts in general human hearts all hearts look a little bit like the valentine’s heart. And when somebody is being impacted by grief. The heart changes and the heart starts looking like a money bank. So, in other words, instead of Valentine’s heart like that, it looks like a vessel. A white bottom.

And as you know I have a funny sense of humor. And so, I say, I guess it's like trying to tell us that, you know, when you are grieving, if you don't take care of yourself carefully, not only it's impacted you emotionally and mentally, but it's also going to take your money bag away. But what happened is that grief costs so much inflammation that we see changes in the heart we see in a flare-up.

Think about this practically many, many, many, many people who are experiencing things suddenly start getting ill. They start getting a lot of illnesses or they become… Oh, now I'm. You know, yes, I already have these things going on in life now. I seem to cannot stop catching a cold and the flu and what have you? That's because grief influences our immune system, which is... many people know that in the workplace, people who are grieving and then start calling out from physical illness, it influences the inflammations caused in such a different way.

And even after the initial impact of creeps, so let's say you don't, you don't do anything with that, and you just try to push it away. You might not feel profound. Sadness or anger anymore. So, after the initial intense emotions. But the grief doesn't go away. It actually goes into your body and a lot of people come to me saying. I have chronic headaches, chronic back pain, muscle problem, a flare of immune problems, and so on and so forth. Reproductive problem.  

Yeah, this is a wide-ranging spectrum of the mind and the body that adjusts to the grief or pain, perhaps that you're feeling, and there's a whole host of symptoms that pop up. And I think what I'm hearing is don't avoid those symptoms. Listen to your mind. Listen to your body. Don't push through. Don't be strong at that moment. Be smart and get yourself some support. Get yourself some help and have this training or conversation with others to push past it and accept it and ultimately understand it's OK to go through grief, but it's not OK to hold on to it for a long time.  

Yeah, definitely to me, I use the analogy of having a heartbreak, experiencing heartbreak. In a way like an experience, experiencing a broken like your heart's been broken, or your legs been broken. Now a broken heart can feel a lot more painful than a broken leg, and my heart goes out to you. I'm not diminishing your pain. I'm not undermining your challenges. But if you see it. You're having a broken heart. It's almost like a broken leg. Would you go sit on a couch or talk to your neighbor or even go to your primary care physician and say, hey, I got a broken leg. What do you think?

You would hopefully go to an orthopedic person as soon as you possibly can. That's the smart thing to do. Not that, otherwise it's not smart. I would say that's the wise thing to do to go to an orthopedic person, get it, get it taken care.

So, two things. You are able to start recovering fully and completely sometimes if let's say you sit on a couch, your leg might heal, but if we know we all, many times hear about the legs not healing well. Like the left develop colors and things like that. Incorrectly heal the same thing you sit on the couch, or you go to a party, or many people in the workplace. Get really busy. And then I'm just going to start working 18 hours a day, so we don't feel the pain. You might not feel the pain, but now you're healing with all your heart. With all these calluses, those calluses. The cause continues to cause pain in the end and continues to cause damage so. Get it taken care of. The faster the better and then it will actually allow you to be able to fully heal and go back to climbing mountains if it is your leg or being able to be fully present to feel full, full joy, and full aliveness in life and at the bonus relate better with our colleagues as well as our loved ones.

Well, Those that are ready to experience change experience more productivity and find a healthier way to deal with grief and wanted to get in contact with you. What's the best way to do it? That doctor Tan.  

The best way to do that is to visit my website

Yeah, and we'll put that in the show notes for everybody. And thank you so much for sharing your story today. Thank you for taking the leap of faith and going from being a veterinarian and oncologist to taking this path of helping others.

If you didn't hear the intro, Doctor Tan has helped over 25,000 people move beyond grief and experience a multitude of changes, both emotionally and physically in the workplace, with family and relationships, so it's so important that we take care of this. Thank you so much for the work that you do.

We're very grateful.  

Thank you, Tom. It's a delight to be here.

And thank you. For joining the Talent Empowerment Podcast, I hope this conversation has lifted you up. So, you can lift your teams and your organizations. And your community. As we learned today, if you've got a broken pipe, call a plumber. If you've got a broken heart, call Doctor Tan. Let's get back to people and culture together. We'll see you in the next episode.

Featured Episodes


How to be a "Great Place To Work"

Michael Bush, CEO, Great Place To Work

Listen Now
Talent Development and HR

Using Mission, Vision & Values for Everything

with Bamboo's Director of HR, Cassie Whitlock

Listen Now