Everyone has a story and everyone’s story matters. As for me, I like to think of my life-story as a series of unexpected and often-unwelcomed events that turned into gifts.  I call these the worst-best thing gifts because sometimes the worst thing can become the best or at least a helpful thing to inform one how to experience and navigate life with meaning and purpose. 

I want to share with you, fellow parents, the worst-best gifts that helped me create notes to myself that inspire me and help me on a daily basis do all the feelings that life brings. My wish for all parents is that my story will help you collect all your worst-best gifts and create your own notes to yourself to inspire, support and connect you with what truly matters for you.  


My Story began at 1137 Ashland in Wilmette, Illinois where I was one of seven children.  My parents taught us that anyone can be nice to the nice… but can you be nice when people forget to be nice?

As you know, brothers and sisters forget to be nice all day long.  My parent’s worst-best thing of choosing kindness when my siblings made mistakes and were mean became my first unexpected gift and cornerstone of my work.   

Note to Self:

Everybody makes mistakes Ellen…be kind and let them try again. Assume the best.  Assume people don’t wake up in the morning and try to be unkind but rather they mostly forget.

My next worst-best thing was brought to me by the HAPPY feeling. What parent doesn’t want their child to be happy?!   My parents wanted us to be happy but then that was basically the feeling you were expected to show and simply pretend upset feeling weren’t happening.  I GET it now being a mother of 3 daughters as sad, mad, left out, and jealous and all the other hard to have feelings that come with life can be hard for parents to feel.  We parents don’t feel good when our children don't feel good. So my parents thought it would be loving and helpful to bring us immediately back to HAPPY and not feel the other feelings.  

Note to Self:

Ellen, feelings like to be felt.  Forgive your parents as the intention was good and it gave you the gift to practice feeling all your feelings and then help others like you get more real with feelings.

Eighth grade was my next worst-best thing when all the girls turned against me.  The class of 1975 girls took turns on which girl they would leave out and be mean to. (Back in those days they were not calling this bullying.) I am not proud to admit that I was part of this pack until it was my turn to get left out, made fun of, teased and belittled.  This was the worst-best gift as it set me on my mission in life.  

Note to Self:

Really kind kids from really kind homes can be really unkind.  Kids will be on both sides of the fence and this is how we can learn how both to BE and not to be.  I learned how not to hurt others and that when people hurt you it hurts your heart!

Next stop…college.  There, I stumbled into Speech Pathology where stuttering became my expertise and passion.  Dr. Dick Mallard, my mentor professor, and he was a man who stuttered himself. He taught me the following.

"When you work with someone with a speech impairment, you have to help them become a strong communicator.  People do best when you teach and coach the communication and social skills to get along with others and in life. Stuttering is less of an impediment when people like you feel good about yourself."

Bingo!  This particular gift was the best-best thing to happen to me professionally, and it set me on the course to teach communication skills as the foundation for helping people build confidence, connection, compassion, and resiliency. 

Thank you, Dr. Mallard!


This gift was brought to me by the death of our only son, Mathew Raymond Pritchard, who was stillborn October 7th.  (I had never even heard the word stillborn.) Mathew's death has taught me me how to live each day to the fullest and don’t sweat the small stuff.  

My younger brother, Mathew, our son’s namesake, really gave me the gift when he said, “Ellen, really devastating things happen in life. I want you to harness the pain and do something great.”  

That one sentence helped me pick up my shattered heart and get to work with helping people get REAL and start sharing all of our feelings that can be so painful and so uncomfortable for others.  

Note to Self:

I will never be happy or grateful that our son Mathew died AND I am eternally grateful for the worst-best thing it taught me. Life is short, sweet, hard and uncertain, so don’t blink Ellen Dodge and be on purpose every Today. And when life feels too hard to handle, dig down in your Mathew Place for your courage and hope that you need to go left foot, right foot through life’s emotional storms. Rainbows always come.

Then rainbow Katherine Elizabeth Dodge, (or Kate the Great Star of the Car as our family named her at 3 years old), came on angel wings through adoption in 1996. This was the best-best-best thing ever and clearly the heart-healer-speeder-upper as she was a miracle and gift!

Note to Self:

Kate was born in your heart, Ellen.  Our hearts birth great things and miracles do exist, so hold on to your believing heart for when your mind has forgotten how to believe.

Kimochis found me in 2007 and again changed my life.  What looked like a toy really was a tool. A tool for one of the very most important things we need in life; tools to understand and express feelings in helpful and healthy ways.

Note to Self:

Kimochis found me as it was a tool I needed myself.  It is a tool I can use to help myself and others go beyond HAPPY and start feeling ALL the feelings.  And, sometimes people (even me) don’t know what we are feeling so we have to dig around and sort thru and pick up a Kimochis feeling pillow to get to what is happening in our heart.  This is an easy concept, but one of the hardest things to do when you are feeling emotional.

And last, a little-big note to my 3 beloved daughters who have taught me that there is no such thing as Happily Ever After because happy is not a place where we land and stay once and for all.  Rather, it is a place that we can access and feel amidst all the other feelings that come with life.  May your life bring you heaps of happy; may you be BRAVE and CURIOUS enough to feel all your feelings; and may you always surround yourself with positive partners with whom to walk this beautiful journey called life which is filled with a rainbow of feelings.