Exploring an Agilist's Story of Perseverance

in the face of a life-changing health condition
A blue graphic for the My Agile Story Series showing the photo of the interviewee

In the scrum framework, adaptation allows teams to adjust their plans and processes when deviations arise. Sometimes, deviations and detours show up not as part of a process but as some part of our lives. For Apuroopa, an agilist in Chicago, her ability to be adaptable and persevere has supported her through an unexpected transition caused by a serious health condition. 

Apuroopa’s Agile Story

Apuroopa is a Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Professional - ScrumMaster® and Certified Scrum Professional - Product Owner®. Her role at a global commercial real estate services company involves coaching people in agile principles, practices, and values. Her experience with non-traditional ways of working stretches back to 2005 when she was working for Capital One. There, she was in a team that was guided by an agile coach hired to coach them through a transition.

Since then, Apuroopa has found her own way to coaching, a profession she thoroughly enjoys. “It’s the interaction for me,” she said. “The people, the stories that I hear. And the trust that they’re building with me.”

“It’s the trust that someone places in me that I’m really respectful of and delighted about at the same time. That’s what speaks to me about coaching. It takes a long time for them to build that trust and open up. The way you’re able to build those relationships and friendships with them is what matters to me.”

A Passion for Guiding People and Building Community

When she’s coaching people in agile, Apuroopa can see the mindset shift that happens. “It’s not easy. But when the light bulb goes off, it shows them how things can be simplified, being agile. That’s what I strive for.”

“Agile is about showing the entire organization how simple things could be, or how if you mend a few things, the flow could be so much simpler. Everything could be so much lighter. When I go into a company, I want them to realize that things could be simplified. There are ways you can do it. You just have to be open to learning.”

Apuroopa observes the significant, lasting relationships that are built by agile teams. “All the way back to Capital One days, when I was a scrum master, I still have a community that I can turn to. I want to give that to my coachees. I want them to realize that they have their own community that they can rely on.”

Teaching Agile With Spinocerebellar Ataxia

Apuroopa has been coaching amid adversity. “I got diagnosed with this condition about seven years ago,” she explains. The rare, progressive, and degenerative condition affects her gait, balance, and speech. It also causes chronic fatigue. The effect on her speech has introduced new challenges when she’s working with people.

For Apuroopa, coaching people in agile is so much more than a job. She’s always had an affinity for interaction and teaching. She used to teach dance before the condition affected her, and she had to give it up due to balance issues. Both her daughters used to dance with her, which she misses dearly.

“I love being with people. That’s what drives me,” she said.

Apuroopa said she knows people struggle to understand her these days, but they’re polite and don’t ask what’s going on. Apuroopa says the clarity and quality of her speech have been affected, and she goes to great lengths to preserve her energy for coaching sessions. She believes strongly in the power of body language to convey messages and empathize, and the effect on her movement has limited her body language.

“Fortunately, coaching is about listening more and helping them find their way. But I struggle with holding a good conversation for more than an hour with the coachee.” 

“I really have to formulate the words in my head to be able to communicate properly because there are some words that I cannot speak at all.”

How Apuroopa Is Adapting

Apuroopa continues to search for technology or other solutions to support her ability to coach. “I’ve been trying to find things that will help my speech or convert text to speech,” she said. “But with coaching, it’s all about the interpersonal connection, your body language, the way you’re presenting yourself.” 

“There are a few things in technology that help people with MS because they have the same problem with speech, but they’re not really effective for me,” because you still have to go back and edit everything.

If you are living with ataxia, “there is a group called the National Ataxia Foundation. It is a great support group; you don’t feel like you are going through this alone. They post things about technology and tools you can use,” Apuroopa said.

She also recommends utilizing your HR resources if you have any need for accommodation. An accommodation request form may be the right way to access technology or request an adjustment or change in your work environment or duties based on a medical condition.

Apuroopa’s employer offers a work-from-home option. “The remote environment adds complexity,” she said, because not everyone is willing to turn their cameras on for various reasons, and you end up missing that facial connection and body language, but she’s also thankful for the option to stay home. “With my condition right now, I’d rather spend that energy and focus holding a meeting than struggling to find a way to get into the office.” 

“I certainly miss the interpersonal connection, and a good balance could be one or two days in the office to establish those connections while still being able to preserve the energy to hold meetings on other days.”

She’s found scheduling solutions that help her to adapt. “I’m able to spend all my energy in the morning speaking and doing more of the admin and computer stuff in the afternoon because, honestly, I have more energy to speak, and my speech is more clear in the mornings. That’s how I’m able to spread out my meetings and focus and give my 100 percent.”

Showing Up for Her Teams

What does she want people to know? “That I am not going to give up. I’ll give it my best until I can’t. And who knows? We never knew that coaching could be done remotely. But we’ve been living in a remote environment for a few years now. There may be new technology breakthroughs that happen overnight, and I may find something where I’m still presenting to the camera while speaking through typing.”

“The message that I want to give is that it’s pretty hard keeping up the positivity, but I am showing up every day. That’s what I want the community to know. There are so many different ordeals that people go through; I have my condition, and other people are going through real, different kinds of problems. But they still show up. They’re not alone in this.”

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