To Know Me
Know My Story
My name is Laura Kane-Punyon.
I love to harness the power of story
to forge the bonds of community.
I learned of Facebook when I was still plugging the college ethernet cord into my laptop and an AIM chat window was my primary electronic communication method. Since then, the way we commune with each other has changed many times over.
Particularly in a post pandemic world, social media and texting is an important tool to for us to maintain our communities. However, somewhere along the way, electronic medium slid from being a tool for connection to the tool for connection.
In the face of so many of us experiencing isolation, fear, burnout, anxiety and depression, it may be time to once again reimagine the ways in which we commune.
My childhood took place in the 80’s-90’s southtowns of Buffalo. I lead a typical rustbelt suburban life until the age of 9 when, as a result of back pain, I was diagnosed with degenerative neurological conditions, syringomyelia and Chiari I malformation. At the time, the conditions were considered extremely rare. The majority of those diagnosed faced severe neurological deficits including paraplegia, quadriplegia and death. The next five years of my life were filled with surgeries, pain, fear and a loss of an age-appropriate community.
In our search for answers and connection, we became involved with a national support group. Spread across the country with varying levels of disability, AOL free minutes and listservs became a lifeline to maintain that community. Once a year, we traveled across the country to gather in person. I was 14 when I attended my first conference.
The standout memories from that conference could have been intimidation of the lecturing neurosurgeons or fear of witnessing up close varying losses of bodily function to our shared conditions or feeling completely out of place in a room of mostly adults… But what I remember most was an overwhelming feeling of relief. This was a community that as not well suited to the social norms of emotional distance. We already understood pain and isolation. And we were on a reprieve.
I was so moved by the experience, I asked the organizers if I could speak publicly for the first time. At the closing dinner, I spoke to express my gratitude to that community for bravely sharing their stories and holding space for my own. I thanked them for breathing new life into me. That night began a journey of publicly advocating for my community, hosting 17 galas to raise over $1 Million of research funds that supported 30+ peer review studies.
From that experience, I became bound and determined to live my life at full throttle. I began to engage in school and find community through swim and track teams. I never was the fastest, often the slowest, but was consistently awarded leadership titles. I became fascinated in the ways my words and actions affected the mood and movement of a community. And yet, I was always chasing that feeling of belonging. As a teenager, trying to figure it out often meant disguising and downplaying any physical difference I experienced. Unbeknownst to me at the time, hiding pieces of my story in order to fit in ultimately made belonging elusive.
I understood within the first week of classes at SUNY Geneseo that my physical reality precluded the option of sprinting through college as I had high school. I would have to learn how to straddle the paradox of a deep yearning to live a big life and the physical reality of a delicate neurological ecosystem.
25 Years of Friendship
I graduated cum laude from Geneseo with a business degree, moved to the NYC tristate area and married my college sweetheart. I caught my first big career break in 2006, starting at an upcoming Hedge Fund administrator. My niche was in the Client Services department spearheading cross functional teams in order to support clients, first in growth and then in survival through the 2008 crash.
My thrill and success were when I could knit often adversarial counterparts into a team moving toward a common goal. I felt my best when I understood and attended to the spoken and unspoken needs of the team.
Despite carefully planning when I would become a mom, I was woefully unprepared when motherhood actually arrived. I was struck by the mismatch of my motherhood experience and the stories I was told. The realities of the limits of my body, demands on my time, lack of rest, isolation and intense emotion nearly knocked me flat. Similar but with more intensity than my first week of college, I understood again that I must reimagine the ways in which I would show up in the world.
As much as I loved the rich and dynamic environment the NYC tristate area, the vulnerability of motherhood called me back home to Buffalo, NY. I stepped into our family’s CPA firm with my brother and father as the Practice Manager.
For the first time, I had the power to make infrastructural business changes in order to create a work community I believed in. I was empowered to bring human story and community back into an industry that had a reputation for dehumanizing its workforce.
While I was empowered to influence change, I also began to see the incredible complexities we all face as we attempt to cultivate a more forgiving, inclusive and caring working environment.
By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I had been burning the candle at both ends. Now the mother of two with a challenging work life, the concept of self-care was comical.
We made the decision to shut down our physical office at 9:00 PM Sunday March 15, 2021; 15 hours before the S-Corp and partnership tax filing deadline. The starting pistol fired, and we were off to the races.
Shortly thereafter we found ourselves on the front lines of the CARES Act economic relief. We became a hub of information, electronically connecting accountants, lawyers, bankers, HR consultants and clients together in order to interpret the law and the ever-changing guidance. Setting competition aside, we worked furiously as a community to centralize information and debate its meaning in order to support our local businesses in a heightened time-sensitive environment. I translated our conclusions of complex and often non sensical language into consumable concrete action for our clients and anyone else that asked.
By November 2020 I had passed burn out and was flirting with complete collapse. My nervous system used vertigo, baseball sized muscle spasms and splitting headaches to assert that I was done. This part of my career was over.
Privilege allowed me to spend the next year caring for my family and, for the first time, myself. Starting with Brené Brown, Glennon Doyle and Bessel van der Kolk I began a journey of self-discovery, learning how I show up in the world is inextricably linked to how I show up for myself. I started to become aware of the ways that I turned away from myself by default. I began a practice of turning toward myself, building a healthy community and belonging within myself.
That time of retreat and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, ignited a passion to find a way to return to the world as my full self. To be present in the world without hiding or being controlled by “shoulds”. To connect with others by, in the words of Susan Cain, telling the truth of what it is like to be alive.
The passion to move forward has arisen out of insistence but not in the absence of intense vulnerability and fear.
The creation of Our Table was born out of a desire to lean towards the aspects of my traditional work experience that were invigorating and reenergizing. Combining traditional business experience, lived experience, curiosity and intuition, I intend to create unique spaces to tap into the spiritual nourishment of meaningful connection and community.
It is my great hope that you will come gather with me around