Before Berni Slowey, born Bernadette Fattig, was 8 years old, she evacuated from two strife-torn countries. As a child of a Vietnamese mother and an American GI, she fled to her father’s homeland and settled in Nebraska on April 29, 1975, just one day before Saigon fell to Communist order. In 1978, her father joined Bell Helicopter in Tehran and moved Berni and her family to Iran. With the anti-Shah movement bubbling, Berni once again evacuated and returned to the Nebraska.
Berni spent much of her childhood in Nebraska, where her racial makeup made her stand out — different, the object of taunts, shouts and ridicule. Experiencing prejudice, she grew ashamed of her heritage. In an effort to assimilate with the culture in the United States, Berni searched for happiness through the approval of peers and conforming to the ideals of society. Dreaming of all things possible, her resilience grew and she practiced fortitude.
When Berni and her family moved to Colorado in 1984, it was a fresh start. It was easier to make friends in a bigger city. Although she finally experienced acceptance, Berni’s still needed achievement to compensate for her self-perceived inequities. She acquired the taste for accomplishments in high-school and it fueled a perfectionist tendency. This attribute was effective for Berni’s one-track objective to achieve the American Dream. Influenced by society, media and peers, her ambition was to become an executive in the corporate arena.
Berni started her banking career as a Teller the summer after graduating high school. When she couldn’t afford college where her friends attended, Berni decided to work part-time while attending a commuter college in Denver full-time. The confines of a Teller only motivated Berni to begin a 20-year climb on the corporate executive ladder. Rapidly promoted to positions with higher wages, Berni worked full-time to pay for her full-time college classes. By the time Berni graduated with a Business Degree and double major at age 23, she was free of college debt, she held a desirable Marketing position and she owned a home. The banking industry had been good to Berni and her confidence was rising.
Coincidentally, Berni met her husband, Joe, while working at the same company and they married in 1998. They have two sons, now 12 and 11, and live in a new housing community built on the old Stapleton airport. But the role of wife and mother was not enough. Through her continuing rise in the finance arena, Berni spent many hours in the office and less time at home.
With 20 years of experience in the finance industry in marketing and general management roles; the higher the ladder she rose, the more pressure she felt to perform.
It was in her 17th year in the banking sector. With golden handcuffs firmly secured, Berni was overseeing three departments, Marketing, Human Resources and Training. Attempting to make positive changes to improve human capital and management, Berni felt the coldness of the “old boys club” corporate culture and a hard glass ceiling. The dreams from youth were becoming a nightmare. By the 19th year, an already unhealthy work environment grew toxic and bred quickly. After experiencing health issues and injury to pride, Berni resigned on her 20th anniversary.
At 38, Berni had wrapped so much of her identity into a career that she allowed to define her. The external validation that was once the core of motivation no longer served her. Although it was a painful end of an old way, it was the hopeful start of a new journey. Berni began a quest to find herself…but this time to follow her heart.
Berni began to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a filmmaker. She was thinking of ideas for scripts and television shows when she was presented with the opportunity to travel to India to film a conference and tour with the conference leaders. She dropped everything, making the difficult decision to leave her family during the holidays, and embarked on a voyage to film a documentary. But she found herself slipping down the proverbial rabbit hole when all the plans began to unravel.
The conference tour was cancelled, and although Berni and her team had great footage of the conference, she didn’t have much of a documentary in her hands. But the camera began to shift and Berni was now in front of it. Inadvertently, the documentary had become about Berni’s quest to face her fears and find the truth she was looking for was inside her all along.
Berni returned home invigorated. The journey had allowed her to step into her true self and this was affecting every part of her life, including her relationship with her family. Berni was now able to cope with her past and be more aware of her present. But to Berni, the story doesn’t end when the credits roll. She sees her documentary as an opportunity to inspire other people to allow themselves to truly be happy. This doesn’t mean traveling to an exotic land or making a radical change in your life, but letting go of exterior expectations and tuning in to what each person needs to live a fulfilling life.
Synopsis of Berni’s Journey in Wanderland:
What if you pursued your dream only to have it become a nightmare, forcing you to question yourself and everything you thought you believed? Banking executive Berni envisioned the American Dream from her earliest memories. As a child she, along with her mother and sister, became refugees, evacuating Saigon in the final days of the Vietnam War. Later, they were forced to flee their home again, this time a war-torn Iran. After finally settling in the US, dislocation and prejudice motivated Berni to seek happiness and acceptance by conforming to the American ideals of achievement. Disillusioned by what she thought was her true path, Berni spirals into an identity crisis. When the married mother of two leaves a successful 20-year career after her work environment grows toxic, she suddenly finds herself at a crossroads.
Berni’s Journey represents broken dreams and the challenges we confront when faced with an unwelcome transition. Berni’s personal journey begins with a soul-searching mission to turn her childhood passion for film into a meaningful career. Fate intervenes when she is invited to join a contingency of North American speakers for a spirituality conference in India. With no steady paycheck and ever-growing credit card debt, Berni’s husband reluctantly concedes to the trip. Looking for answers to difficult transitions, Berni plans to interview the speakers during the conference and on a pre-arranged tour afterward. Her leap of faith seems destined as pieces begin to fall in place; she buys a camera, hires crew members she’s never met and even finds a director to meet her in India for the tour. Having everything in place, she leaves her family over the Christmas holiday, defying logic in a down economy to film a documentary in a foreign land. After arriving, however, she quickly discovers the conference is different than what she envisioned, and the tour portion of the trip has been unexpectedly cancelled.
Berni is on the verge of a meltdown. She risked time and money on what now feels like a reckless, impulsive whim. When the conference concludes, however, the spiritual leaders join Berni and her intimate film group to salvage their tour. During this unplanned tangent to Berni’s grand idea of a documentary, the camera takes a sudden shift upon herself. Berni’s unrelenting drive for perfection comes full circle in the moment when she confronts her biggest fear.
Stunning images of iconic landmarks, colorful landscapes and the beautiful people of India are interwoven with the unplanned path this career driven profession takes on a quest of a leap of faith, transformation, and ultimately, self-discovery.