Born to Lead – One Community at a Time

I spent Friday, September 14 at a conference, but this was not just any conference. It was missing the usual suspects: overly gregarious men in suits talking loudly into microphones; PowerPoints filled with statistics and twenty-year-old best practices; obligatory deli sandwiches or plated chicken; and the constant checking of time because surely, it’s almost over or at least time to sneak out.

This was a conference for and about women. It was about empowering women with the mindset to face and overcome personal and workplace obstacles, to see themselves in a different light and engage with like-minded women who share that inner voice whispering to them, “you can be the difference.”

The Know Your Worth Women’s Leadership Conference was founded with the vision of creating a “culture of empowerment among the women of our state.” The amazing women who created and initiated this conference “share in the aspirations for both personal fulfillment and opportunities to lead and engage in the workplace and community.” Born to lead is the mantra and it encompasses a woman’s personal and/or career path.

I’ve never considered myself a leader. Perhaps this comes from my continuing struggle with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Accomplished individuals and high achievers often suffer from this psychological phenomenon. Depending on your background, personality and circumstances, the pattern may vary, but the result is the same – we feel our successes are undeserved and eventually someone will find out we’re not smart or talented or worthy and call us out.

My pattern of imposter syndrome stems from my childhood feelings of not quite belonging and it gained pace when I returned to college as an adult. While I excelled in my classes (graduating with honors), I was usually the oldest student in my classes which then lent itself to believing I was behind in my career. Imposter syndrome has been a loathsome bedfellow, one I’ve yet to completely overcome. I still tend to refer to myself as a late bloomer when receiving any accolades or acknowledgement for my successes, never fully appreciating my own worth.

I needed this conference. I needed these women. I met women who were transplants from Dallas and Atlanta, women who were from western Kansas, and women who had always lived in Wichita. I met women who worked for the government, nonprofits, small local businesses and large corporations. I met educators, biomedical and psychology students, executive directors, a photographer, an IT assistant, and a scientist. I sat next to women who believed in the power of handwritten cards; I spoke with women fearful of losing their jobs if they questioned the status quo; shared lunch with women who found their calling after volunteering for a local nonprofit and quit their higher paying jobs; and women in transition.

Some women arrived in their power suits while others found confidence and comfort in t-shirts and jeans. Some came in groups, some with a friend or co-worker, some of us alone. None of it mattered: where we came from, where we worked, what we wore or who we knew in the crowd. We were all there to learn, inspire, be inspired, listen, engage and support one another. The energy within the Kansas Leadership Center became palpable – buzzing through our bloodstreams and emerging through our laughter, our voices, our handshakes and hugs, our questions and our cheers.

The conference provided three Know Your Worth tracks: Workplace, Community and Personal. There were two sessions for each track and you could stick to one track or mix and match. I chose Rebel Thinking and the Art of Why Not with Janet Federico (workplace) and Breakthrough to be Extraordinary with Kara Hunt (community). What I soon discovered was that I wished I could have attended all six sessions!

We started the day with an informational and eye-opening morning address by Wendy Doyle, President/CEO of The Women’s Foundation, and we ended the day with a panel discussion from two of the most admirable and revered women in our community, Myrne Roe and Lavonta Williams, and two young women who are blazing their own inspiring trails, Lacey Cruse and Luisa Taylor. These women had us cheering, laughing and on our feet. Myrne stole the show.

The day went all too quickly and as I previously stated, I wished for more time, so I could experience each track, hear each speaker and add to my already burgeoning portfolio of takeaways from the day:

  • “When we are asked, women serve.”
  • When it comes to CEOs, there are nearly as many named John as there are women
  • Women = 51% of Kansas population, yet only 25% in legislation
  • “We always say why, turn it into why not.”
  • “I don’t need a title to be a community advocate.”
  • “When all else fails, start your own business.”
  • “If you want to have 50, 60 and 70-year-old white men decide what your city is going to look like, then continue to meet here and do nothing.”
  • “I want someone on our council who looks like me and understands me and the people in my neighborhood.”
  • “What you fear has mastery over your life.”
  • “I am who I am. I’m good at what I do, and nothing can stop me.”

Most importantly, I learned we were all born to lead. Even me. Whether it’s in our workplace, our homes, our communities. It’s time to not just make the change, it is up to women to be the change. We’ve tried it the other way for too long. So many women have already lit the trail, but the journey is long, and we have much to do. 189 women attended the Know Your Worth conference. These women are at the ready. These women are on the cusp of their own great histories.

Grab your torches, ladies. Meet us on the path.

 

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Kansas Shine – at Kansas Women Bloggers

My third post at Kansas Women Bloggers focuses on our sometimes learned love of this state we call home, Kansas.

There is something about Kansas and Kansans. Kansas skies can be endless blues of possibility, lowered grays of frost-tipped resilience, or furrowed blacks of trepidation. And at night, well, there is no description worthy of a Kansas sky filled with stars. Some say Kansas is too flat and boring. I say Kansas is vast, its horizon unrestrained, and this is never more apparent than at sunrise and sunset.
Kansas Sunset

Kansas Women Bloggers – This Little Light of Mine

Throughout the month of July, I will be the featured blogger for Kansas Women Bloggers. KSWB’s mission is to Gather, Grow, and Connect women throughout the state of Kansas. I truly appreciate organizations and individuals who promote the creativity of women in our community, especially with the intent to strengthen and empower.

I’m truly excited and honored to be their Blogger of the Month.

Please join me at Kansas Women Bloggers and share in their vision, as well as follow my thoughts and musings on the theme of the month, Shine.

Paradise is in Belle Plaine, Kansas

I have fallen in love with one of the most beautiful places in Kansas. I’d heard of its beauty, its mystery blossoming behind a rusted gate and stone walls, a slice of Eden nestled in Belle Plaine. But, I’d failed to visit even though the wonderful Robin Macy, an original Dixie Chick, has created the Treehouse Concert Series and I’ve had more than a few opportunities to attend a show. The last Sunday in June I finally experienced Bartlett Arboretum.

It could have been the performance of John Fulbright, the Grammy nominated Oklahoman who sang of toys, paper dolls and the walls of Jericho  that sent me to swoon. It was a hot July afternoon, the sun peeking through the tall trees at the crowd gathered in the clearing decorated with bright-colored lawn chairs and blankets. People were unpacking picnic baskets, pouring white wine, slicing blocks of cheese, and hand-shoveling through ice to find the coldest beer in the bottom of coolers. Red, white and blue bunting hung above the stage and the smell of smoked meats drifted on the wind while a little boy in a straw fedora stood awestruck at the front of the stage. The venue was perfect, the music soul-searching and foot-tapping, and the company familiar and easy. After the concert, we tailgated in the shaded parking outside the arboretum and finished the last of the cold beers. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any more Americana, the farmers were cutting the last of their winter wheat, racing the setting sun, as we drove home on a two-lane highway. Seriously, I am not making this up.

So, I began to think I was spellbound by my initial visit, that maybe my infatuation was a result of Mr. Fulbright or the heat and humidity or just the afternoon as a whole, and I should return to the arboretum as quickly as possible. The very next Sunday, we packed red seedless grapes, Ritz crackers, assorted cheese, a few bottles of beer, and returned to Belle Plaine, but this time we arrived an hour before Darol Anger and the Furies so we could walk the grounds. I wish I could describe the beauty of this arboretum, how even in the July heat the trees and flora bloom with an astute hardiness, a Kansas hardiness, that I swear is slightly softened by the serenade of afternoon concerts and campfire lullabies. The Bartlett Arboretum has character, immense character, much like its energetic steward and her soil sisters.

I wish I could do a better job of describing the arboretum. I tried to recreate the experience, only to type and delete and type and delete sentence after sentence. If you have the opportunity to visit or attend a concert, I urge you to go and go early. Pack a picnic, throw in a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, grab the lawn chairs or an old quilt and experience The Bartlett Arboretum. I plan to visit this gem in the heartland as often as possible. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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If April showers bring May snow, what will May snow bring?

Tuesday, I was sipping on this:

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It was sunny all day, the warm breeze providing a hint of mid-June, and with the work week off to a shaky, broken-heel kind of start, I needed a refreshing, cold, slightly sour alcoholic beverage. This was not a beer or wine kind of evening, this was a give-me-brain-freeze-and-pretend-I’m-on-vacation-in-Mexico end to the day.

It sure didn’t last long. After all, this is Kansas where the weather is bipolar at best, but this year proving to be slightly schizophrenic or senile, I’m just not sure. When the morning temperature on May 1st is 65 degrees, rises to 80 around noon then plummets to 48 shortly after the lunch hour, well, what would you call it? Welcome to Kansas weather, otherwise known as Sybil.

Old Man Winter is definitely confused. He should be on his way to the Southern Hemisphere, his little bag of whites and a small cooler of ice in tow. Maybe he’s enjoyed himself a little too much, dumping piles of the white stuff in the Midwest, giving Colorado one of its best late ski seasons, ever. Or maybe watching us plopping our adult bodies into snowdrifts along with the neighborhood children during those February snow days gave him such a kick he didn’t want it to end. Most people spend December through February cursing the Old Guy, uttering his name in vain, desiring only Spring and ignoring the beauty of frost covered fields and trees glistening, encased in ice. But for a few days, we loved him. We dusted off those snow boots we purchased on clearance about four years ago, built snowmen, drank mug after mug of hot cocoa, overworked the stovetops with simmering pots of chicken noodles, vegetable soup or beef stew, and propped our feet up by the fire. Gotta love that Old Man.

So, who can blame him for wearing out his winter welcome? Why would he want to pack his bags and head to Australia when such winter love abounded, even for just a few short days.

Well, even I, the self-proclaimed Snow Queen (I know, it’s not cool to give yourself a nickname, but I swear someone, somewhere made reference to my being the royalty of snow) have grown a little weary.

This was me the second snow day in February:

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Old Man Winter, you know how I love ya’. You are my favorite season, I long for you soon after the last sparkler and roman candle is tossed into the waiting bucket of water on the Fourth, and stand on the deck, face upward and eyes closed when you sprinkle the Midwest with its first snowflakes of the season.

But, it’s May. May. And after the thunder, lightning, rain, sleet, snow and sunshine on this multiple weather personality disorder of a day, I’m ready for spring.

Please, Old Man, go with dignity. I’d rather remember you as you were those wonderful February days. I’ll see you, soon. Tell my family near Canberra I said hello.

Heat related

It’s been thundering for more than an hour, yet no rain. With each rumbling in the distance, my anxiety grows. The windows in my car are slightly open and the charcoal briquets are on the deck, but I’m afraid if I rush outside to close the windows or bring the charcoal inside the storm will dissipate and the rain won’t come.

This is what it’s come to, superstitious behavior and feeling like I’m on the precipice of weeping for days. Whenever I hear someone, usually someone older, talk about the summer they’ll never forget “when the heat was so bad birds were dropping from the sky,” I smile and think to myself how it couldn’t have been that bad, everyone likes to embellish a story or two. Not anymore.

I know for a fact I will remember this summer and how the sound of the crunching brown grass beneath my feet as I walk to the community mailbox almost makes me sick to my stomach. Or how I’ve added to my prayers each night an ardent praise for allowing our AC  to make it through another day and each morning consider rushing outside to bless the struggling unit with holy water. Or how each evening I fill my watering can and douse the diehard few flowers still vibrant in their pots on the deck, refusing to allow the Kansas drought to wither them to yellowed stems, thinking if I let them die I might wither away along with them.

I’ve now created playlists on my iPod of songs with “rain” or “storm” in the title, almost 4.5 hours of rain summoning music I keep on repeat. I watch the skies, urging any tiny cluster of clouds to blossom into thunderheads and drench the earth. On Friday, when a small shower moved over SW Wichita and passed too quickly over campus, I ran outside and stood in the parking lot, letting the warm droplets splatter my clothes, skin and frizz my hair. It was the best four minutes out of the entire day.

Until today, I’d yet to let the heat win. I”ve continued to be busy going to concerts, riding my bicycle on Friday through Old Town, sitting on the patio in the humid evenings, and venturing out in the hottest part of the day. But this morning, I didn’t feel like fighting. I chose to hide inside, blinds drawn, AC chugging, fans whirling, and read a book. I picked it from the pile of summer reads I’d intended to rally through before Labor Day weekend. I’d only read one from the stack of seven before selecting a book today by Alice Hoffman, Fortune’s Daughter. In spite of the heat, I brewed a cup of tea, sat in my favorite reading chair and opened to the first page…

“…As the temperatures hovered near one hundred degrees the days melted together until it was no longer possible to tell the difference between a Thursday and a Friday…(coyotes) followed the scent of chlorine into backyards, and some of them drowned in swimming pools edged with blue Italian tiles…tap water bubbled as it came out of the faucets; ice cubes dissolved in the palm of your hand…for miles in every direction people just snapped, lovers quarreled in bedrooms and parking lots, money was stolen, knives were pulled, friendships that had lasted a lifetime were destroyed with one harsh word. Those few people who were able to sleep were haunted by nightmares; those with insomnia drank cups of coffee and swore they smelled something sweet burning, as if a torch had been put to a grove of lemon trees sometime in the night.”

Even in books, my one true means of total escape, the Kansas heat finds me. On the opening page, I am reminded I will never forget these long days of superstition, silent prayers, awkward rain dances, and a heat worn like an itchy serape, reddening my chest and sending slow caterpillars of sweat down my back. Many years from now I’ll recall burning my fingers repeatedly on the car door at lunch and sleepless nights spent pondering a move to Colorado or Washington.

I”m just waiting for those poor birds to begin dropping from the sky.

The long haul

About this time every year I’m settling in for the long haul of summer. Those who know me know I’m not a fan of heat, bare feet, sweat and antarctic air-conditioning. There’s also the span of time between the end of basketball season and the beginning of football that usually finds me catching a Cubs game here and there and spending a lot of time sitting on the deck reading or writing. This is about the only time I enjoy the summer days of Kansas, when the day is fading, the wind has lessened from its 35 mph hot air gusts and the temperature has cooled to a bearable 80-90 degrees, and I’m able to lounge with a book or notepad in my lap, possibly a chilled mug of beer, and only the Orioles, Cardinals, and Jays to keep me company. Oh, and those are actual birds, not teams.

My sports season ended well with a true team winning the NBA championship, proving the words spoken by my godfather, “a team is always better than a bunch of all-stars,” as well as my own belief you can’t “whore yourself out” for a ring. Dallas and its time-tested veterans played well and deserved the glory. As for the Heat, they need to spend the off-season understanding the definition of entitlement-based ethics and how this doesn’t fit with a team environment or any environment for that matter.

The Bruins have always had a place in my heart since the infamous shoe incident with Mike Milbury in 1979. This was part of my introduction to the NHL, with the 1980 USA hockey team sealing the deal. Needless to say, after the Blackhawks were eliminated I backed the black and gold all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

But by the time the U.S. Open is underway, I’ve usually selected a book or two to get me through the endless summer days in land-locked Kansas and anticipated watching the wheat harvest from my kitchen window. So this year, I figured my participation in my first fantasy baseball league would hinder time spent lounging, reading, and waving at the farmer, yet I’m finding the hour in the morning it takes me to check stats, preview the days games and set my roster is enough. I’m not glued to the MLB network as I was in the beginning, nor checking live stats on my phone as often. I will still try to catch the occasional Cubs game and if the Giants are televised locally, I’ll definitely make time to watch, but I’ve found I miss my sports reprieve. Those months not spent checking a teams schedule and arranging a calendar according to game time is what keeps me from becoming a complete armchair quarterback, and I’m good with that.

Yes, my competitive nature will keep me in the Lingerie by Laloosh pennant race, but I’m thinking my need for a little soul-mending while the evening air is heavy with the wheat-dust of a days work in the fields is stronger than my need to spend three hours in front of a television, eyes glancing between the game on the field and the stat-loaded ticker at the bottom of the screen.

I’m thinking what I once considered the “long haul” has become not long enough. And if this makes me lesser than the average sports junkie, so be it. I never thought of myself as a professional in the field of sports obsession, although many would say I’m close, so I’m glad to recognize my soul still needs its fill of another almost forgotten American past time.

Auntie Em, Auntie Em

It’s strange how the name of a character in a movie can resonate so differently among people. For some, it recalls Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, while for others it brings to mind tornadoes. And nothing but tornadoes.

As a child, I remember my cousins yelling “Auntie Em, Auntie Em, it’s a twister” each time the sirens went off, be it during the weekly noon drill on Monday or an actual sinister warning of what was headed our way. And each time I come across the movie Airplane, I laugh out loud when Johnny tangles himself in phone cords and yells “Uncle Henry, Auntie Em, Toto, it’s a twister, it’s a twister” (if you click on the link provided, that particular scene with Johnny is at the very end of the video, but it’s worth the wait if you are an Airplane fan).

Growing up in Kansas, you have to laugh. As a child of the midwest, you learn quickly how to read the clouds, become nervous when it’s humid, and understand the dew point readings. You know the place in your home that is safest to ride out a tornado, be it basement, bathtub, crawl space or closet. And you become a professional at packing a tornado kit each spring (blankets, batteries, jug or bottles of water, flashlights, extra batteries, battery operated radio, cell phone, non-perishable foods) to keep in your safe place, as well as the extra bag beside the bed that includes medications, important documents, and other keepsakes you don’t want to lose when all hell breaks loose.

Because that’s what it does, this tornado. It unleashes hell on earth. Just ask the survivors of Joplin, MO; Reading, KS; and Greensburg, KS. In one terrifying moment, all you’ve known, all you’ve worked for, all you’ve cared for is gone. Obliterated or vanished, it doesn’t matter because the end result is the same, life is changed.

A person from California once asked me how I could live in the midwest with “those tornadoes.” I asked how they could live with those earthquakes, after all we do get 20-30 minute warnings, sirens screaming to turn on your televisions or radios and take cover. We have Doppler radar and text message alerts, plus years of examining the sky and air and differentiating between a typical Kansas thunderstorm and an afternoon filled with  foreboding. What do they have?  

But in light of this year’s deadly twisters, I’m beginning to think all of our weather technology, early warnings, and personal weather experiences are not enough. When a half-mile wide tornado comes at you packing 200 mph winds, destruction is inevitable, survival is diminished.

But we are a resilient bunch. And I know the communities of Reading and Joplin will rebuild and move forward, just as the people of Greensburg.

And those of us out of the path of the storm will watch, pray, and cry for those who lost relatives, friends, and everything they possessed.  We’ll check our tornado kits, monitor the local radars, and be sure and check on those we love, all the while knowing Joplin could have  been and still could be us.

A little reminder

Actually, quite a few good-sized reminders. Just when we began to envision the trees blooming with fall colors, feel a hint of crisp air at night, prepare for the chill of autumn evenings and mornings…Mother Nature decided to slap us with a little reminder. She rules this earth. She is the Mother. And don’t forget it.

I don’t blame Her for being ticked. After all, we continue to pollute her skies, thicken her air, and poison her seas. We build mountains of trash, waste gallons of water, and take all she has given us for granted.

So she decided to remind us just who is Queen. She set her path and let fall nuggets of vengeance. Many of which rocketed through our roof. 20 to be exact. And smashed guttering and vehicles.

As they say, hell hath no fury. Especially when we’re talking about the Mother.

Harriet’s Flowers

Harriet J. Graham was an incredible woman. In 1964, she was the first female elected to the Kansas State Legislature from Sedgwick County. The lone female in the house, she served on the committees for Roads and Highways, Education, and Welfare. But when the chairman of the tax committee blocked her from serving, stating “women don’t know anything about taxes,” she became determined to fight gender discrimination. Soon after, she introduced a bill requiring equal pay for equal work, an Equal Rights bill, and an anti-discrimination bill. And when President Kennedy appointed a National Committee on the Status of Women, Governor Robert Docking appointed Harriet head of the Kansas commission where she lobbied for a legislative endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.  All during her active political career, she raised three children and served as leader of the Bluebirds, Campfire Girls, Cub Scouts, coached a girl’s softball team, and participated in community theatre. After her divorce in 1969, she earned a BA from WSU, and later earned an MA from the University of Kansas, and maintained her lifelong love of nature, bird-watching, and canoeing. She taught all of her children and grandchildren to respect Mother Nature and all her gifts, and to take time to view the world while seated in a canoe gliding silently on a river.

I never knew Harriet. But I know her legacy. And I know many people loved her and respected her. I attended her funeral service in May, a representative of WSU. I’d helped her family establish a memorial in her name at her alma mater. And I felt such joy at learning so much about one woman’s path from the people she touched. And I was moved when her friend of 45 years played the organ, one last serenade for her beloved friend. By the end of the service, I felt I carried a piece of Harriet within me. Her committment to seeking equality for others is a large reason I am the woman I am today. The ripple effect of her life has touched many women in the state of Kansas, whether they realize it or ever know of her. I am truly grateful.

At the end of her service, we were asked to select a packet of flower seeds from a large wicker basket. Take the seeds home and plant them. I selected a packet of sunflower seeds in honor of this inspiring woman. Today, Harriet’s flowers stand tall along our back fence, peeking into our neighbor’s yard and the field of milo behind us, their large heads following the Kansas sun. And whenever I see them through the kitchen window or gaze upon them from the deck, I remember the women I never knew, but will never forget. Thank you, Harriet J. Graham.

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