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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The Light Bearers

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to the future generations. – George Bernard Shaw

I believe it is up to us , each in our own way, to illuminate the paths of others, because only then will our own splendid torch find its purpose.

Read the rest of my post at Kansas Women Bloggers as the Blogger of the Month for July.

Let it shine.

torch

Final 40s- Onward and Ageward

On Valentine’s Day, I celebrated my 49th birthday. It was a wonderful day with a soup/sweets and wine tasting at Grace Hill Winery; a stop at an antique shop in Newton, Kansas; Boulevard Chocolate Ale at my favorite local bar, The Anchor; a purchase of thick cut pork chops and gouda cheese from another local favorite, The Douglas Avenue Chop Shop; home in time to watch my beloved Shockers beat Illinois State and followed by a delicious dinner cooked by my husband. We ended the day on the couch, wrapped in blankets, a fire in the fireplace, with the company of Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Robert DeNiro and Michael Douglas in Last Vegas.

We picked the movie because we were in the mood for a light comedy. No heavy acting, no ponderous script, just easy to follow, slightly predictable, with a few belly laughs. Plus, how can you go wrong with those gentlemen? The irony of our choice did not hit me until I began writing this post. It was weeks ago I’d decided to write about my approach to aging and the final act of my 40s, so I found it interesting I’d chosen a movie about four characters facing their mortality, including depression that accompanies the physical limitations of aging, the frustration of family who treat you like an invalid, the loneliness of losing a spouse, and denial, usually due to fear. As I’ve heard many a time, getting old is not for sissies.

And yet, I’m not afraid of growing old. True, the physical limitations seem to be the greatest difficulty, and while I try to take care of the only body I will ever be blessed, sometimes the healthiest of individuals have to come to terms with a body that can no longer support the youthful spirit within. Aging is something we all share in common, no matter skin color, political party, religious belief, sexual orientation, etc.; we all are growing older, day by day, year by year.

So, how do we deal with the inevitable? As a woman, the pressures of aging gracefully are apparent in every magazine, television commercial, cosmetic counter, drugstore aisle, movie screen, and talk show. Women are not supposed to age without a legitimate fight, a kicking and screaming brawl with every wrinkle, worry line, sagging jowl, gray hair, midriff bulge, and hot flash. Societal expectations have made aging taboo for women.

It seems exhausting to always be on guard, ready to pounce and take action against nature. Plus, women who do not allow themselves to naturally age not only seem physically obscure, they appear mentally strained. How can you possibly allow yourself to enjoy life when constantly worried about your physical appearance, unable to listen to those around you because your inner voice is prompting you to check your face in every mirror? There is too much in life to experience and appreciate, so why spend it worrying about aging. Life is to be lived, which you cannot do if you are bargaining or battling, all of the time. This is why I try to look at each decade of my life a little differently.

Believe it or not, I’m looking forward to 50. For me, my 50th birthday will be a badge of honor, a landmark in life. I believe our fifties are the verve of life. In our twenties, we experience a capricious approach to life, or as I called them, my impulsive twenties. But, when I reached 30, I felt a roar, the roar of womanhood. It was the decade of my thirties I found my voice and found my way. I met my husband, returned to college to earn my bachelor’s degree and left a fourteen-year job in dentistry to begin a career at Wichita State University. No longer impulsive, I discovered a path and while I may have treaded a little lightly in the beginning, by the end of my thirties, I was running full speed into my forties.

The year I turned 40, I obtained my master’s degree, published a few short stories, and was promoted in my position. While I consider myself a late bloomer, the decade of my forties has been one of accomplishment, as I’ve worked toward success in my chosen fields. But, more importantly, the roots I planted have strengthened within my family and community, something I could not have fathomed in my twenties when I was meandering through Illinois, selling shoes, singing in a rock band, and staying out all night.

I believe the forties for women is a time of accomplishment and not because we feel we’re running out of time, but because we allow ourselves to recognize our true successes, which then inspires us to do more, be more. And these accomplishments can be at home, at work, and at play. We also truly recognize our failures for what they are: lessons. We learn from those mistakes and find they no longer send us impulsively down dark or strange alleyways. We’ve set those initial stones in the dirt and made the choice to walk our chosen path. And so, we walk. No longer afraid of stumbling or twisting an ankle now and then, we can prepare ourselves to powerwalk right into our fifties, should we desire to do so.

Verve: great energy and enthusiasm; the spirit and enthusiasm animating artistic composition or performance. Vivacity.

Our fifties are the spirit and enthusiasm of a performance that is a life well-lived. When I reach 50, I want to spend that entire decade knowing, “she lives with verve.” By the time we reach our fifties, our inhibitions and fears should be miniscule. We’ve reached the milestone. We’ve earned this decade and how best to reward ourselves than to live a life of confidence, inspiration, dignity, and to continue to aspire.

I admit, I have a few quirky bullet points in relation to turning 50 and they are as follows:

When I turn 50…

  • I want to be able to serve a signature cocktail, preferably the perfect dirty martini
  • I want to wear hats on a daily basis, from obscenely colorful to the dutifully dull
  • While I think I have a signature color, I want to go all in and fill my wardrobe with clothing and accessories in orange…wait, yellow…or…well, I have a year to decide
  • I want to go to France, specifically Paris. I have a story behind my desire, which I will share another day
  • I want to be fluent in another language
  • I want to attempt a trifecta of Chicago sports in one weekend, be it Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks or Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks
  • I will publish the rest of my short stories, maybe my novel
  • I’ll consider quitting my day job to work at a local coffeehouse and write full-time
  • I will refuse to give up beef because life isn’t worth living without a cheeseburger
  • I will continue my affair with beer because it has gotten me thus far, so why quit now
  • I will continue to say Hell No to plastic surgery (again, another day, another post)
  • I want to continue know and accept who I am at any given time

The last one is a carryover from previous decades. Most days I feel I know who I am, where I am going, and am confident in my path, but some days I question and wonder, and that’s a good thing. It means I’m aware and willing to grow.

Possibly, I view growing older differently than most women because I’ve had incredible women in my life. I’ve been gifted with a mother who has never placed importance on being pretty, only taking care of what you’ve been gifted. She is strong, forceful, incredibly brave, and extremely loyal. Her life has not been easy and yet, she grows more beautiful with age. My sister is also an inspiration. As a young girl, I was curious and somewhat jealous of her breathtaking beauty, but as I grew older I realized it was not just her physical attributes that caused many to take pause, but her almost childlike love and appreciation of others. And as she has reached her own milestones, she ages with a quiet grace, her focus on family, and the laughter-filled moments she spends with her good friends.

There have been many others, from the vivacity of Helen Knudtson to the ageless hearts and souls of many of my aunts and cousins; these women have been the lionesses in my life. They have taught me to be independent, yet know when to work well in a pride. By example, they’ve instilled loyalty, strength, the importance of family, and taught me to put on the face of bravery, even when I knew I wasn’t so brave.

Sure, they’ve all had their moments, cursed their aging knees, damned those graying hairs, swore through the hot flashes, and admitted, “I’m no spring chicken,” but they’ve followed those minute observations with a shot of tequila or a glass of defiance. That is how I will age, with dignity, an occasional whine or wine, complete acceptance, and a lot of attitude.

I have the next twelve months to say goodbye to my 40s. They’ve been incredibly good to me and I will miss them, but I am looking forward to wearing the top hat of my fifties and continuing to roar with my pride as I prepare for the peace of my 60s. Oh, what a wonderful path we’ve all been given, because in truth, who wants to go backwards?  Onward and ageward.

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