Thursday, June 25, 2009

I am...

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

Lao Tzu

This week I’m stumped, struggling to contribute to this blog. This has been a week of the mundane. Nothing earth-shattering has occurred, no revelations have been triggered, no drama has made its entrance. My kids are tucked comfortably into a daily summer routine and I’m finding myself in a place that is quite comfortable, content and peaceful.

The humidity of summer thickens the air…adds to the Cricket’s cacophonic celebration of dusk, the flash of lightening bugs and heat lightening play symphony with the rumbling thunder, booming in the distance. Times like these are few and far between. I find that as I grow older this kind of space doesn’t “just happen”. I’ve got to make it happen. I’ve got to intentionally slow down the day, dim the noise and honor the moment.

I’m drawn to these moments most in the summertime. The heat that has settled in throughout the day lifts as the sun sets. It is then that I am magically pulled toward my front porch… to sit, listen and be.

Last night my daughter Helen joined me. We sat together for the longest time and then we just started talking, about nothing much. Just…stuff. Somewhere over the course of an hour, our conversation moved toward the following exchange.

Helen: “If you had only one word you could use to fill in this blank what would it be.
I am _______________.”

Me: “That’s a toughie. I am so much, Helen; it will be hard to narrow it down to one word.”

Helen: “But that’s what makes it fun and hard at the same time. You have to!”

We played around with the words for a long, long time. I finally settled in on “I am accepting.” Helen landed on “I am myself.”

Where would you land? What would be your word? Please let me know by filling in in the comment section below. Let's see what each of us bring to this day

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stonehenge, Spanx and the Internet

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to our connection to Ashoka (, I was one of five social entrepreneurs who presented a “case summary” of our organization to Goldman-Sachs executives in New York City, yesterday. We eventually broke into smaller groups and jumped in to exploring various ways each of our organizations could tackle some organizational challenges.

The content of what I discussed with my teammates, Annalisa, Margaret, Sharlene and Simi, is content we’ve all discussed before. Girls on the Run continues to experience incredible growth and interest, but growing too fast without sustainable vision brings about challenges that can be avoided, if, instead, we grow intentionally and intelligently with sound strategic plans in place.

So…if I may, set the stage for yesterday’s experience. First of all, I wore a suit. My guess is, if you know me, you are already smiling. One of my teammates asked me to outline our business model as they already had a good understanding of our curriculum. I pushed back my chair, grabbed a marker and shared our business model on a flip chart.

There was a two second pause (I’m not kidding, literally two seconds) and then all three of the Goldman Sachs folks suddenly pulled out pads of paper and began immediately jotting down various ideas based on their experience about how we could enhance our org chart and continue to build an infrastructure that grows with us. I literally sat in awe of these three women. Their ability to just “see” structurally, strategically and in detail what steps would be beneficial in our evolution as a growing non-profit business was from MY point of view one of the great wonders of the world. I put this right up there with Stonehenge, the invention of the internet and Spanx.

Imagine being handed a speech to present on-stage to hundreds of people…and then right before you go on stage, the director says, “And oh, by the way, I need you to speak in Mandarin.” Those words, that language, the process to do so just aren’t readily available and so you step on stage, ill-prepared, completely shocked, totally frustrated, painfully scared and irrevocably embarrassed.

For many years, I struggled with feeling as if I had to do it all, know it all and somehow BE it all for Girls on the Run. In the early days, due to limited resources, I did have to do it all! But the truth is, if I’m really honest with you, there was an element of fear, underlying my need to be “super girl on the run” that if I didn’t have all the answers I might somehow be seen as inadequate, unintelligent or somehow just not “up to snuff.” The Girl Box was playing itself out in my business life. There was a certain standard in the traditional "corporate/business/leadership” box that made me feel as if I didn’t measure up. I often felt like I was being asked to speak Mandarin.

It’s only been in the last several years that I have come to recognize that my unique gifts are vital and important to our work. This may seem surprising coming from the founder, but it’s true. The “Girl Box” has a way of wiggling its way back into my world. Stepping out of that box isn’t a black and white, yes or no, in or out kind of proposition. It’s a process.

We all contribute an important piece to the tapestry that makes up our Girls on the Run program AND business. Heck, we all contribute an important piece to whatever business we are part of. Yesterday, I had ten minutes to share a bit about Girls on the Run to the entire group at Goldman Sachs. I was, as always, very comfortable in that element. I have this knack for just “putting it all out there” and challenging the boxes that confine us, by living outside of them. Openly sharing my story and sharing the humanness of who I am, with people who are often times during their regular workday, not provided that opportunity, was comforting for them. I could literally feel the energy of the room shift…a universal sigh of relief…as if each person was saying, “ Whew…okay…that’s cool, now let’s get down to business by getting down to our selves.”

The truth is, we all need each other. Left-brained, right-brained, strategic thinkers, big picture visionaries, storytellers, behind the scenes organizers. Girls on the Run and forward thinking businesses ask only that we each honor, embrace, celebrate and use our gifts and talents for the greater good. Follow your bliss, brothers and sisters, because this truly is where soul satisfaction awaits AND true corporate/professional success can be attained.

Isn’t that what Girls on the Run is all about anyway? Our culture’s emphasis on perceived deficits (particularly when it comes to our appearance) shows up in all sorts of ways. ”Do this and you’ll be accepted,” “Buy this and you’ll be beautiful,” “Eat this and you’ll be thinner,” “Try this and you’ll look younger,” “Do this and you’ll be more successful,” “Act this way and you’ll be a good leader” “Try this and you will finally know inner peace.” Many of these suggested “paths” leave us emotionally empty…the feeling that we somehow never measure up, each path somehow suggesting that we are broken, saddled with an overwhelming number of “things” that need fixing. Girls on the Run is providing the solution by shifting our focus from perceived areas of inadequacy to real areas of strength.

I am often overcome with gratitude, but more so today, for my gifts and unbridled enthusiasm for how I have the opportunity to utilize them in my work. I am also grateful for my amazing new friends at Goldman Sachs, my friends at Ashoka and for those with whom I work, who joyfully utilize their gifts and talents in areas where they thrive. Collectively we are all moving our organization and this world forward.

What is the primary gift that YOU bring to your work? Is it being utilized?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Look Who's Coming to Dinner

"If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity."

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Lately, I've been putting a lot of "thought-energy" into the issue of diversity.

The Webster's definition goes like this:

The condition of being diverse; variety; especially the inclusion of diverse people in a group or organization.

I live in Charlotte, NC...a city that, back in the 70's, was one of the first to intentionally integrate our school system. I was in sixth grade...the same year that my parents enrolled me in a private school.

My experience with diversity, at least ethnic diversity, has been, shall we

This week I had lunch with Janine Davis. The "physical " differences between us are striking. Frankly put...I look a bit like a white athletic-peace corps-soccer mom and Janine looks like an African American chic-diva-stylin'-urban woman.

Janine is an award-winning 20-year veteran of the professional broadcasting industry and currently serves as Producer/Co Host of Charlotte's #1 Urban radio morning show "No Limit Larry and the Morning Maddhouse" heard each weekday morning on WPEG-FM otherwise known as Power 98.

I've known Janine for several years now. We've talked about getting together and finally did this week over lunch. What drew each of us to the other was our desire to create an environment where all girls can recognize and achieve their greatest human potential.

Janine started Girl Talk Foundation, in 2002 after visiting several middle and high schools, where girls talked candidly with her about their issues. But, it was Janine's 10-year old niece who pushed her to start Girl Talk Foundation, after telling her aunt she wanted to "grow up and become a dancer in a rap video." Fearing her niece would succumb to further peer pressure, Janine organized an all-girls rap session later that year to focus on the needs of teen girls...nearly 200 girls attended. Janine went on to launch Girl Talk Foundation, focused on building self-esteem in young girls. Today the program has served nearly 3500 girls throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg and hopes to serve many more.

Her program is building momentum and Janine turned to me...not only for feedback on business questions, but for some emotional support. It can be very emotionally, physically and mentally draining, working a full-time job so one can pursue the dream of impacting social change at the individual and cultural level. I remember all too well, the early days when I was just getting Girls on the Run off the ground.

As I sat there with her, I realized that half the battle of celebrating diversity, at a personal level, is being willing to step outside my comfort zone and invite myself to "dinner". To just show up where I am the minority. I've got to then be willing to hang out for a while. I can't just drop in and hope to understand or feel anything meaningful. Nope...I've got to spend time in the space and see how it feels. Of course this is easy for me to say because I still spend a good bit of my time in the least as far as ethnicity goes.

Lately I've been considering the notion of a dinner where I host one other person who has a very different viewpoint on a topic--a topic upon which I have a very strong opinion. I'd be upfront in my invitation to my dinner-mate. I would also be very clear that I seek nothing more than conversation. A curious one-on-one exchange where we just share a meal, together, and listen at a very deep level to each hope being that we find common ground in that space..that we explore the themes of our lives. I mean...haven't we all felt left out, felt happy, loved children, felt pain, been scared, laughed till we cried and been hurt so badly that we never thought we would know joy again?

I am always amazed how sharing our stories engages people in real dialogue. Our differences are somehow beautifully diminished. We can't hide behind the curtain of "popular ideals" or lose outselves in "the status quo". There we are...just two people sharing a meal and telling our stories, trying to connect the dots and doing our best to understand one another.

This is perhaps what I love most about my connection to Girls on the Run. The program magically breaks down barriers by putting girls, volunteers and community members from all walks of life together, for ten to twelve weeks. Yes, we may have opposing ideals on how certain societal issues should be addressed, but deeply rooted at the starting line, long before the issues become a problem, rests our mutual hope and dream that all girls, women and people are loved, respected and honored.

And that got me really thinking. If you could invite someone to dinner...someone who supported a viewpoint on an issue that was in opposition to yours on a particular topic, who would it be? What questions would you ask them? How would that feel? Does WHO you invite tell you something about who YOU are? Let me know what you think...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ella and Helen

Lindsay Jones is a fabulous volunteer with our organization. This past year she attended our New Balance Girls on the Run 5k in Charlotte. She brought her precious daughter, Ella, with her. Ella is just a bit over one year old. Like every little girl, Ella radiates a wondrous curiosity about the world around her.

Last week Lindsay sent me a poem, inspired by Girls on the Run.

In honor of my daughter's graduation from fifth grade and the ensuing move up to middle school, I asked Lindsay if I could publish her poem on my blog. She agreed.

So here it is.

My Daughter's Body

My Daughter's body runs.

Walks, jumps, dances, laughs, loves, lives. It brings the wind in her hair and the ground to her feet. It is her gift.

My daughter's body is capable.

It is a tool for good, it is useful. Not an image or a symbol to own. It is her gift.

My daughter's body does not confine or define.
It houses her soul, mind, heart and spirit, it is the shell of something more beautiful. It is her gift.

My daughter's body is part of me but is not mine.
It is not yours. It is productive and capable. It is her gift.

My daughter's body was formed inside me.
She is a miracle and a blessing who I will not contain or hold back. It is her gift.

My daughter's body is sacred.
From the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair. Covered in sweat or awash in rain. It is her gift.

My daughter's body is respected.
It is not manipulative. It is not on display. It is her gift. My daughter's body brings her to the finish line. Moving fast or slow. It doesn't matter. She finished. It is her gift.

Helen...on this very special day I want you to know that despite all of the challenges and lessons that lie ahead, you are capable of maneuvering those with the grace, strength and wisdom I've seen revealed already, in the 11 years I've known you. You are a gift to me. I am learning so much from you, my girl. You have given me permission to honor, embrace and celebrate the strength, power and wisdom I possess...all miraculously unveiled since knowing you.

Love you girl.