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?


  1. Hey Molly,

    I was connected to your blog through a representative at Ashoka India, Lily Paul. I am doing a similar presentation to the Goldman Sach's office in Bangalore, India and had the very same inhibitions around inadequacy in myself. Reading your post has calmed me down and helped me realize that collective strengths can help us move forward with our plans. Thanks a bunch and all the best with your work.


  2. Vishal: Lily told me about your organization, as well. I hope that we get the opportunity to meet one day!