Five Miles of Empowerment

April 27, 2012 § 2 Comments

One hour later...

For years and years, I made excuses: I’m not athletic. I’ll get sweaty. I’ll hurt myself. If being non-athletic were a sport, I’d be World Champion. But since this has been the year of Audacious Goals and Getting Outside My Comfort Zone, I participated in my first organized running event. It was five miles, up hill (both ways, I swear) through beautiful Valley Forge National Park.

Over the last six months, I discovered that training was more about harnessing my brain than the physical act of running. Combined with what I have learned around the Empowerment Center from Lisa, Maria, and Cindy, I am ready to tackle my next audacious goal.

Don’t Over Plan, Just Get Started – In the past I would have waited until I knew what I was doing and had the right clothes and shoes – the ultimate in procrastinating to avoid failure. At last year’s Women’s Empowerment Conference, keynote speaker and Montana native, Col. Karen Gibson, noted that the people who died in snowstorms were the ones who stopped moving. My takeaway was that all goals and dreams will die if you don’t continue to move forward.

Consequences & Accountability – I registered and paid for my race in December. Knowing I had paid good money for the event was enough to drag me out even when I wasn’t motivated. The event was coming whether I was ready or not.

Set a Goal and Track Your Progress – My goal was fairly modest: Finish the five miles and run the whole way. I logged my mileage on a training website and watched the days fill in with colorful slots documenting my progress. Like the foil star chart when you were a kid, the grid filled with my miles and kept me going.

Strategic Disengagement – I am excellent at over-thinking situations and continuing to re-hash them over and over beyond the point where it’s useful. I found that when I was running, if I thought about running, I couldn’t do it. I had to practice strategically disengaging my brain from the process of running. I discovered it was a great time to think about non-running stuff and it boosted my creativity. It also was an opportunity to practice banishing negative thoughts – if I caught myself thinking about how far I still had to go, I would immediately redirect my thoughts elsewhere.

Have a Cheering Section – I was constantly reinforced and motivated by my family and friends who inspired and supported me. Mentally hearing them cheer for me got me through some tough days when I didn’t want to practice. They were also instrumental in helping me break down my goal into manageable pieces.

Stop Worrying about What Others Think – Approaching my first race, I was nervous. What if the “real” runners make fun of me? What if people think my outfit is stupid? What if I am the last one across the finish line? Okay, so none of that happened. I saw a pregnant woman, a really old man, and my husband reported that an 8 year old boy had come in before me. I realized that all of the other 1046 registered participants were there for their own personal contests just like me.

So what’s your story this year? What Audacious Goal have you tackled? How do you get Outside Your Comfort Zone?  What did you learn in the process?

Posted by:  Heather Comstock

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I’m Too Old For This… Part 1

April 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

My favorite part of Lethal Weapon is Murtough’s constant refrain that he’s “too old for this…” meaning that he’s past the point in his life where he’s willing to tolerate nonsense for paycheck. The good news is that most of us don’t need to wait to hit a certain age to have this liberation for ourselves!

The intersection of finance and career is probably the first place where this liberation happens. The state of your finances dictate the career choices you make and the career choices you make impact the state of your finances. How can you leverage the two to get you where you really want to go? Ask yourself the following questions:

Why am I working?

Are you there because your mortgage balance or your retirement fund aren’t where you’d like them to be? Or, are you working because each day you enjoy what you do and get energy from your accomplishments? A solid understanding of why you work can help you find ways to enjoy your work more or be a driver for change if your current work is unsatisfying.

At last year’s Women’s Empowerment Conference, Howard County Economic Development Authority Director Laura Neuman described leaving secure employment for the thrill of building something new from the ground up.

What are my goals?

If I asked you what you were working toward could you tell me? Could you paint a picture of it with so much passion that I can see, smell, and taste it? Without clear cut goals it is harder to get motivated.

Understanding the impact of your activities on your goals or your passion helps imbue the mundane with purpose. An example of this is a friend of mine who is an IT professional by day but nights and weekends belong to music. The day job facilitates the passion.

What are the numbers?

Tracking your progress helps keep you motivated whether you’re training for physical challenge, losing weight, or saving money. If you see how each step brings you incrementally closer to what you want to achieve it can keep you on track even when distractions present themselves.

Know where your time and energy are being allocated and make sure you have adequate time and energy set aside for your passion. Knowing your status helps when you’re feeling your energy or motivation flag. It’s like being able to look at a map during a long trip and see how far you’ve come.

What are you getting too old for? How are you moving forward? Are you celebrating your accomplishments?

Posted by: Heather Comstock

Navel Gazing to Action

March 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Not the face of one given to introspection with action - or any action really. (Gratuitous cute cat photos work elsewhere on the internet, why not here?)

Navel gazing gets a bad rap.  The term conjures images of lack of inertia and laziness, but the truth of the matter is, navel gazing without learning anything is a waste.  Action without reflection is just as bad. We’ve commenced the planning process for the 2012 Women’s Empowerment Conference with our partners, makingCHANGE and this week we’ve engaged in some retrospective evaluation in order to make this year’s planning process easier. To turn thought to action, we have been working through the following process that you can adapt for your own use on your next project whether it is a work-related event or a personal change.

Keep a log during the project. Throughout the planning process, I kept a simple text file and when something would come up, I would make a note about it.  I have notes about things we should not do again and why, stuff that went really well, and ideas that we’d like to incorporate but just weren’t able to accommodate.

Debriefing.  A week or so after the conference, everyone involved in the planning sat down and hashed through the entire event.  We talked about what we really liked and what didn’t work quite as well.  We informally chatted with others who attended or who were involved to solicit feedback.  We repeated the debrief several months later when we started planning 2012 just to refresh and capture things that we thought of later.

Evaluations. During the event we asked attendees to complete an evaluation.  We had a good response and we took the time to review the comments. While it’s not easy to read a critical comments about something in which you invested a huge amount of effort, it is probably the best source for understanding the experience from the perspective of your attendee.

So, now what do we do?  Based on this process we are instituting some changes:

Work smarter, not harder – we discovered that we duplicated our efforts in some places or invested time and energy into some areas that didn’t really impact the end result.  We can’t do everything so we are going to focus on getting “bang for our buck” with our time and effort.

We are getting started earlier and we have a template – we are farther along in our planning process than we were last year.  For this year though, we have a template and we aren’t  starting from scratch to develop our documentation. If you can, re-use or adapt documents, timelines, and schedules to save time and effort.

What tasks or responsibilities do we like and dislike by taking an honest look at which tasks we individually enjoyed completing, we are able to play to our strengths and interests and among the group, all areas are  covered. If you don’t have the luxury of delegating something you dislike, own that you don’t enjoy it and plan your timeline accordingly. Perhaps tackle that task first with something you enjoy scheduled behind it to “reward” yourself.

Changes to the schedule – based on feedback from attendees, we are lengthening the workshop sessions to allow more time for everyone to engage with the content.  We also know that summer is a slow period and we’d like to have as much planning done as possible earlier so we don’t get slammed in late August.

Put ourselves in the shoes of the attendees – our goals haven’t changed and as we mentally walk through the pieces of the event, we ask ourselves if our plans work for someone who has no background on the event.  Is the information clear?  Will attendees be able to quickly identify locations and times?

We need more help –  we are not superheroes and we can’t realistically do everything.  Many hands make for light work as the saying goes and we concluded we need more volunteers to help.  If you’re interested, let us know!

How do you document a major project or life change to better understand the process?  How do you use that information for the next time?

The 2012 Women’s Empowerment Conference will be held on Friday, October 26th at the Sheraton in downtown Columbia.  If you are interested in volunteering or would like more information, please email info at empowerctr.org! 

Posted by:  Heather Comstock

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