I am 69 years and on the verge of being old. I am retired, and I like to take naps. Some might think that because I lead a somewhat sedentary life that I can’t be moved to action by the power of words. So far from true! About a month ago I attended an event that may have been primarily geared to people still in the workforce, but I, too, walked away with ideas I wanted to talk about and share. I heard powerful words that motivated me to reexamine my priorities, welcome risk opportunities, and value networks and relationships.
Iowa Women Lead Change (IWLC) hosts conferences around the state of Iowa that promote networking and present nationally and internationally acclaimed speakers who break down what it means to be successful and how that is achieved. There are ideas there that apply to women at work, but the lessons are equally life lessons as well. My husband and I attended one of these conferences in Dubuque in October. He, too, felt included, instructed, and inspired. Three extraordinary women spoke at this event. Carla Harris, Tererai Trent, and Sylvia Ann Hewlett all have exceptional credentials, awards, and achievements.
My life has been easy. I had strong parents who gave me opportunities and experiences that laid the groundwork for a successful person. While we were not wealthy, we didn’t want for food, shelter, and other basic necessities. My siblings and I received debt-free college educations; we were so lucky. To hear stories about poverty and abuse serve to remind me that my life has been charmed. Sylvia Ann Hewlett recounted her childhood in a Welsh mining community with high unemployment and mediocre education programs. One day her father and she set out on a bus to see Cambridge University where he told her that there were opportunities out there for her. She took him seriously. She had to overcome barriers such as language barriers (her Welsh accent was considered crude and unacceptable). However, she has gone on to earn a Ph.D. and found a successful consulting company.
Tererai Trent authored a children’s book called The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can. It is her story. She tells how her mother encouraged her to write down her dreams and put them in a tin can to be buried. As she achieved these dreams, she dug up the can and crossed them off the list. She has completed her list with the awarding of her Ph.D. and now keeps the list for her children to see. Married at 11 to an abusive husband, she had three children by the time she was 18. Education was the thing she valued most, and now she is building schools in her native Zimbabwe, the first started with the $1.5 million gift she received from Oprah Winfrey. There is courage and determination in these two women that make me reexamine what is truly important in life.
We all take risks at some time – taking a new job, deciding to marry, jumping into parenthood, or buying that first house. All three of these women are risk takers. They see risks as opportunities, as welcome challenges. No one said that taking a chance is easy, but Carla Harris talked about becoming comfortable with the notion. She says that many people keep their heads down, but not her. She keeps her head up to see opportunities coming her way. This is one of “Carla’s Pearls.” Tererai Trent tells a story about her efforts to raise money for her projects, so she decided to sell T-shirts with the slogan on the front “Tinogona: It is achievable.” The plan didn’t work so well in that she only sold 20 shirts, mostly to her friends, but the slogan is still her mantra – accept the challenge because it is obtainable.
Finally, this conference provided an opportunity to network and develop relationships. It might even be possible to find that “sponsor” that Sylvia Ann Hewlett spoke about. I no longer need job connections, but I do value networking, particularly with other women. I am in a book club that meets once a month to purportedly talk about a book, but also meets once a week for a coffee, once a month for a spa visit, and an occasional weekend trip out of town. These women inspire and inform me. I need their presence in my life. Connecting was a part of the agenda for this conference. At lunch attendees were assigned to a table where there was a list of questions to consider. The young women at my table were incredible. They shared so much about themselves and their views on life and their work. I valued the opportunity to hear what younger women are saying and thinking. At the end of the lunch several shared business cards, and one even emailed us the next day. They saw the value in creating networks of support and information.
I am still a work in progress and continue to learn and change. I hope that will be true for a long time yet. I need reminders about what is important, new challenges that I am willing to accept, and connections to intelligent and creative sources. I was well-fed at the IWLC conference.
Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa