26.2 Miles of Commitment

So hard to believe it’s already been a week since the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon where 45,000 people from across the world raced through the streets in the city of neighborhoods. 

Part of the route runs through my own neighborhood. This year I was nestled between miles 6 and 9 to the East and West. I had a few friends in the race this year who I could track progress for along the way. I saw several others I knew and could cheer on during that beautiful fall Sunday.

Whenever I watch big marathons or parades or large scale celebrations with participants from all walks of life, I get so emotional. There’s something about the power of community that gets me in my feelings. I shed a few tears of joy as my boyfriend and I stood and clapped for both strangers and friends.

I was watching people in the midst of accomplishing something major…26.2 miles worth of sweat, grit, self-talk, joy, pain, victory. A metaphor for life like no other. Alongside other spectators, I spent much of my time cheering along and encouraging people I didn’t even know. 

There were people of all ages, fitness levels, races, religions, genders, etc but we were all there to rally around the same cause. We all wanted to see people accomplish some variation of the same goal — to finish and to do so safely. 

It was a beautiful day and so many accomplished goals. My favorite part was feeling part of one positive community and I hope for more of that in my town and yours. 

Chicago Goods: Museum of Contemporary Art

In the last month, I have been to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) located downtown Chicago twice. They currently have Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, on exhibition with The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

Murakami has an interesting mix of artistic displays, ranging from traditional Japanese paintings to fun animated characters to kooky yet darkly playful looking, almost monster-like characters to pop art collaborations with musical artists like Kanye West.

MCA is located just behind the Water Tower Place, a mere block from the Magnificent Mile. Most days they are open until 5pm with the exception on 9pm on Tuesday and Friday and being closed on Mondays. Suggested regular admission price is $15 for adults. Illinois residents are free on Tuesdays which is also a treat because during the summer, MCA hosts Tuesdays on the Terracewhich features live jazz from 5:30-8pm, has drinks for sale and space for people to mingle or chill on their back patio area. After the jazz is done, visitors have an additional hour to walk through all open exhibits before the museum closes at 9pm. 

Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg came out of the Japanese folk saying that an octopus in distress will chew off a damaged leg to ensure survival, knowing that a new one will grow in its place. 

A really profound concept when you think about it.

“The exhibition chronologically traces the many reinventions and refinements that have fueled Murakami’s career. I have now gone through the exhibition twice and I don’t think it will be my last. I find something new and interesting every time and there is plenty more to discover. Though some of the pieces have aspects that are plain weird, when I think overall about his message, I get it. I love that the exhibit goes in chronological order so you see the evolution of Murakami’s craft and mental state as he reinvents and refines over time.

I know the Art Institute of Chicago gets a lot of love (and it should!) because it has a lot more historical pieces but this is another option for people looking for something different in Chicago.

Murakami will be on display until September 6. Enjoy! 

Action Day!! Day 3 of M.A.D Leadership Chicago 

​The last three weeks I have been doing a series writing about this amazing conference I volunteered at in September. It was hosted by the Aspire Foundation and was a program focused on developing (mostly women) leaders who want to make a difference. 

If you want more back story, I would recommend you visit my blog to catch up on those posts. Today I am going to wrap up this series with the final day, my favorite…ACTION DAY!!

This is my favorite because without action steps or effort into a  tangible plan, a great conference can quickly go down the drain once it’s all over and regular life distractions get in the way…again. 

Action day when I attended a similar conference in London is part of what changed my life in this last year. I often keep my soapbox ready to chat about the value and importance of vision boards and Action Day falls into the same category for me. 

When I can articulate my vision, share it with others, write it down or have visuals for it, it will become more reasonable to achieve those things. You can begin to look for ways to open doors yourself or the right people who can help you or hold you accountable. After some time has passed you might look back and day, “Wow how did I make it this far?” I’ll tell you how. It’s because you had some version of Action Day. If you don’t know what you want or where you’re going, how can you know if you are even on the right track? 

On Action Day, you learn to say ‘Screw the Fear’ and give your vision some teeth. Action Day is not for the faint of heart as it will make you uncomfortable because a plan don’t mean ish without some action on your part. Yes, you actually have to DO stuff to achieve your dreams and goals. 

For the Aspire attendees, there were 4 sessions for the day:

1. Leading and Influencing Others

2. The Power of Your Network

3. Strategic Thinking & Time Leadership

4. Action Plans, Support & Accountability 

Again, the best way to wrap up this conference was with Action. So many people leave conferences with a whole lot of action and little thought towards implementation. But you don’t need a conference to have your own action day. You already know what you want to or need to work on. Follow through on the commitments you have made to yourself and others. Start today! 

Overcoming Obstacles: Day 2 of M.A.D. Leadership Chicago

The last two weeks I have been writing about this amazing conference I volunteered at. It was hosted by the Aspire Foundation and was a program focused on developing (mostly women) leaders who want to make a difference. 

You can read my first 2 posts here and here

Today I am sharing what happened on Day 2 of the event. It was appropriately titled, Overcoming Obstacles Day.

What is your biggest obstacle? How could you overcome it?

What is needed from you to overcome this obstacle? 

There were 4 sessions that day. The first session was about defining your purpose. Who are you and why are you here? 

Attendees were able to choose 2 speakers to sit with and share with. I sat with a speaker who has done ultra-marathons. She is also a businesswoman, wife and mom. She gave great advice and and tips on following your inner compass and going after your purpose to increase your impact.

Between sessions of course there was networking for attendees to take full advantage of the wisdom and endless connections available to those daring enough to seek them out. 

One of the most impactful sessions which was full of powerful stories on transformation came just after lunch on day two. 

3 speakers shared personal testimony about their journey past unbelievable hardship and struggles to a better future. They each found amazing women and men along the way who helped them push their lives out of darkness into light. 

It was hard not to shed a tear or two listening to some of the stories. 

One young lady, Nasreen, flew in from Nepal to share her story about overcoming a small-minded community where her mother told her sister to stay in a forced marriage with an abusive husband to Nasreen escaping to a big city and finding herself as a child laborer working in a sweat shop, making thousands of shirts a day in a tiny room. She eventually was able to leave that life and managed to start her own business then came in contact with someone from Canada who wrote an article about her. She’s also been featured in Forbes magazine which she had never even heard of. 

Sometimes you meet people with a light and love that cannot be explained. Nasreen is one of those people and I feel more wise having met her.

Other than a reflection session for some due quiet time, the day wrapped up with a session on collaborative leadership and the most fun project possible.

Here is the video for the Jessie J Price Tag tribute we did for our ‘Awamu (being together) project in Uganda filmed by yours truly.


Until next time mad leaders…

With Nasreen Sheikh from Nepal after she shared her amazing story


Prior to the Aspire M.A.D. Leadership Chicago conference I wrote abour last week, there was a webinar to prepare. 

One question posed to webinar attendees was, “What is your main motivation to attend M.A.D. (Making a Difference) Leadership?”

  1. Improve Leadership Skills
  2. Make a bigger difference in the world
  3. Figure out future career and life goals 
  4. Make a life or work change
  5. Something else

Intentions are powerful. Declaring your direction and what you want to achieve can gain more results than going into any new project or adventure blindly.

Throughout the program, attendees had a chance to network and spend time speaking out loud about dreams, goals and vision. But what I loved was that it didn’t stop there. Goals do not mean much without action and that was a big focus of the event. Attendees could learn the steps for how to take action and create steps for making a difference. 

Before the event began, attendees checked-in and got to select their own journal to jot down notes, ideas, contacts, plans, follow-up, etc during the week. I attended an Aspire Foundation event last year and I still have my journal. 

This year’s event in Chicago included 12 sessions. I will take my next few blog posts day by day. Day one sessions included topics on the power and impact of being a MAD leader in today’s competitive organization and global economy which was led by Aspire’s founder, Dr. Sam Collins. On day 1 attendees also heard from Linda Cruse on how to create a life and career you love and be a catalyst for change. Linda Cruse is an international aid worker, disaster management specialist, author, inspirational speaker and social entrepreneur. You should check out her book Marmalade and Machine Guns.

Linda said a lot that resonated with me. She talked about the work she does around the world but how it’s important to create environments that foster independence. You have to train people you teach to be without you so they don’t become dependent. It is valuable to co-create then leave. That to me is not important only if you are assisting in third world countries but a principle that rings true in every country in any life. Parents, school teachers, managers can all take that same piece of advice and apply it. I know I want to. No one should want to create someone who cannot be independent to think, live and thrive on their own. 

Some other faves Linda mentioned are as follows:

“We come with nothing and we go with nothing. At the end of the day we have our purpose so don’t miss living your purpose by one day. How do you want to be remembered?”

“Why not? Two words that will change your life.”

“Have a board of directors for your life, in your life.”

“You become who you have coffee with.”

“Buy an experience for Christmas or Thanksgiving. You’ll talk about it for years. Buy experiences, not things.”

To wrap up day 1, there was also a panel session on making success. The panelists dove deeper into the ideas of balance and resilience being possible for MAD Leaders. 

One of my favorite takeaways was something someone on the panel said which was,”No…is a gift you can give someone. It’s you saying, ‘I can’t do it’ so they can find someone else versus saying yes then you can’t commit to it. 

Next week I’ll tell you more about day two of the Aspire Foundation MAD Leadership Chicago conference.  

The totally fab Volunteer Team I was part of

Five-K Me: 2016 Summer of Wicked Workouts

In 3 weeks I will be doing my first 5K. It may not seem like much but I’m actually pretty excited about it. Much more than expected.

I don’t think I have done a bib race since running the Indy 500 half-marathon in Indianapolis many moons ago. We’re talking at least 10-11 years ago.

I have never been much of a runner. I can walk for miles but I do not enjoy running. It just doesn’t jazz me up but back in the day I was briefly into running.

Earlier this year one of my coworkers said she wanted to do a 5K walk. I did that thing where I was like, “Great idea. Yeah that sounds fun. We should look into it.” Meanwhile I had no real intention of doing it. Then it turned into a group wanting to do it and get our lives and bodies together. I was placed in charge of planning.

We all need friends who nudge us and pull us along on good ideas like this. I researched races all over the city and ultimately we whittled down to this fun one where gospel music will be played throughout.  It is family-friendly and will be held along the lakefront path of Chicago. Another major plus is all the money from the race will go to support a cause all of us are passionate about — poverty alleviation. It will be an uplifting, energizing and encouraging day for us all.

Other than hoping for good weather, we have also been making our own personal adjustments to get prepared. Taking walks and eating better are a few of the intentional changes. Talking about it at work keeps us motivated and we may even do more races in the future.

I’m not looking to become an ultra-marathoner or anything. I just want to kick off another wicked workout summer right.

Pretty soon I’ll  also be back to my regular weekly shenanigans with 3 hour sessions of yoga, pilates and zumba. Sweating hard, not looking pretty, constantly ready to quit but with a milestone birthday waiting for me at the end of this year, now is a better time than any to keep climbing uphill on this quest to get my heart healthy and my body right.

Summer 2015 Workout. That's me front left

We all got to start somewhere. What people sometimes forget is baby steps forward is still progress. Remember it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Summer 2015 workout with Zumba instructor Iris

Sportsmanlike Conduct: My Weekend in Indy

An annual tradition of mine is to go to a Chicago Bears football game at Soldier Field.

I wake up early — layer up to face the unkind brisk Chicago winds that cannot help but exist this time of year — and prepare for a day immersed in football.

Tailgating usually begins about 8am for me. Show up early to grab a solid parking spot, unload the grill and meats and cigars and brews with friends and family.

We have Chicago Bears tents, Bears blankets, Bears chairs, Bears hoodies and even Bears grill gear. We eat and enjoy the company of our fellow tailgating neighbors. Chicago Bears football tailgating is a perfect community gathering spot.

When it’s time to pack up so we don’t miss kick-off, thousands of hardcore (and I’m sure a decent mix of fair weather fans) march in solidarity towards our very own Soldier Field.

It’s a tradition and a fun one. This year we altered it a little to see what else is out there.

On Saturday afternoon, I loaded into a car with a few members of my family and headed for Downtown Indianapolis.

My teenage niece who I wrote about last Sunday is a Indianapolis Colts fan. Don’t ask me how it happened. None of us know and even her story isn’t convincing.

Regardless, when we came around to picking a game this year, at first we thought about traveling to see our Bears in another city. We were going to take our show on the road. Then because we usually pick a game around the same time every year, we decided to really go outside the box. We chose the Colts v. New Orleans Saints.

My niece is the reason we ended up in Indy this weekend. We wanted to give her a live chance to cheer for her team.

I’ll be honest I went through the seven stages of grief when I realized we had no plans to see our Bears this year. I really didn’t hit acceptance until Friday night when I was packing to leave.

But I love football. I also have a Fantasy Football League roster that makes any NFL game a little more fun even if my Bears aren’t playing. Chicago also had a bye week so I could rest easy not feeling like I might be cheating on my home team.

I have not been to Indy for several years but I must say, I had a blast. We stayed right downtown at the Hyatt Regency which was a gorgeous hotel in the middle of all the action.

We enjoyed a great meal at the Colts Grille, listened to live Blues music at The Slippery Noodle on Saturday night and got to do a light version of our regular tailgating tradition before game kick-off on Sunday.

There was a healthy mix of Colts and Saints representation throughout the weekend. For anyone who watched the game, the Saints won but everyone stayed mostly cordial. 

Lucas Oil Stadium is really impressive. The energy between Andrew Luck and the boys with the fans in the stands was unlike anything I have seen at Soldier Field.

In and through it all, we met great people this weekend. Folks were kind and hospitable everywhere we went.

For example, we went to pay cover for the Blues bands and it was $10/person. The doorman let four of us get in for $20 instead of $40. That’s how you make a positive, lasting impression.

In the future, we will probably stick to our home team games but it was great to try something new and different. It was cool to see opposing fans interact when you have no real stake to claim.

Indy I am excited to say I’ll be back and it is because of the experience you gave me. I am surprised to say I really enjoyed myself.

If I had to throw a flag on the plays this weekend, it would be to thank you for your sportsmanlike conduct. Especially because I wore all my Chicago Bears stuff proudly in your city and wasn’t chastised for it.