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! 

Aspire, Inspire, Trailblazing Women

​I love being in a room with powerful women and men, especially women. Powerful though not because of their title or status but because of their spirit. Aspire has done it again!

This week I spent volunteering for The Aspire Foundation M.A.D. Leadership Chicago conference. 

This was a symbolic full circle for me. Last year, I attended my first Aspire conference on Trailblazing Leadership in London (click link to read one of my most popular posts on traveling in London). If you have been reading my blogs for some time, you probably remember my posts (like this one here!) about that trip.

This week, I feel like I met the most beautiful souls. People who help you believe in humanity. People who believe in diversity including diversity of thought, of people, of ideas and dreams. People who were open, loving, thoughtful, compassionate and serious about making a difference to change the world, knowing that it starts with transforming their own lives so they can help transform the lives of others.

150 women attended each day from front line, manager and senior positions in the corporate, academic, local government, small business, nonprofit and charity worlds. There were attendees on scholarship, students, mentees, mentors and a few amazing men attended as well. 

As a volunteer, I got there early each morning and stayed late each night, giving my best energy, smiles, help and support to everyone who needed it. I helped with setup, breakdown, did the social media (Search #madleaders on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), checked attendees in at reception each morning, helped delegates during and between the sessions, supported the volunteer team and all other duties as assigned. 

I got just as much if not more from volunteering as the attendees did. I got to see the experience from a different point of view this time around. I was nervous about how that might turn out but it was a brilliant decision. I worked closely with Dr. Sam Collins, the Founder and CEO of Aspire whose mission is to Make a Difference to 1 Billion women by 2020. 

At the beginning of the conference and before it started I spoke aloud intentions for what I wanted to get out of it. What did I want to see for myself? What did I want to see for the attendees? What did I want to see for the volunteer team? Some of my answers were re-energizing, restoration, peace and clarity.  I feel like I got even more than I asked for and that’s pretty incredible for a few days.
There were 12 fantastic sessions over 3 days. I have so much more to share but I will cut this post short so I can give the other content it’s full airtime. Next week I’ll start sharing more details about the conference sessions and some take-aways that really impacted me. 

I had to start somewhere because I am so excited. This week gave me a renewed energy and outlook on my present and my future. I am a M.A.D. (Making A Difference) Trailblazing Leader. 

Onward #madleaders!

Inside Out Leadership

Leadership starts with self. At the beginning of 2015, I created a vision board filled with hopes and dreams and goals for the year.

At the end of this year I will post more on where I stand with that list. Whenever I look at that list I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. I don’t feel pressured by it.

My vision board actually motivates me and propels me forward. Achieving things on the list is not important just so I have things to talk about. Achieving items on the list means I am proactively living my life. I am taking the lead in my own life and that is something to get really excited about.

At first I was really nervous about putting my vision into pictures and words that others could see and hold me accountable for.

What I have found along the way is that I have pursued my vision without check-ins. I needed the visual for me so I could actively look for opportunities to fulfill my vision.

Before I can impact the world, society, my community, my work or my family/friends, I have to start with myself.

If I keep myself solid and in check, I will be able to achieve what I want to achieve. I will be able to motivate and empower myself so I can turn and help others down the line. I have to lead from the inside out so I do not get lost trying to help someone else.

What do you do to develop “Inside Out” leadership in yourself?

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Life along the Thames River: My first trip to London 

I had the privilege and opportunity to spend some time in England this week. It was my first solo trip to Europe and I was terrified at first. I had this irrational fear it would be like Taken 4: The return of Liam Neeson. Then I went and put my brave boots on and had a brilliant English adventure I will never forget. I am fortunate to have now done something so far outside of my comfort zone. It reinforces I am fully capable of empowering myself to live the life I desire.

Here are 25 tips, observations and lessons I can share now thanks to London:

1. Activate international data plan before day of arrival. Sprint made for a shitty and confusing first day. I could not make any calls or use the Internet (including Google maps — can you imagine?) to figure out things. The silver lining was I lived pre-Google old school and just asked people. Thank God it is an English speaking country and also people are friendly. I found out though many people who live in London have no clue where things are.

2. Fly Virgin Atlantic. The high level of customer experience I received in economy (coach for us regulars) was amazing. Just imagine first class. Truly Virgin was phenom from check-in to landing. I even had to tweet Sir Richard Branson and his staff about it. Thanks again Richie B for giving me life.

3. Mind the Gap between the train and the platform.

4. Heathrow Airport offers 4 FREE hours of wifi. There is no limit on devices. There is no catch. There is not even a password you need to type in. London’s hospitality is off the charts and this is a classic example in its purest form. Where I’m from, there is no such thing as free wifi in airports. Not even 15-30 minutes. Sad in comparison isn’t it?

5. The underground train is not all underground. Barreling through the deep, dark tunnels of London I was expecting this ho-hum florescent light experience. I was miracles only if I wanted to check a site on my phone. Every now and then though we burst through the darkness into the light and it was glorious. Keep some gum handy though while riding the Tube. The speed and pressure makes for intense eardrum plugging.

6. Press the open button to enter and exit DLR trains. The Docklands Light Railway is accessible by the underground Tube but operates differently. If you don’t want to look like a fool and you are the first one on or off the railcar, be sure to press the “Open” button otherwise you won’t be leaving. The doors do not automatically open on these trains so paying attention is key. I struggled to remember the first couple of times.

7. Tap your Oyster Card at the beginning AND end of your trip to be charged the correct amount. I kept forgetting to do so at the end because (mainly on DLR), there is no gate to exit through which serves as a reminder. For a while I thought maybe it operates on the honor system. You could potentially ride and never pay. Station attendants can request a ticket or Oyster card at any time though so not worth the risk. Later I also realized there are penalty charges involved. I think some fees for my forgetfulness ate up the pounds on my card pretty quickly.

8. London is more ethnically & culturally diverse than I expected. It was quite amazing. I saw blacks, whites, christians, muslims, asians, even Asian muslims cycling through life together. My AirBnB host was born in Bulgaria. My amazing airport Uber driver was born in Pakistan but had an English accent after 9 years of residence. I met a multitude of women from different nations at the Trailblazing Leadership conference. There were over 400 women in attendance from all over and I was the only American. It is always really lovely to see the globe represented any place I go.

9. People watching is universal good fun.

10. Google maps tells you what stop to get on and off at but never the direction to travel in. I never knew which side to stand on or which platform to be on. Every time I thought I knew…wrong lol. When in doubt, just ask.

11. Police can be approachable, friendly, helpful and harmless. Novel idea really. I could walk up to any of them and ask a question. They were literally always happy to help. I never had to feel intimidated though I still did a little bit but who can you really trust these days right? :\

12. Having staff at every train station to answer questions from tourists like myself is genius. I am convinced London is the most hospitable and accommodating city I have ever been to. If you look lost, they will ask how they can help you. They genuinely want to do their jobs well. Friendly doesn’t seem to have an expiration date.

13. Use the Thames River as home base. Almost every major viewing point in Central London is a short extension from the Thames. There is a gorgeous riverwalk and easy to find Tube underground lines or buses along the way.

14. The Underground Tube is mostly quiet. No one is asking for money, selling socks or yelling incoherent words & profanity on the platforms or trains. I enjoyed the change of pace.

15. Most of the men & women walking around in the city are in high-class business professional suits. I occasionally felt quite under-dressed. Some women were walking around in classic silhouette dresses with those cute hats we see for English weddings and such. Many men are in really fancy, nice suits. I saw one man with a top hat and coattails like I have only seen in movies. Where do these people work?

16. AirBnB makes traveling solo so much more enjoyable. My host was funny and cool. It reminded me of my days living with a host in Nicaragua. The level of quality care from a stranger really puts humanity in positive perspective.

17. Even when mean, Londoners sound nice. I went to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and there were people climbing on the gates so they could see better. The police kept saying, “Please don’t climb the gate. Thank You” and never got crass about it. They could have said, “Please don’t climb the palace gate or I’ll bash your effing head in. Thank you” in that English accent and it would have sounded just as pleasant I imagine.

18. The English accent makes regular sentences sound so full of drama. I enjoy listening to the English speak unless they have the Eliza Doolittle twang

19. Public transit elevators do not have to smell like urine or other abominable human waste.

20. The English love the F-word and I love hearing them say it. Consider it a guilty pleasure.

21. Don’t book an early flight on a Sunday morning. Don’t do it that is unless you’re ready to spend lots on an Uber or express train. I learned public transit doesn’t run as early on Sundays so I was almost stuck but Uber saved my life and got me to Heathrow in plenty of time.

22. Bring shoes that make sense to walk around the city in. A great way to see the city of London is by foot so stay smart and keep the shoes comfy so you can enjoy exploring.

23. The children naturally sound incredibly intelligent because of that English accent. Unless they sound like My Fair Lady. See number 18.

24. My English inspired vocab replacements are as follows: Brilliant! (over awesome), biscuit (over cookie), loo or toilet (over bathroom), rubbish (over trash), bloody, proper, surname (over last name), piss off (over leave me alone), queue (over line) and diversion (over reroute).

25. People are beautiful all around the globe. I was fortunate enough to spend time at a Trailblazing Leadership conference for 2 days with over 400 women. We had great, meaningful conversations about our goals, dreams and fears among other things. It was wonderful to be in a room full of women to both cheer and challenge other women along. I was fortunate enough to develop some good connections out of that. The Internet makes it almost effortless to keep connected with new friends around the world. The important thing is to make the effort. I learned from and shared personal stories with strangers that made us not so strange to each other any more. When we get to the core of things, we’re not so different — you and I. I love when I catch glimpses of the mountaintop Dr. King always spoke about.

I would definitely live there if given the opportunity. Regardless, I will for sure be back to visit. Thanks London for making me feel at home.

Dream, Plan, Go: Why your goals need you to make moves now

In two weeks, I board a plane to Europe. It is more than just vacation, it is an investment in myself. I think that may be the coolest part. For my very first trip to London, I am taking on a personal and professional development opportunity with other women from all over the world.

I applied for & received a scholarship to attend the Trailblazing Leadership conference for women in London, England in June of 2015. My attendance at the conference was covered but I needed to cover travel and accomodations. If a hopeful, young Chicago woman like myself wanted to go to London & be forever changed by this dynamic and influential experience, I needed financial help getting there.

The conference is being hosted by Dr. Sam Collins, Founder & Director of the Aspire Foundation. I attended the “International Women’s Day Trailblazing Leadership” webinar hosted by Dr. Collins in early March of this year. I created a vision board for the first time this year. One of my visions for my personal and professional life was to establish a lifestyle blog to help individuals be the best versions of themselves because I have learned we are worthy of the best life has to offer…in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. So I loved the trailblazing webinar and felt motivated and inspired to further achieve my personal & professional vision. I live-tweeted the webinar, virtually connected with inspiring women around the world and applied for an opportunity to attend the conference. I received notice April 1 that my application was selected and I was awarded a scholarship to attend. I was thrilled to receive the news of course but then began the brainstorm for funding my trip so I could attend, be safe and bring my leadership back to my life and various communities in Chicago.

At this upcoming Aspire ‘Trailblazing Leadership’ conference, I can celebrate the inspiration, support and strength that women give to others around the world. I can share ideas, network and learn. It is an opportunity to highlight the power and strength of women, like myself, to be dynamic leaders in this world.

By attending I will:

1. Gain practical tools and ideas to achieve my biggest aspirations for life, work and the world.

2. Think bigger, vision even bigger and go for it – overcoming obstacles and fear.

3. Be inspired by like-minded women leaders and increase the visibility of inspiring women around the world.

4. Evolve my skills as an intrapreneur (entrepreneurial mindset inside my organization), entrepreneur (within my own business) and altrupreneur (in a charity or social business).

5. Learn how to stand my ground and have a voice at the leadership table at any age, level or background.

6. Network and share best practices among women globally.

I realize more and more that being myself, standing out and wanting to make a difference is fundamental to success. I want to be an authentic and real role model for the next generation, empowering and supporting women and men around the world.

I am making a dream into reality. But it didn’t just happen. Sometimes we want what we want the easy way but things worth having in life don’t always come or stay easy. The things worth having will challenge you, expand your mind, encourage your growth and demand action out of you.

And just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s bad either. It just means if it is worth the work, you will put in work for it — love, family, your personal health & happiness, career, spirituality, etc.

I have not always put that “it may not be easy but it will be worth it” philosophy into practice right away. When it came to London, I was excited to have the opportunity then immediately put myself under stress and pressure. How was I going to make this happen?? I wanted to go but wanting to go would not purchase my plane ticket or do the research I needed to plan the trip. I had to take action. I had to ask for help and accept the help offered. I had to make moves.

I took advice on cheap but safe accomodations and booked my first AirBnB. I signed up for airfare watch websites to find the cheapest direct flight possible. My friends helped me search for flight deals. I created a GoFundMe account, after a friend’s suggestion and was able to raise money to help me afford this trip I would have otherwise not been able to afford. I stopped being shy and started telling people about my goal and they wanted to help me. It has been the most affirming yet humbling experience.

On the scholarship application, I answered a question about what I hoped to get out of attending the conference I discussed this blog that I had not yet created. I talked about creating this blog, gaining ground on my vision and learning from the experiences, challenges, obstacles and triumphs of the individuals I will meet in a few weeks.

I have been unsure for too long on how I would make my dreams come true instead of wait for them to come true. Though still finding strength in my voice, now that I am at least speaking up, it feels amazing to have people affirm my vision. The late and great Maya Angelou said, “Nothing will work unless you do.” It is a supreme truth and I’m a believer in it.

What dreams and goals do you need to make a move on?