Breaking bread and starting conversations

This wraps up my posts based on the inspiring women I had the privilege to meet at the Leading Women event, but it may be one of the most important messages.

I’m a firm believer our mission is to help people reach their dreams and to leave the world better than we found it. Jenn Graham, CEO and Founder of AHA! Strategy and Civic Dinners, agrees. Her whole message was about “How engaged women build thriving communities.”

Her community building efforts began when a bike ride ended with a broken nose and arm thanks to an encounter with a rain grate installed improperly in the streets. She found her voice when reaching out to city officials resulted her problem area being fixed and ultimately many more around the area. That taste of what happens when concerned people speak up, set her on a new course.

As an author, blogger and communicator, I love how she embraces the power of stories. “People telling the stories frame what is true,” Jenn said. “To change culture, you have to change the story.”

Storytelling was the first form of learning, and how history is, and was, passed down through generations. It’s where emotion and action come together.

“Magic doesn’t happen with a big speaker on stage,” Jenn said. “It happens around tables with people sharing stories and working together.”

Using her desire to make her communities better and armed with the knowledge when people find common values more gets done, she crafted an experiment around the original social network-the dinner table.

Her experiment turned into Civic Dinners.

According to Jenn, breaking bread together automatically makes people more connected and breaks down barriers. The atmosphere makes it easier to have tough conversations. She believes meaningful conversation over food can spark real and lasting change.

Civic dinners aren’t hard. A host picks a topic and the organization provides a kit to help facilitate the conversation. You invite 6-10 diverse guests for whatever kind of meal you want. It could be potluck, a picnic, a 7-course dinner for the gourmet inclined or pizza takeout for those who are in a hurry and don’t cook. The kit includes three questions on a single topic. From there, each guest, one at a time, gets equal time to share their ideas and opinions. Topics include: transportations, livability, prosperity, nurturing communities, bridging the racial divide, reimagining aging, affordable housing, education, literacy and more.

Nothing happens until people start talking. I’ve talked about the importance of social connectedness and the art of civil conversation before. It’s important we start inserting the art of conversation back into daily life.

There are still a lot of tough conversations that need to be had.

“We still have big issues to tackle,” she said. “Our next conversations focus on the racial divide, the voice of women, and the art of civility.”

Each of us have a story. We are the sum of our experiences and the people we have come into contact with. By linking people up and sharing these stories, we will find bonding points.

We all have skills and talents we can put to work.

“We can look at the world and think someone should do something about that or we can start taking the small steps forward and get things done,” Jenn said.

We all need to be brave enough to start conversations that matter.

Jenn Graham, CEO and Founder of Civic Dinners (left) with Chellie Phillips (right) at the Leading Women Conference.

@ahastrategy @civicdinners

Unleashing the Greatness Within

I love hearing from women who are making a difference and working their passion. Dr. Adrienne Booth Johnson, with Infinity Global Connections, is living her dream and encouraging all of us to do the same.

Dr. Adrienne Booth Johnson (left) showed me (right) and all of the other women gathered at the Leading Women event how to unleash the power we have within us.

While attending the Leading Women event, she encouraged us to “Unleash the Greatness Within.”

If you’ve read many of my posts, you know I talk a lot about recognizing the fact each of us have a set of gifts and skills just waiting to be used. We all need reminding we are enough and we are supposed to us that energy to make a difference in our personal lives and in the lives of others.

I think Dr. Adrienne would agree. She said we all have power within us and we just need to know how to release it and put it to use.

She encouraged all of us to never listen to people who talked down to us and it’s ok to snip those naysayers out of your life. I call it deleting negativity. You don’t need it around you and you don’t need to allow the power of someone else’s words to make you doubt yourself.

Using her background as a track athlete, Dr. Adrienne, helped us visualize a success strategy.

1. Stay in your lane and don’t let anyone get in yours. If runners cross into another’s lane, they are disqualified. It’s important to keep our eye on the prize and let others run their own race.

2. It’s important not to get hung up on looking in the stands to see who was watching you. If you fall or fail, the important thing is to brush it off and keep on going. Each race prepares us for the next one. There’s always another race coming.

3. You have to pass the baton. It’s important to pass along what you know to someone else.

4. Never give up. Persevere. You’ve got to keep moving forward even when stuff falls on you.. When you work hard, you’ll win. Live with no fear.

5. Be fearless and push through the pain.

6. It’s ok to enjoy the win.

She closed with a challenge. Don’t settle and don’t compromise. Listen to that voice inside you. And when you follow your passion, don’t forget to give back. Ask yourself what is it that you want to do? Remember, you don’t have to help everybody, just help some body. Focus on giving and giving back. If GOD gives you the vision, he will give you the provision.

What’s the voice inside of you encouraging you to do or try? What do you need to make it happen? Let’s start a conversation.

BONUS: Check out how Dr. Adrienne is paying it forward.

Leadership Circle

I’m blessed my job allows me great opportunities like attending last week’s Leading Women event. (Thanks Christian City and Fayette Chamber for making it possible!) These events put women together in an atmosphere designed to inspire, encourage, challenge and lift each other up.

Right out of the gate, we had a moment of reflection. We were asked, “If you could make a special toast to any woman in your life, who would it be and why?”

Almost everyone thought of their mother. That relationship is so important. The overwhelming thought shared over and over was our mothers always believed in us and encouraged us to do anything we wanted. That belief pushed many of us to dream big and make bold choices. It gave us courage to face obstacles, brush off failure, and carry on.

I kept thinking about other women in my life who have been encouragers and sounding boards long after the conference closed. I can’t begin to list all of my teachers who have helped shape me and my career. My fifth grade English teacher, Barbara Ann Guyhto, should get a lot of credit for igniting my passion for creative writing. Then there was my Probe teacher who encouraged us to submit our creative work in contests and I got my first $15 paycheck from a story called “The Case of the Missing Sneakers.” I had so many influences before I even hit high school.

Throw in spiritual leaders, family, friends, college professors, career colleagues, and numerous other women I have had the privilege of learning from along the way, and the list of influencers, guides, and challengers I’ve encountered could fill up a notebook. Each one, unique in their own way, and helped me craft a part of me.

I had the privilege to work with college women for over 14 years. It was my turn to give back. To dish out some of the encouragement I’d stored up and help someone else see they were enough to accomplish whatever their story held. It was my time to wipe tears and gently push someone to try one more time. We celebrated wins together and plotted out ways to defeat obstacles. The really cool thing is that I learned from them too. They kept me up on the latest social apps and dances (thankfully no videos exist!) They kept me energized. They shared insights and we had great conversations about life topics that matter. I learned to listen.

The thought I ended on was the importance of the circle. To soak up and embrace encouragement and advice when it is offered, but never forget we are filled up so we can share with someone else when they need it. We must be able to move past the need to compete with each other and instead celebrate the successes together. We must build each other up and not tear each other down. We are really better together than alone.

I’m going to end this post with a challenge for you. Think about the women who have impacted your life. What did they share? How did they encourage? What was their message? Make a list. Now think about your friends, the young women in your Sunday School class, the new co-workers, or the young mom you sit next to at your kids ball practice. How can you keep that circle alive. What can you share? How can you be that encourager for them?

If you feel like it, leave me a comment about the women who inspire, motivate and encourage you. Want some tips on how to be a great mentor or mentee? Check out this blog post.