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Strong Women

Never doubt what determined women can accomplish,” was the phrase which kept running through my mind last week as I prepared to attend the 3rd annual Financial Women in Texas annual conference.  It was my good fortune to be both a member and general session speaker at this conference and when this thought repeated in my mind, I realized the story of what they accomplished can be an inspiration to us all.

Three years ago, a handful of women refused to let go of the professional bonds and friendships developed and built for decade upon decade when our former international organization dissolved in 2009.  These leaders focused on what is important about us banding together, found  and developed strengths in their team, and took action to rebuild our association.

I have to admit, my first reaction to rebuilding our association was more like a sigh than a cheer of encouragement.  It sounded like an overwhelming and far too daunting task, but this group of women changed my tune

Their determination, strength, and willingness to do the work resulted in so much more than a new association called Financial Women in Texas.  They became a beacon of light showing the way to new possibilities, as milestone after milestone was achieved. 

Countless hours were spent deciding steps to take, the structure to build, and how to overcome the many obstacles in their path.  Their perseverance and energy attracted attention; immediately others stepped in to help, like the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, which gave critical help in our formative phase.   

These leaders kept communicating their results to women across Texas as they persuaded and attracted both former and new members to their cause.  Within a year, members were attending the first conference as a new association. 

At our first conference, I looked around in awe at what they had accomplished.  Although fewer people attended conference the first year, the event was expertly produced.  Suddenly, I realized the task was achievable and from that point forward I resolved to become a more committed member.

By the second annual conference, former members from other states began attending our conference.  This year a few women in neighboring states have joined their nearest local group for monthly meetings as well as the association conference, which gives us hope for growth beyond our borders.

This past weekend at our third annual conference, it is clear we are on our way to becoming strong as an association.  Additional associations are sending representatives to our conference, and our membership continues to grow.  New members are stepping up to leadership roles in the local groups that make up the association, and there are even a couple new faces leading at the association level. 

These strong women who resurrected our organization are very willing to share their strength with more members and have the vision to see how our leadership must be developed to grow our organization.  A new region is in the process of forming a local group and hope is high that yet another will form in a few months.

Thank goodness we had so many women willing to see the possibilities, build on strengths in themselves and partnering organizations, and take action.  They kept us together, created a model for others to follow, and became a symbol of hope and strength to those both within and outside of our association.  They were the inspiration for my presentation last weekend too, as they beautifully illustrated the key components:

      1. Focus on What’s Important
      2. Uncover and Develop Strengths
      3. Take Action

Thank you, ladies.  Because of your focus, determination, and willingness to take action, women in Texas have a unique support system.  Like so many goals, it wasn’t easy.  Fortunately for us, your objective wasn’t ease; instead you strove for something meaningful. 

Strong women created an organization that is rapidly growing strength of its own and supporting many of us along the way.  This group of strong, determined women has truly made a difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

by Margaret Mead  US anthropologist & popularizer of anthropology (1901 – 1978)

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“Bloody Hell”

Actually, the giving of my blood was quite easy.  It was qualifying to give blood that was so difficult!  The experience reminded me that once a goal is set, you’ll find ways to make it happen.   The key is simply to define and own the goal.

Monday morning, I didn’t intend to give blood.  Then at noon that day, Bob Sagebiel told my Rotary club about why military blood drives are so important.  He said this was a special drive as we were particularly low on blood.  He explained the military must buy blood at retail prices from private blood banks when they are low, military programs cannot ask civilians to donate, and soldiers are often restricted from giving blood for years due to their deployment destinations. 

Many years ago, Bob learned civilians can give blood when they form their own volunteer groups and invite the military to participate.   So, he organized a group of volunteers and donors and invited the military to collect blood in Fredericksburg.  It’s been very successful, with hundreds of units collected each time this town of ten thousand is asked to participate. 

The catch is collections must be done at a federal facility and ours is two miles out of town.  Nobody drives by this facility and thinks, “Oh, look there’s a blood drive!  I can give blood today.”  No, if you are driving by the Armory, you saw an email, stopped at a booth at HEB (our local grocery), or were told about it by a friend.  It’s clear the program is successful because Bob’s group works very hard to spread the word.  Right then and there, I decided to give blood.

It really didn’t occur to me I was setting a goal, but I was.  It was clearly defined, had a date, action steps, and measurable result:  I would give blood this week, block an hour in my schedule, drive to the facility, and leave a pint of “O positive”.  Technically, I even wrote it down – in my calendar.

Easy, right?  Well, not this time.  I had to work at it, repeatedly.  I drove out to the facility three times before I succeeded in giving blood!  What’s ironic is before I set the goal, I wasn’t willing to drive out there once, yet after setting it I drove out multiple times, did research in between, and even called upon others to help me out.  Once I owned this goal, much effort went into making it happen.

You may wonder what happened.  First, I was in Mexico last December, and wasn’t sure how far south of the border I had traveled, so I was asked to come back once it had been a year since my trip.  I could easily given up then, but once set, goals have a way of pulling you toward reaching them. 

“Once set, goals have a way of pulling you toward them.”

I went online, researched the area we had visited in Mexico, and printed a map showing the longitude and latitude, since the rulebook definition went by these coordinates.  My travels were far north of areas of concern.  I went back to try again and received a high-five from the volunteer who took my registration and sent me to step two.

Then a new barrier appeared:  my teeth were too clean.  Yes, normally this is a good thing, but earlier that day I had been to the dentist for a cleaning.  There is a rule requiring 24 hours after a cleaning before you can give blood.  Seriously?!  Yep.  Something about bacteria being stirred up which I really didn’t want to imagine.  Luckily, I had one more day to try again.

On the way home, I called for back-up, just in case my efforts the next day failed.  I did what many people do when they need help.  I called Mom.  She’s given gallons of blood over the years, but she is new to town and probably didn’t know about the blood drive.  If she gave blood because I told her about it, then I could reach my goal that way, and maybe double it myslef by returning the next day.

It was then I realized how my behavior changed once I set my goal.  By making the decision and owning the goal, I automatically thought of solutions and aligned my actions to make it work.  Rather than giving up after the second try, I awoke determined to try a third time.  In my zeal to be successful, Mom learned about the drive and is now an advocate.  Best of all, I lost a pint of blood this morning and reached my goal!

I tell you, some goals can be “bloody hell!”, but this one was worth it.

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South Llano River

Water is precious in Texas, especially at the end of August.  When friends suggested we go kayaking on the Llano River last weekend, I might have wondered how many times we would find ourselves stuck as we scraped rocks on the riverbed bottom.  (This is how I’ve kayaked before while burning myself in the blazing heat of a Texas summer.)  Fortunately, my thoughts were full of promise as our more experienced kayaking friends had told us there is “always water in the South Llano”.  My husband took them on faith, too, even though he had recently driven by the North Llano River and found it to be darn close to dry.

I’m so glad we went.  It was a beautiful day, with overcast skies all morning keeping the temperature down and visibility excellent.  We saw blue herons and hawks, buzzards and sparrows, catfish and minnows, quite a few snakes, and one wild boar.  We floated past fields and limestone cliffs, saw caves and the bloom of late summer flowers.  Yes, we scraped bottom a couple times, but I never was stuck on the rocks of the riverbed.  It was relaxing and easy, we paddled steadily for just over two hours in the quiet perfect morning of a Texas Hill Country summer day.

We left the river at our take-out place a full hour ahead of schedule, and enjoyed the sprinkle of very light rain while having snacks and easy conversation with our friends.  Home in early afternoon, there was plenty of time in the day to call another friend and catch up on a long overdue talk.  When I told her of our kayaking trip, she said we were always on some kind of adventure.

I was about to insist that all we had done was say “Yes” when our friends invited us along, to protest that we hadn’t planned the adventure – our friends had – when it occurred to me she was right.  We are often out on some adventure, usually resulting from our own effort and planning.  This time the opportunity came right to our door and invited us along.  All we had to do was agree to go along.

It would have been easy to turn down this opportunity, to be too busy, imagine the weather too hot, or the river too low.  We could have put it off until after fall rains or simply decided an hour drive to Junction, Texas not worth it.  I’m glad we didn’t.  I’m happy we instead eagerly packed our cooler for a morning of fun.   We can’t wait to introduce others to the South Llano kayaking adventure and repeat this experience over and over again!

 What might you enjoy if you say “Yes” when an adventure comes knocking?!

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Playing by the Rules

Imagine there is a big truck hurtling towards you only a few seconds away.  It’s coming directly toward you and shows no sign of slowing.  You realize it is only about three seconds away and the driver is staying the course.  What do you do?

You keep driving on your side of the road and assume he will stay on his.  

Rules help each of us go where we want without worrying about someone else going in the complete opposite direction.  So what happens when someone breaks the rules?  Let’s change the scenario a tiny bit:  You are driving along a two-lane highway with narrow shoulders.  A big truck appears in the distance heading toward you.  As it nears, you notice the tires are just over the center line and into your lane.  Now you are only a couple seconds away and his tires are still creeping into your lane.

How do you feel now?  What is going through your head?

I would be worried and planning evasive moves.  I would be evaluating how quickly I could move toward the shoulder without jerking the wheel too suddenly.  I would  be conflicted between driving just over the edge of my lane and wanting to be as far from the other car as possible.  My palms would sweat as my heart beat faster.  Every moment would increase my anxiety.  I would pray he noticed his error in time to correct it before I took evasive action. 

My guess is you would, too.

That’s the problem when someone breaks the rules in what could be a dangerous situation.  We don’t know if the other party will correct himself in time.  We don’t know if they will go farther across that line.  Yet, we also know that it’s possible nothing bad would happen at all. 

When someone breaks the rules we question their understanding and intent.  We wonder if the other person is aware of the danger created.  We also know careless people can be as dangerous as purposeful ones.

A friend of mine is breaking a different set of rules – and the potential consequences could jeopardize many people.  I believe my friend thinks he is helping others, not endangering them.  Then the truck image popped into my head and I realized it doesn’t really matter what I believe.  Intentionally or not, my friend became dangerous when he broke the rules.

When must you play by the rules?

 

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Bicycle Ride

A few years ago on a very hot, sunny day I was out riding my bicycle in the Texas hill country.  It was a pretty ride and enjoyable for the most part; there were only a few long, slow hills, little traffic and lots of changing landscape to keep it interesting.  I had ridden from town to country, along a creek and beside pastures of hay and wildflowers, and had just rounded a corner marking the half-way point in the ride.  Wide open fields were all that lay in front of me as I pushed up a slight incline. 

Then I remembered what was coming up:  a long fast drop to a low water crossing with an equally steep ascent back out.  Mentally I sighed and grumbled to myself about how hard it was to push back up from the draw.  I don’t ride fast and couldn’t count on my momentum to bring me very far up from the bottom.  My legs and lungs would do all the work of pulling against gravity – and every time I rode, it was harder than expected.

It felt like this perfect ride was about to be ruined by the work of coming out of that low-water crossing.  Most low-water crossings were not that difficult.  Most were simply a slight change of pace.  This one completely changed the ride.  The pleasure of pedaling would be exchanged for the burn of muscles pushing hard to take me back up to level ground again, my breath would come fast and quick, and sweat would slide into the corners of my eyes. My attitude had moved from contentment to complaint in those few moments since remembering what was ahead.

My angel of understanding must have been riding with me, because out of nowhere a question came to mind:

“How can you become stronger without challenges?” 

Without the burn, sweat, and shortness of breath, my ride wouldn’t challenge me.  It would simply be an easy way to spend some time exercising, and here’s the irony:  I chose riding to become stronger and fit, not to coast through fields of flowers.  Although I like the ease of a long down hill ride with the chance to look around and relax a moment, the ride needs some physical challenge to be satisfying.  Coming up shortly was a piece of variance that would help me build the strength and endurance I needed – and it would take less than a minute to finish.

Suddenly I reversed attitudes once again.  Now I wanted to feel my muscles burn, my breath to come ragged, and sweat to drench me.  I wanted to grow stronger, celebrating in the future as the coming obstacle became easier and easier, reveling as I looked for my next challenge.

I decided to embrace the burn and use it to allow easy stretches of the ride to feel sweeter.  Then the drop appeared and down into it I went as fast as I could, switching to lower gears on the rise and pushing into the pedals steadily until back on level ground, a smile breaking through with my determination to make the most of it.

The ride became a metaphor for life as I realized that to really benefit from the ride we cannot avoid the hard parts, but must ride through those stretches, building strength and pressing forward until we are back on an easier path.  That day, I decided to embrace all of the ride and in doing so embraced more of life along the way.

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