Inspiration

Little Fish, Big Pond: Growing Pains.

I moved to the Bay Area last week. Exactly one week ago today, in fact. And by move I mean drive endlessly and relentlessly across the country following the California Trail from North Carolina to Missouri, across all of Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and the fresh hell that is Nevada (sorry, Nevadans).

2,800 miles, 3 nights/time zones, 4 days, and many potato chips later I landed safely at a dear friend's house who is graciously allowing me to set up shop in her home for the next several months until I find a place. All while managing a healthy workload and expanding my consulting business.

Needless to say it's been a bit of a whirlwind and I've been craving a status check and some much needed processing. One week in, here's what I know:

• I'm experiencing a bit of culture shock (in addition to the expected but still surprising sticker shock). People are well-coiffed, hip, savvy, and all seem to be doing Important Things with their very big brains. I've been out of the academic environment for a long time where this was more or less the scene in general, and in the real world I've been living in based out of humble Greensboro, NC, the pace of life has been just a wee bit slower.

• I wanted Inspiration, and I'm gonna get it. Of this I can be sure of. My friend reminds me to embrace this growth mindset and soak it all in... and after chatting with her I realize I'm experiencing the big fish in a small pond to small fish in a big pond leap. After these initial feelings of intimidation, I remember that there are very good reasons that I am exactly where I am at this moment in time. I remember that I grow when I'm being challenged and stimulated, and that I want to be around people who push me to be the best version of myself that I can be.

Marc Andreessen says the same thing in the context of career planning:

Never worry about being a small fish in a big pond. Being a big fish in a small pond sucks—you will hit the ceiling on what you can achieve quickly, and nobody will care. Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found.

Ah yes- this is why I do exponentially better playing tennis with someone more talented than me (and why all the pros recommend it too).

• Ideal Self versus Real Self: When I was in San Diego this spring I had a wonderful talk with a colleague who had spent a few years living where I did and then decided to move back to his home state of CA. I was expressing my regrets for not having done more in the community in my time there. He told me there was my Ideal Self and my Real Self. My Ideal self wishes she could have made more of a contribution to that community, while my Real Self needs to be in an environment in which I will thrive. That really resonated with me. He also told me that this move would feel like being on a roller coaster, blindfolded, and that I just needed to hang on and enjoy the ride. Happy

• Yet another friend shared how often big life transitions bring about other transitions and new things into our lives by virtue of us making a huge seismic shift, some of which I am excited to see already taking place for me.

Along side of these growing pains, I will learn to surf and ride the waves. I may be a little fish, but I am an excellent deep water swimmer.

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A Leadership Mentor Reflects

Below is an end of year reflection written by a mentor participating in the YMCA Black & Latino Achievers Leadership & Mentoring program, a collaborative project by the Hayes-Taylor YMCA of Greensboro and the Center for Creative Leadership.

I’ve worked for two great organizations that empower and support youth, the YMCA, and now CCL—both places to earn a living just like anywhere else. Over the years I’ve discovered that the real magic lies in what their teachings and philosophies have the capacity to DO inside of people.

I was drawn to this program because I have experienced firsthand the impact that mentor(s) (or lack thereof) can have on a person’s trajectory in life. I have had many role models and mentors, but two who have left indelible footprints on my young soul and inspired me to do the same in any capacity I can while we are together for such a fleeting time on this planet. Both passed away, too soon, and suffered great illness at the end of their short lives.

Their lives first spurred my passion for improving health care one person at a time, in a time when AIDS and cancer were new and scary unknowns. Their leadership and mentoring brought out the best in me, challenged me, believed in me, and through their trials I learned a depth of empathy and connection with others that continues as a bittersweet gift. I have also seen the lack of mentoring on people’s lives. This too has reminded me of my dedication to this service, because without support to dream, grow, and encouragement for development, life can seem insurmountably tough.

This program consists of one half day each month during the school year, delivering remarkable impact and unexpected beneficial ripple effects for months and years to come for its participants. The curriculum is leadership essentials, aimed at high school youth, and creates a safe space where being your truest best self is refreshingly encouraged. We learn about Direction/Alignment/Commitment, head, heart and feet, learning curves, goals, social identity, our vision, and our “spark”- what makes us feel truly alive.

As a mentor you go through the experience of learning and doing just as the Achievers in the program do, the synergy flowing both ways from mentor to mentee as time progresses, and the sessions fly by in a blur. I am in awe of how this program has touched me. The Achievers have coached me through some really challenging times in my life and checked in with me, leading and mirroring back the gentle spirit and values of the program. They have given me direct unsolicited feedback that has led to career decisions, reminding me what I excel at when in the busyness of adulthood I had forgotten.

Many Saturday afternoons, motivated after sessions, I researched some of the leaders that were conversation starters, pulling my Nelson Mandela autobiography off the shelf, watching a Spike Lee film or notes from my African American studies. I dusted off my guitar and sang again. The most telling impact this program has had is the peaceful joy that comes from the alignment of head, heart and feet into a living, breathing authentic self. The process of allowing for direct practice of these principles is transformative, and arguably more powerful than any other program I’ve been a part of.

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Val's Visual Explorer (TM) pictures help her describe her own leadership journey

This year we chose images or words that represented where we were on our leadership journey, and one for where we are headed. A perfect example of the simple yet profound work we do in this program. I am humbled and honored to walk in the path of my mentors, and so privileged to witness your extraordinary leadership journeys along the way.

Namaste!
Val

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Additional impact data about mentoring from this program

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Val with her "family group"

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Mentor recognition at annual end of year program banquet