I just got back from the 2016 National Women’s Leadership Conference* and have returned with more laser-point focus than ever this year. I may have finally stepped far enough outside of my comfort zone to really connect with my tribe of awesome business women (and a couple men).
I still owe travel posts on my trip to DC but. . . this is still fresh at my fingertips so you’ll be reading it hot off the presses!
On the very first day of conference, very first thing in the morning, our speaker was “Oprah’s All-Time Favorite Guest”*, a writer, speaker, scholar, humanitarian, and – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t mind me calling her this, a total bad ass. I can’t write up enough to do her justice so read more about Dr. Tererai on her site.
I want to share with you the most poignant points that I took from her powerful talk. Of course I’m paraphrasing and she delivered it with a way better aura of owning it, but since you couldn’t be there, I hope you enjoy these snippets! If you have a women’s / girl’s organization that utilizes speakers – she is sure to win them over and inspire them in an instant – definitely consider booking her.
Lessons from Dr. Tererai Trent*
Go for the great hunger
Dr. Tererai explained the two different hungers; the little hunger which is what you can resolve immediately like eating, and the great hunger which is more of a purpose like becoming educated. Don’t get lost in the little hungers, keep your focus on your bigger purpose!
Don’t put up with the bullshit
Ok, this woman was a powerful and charismatic presence, with her accent from Zimbabwe, and the last thing I expected her to say was the word “bullshit” BUT, she did! She explained that where she grew up she could see the little boys being raised to be leaders while the little girls were being raised to be domesticated and she called that out for being exactly what it was, bullshit! She eventually grew to question that, and because of that courage she is now a humanitarian leader and scholar. You call out that bullshit and let it know you’re over it!
Sometimes it’s ok to say bullshit at a business women’s conference
I know this point sounds ridiculous and completely out of context for a general blog post but since it’s MY post and I’M writing it – let me explain. I ran for a position on the national executive board of my organization in 2015 and I was at-odds the entire year with being completely myself vs. my “business lady-ish” self. The thing is, I swear sometimes. I use slang, I make laser sound effects, I dance – all the time, I have a unicorn phone case, I take stupid selfies, my mom says I have no “solemnity”, and again – I swear. When I was campaigning I would be myself around my campaign team – using “eff” and “ish” because Mary Jane (MJ) is over 70 and I just can’t say the real words around her. But to say “bullshit” on stage??? NO WAY! Let me be clear, Dr. Tererai only said the word twice and with complete deliberateness – and everyone laughed. And let me be clear, I’m not thinking I can go around swearing like a sailor – or that I would want to – I’m just saying, hey, she said bullshit and none of the women over 70 caught fire or walked out, huh, neat!
Say “no” to certain batons
Dr. Tererai told the story of how the “baton” of early, arranged, and abusive marriages in which girls were traded for cows had been handed down from her grandmother’s mother to her grandmother, on down to her mother, and then in turn to her. This was another point where she used the word bullshit (AWESOME!) and told us that, NO, don’t accept that baton! Or if you have to accept it, make it a little different when you do end up having to pass it down. When you hand that baton down to your daughter, redefine it – make that marriage a chosen marriage, add in being able to get an education. Say NO to the arranged marriage baton in your life. Or if you’ve been stuck with a “bullshit baton”, do everything you can to pass on a better baton to your next generation.
Do not be afraid to fail
Dr. Tererai, who has received an actual Doctorate degree, written a book, built 11 schools in Zimbabwe, and has been the keynote speaker at several super important conferences (like mine!), said it took her EIGHT YEARS of failing her GED tests before she finally passed. EIGHT YEARS. If she gave up that first year – that third year – and you KNOW you’d be thinking about giving up after 5 years (I would!) – 5,000 kids in Zimbabwe would be without education right now. Because she stuck with it, undeterred from her failures, she made a big dent in her part of the world.
Tinogona, as Dr. Tererai explained it, means “it is achievable”. If it is something you can dream, it is something you can do. She came from a place of poverty, moved to the United States and continued to live in poverty while pursuing her degree, and through her determination she achieved her goal of higher education – and a whole lot more. It took a lot of work and a lot of time, but she made it happen. If you want to make this your mantra, it was pronounced something like teen-oh-gone-ah, at least that’s what I have in my notes. Double check with the internets.
Leadership is action, not position
AMEN! I wrote this down in all caps and underlined it. I see a lot of people act entitled in certain ways just because they have a title. And I see a lot of people without titles being super bosses without the pay or recognition – and they could care less! Actions speak louder than words and a great leader doesn’t need the placard to inspire others.
Be grateful for what you have
At a point in Dr. Tererai’s higher education she was living in a trailer, working multiple jobs, going to school, and taking care of her kids all at the same time. She told the story of how her kids were getting cavities because the only food she could afford to buy them was processed and not real actual fruits and veggies, which were plentiful back in Rhodesia. One of her professors worked it out with a local grocer that they would leave a box of old fruits and veggies out for her by the door until 5, but at 5 it had to go into the dumpster. She would try to get to the dumpster every day after work by 5 but never made it there in time so she would end up digging out the box. But – she said to herself, “Who am I to complain? I’m getting an education, I have a trailer, these are free fruits and vegetables, I am in America. Who am I to complain?” So. . . think about that next time you’re sad you don’t have beer money until payday.
Do a little ritual with your dreams
If you have a dream, make a big deal out of recognizing it. I do new moon rituals every month. Dr. Tererai buried her dream in a can! She actually wrote a book about it, which my ma bought and Dr. Tererai signed while at the conference. Whatever your dream is, make it even more important with a ritual of some sort – make it your own.
and lastly, my favorite. . .
Your dreams will have greater meaning when they are tied to the betterment of your community
I don’t think I need to explain this one.
*Disclaimer: Absolutely no person, group, or association mentioned above endorses or is likely even aware of my mutterings – do not take this post as an endorsement.