The Granger Leadership Academy in St. Louis: Part II

After breakfast at Jessie’s house, we headed to the hotel and met with our tables for the morning meeting. There, we talked about our Hero Identity (Think about your own hero identity – draw, write, mindmap, or use whatever works for you) and our Commitment (What would be in your great hero speech? What promise are you making to the world? To yourself?). My commitment was:

I have a nice life. My family is close and supportive, my friends are funny and smart, I have a good job and great cats. My promise is to push myself as much as I can, use my power for good, and always do what is right instead of what is easy.

My hero identity was a bad picture of Dumbledore and a worse picture of Leslie Knope with my thoughts in the middle:

Embrace my qualities but identify and correct my negative qualities sooner.

Then I went on to explain to my group how I identify as the offspring of a cringe-worthy sexual union between Dumbledore and Leslie Knope. It was probably too early for that explanation. Actually, there is no good time for it, it’s wrong on like, so many levels. But it is how I feel. And, like most children, I want to keep the good qualities of my parents and recognize and improve the not-so-good qualities.

I was actually really excited to get home and compare what I wrote this year to what I wrote last year! My GLA16 Commitment is in my first blog post about GLA17. My Hero Identity was less gross and used words instead of terrible portraits. I wrote that I stand up for others, that I have intuition and can read the emotions of other people, that I’m mentally, physically, and emotionally strong, and that I’m always learning and always caring. Here the two years side-by-side:

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After our morning meeting, we broke for our first workshop! I chose Hogwarts Houses & the Heroine’s Journey with Xandra Robinson-Burns, Oxford grad, TEDx speaker, Gryffindor, and creator of Heroine Training, an online school that offers personal development courses inspired by fiction.

She gave us an awesome intro to her Lumos Your Life course that is starting this summer, designed to “take a tour through the four Hogwarts houses” and create “a Potter-themed plan for forming habits and transfiguring your personal dreams into a magical mission”. Essentially, we tend to censor our dreams before they materialize. Xandra took us through the four houses – Gryffindor: Dare to Dream, Ravenclaw: Ready Your Mind, Hufflepuff: Find Your Quest, and Slytherin: Live Your Legacy – and helped us unblock our censorship and start the journey of making our dreams our reality.

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Best outfit ever. Also, she’s a genius.

As Gryffindors, we confessed our greatest dream to ourselves. Mine is to own my own business, and that business right now is Renegade Development, creating professional development workshops for young people, creatives, and the young-at-heart.

As Ravenclaws, we listed the resources we will have to tap to start achieving that dream. I brainstormed researching alternative professional development companies (like Xandra’s!), making a list of professional development books by women and POC, and connecting with these people on social media.

As Hufflepuffs, we examined why we do what we do: I also write books about community and creative problem solving and coming of age because I want everyone to have a voice and contribute to the world. Everybody should have the opportunity to grow as a person, gain confidence, pursue their creative and professional passions, and achieve their goals.

As Slytherins, on the other hand, we examined how we can be more selfish. If we want to be the best we can be, we need to be able to work when we want to work and own our own time. I’ve gotten a lot better at not giving in to time-wasters and focusing my activities according to my goals, and I want to be able to help others do the same.

Xandra even wrote each workshop participant a personalized letter that she handed out over the course of the weekend! I loved her workshop and I can’t wait to check out Lumos Your Life. On her way back to Scotland after GLA, she came to NYC for a few days and organized the first Heroine Training Traveling Tea Party (working title). She’s planning monthly meetups where heroines-in-training will convene to talk books, learn from each other, and drink tea. We met at Alice’s Tea Cup on the Upper East Side for tea and scones, Xandra read curated passages from Alice in Wonderland, and the five attendees got to know one another. We even got our fortunes read from mini tarot cards! It was magical.

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My next workshop was Wielding Your Power: Keeping Your Heart Open & Your Ego in Check with Michelle Akin, a life coach, leadership trainer, singer, writer, and new mom who is committed to creating amazing leaders in the world. She dove right in and got us to reflect on ourselves and to think about our essence – how we were born – compared to what we grow into. We talked about grief and survival mechanisms – where we go when we’re afraid. And we came to terms with the fact that peoples’ opinions of you are not actually about you. People bring so much of their own baggage to their judgement and opinions of you and, even though we’re taught that we should strive to be liked and respected by everyone, you don’t need everyone’s respect if you respect yourself. There was lots of spirited debate about this topic (should we strive for the respect of others or not?). Michelle also talked about her experiences as a coach, which struck a chord with me as I’m beginning a similar journey with Renegade Development.

After lunch with my new NYC friends, it was time for my workshop!

The concept of The Art of the Humblebrag: Developing an Elevator Pitch to Let Everyone Know Just How Awesome You Are came about like most of my best ideas: in the shower (showering is super boring, so I do a lot of thinking in there). Bragging has always been hard for me, like most people, because we’re taught to not talk about ourselves (especially as women). It’s even harder when you don’t have a “normal” life/job/career/family/hobbies/etc. You either say too much or too little or downplay your achievements or don’t articulate exactly what it is that you do very well.

I realized very quickly that most people I knew had this problem, so I started researching bragging. Bragging led me to all sorts of other professional development topics and I ended up coming up with a few workshops based on goal-setting, communication, networking, elevator pitches/bragging, and cover letters/resumes which I have geared toward young/creative people, and I’m now beginning to present them in NYC.

My workshop went better than I could have hoped. The workshop attendees were super engaged and had tons of questions and suggestions. Basically, we talked about self-confidence and how bragging about yourself should be re-framed as telling a story about yourself. Then we wrote down ten awesome items we could use in a pitch (jobs, volunteering, cool places we’ve traveled to, interesting hobbies, etc.). We then learned how to tailor elevator pitches to the listener and situation (no one likes to hear a cookie-cutter pitch!) and I encouraged everyone to practice minipitches in their everyday lives (Literally, when you’re in the elevator with someone and they ask you how your weekend went, don’t just say, “fine”. Tell them about the novel you’re working on or the volunteering you did or the surprise birthday party you planned for your friend. And then ask them what they did!). Practice makes perfect!

Finally, we used items from our list of ten things to create an elevator pitch with a specific person and goal in mind. I really wished the workshop could have been longer; there was so much more to cover and I wanted to be able to practice pitches and for people to give feedback to one another, but we only had an hour.

One attendee asked if she could pitch to me in the hallway afterward. She had previously been stuck with her list of ten things, wondering where the common thread was. The second I looked at her list, three items popped out to me. They were interesting and unique and seemed related. I pointed out how they could be connected and she gave me a look like, “why didn’t I think of that?” (tip: you and a friend should write pitches for each other – it’s so much easier to brag about our friends than ourselves!). I left her to work on her pitch during the workshop, so I was really excited to hear what she had come up with afterward. IT WAS AMAZING. She used the past-present-future technique of saying what her past experience was, how she was using it in the present day, and what she hoped to do with it in the future. She focused on one common thread and the result was a strong and focused pitch that was honest and effective (because she’s already amazing). Hearing that pitch was the cherry on top of a great workshop!

Still high on workshop success, I headed to ACRONYM: The Leslie Knope Approach to Volunteer Management (and Friendship!) with Camille Talag and Becca Simpson. Camille is the Chapters Manager at the HPA and a combo of Leslise Knope and Uncle Iroh passionate about youth leadership and activism. Becca is the HPA Chapters Curriculum Specialist and aspiring Leslie Knope who thrives on empowering young people to become activists.

Their workshop focused on engaging volunteers, staff, and team members to reach their full potential. I find workshops on volunteer & chapter member engagement very useful because engagement is pretty difficult for our chapter. NYC is huge and people are busy. Many chapter members are individuals as well, meaning that they’re not friends or groups of friends joining together, making it more difficult for them to commit to events with other chapter members who are strangers (or, as I like to call them, future friends). Becca and Camille laid out their ACRONYM and discussed each topic. Here are few takeaways I wrote down:

Accountability: Have “office hours” (on the internet) at a specific time so people can know when to check in.

Conscientious/Collaborative/Community: Create community guidelines and offer opportunity for feedback.

Reflexive: Reflect on what has happened and then apply it to your next attempt.

Observant: Figure out where there are gaps or struggles.

Nurturing: Be a “momager” (mom + manager) and a safe space for failure. Use recognition when someone has done something right.

Yourself: Be authentic & self-aware.

Managing expectations: Have transparency in what you’re doing.

Then they encouraged us to create our own acronyms. I picked DUMBLEDORE (since our chapter is the NYDA and I love Dumbledore). Daring, Understanding, Motivating, Branded, Leading, Engaging, Deliverable, Open, Reflexive, Evolving. I’m definitely using these concepts as a starting off point for engaging chapter members as well as others I work with in the future.

Next up was the keynote with Emily Graslie, the Chief Curiosity Correspondent of the Field Museum in Chicago, which I LOVED. I’d actually never heard of Emily, which is crazy since her story is so cool and we both love dead stuff.

She basically went over her professional life story including how she realized (and then later questioned!) her hero identity. There were lots of ups and downs in her journey; plenty of missteps that brought her to where she is now. When she decided to commit to her hero identity, she turned to the internet and used her art degree and science collection experience and combined these talents and interests to end up getting the coolest job ever.

She also talked about the concept of luck and how we are lucky but often what other people label as our “luck” is really a BUTTLOAD of hard work, learning, failure, trial-and-error, tears, and sometimes blood. And she threw one of my favorite quotes out there:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – maybe Seneca, but has been disputed

She told us to never stop hustling and promoting ourselves and our projects. Her advice to protect our brands and communicate our values really resonated with me as I get more involved with more public-facing projects (being a published author, Twitter, etc.). She asked us: before you post or tweet, does what you’re saying represent you and your values? As long as your social media is consistent and on-brand, you’re doing something right. I highly encourage everyone to check out her content and projects. She was SO INTERESTING! And nice as hell.

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Then it was time for our field trip! I cannot say I loved the City Museum. It was very crowded. VERY CROWDED. Also, germs. Also, there were no maps, which my map-brain still cannot comprehend. How am I supposed to know where anything is with no maps!?!?!!? I am not an aimless wanderer. I am a 100% fake “aimless” wanderer. If I say I love to wander aimlessly through neighborhoods or new cities or even through the woods, know that I am absolutely lying to you. I have already studied maps of wherever we are or will be and I have either committed them to memory or I am sneaking glances at them on my phone every ten minutes. That’s just the way it is.

I arrived to the museum hungry and therefore hangry, then had to climb painfully through a metal tube to get to the cafe. I scarfed down a grilled cheese and the nice woman at the counter made me an entire new pot of coffee and then I was good to go. Jessie thankfully led us upstairs and out of the crowds and took me to the room of dead stuff. As previously mentioned, I love dead stuff, so that made me happy.

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Then we proceeded to ride a number of slides in the dark. I literally do not know how else to describe it. Finally (FINALLY) we called it quits and went to the bar, which was (inexplicably) a log cabin built into the side of the lobby where I consumed a large draft beer and chatted with my friends, which was much more enjoyable.

After we got back from the City Museum, we stopped by the hotel bar for whiskey gingers and then headed up to MJ’s room where I was forced invited to partake in a Buffy crash course. We watched an episode where no one talked and then another one where everyone sang. I was mostly confused, but I drank some chocolate wine, rejoiced in the obvious gayness of Buffy, and had lot of laughs until it was time to call it a night and head back to Jessie’s house to rest up for the next day.

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