Passion, authenticity, and unapologetic joy: Women of Influence Summit 2016

This post is a continuation of the previously posted: Women of Influence Summit: A can’t-miss event

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The Women of Influence Summit 2016 presented by Next Monday (the first of its kind) promised”to give your influence a name, to identify what makes your power special.” A movement, this conference intended to help you continue to carry on your influence to all those around you, each and every day.

And it did not disappoint.

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With over 300 women gathered together on a rainy day on the campus of the College of St. Benedict’s, the summit kicked off not with a bang, but with a swell. A swell that continued to grow and expand with every conversation – every connection – made throughout the day. But what began as a whisper left as a roar, thanks much in part to the amazing speakers and willing attendees present.

There was so much to be gleaned from the influential minds in the room that day, but an overarching theme became more apparent with each speaker: Be true to yourself, stop apologizing for doing what you love, and follow your heart & passion wherever it leads you. Several speakers hammered this point home, and while I didn’t get to experience them all, I can summarize here some of what I learned at the 2016 Women of Influence Summit.

1. Be aware that you are rare. 

This came directly from a breakout speaker, Trace Wiese, as a reminder for us all that we are each unique, different, and a little weird – and that’s wonderful. Her session, along with several others, emphasized the importance of living authentically. That is to say:

“Who you are, at the core, when you’re at your best, with and for others.”

If you have trouble defining your authentic self, or being able to communicate your values, think about what your mentor or best friend would say about you. What would they say is your greatest quality? That’s likely your #1 value you can own, emanate, and be proud of. Me? I discovered my intentional value is “Helpful.” And in every way I can, I’ve tried to keep that top-of-mind in what I’m doing. You know what? It’s pretty darn accurate.

“The trick is to not let people know how weird you are until it’s too late for them to back out.” – Zac Galifianakis

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2. Slow the &$%@ down.

Jaci Finneman… where to even start with this woman. Her talk on being “Mrs. Over Do It” resonated with me to my core. Her struggles with not putting herself first, and her desire to be helping others at all times – even when it wasn’t needed or wanted – is something that so many women battle with every day. Why is it that we as women feel the need to exercise control, balance and perfection over everything? Where did this expectation come from, both internally and externally? Who knows, really, but the point is that it’s time to slow the &$%@ down and notice what the world is telling us. Watch for signs. Keep your ears and eyes open to those around you. Pick up on cues and hints. And know when it’s time for you to make a change for yourself. Know when to say “enough is enough,” and when to indulge yourself in your dreams and wants. Once you reach that point, tear up your to-do list, grab a glass of wine (or pint of ice cream or whatever your vice may be), and remember that it’s perfectly okay to put yourself first.

“That was the day she made herself promise to live more from intention and less from habit.” – Amy Rubin Flett

3. Stop making choices out of fear.

To paraphrase Katie Manar’s breakout session, we make 100’s of choices daily – how many are out of fear? Well, that answer may lie in this next question: When was a time you reacted less than your best? Chances are, when we react less than our best, it’s because we’re making a decision out of fear – fear on the surface level as well as fear that is hidden deep down in a place we may not even know about. When we let fear drive our decisions, we get stuck. We either avoid situations that we’re afraid of, or we react in a way we wouldn’t have under normal circumstances. If we remember to put love first – to think with our hearts and not with our fears – we will be able to portray our true selves better each day.

Fear is a real thing – but we can change how it effects us by how we allow ourselves to react.

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4. “Remember, everyone else is faking it too.”

A quote shared by Maria Surma Manka, who heard it first from her boss. What an important reminder, especially when we find ourselves caught up in the haste, the bustle and the craziness of everyday life. In Maria’s session, we talked about worry, and the fact that humans are built to worry. It’s natural. It’s common. It’s expected. It’s universal. So how can we best handle our worries to remain productive, positive and happy? By looking at our types of worry – practical versus hypothetical – we can determine how to best approach strategies for dealing with them. If we’re worrying about concrete, literal issues, deconstructing them into hard facts and absolutes helps. If we’re worrying about the future and all its vagueness, we should schedule time to let ourselves worry, but not go beyond that. And the best remedy for worry? Celebration. Celebrate the big things, yes, but celebrate the little things. Because in the end, life is pretty dang great, and we need to remember and appreciate that as much as possible.

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere.” – Erma Bombeck

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5. Don’t give up on your dreams.

The opening keynote spoke of extreme tragedy. As a young, vibrant, talented dancer, Nicole Marquez’s life nearly ended after a tragic accident that left her physically impaired. She was told she would never walk again, let alone dance. So what did she do? She got her mind in the game, she gave every ounce of focus, grit and determination she could muster, and eventually – she danced. Her story along with several others throughout the day spoke of the importance of the determination, grit, and heart that it takes to achieve your dreams. The key things to remember? Surround yourself with supportive people, and know that you have to choose to make the best of the situation – only you can truly find your strength.

“Not only can you reach for the stars, but you can grab them, and girl – you can fly!”

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The closing keynote had many of the same messages as Nicole. Gaia Nova moved from Bulgaria to France at age 18, and now lives in Chicago and has founded her own company, Power Tower. Gaia’s story is also one of resilience and never being satisfied with less than her ultimate dreams. The most inspirational part of her speech was not in what she said, but how she said it. Mid-speech, it became clear that she was extremely nervous and having a hard time communicating to us. So what did she do? Took a step back, admitted that this was really hard for her, and confessed that she was facing her biggest fear by speaking to us. And what did we do, after a long day of inspiration, passion, and women empowerment? We cheered. We clapped. We shouted words of encouragement. We stood together for the remainder of her speech, providing a wall of support for Gaia. And she finished her inspirational story, faced her fear, and we all celebrated with her.

“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” – Thomas Jefferson

Whew! Feeling like you can take on the world yet? Ready to kick some a$$? That’s how I felt after the Summit, and that’s how you, as a woman, should feel every single day. The hard work of Next Monday organizing this event and the amazing speakers (I wish I could have heard them all!) made the 2016 Women of Influence Summit a day to truly remember forever.

So don’t ever forget: be true to yourself, put your needs first, don’t let fear rule your decisions, worry within reason, and never, ever give up on your dreams.

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#EmilyFayeSays

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Networking vs. Connecting (there’s a difference)

Those who know me in a professional sense know that I love to network. I love going to happy hours, morning get-togethers, lunch and learns, socials – pretty much any opportunity to meet new people. But recently, I attended three events with a week of each other that really started to change the way I think about networking.

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Event #1: NEXT MONDAY LADIES LUNCH, LEARN & NETWORK

This event is put on by a company called Next Monday that specializes in “supporting women with leadership training and executive coaching to hone in on their why – which is their passion and intent and what drives the majority of their decisions.” And they act as a catalyst for bringing smart, talented, driven women together. A friend of mine (who I met through a networking group, go figure) Kelly, has recently started working at Next Monday. She introduced me to their quarterly LLN events. The most recent one was called Connecting with Intention. Tara, the speaker, talked to a group of about 100 women about going beyond the basics in networking. Like how to really connect with others, placing more value on relationship building than network-growing. It was a really inspirational speech (aided by Tara’s sense of humor) that got me thinking about how I can be better at connecting with intention. How can I take it to the next level with my connections? How can I really start to form relationships? One exercise that Tara had us do was to write down 5 people we’d like to have lunch/coffee/drinks with in the next month. So I wrote down my (ambitious) 5, left the meeting feeling inspired, but didn’t actually take any action.

Event #2: NEXT MONDAY HAPPY HOUR

Hosted by the same great company, Kelly invited me to a ladies happy hour at a nice bar in town on the following Monday. For women only, this was just a low-key opportunity to get out of the house one night of the week, meet other women in a relaxed, comfortable setting, and not have to commit to anything (other than a glass of wine, probably). Upon arriving, I saw two women who I knew from other networking groups, so I began to chat with them. One of them, Sarah, introduced me to two of her coworkers. After chatting for a while, I realized that one of them had graduated from the same college, the same year, with the same degree as me. And, we now live within 5 minutes of each other in a small suburb of St. Cloud. We exchanged numbers and promises to meet up at the local watering hole sometime, and I left feeling wholly fulfilled. Not because I had exchanged business cards with every woman in attendance, but because I had made one, real, genuine connection. It felt amazing.

Event #3: WOMEN IN BUSINESS MENTOR MORNING

The following morning, I woke up early to get ready to attend another event I had registered for the previous week. Mentor Morning was another women’s networking-ish event put on by a local media company. I had discovered it the previous Friday, and signed up immediately. Essentially, it was speed-dating for mentors. The event brought around 20 local woman who have excelled in their professional lives, from COO’s to college presidents, to CFO’s to business owners. Mentees could choose 5 women to spend 10 minutes with each to learn a little more about what they do, how they got there, how they overcome professional struggles, etc. As it turns out, two of the women I had on my list from Tara’s event the previous week were mentors – lucky me! I was able to spend time with each of these woman and three others, and it was inspirational, educational, and an absolute blast. Taking notes from Tara’s session again, I followed up afterwards with thank-you’s and we-should-meet-up-sometime requests, and now I am having coffee with one of the women in two days.

Whew 🙂

Let me first say that  I don’t usually attend quite that many events in that time span, but it just worked out that way this time. I will also say that there is something so… satisfying about attending women-only events. We all have something in common. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily take advice from or do business with successful gentlemen, but the ability to be real with other women is what makes it so much fun.

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My top pieces of advice that I gathered from all three events?

  • Listen, listen, listen. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and if you listen well enough to be able to follow-up on certain things – personal or professional – the next time you meet, that’s how relationships grow.
  • Ask questions. Go deeper. Someone mentions they have a son? Don’t just say “that’s great” and move on. Ask his name. Ask how old he is. Ask what he likes to do. Show genuine interest. And remember the answers.
  • Follow up. Send a text, make a phone call, write a note, or even deliver a small, relevant gift – do something after the fact to say “Thank you for meeting with me, I enjoyed it, good luck with XYZ life-event, keep in touch” – simple as that.
  • Don’t blow a connection. At the LLN event, I sat next to a woman I’d never met before, and we had great conversations throughout – laughing, sharing advice, etc. However, when the event was over, I stupidly didn’t ask for her card. I may never talk to her again. I can’t remember her name. I blew that connection. Don’t do that.
  • Be helpful. Find out what that other person needs help with. Whether it’s a referral to a business you’re familiar with, some advice on a resume, or a recipe you talked about, be helpful with your knowledge and abilities – it will be reciprocated.
  • Enjoy yourself. This is probably number one. If I didn’t enjoy meeting people, getting to know their stories, taking the time to develop relationships etc., I wouldn’t be very good at it. Find out who you enjoy connecting with – it will be mutually beneficial.

So there you go. Next time you meet someone that you’d like to get to know better, think about how you can make a geniune connection. Don’t be afraid to take them to coffee. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they’re not interested, you will know it, and then you can move on. Now go forth and let your relationships blossom 🙂

#EmilyFayeSays