Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thirty Days Thirty Posts

September is a busy month for our family.  With a few family birthdays, a few weeks into the school year and football season in full swing, we are constantly on the move.  September also happens to be my second favorite month of the year.  It's that time when the air starts getting cooler and leaves begin to change.  As I anticipate the most beautiful season of the year, something in my mind just feels a yearning to start something fresh & to create my own beauty in life.

As I continue through my journey of creating a life by design, I want to commit to documenting the steps taken & maybe some lessons learned during this next month.  I am challenging myself to produce 30 posts in 30 days.  The goal is one a day, but I may have to skip days and grant myself the ability to play catch-up if needed.

There are a couple of exciting projects that I've had the opportunity to get involved in & may be able to share a little about some of them as they develop further.  I welcome others who want to join me virtually in my journey, but a key part of intentionally living is to build great relationships & to enjoy more time in community.  Let me know if you'd like to grab a cup of coffee or leave me a comment below or on twitter @carahicks.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Love the Haters

Every Fall I get nostalgic and think about the air of opportunity that is right around the corner. This Fall is special because it marks 10 years from when I left home for college.  Like any other incoming Freshman, I was excited and anxious to take my first journey into adulthood by living alone.  For me, this was the moment that I had waited my whole school life for.  As a child of a single parent, I witnessed the struggle and hardship my mother faced as she worked long hours to make a life for her children.  I was told from a very young age that college could be my ticket to living a better life & avoiding the same tumultuous journey.  So I worked hard and in the Fall of 2003, I began the journey to become the first college graduate in my family.

Although I was blessed by some incredible teachers who played a key role in developing me as a young adult, not all were as inspiring--at least on the outside.  One of those influential "teachers" was actually an administrator at my high school.  I won't ever forget the advice that I received as I considered which schools to apply for.  I was told that I would probably want to stay close to home or go to a small college since I "wouldn't survive at a big college... small fish in a big pond would be a shock from what I was used to."  Some other really discouraging things were said as well.  I later found out from a friend that overheard the gossip, that this leader and some others shared that they doubted that I wouldn't make it through college at all.  This was disappointing to me because I busted it in school.  I made great grades, took on extra curricular leadership roles and held a job three of my high school years. It hurt most because I had a relationship with this leader as I served alongside during some projects that were successful.  I was discouraged, but not defeated.  The "advice" given became a fuel to my fire.

Little did I know that a few weeks later, I would find out I would be a mommy long before I thought about having children.  College was finally here and I faced a choice of following my dreams or staying home and taking the advice of a leader I respected.  I took a leap of faith and for the first time in my life, I wasn't afraid of failure.  Armed with a challenge to prove the "haters" wrong and purpose of building the best life I could for my new family and myself,  I entered college away from home, with no family nearby and plan except to be diligent, disciplined and dependent on my growing faith.

Ten years later, I've finished college and I'm in the middle of another leap of faith.  During my time in Athens, I learned what it was like to manage the operations of a startup company as an "entrepreneur" with the support and guidance of a mentor/business-owner.  Being involved with this company and later another "startup" exposed me to the rewards and flexibility of being a business owner.  I also learned about the long hours, short budgets and joys/pains of building the right team.  After a couple of years with a terrific company I realized that my true passion is to be an entrepreneur &/or to work with startups again in order to give me more freedom to be with my family when they need me most.

And so again, there are some wonderful supporters who have offered to make connections & have followed up with me during these last few, intentionally slow thoughtful months.  And then there are the couple of people who have been negative about the whole process & even diminished some of my past efforts in the community.  One of them brings back the memory of the "High school Sage"  To those "haters" I say, Thank you!  I thrive in a challenging work environment and regardless of your doubts, my passion is to create a way to build flexible, passion-based careers for others in the community by providing services that make our community and beyond even better.  The journey is sure to look different as not a lot of women with big families take on this type of challenge, but I'm not afraid to fail & if I do, it's part of the journey.

If you're lucky enough to have the opportunity to do something you love--even if it scares you, go for it!  Make the most of the resources & relationships that help you get where you want to go (and thank them often).  But don't ignore the haters.  Use their fuel to start your fire.  They may one day come to respect you--and even if they don't, it's okay.   Their "doubt" becomes your challenge & it just might be the catalyst to your success!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why I'm attending my 10 year class reunion

My ten year class reunion is almost a month away.  I'm counting down the days because as a planning committee member, we have just a week or so to finalize numbers and make plans based on the size of the group.  Unfortunately, ticket sales haven't been what we hoped, but realistically they are in line with what other friends have said about their percentage of attendance at other schools.   So it brings up the question of whether class reunions are relevant anymore with the ability to "keep up" with one another online.  When in doubt, make a list... Here are some of the reasons why I will be attending my reunion/rebuttal to some of the excuses we might use to not attend:
  • Reunions don't have to be about comparing success and failure--we're all a work in progress and success can meet a lot of different things to different people.  Whether you're well on your way to big success OR like me, starting fresh with some great lessons learned. Thank God we're not the same people as we were 10 years ago.  
  • Some of us have gained/lost weight, lost our hair, lost jobs, had a failed marriage, etc.  But we have also gained wisdom, overcome bad choices, persevered through real challenges & are still young and have our whole lives ahead (plus, bald guys are hot & mama bodies created miracles--own it!)
  • Your reunion is a rite of passage.  Traditions seem rare in our modern world.  Surviving a decade of adult-hood is worth celebrating.  Sitting at home stalking Facebook or catching up with friends at the grocery store is not a proper celebration.  We've come a long way, we at least deserve a celebration with nice  table cloths. 
  • School taught me how to meet a deadline, show up--on time & prepared, work hard & earn opportunities, get along with people for the sake of accomplishing a common goal (think group projects) and other lessons.  You may have learned different things, but either way, we became adults together--so whether you liked the people who are coming in high school, the likelihood is that they have grown since then as well.  Show up & you may actually enjoy seeing some of the people who walked down the hallways of the same building with the same insecurities and hopes for the future.  
  • Whether you hated high school (or middle school in my case) or LOVED it, a reunion is not about going back and being trapped in the same place.  Again, we have all grown since then and can move on--but hopefully we can still laugh at ourselves (seriously, Alexis, how did you convince me that borrowing your genie costume from 5 years before was a good idea?  I'll never let my daughter leave the house in something like that!).  
  • Relationships are the most important thing we can build in this life.  Although we may have drifted apart or never connected with some of our classmates, we share a common history.  Spending one night of celebration can lead to connections and opportunities in the future.  For some, it may mean mending a relationship or just personally moving past a hurtful relationship.  You never know when you might need to tap into your network or when they might need you. 
These are some of the reasons why I've decided to attend.  It's only one night.  Let's make the most of it!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Another Beginning

This week has been a big week for me.  I was excited to be involved with planning and hosting a retreat with some impressive young visionaries who came in from all across the US (and Guatemala) to connect with their amazing peer network and spend some time in our great city.

The retreat was also planned to coincide with GigTank Demo Day where aspiring entrepreneurs culminate the completion of a multi-week opportunity to build revolutionary products by pitching their innovative ideas to investors and our community.  Between being surrounded by forward-thinking young people making bold moves and wasting no time, teams sharing ideas that could change the way we live & work, and the community that embraces and supports out-of-the-box thinkers, I feel like I've lived in a dream world.

But a part of me wrestled with some of my unmet expectations and unharvested dreams.  The successes I have achieved with facing dismal statistics seemed insignificant & I also questioned how I am raising my children. (Do I push them enough?  Do I give them enough freedom to be who they're supposed to be?) I felt so conflicted.   I was happy to hear that a few other friends involved in the project felt the same way.  So here I was feeling like a loser for a minute, but thankfully I didn't have time to sulk.  I had one day to knock out my to-do list & ensure that my son was prepared to get off to a great start this year in school.

Thankfully, that's what life does to us.  It keeps going.  We have these moments where we realize that our plans didn't turn out the way that we intended.  We missed the mark somewhere, but I'm convinced that some of us nailed it somewhere along the way as well.  Those sweet moments are the push that gives us hope; but if we dwell on them, they may be our only victories.  Every moment is another beginning.  A time where we can choose to do the things that we have always wanted to do.  Or we can choose to be happy with where we are at & work diligently with excellence where ever we are at the moment.

So for me, I was excited to wake up this morning and help my son get ready for school.  It's a new beginning for him.   The first year where he's not the new kid & after going to Fireside Talks with me, I think he's getting that learning sets the foundation for his future (and his ability to make some spending money ;) ).  This is a victory that I'll hold on to and remember as the year gets underway (and his desire to do homework wanes).  It's a new beginning for me because I can make the most out of our mornings because I'm not having to rush him out the door on the way to work.  I can be here for him in the afternoons, when his mind is fresh and full of stories about what he learned.  I can be diligent as a mom, for as long as I have to be home.

I'm grateful for this new beginning and the new beginnings to come.  I hope that I can continue to remember that whatever victory or defeat that yesterday had will come to pass and that another beginning is just a moment away.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Invite the Incredible

Tonight I was able to join almost 300 members of my community for Fireside Talks, a TED-style event where some of the bright, bold young people I've been fortunate to spend the last two days with shared their incredible stories, along with some of Chattanooga's own incredible young people.  

So many thoughts are dancing in my head right now and I will confess that I am unable to communicate their true impact right now because I am running on little sleep; but I don't want to let this moment pass without recording some of the energy that is keeping me up & is sure to resurface in the days to come. 

It's been said in so many ways that surrounding yourself with inspiring positive people can help you become a better person.  I most certainly agree (and doubt that anyone disagrees).   On the flip side, getting stuck in the mundane, melancholy vacuum that life can be sometimes can inhibit you from being the best you.  Sometimes it's hard to escape that sucky cycle, but I challenge you to simply invite the incredible in your life.  Here are some lessons that I have learned over the past couple of years that have surfaced tonight, in no particular order. 

When given the opportunity to spend time with someone with a neat story--do it--even if it means that you have to stretch your time or rearrange your schedule to do it.  

Don't rely solely on yourself.  Our Creator blessed us with His presence and wisdom.  He also blesses us with other people.  These people will inspire us, challenge us, love us, hate us and all of this is good. 

Whatever you do, do it with excellence & diligence.  This invites the incredible. 

A compliment from someone who rarely agrees with you can make a significant impact.  

Learn to accept a compliment gracefully.  Don't downplay it, accept it as sincere and remember it next time you feel like giving up. 

Give you children freedom to pursue their passion & don't stand in their way. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Career By Design: Never Too Young

This weekend has been amazing.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend of mine about some interests that I am passionate about and my goal to take on some project-based work to further explore those passions in preparation for either starting a business/get involved in another community organization.  She mentioned a project that she was working on that I should hear about and that she would need help with because she had prior plans to be out of town during the critical week before the event.

After hearing further details about the project, I was immediately excited about it.  About 2 years ago, an impressive young visionary, Nick Arnett called me from Ft. Wayne, Indiana to ask me to be a part of his Chattanooga meetings with his 12 Cities tour.  While the week he visited was jam-packed, I have to say that meeting with him was so refreshing and I was excited to hear more about his project.  He also met with several other community leaders & connectors who shared about our great city.  After the visit, I followed him on Facebook and was impressed with some of the cool things he was doing.  My friend Tiffanie, who was also involved in his Chattanooga meetings/calls kept in touch with him more frequently and when the opportunity came for his most recent organization to pick a place to hold their first retreat, they chose Chattanooga.

Nick's current organization is called the Thiel Foundation.  The sometimes controversial organization has world-wide notoriety because it attracts young visionaries under 20 and encourages them to strike while the iron is hot--sometimes disrupting the traditional education trajectory.  In fact, many of the Thiel Fellows have dropped out of school.   But they're not just crashing on their parents' couch and handing out resumes to flip burgers; they are starting companies, finding cures, and empowering other teenagers to do the same.

This weekend, I spent my time meeting these incredible young innovators and showing off our beautiful city and the companies we are proud to headquarter in addition to introducing some of our young talent.  Tomorrow we will host a panel with some of Chattanooga's business and community leaders as well as young professionals and visionary students.  The focus will be on how Chattanooga can cultivate the same type of opportunities for our students in order to be a catalyst for young talent. Monday evening, we will host an event with speakers sharing inspirational TED-type stories that are sure to ignite a passion in our community to be world changers--beginning here and now.

I am thrilled to have served a part in hosting this group.  Just hearing their stories has moved me to look beyond the excuses & obstacles and to start now--while encouraging the young ones around me to think big and act on it!

You are never too young to have a life that has purpose & meaning.  Think big and make it happen!