Words: Take Back Your Power

Robbin Jorgensen’s talk early this month on the power of words has me thinking of two expressions that make me cringe each time I hear them.  My first thought is to abolish these expressions from my vocabulary but even that would give these expressions too much power. If we embrace these expressions as uniquely individual there’s no right or wrong; it’s what is meaningful to you and only you.

stones-in-perfect-balance_1048-2404The two expressions are “perfect” and “work-life balance.” I believe they have a powerful impact on each other and have been driving women crazy for decades.

Let me tackle “work-life balance” first. Recently I attended an event where a 30’s something woman stood up and asked the speaker how she obtained “work-life balance.” As a 50’s something woman I had hoped that by now we would see “work-life balance” as something that works differently for each of us and not something that can be replicated by someone else’s unique formula for balancing work and life.

Simon Sinek has the explanation of work-life balance that speaks to me. Simon states that if you are looking for balance there is an imbalance in your life. He equates balance with comfort. If you are comfortable at home, are you not comfortable at work? If you are comfortable with home and work, the perception of an imbalance no longer exists.

The definition of balance is a condition where different elements are equal or in correct proportions. Only you can define what equal or correct proportions are for your life. There is no secret sauce that works for everyone, you have to find your own sauce and enjoy it. My sauce is that I am comfortable at home and work and the line blurs between the two. There are still days, weeks or sometimes months that I feel uncomfortable with life. When this happens I stop and listen to what the universe is telling me and take back my power.

Now let me tackle “perfect.” The definition of perfect is having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. When it comes to work-life or home life where do we get the definition of the elements, qualities or characteristics? They most often come from external sources such as society, our companies, our families and friends, or what we see on social media. How often do they come from within?

The world would be a different place if we strived to reach our own definition of “perfect.” It would help eliminate the self sabotage and we would not miss out on all the amazing things we accomplish everyday but fail to recognize because we have not lived up to someone else’s “perfect.”

My definition of “perfect” is to be the best, most kind and humble person that I can be on any given day. There are days that work gets everything from me and days that home life gets everything from me, on those days, life is in its correct proportion or “perfect” and I have my own “work-life balance.”

We Inspire Excellence Together

It’s amazing to me how this year has absolutely flown by. Last year at this time, I missed the “passing of the torch” and celebration of our Adopted Non-profit because I had just started my maternity leave. Knowing that we have an amazing Steering Committee at the WBC gave me the confidence to know I was leaving things in extremely capable hands during that time. 2017 kicked off the year with putting health and well-being first, especially for ourselves and our staff, to improving our BAT-ing average, to the Inclusion Revolution. We also have been inspired by this year’s Women of Excellence winners and our amazing Bold in Business author, Regina Calcaterra. Infused in each program was learning more about the programs and services offered by our Adopted Non-Profit, Whitney Young Health.

Our goal this year, was engagement, and I feel we have truly engaged more members of the Chamber in the Women’s Business Council than ever before. We’ve made sure members of the Schenectady and Albany-Colonie Chambers know that the Women’s Business Council is an extremely valuable added benefit of Chamber membership. Put all of this together, and 2017 truly exemplified our vision to inspire excellence together.

I am looking forward to 2018 and expanding on our accomplishments from 2017. As I pass my torch as Chair of the Women’s Business Council, I pleased to still be part of the 2018 Steering Committee. 

Days of Gratitude

Gratitude Jar

As we enter the season of giving, and with Thanksgiving being right around the corner, it’s not unusual for people to take a step back and reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. There are different ways that we can do this. My family has a tradition, as I’m sure many of yours do, of going around at the Thanksgiving dinner table and saying one thing you are truly grateful for this year.

Two years ago, during one of our Staff Development days, I gave each of my staff a glass mason jar, a small note pad of paper, and a pretty gel pen, and asked them to write their name, followed by “Gratitude Jar” on the jar tag. I told them that each day, they should try to find something they were grateful for, write it down on a piece of paper, and add it to their jar. Then, at the end of the year, they could go back and read each of them as a special day of gratitude.

This year, I was invited, with some of my friends, to take part in the Days of Gratitude for the month of November on Facebook. Each day, you write on Facebook something you are grateful for. Just think how fun it will be next year when you get your Time Hop memories!

Regardless of how big or small, there is always something to be grateful for. We are grateful for our spouses, our children, our family members, our friends. We are grateful for reconnecting with a long lost friend, for a random act of kindness by a stranger, for that much overdue night out with friends, and the laughs that make our stomachs hurt. We are grateful for our jobs, for our mentors, for the difference we are able to make in other people’s lives.

We are grateful for our health. For the ability to get out of bed in the morning. To enjoy snuggles from our furry babies while we have a cup of coffee. Thanksgiving was always a time for me to do this, but 14 years ago when I went home during Thanksgiving break to have my surgery to remove my cancer, it took on a whole new meaning of gratitude.

As we gear up for the holidays, reflect on what you’re grateful for. Ask your kids, your family, your friends, your work colleagues. If you can do something, big or small to make someone else’s holidays a little brighter, do so. If you are looking for something to do, join us at the WBC Annual Holiday Fundraiser to Benefit Whitney Young Health on December 12th from 11:30-1:30pm at the Desmond (Purchase Your Ticket Here).

Resilience

As we look forward to hearing from author Regina Calcaterra at the Bold In Business Annual Forum on Friday October 13th at 8:00am at The Desmond (Click Here to Register), I thought I would share a story, or should I say stories, of resilience and tenacity.

When I was a senior at Siena College, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Fortunately, it was caught very early. But once you hear those words, “you have cancer”, your life is never the same. You have anxiety leading up to doctor appointments. You have anxiety in the months between doctor appointments. You think every cough, lump, pain, or mark on your body is cancer. As if that’s not hard enough, try adding on what it means if you’re a mom. And then add on another dimension, you’re an executive, owner of a company, or breadwinner in the household.

Granted, when I was diagnosed, I was just getting used to being an adult. My first job out of college was with the American Cancer Society. Three months into my new job, and barely one year of survivorship, my boss had asked me to share my “Survivor Story” at our annual breakfast. My mother, who is now a 5 year breast cancer survivor, was, and still is, a very private person. She told me the world didn’t need to know everything that was going on in my life, especially with my health. Depending on your situation, that may be true. My situation, at that time, was one that gave me an opportunity to help others by sharing my story. It gave me a unique set of job skills that made me an expert in this field. In fact, it gave me credibility. Here was living proof standing right in front of my patients that you can thrive and beat cancer.

For other women, that might not be the case. For other women, admitting to their boss or clients they have cancer may make their clients wonder “will she have enough time to, or be able to, manage our finances?”, or “will she be able to travel and keep up with the demands of this high level job?”.

When I received the Women of Excellence award in 2014, I mentioned in my speech how I was a cancer survivor. My dear friend, Alissa Quinn, came up to me afterwards and asked me how she didn’t know this about me. She told me she was thinking of starting a new group that would consist of executive level women who had been affected by cancer. Alissa had just battled a very private battle with cancer because of these fears I mentioned above. As if it wasn’t hard enough being a woman in finance, add a cancer battle into the mix. Passion & Purpose was formed, and we have regularly been having dinner once a month with 13 other executive level women, who many of you all know and love. We gather for encouragement, wisdom, and shared experiences, to help remain at the top of our professional careers, physically and emotionally, during and after our cancer challenges. We were featured in the July 2016 issue of HERLIFE magazine, and on October 18th, we will be honored at the 2017 Visions of Strength event, which celebrates cancer survivors. All funds raised go towards programs and services at the Hildegard Medicus Cancer Center at St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy. Our stories are those of resilience and tenacity. The battle doesn’t end when we hit the five-year “cancer-free” milestone. I am coming up on my 14 year “cancerversary” and the battle/anxiety/fear still lingers in the background.

But I will leave you with one of my favorite lines from Etched in Sand, one of encouragement and hope:

“No accomplishment has taken place without trial, and no growth could have occurred without unwavering love.” – Regina Calcaterra

P&P 1
Members of Passion & Purpose, July 2016
(Carmela still in my belly and proof that having cancer can’t take away your dreams and future)

The Bumps Along the Path of an Emerging Female Professional

As we gear up for September’s WBC Program – WOE Unplugged on September 19th at the Glen Sanders Mansion 11:30am-1:00pm (register here), I’m reminded of when I was the awardee for the Women of Excellence Emerging Professional in 2014. As WOE Unplugged was drawing near, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I mean – it’s unplugged – you never know what questions may come from the audience 😉 I remember attending past WOE Unplugged events earlier in my career, soaking up all the advice from past Women of Excellence award winners, and was amazed to hear of their paths and the bumps that they had also endured as professional women to get where they are today.

I remember telling this story because there are things as women we experience that I’m pretty sure men don’t experience in a professional setting. When I first started working after I graduated college, I was a case and data manager for a non-profit. I dressed very professionally every day for work, and even made sure on casual Fridays I wasn’t too casual. My fellow millennials and I get a bad rap that we like to show up in flip flops and inappropriate dress, so I not only had to prove myself as a woman, but also that I wasn’t an unprofessional, entitled millennial either. Even so, my supervisor at the time had a daughter a few years younger than me, so she treated me more like her child than her employee, and would even call me into her office and say she had clothes her daughter didn’t fit into anymore and wanted to know if I wanted them. She would do the same thing – even when I was in her office about a serious matter. I couldn’t believe another woman was treating me like this. Lifting other women up was definitely not in her vocabulary.

Fast forward eight years later when I started as Executive Director of Girls Inc. I’m pretty sure I wore a suit or a suit dress every day for the first three years. I remember when I was attending a Girls Inc conference and one of my fellow Executive Directors told us about a book by John Molloy called New Women’s Dress for Success. She told us “younger ED’s” to make sure we always wore a jacket because of the power of a jacket. In John Molloy’s book he states,

“The jacket has become the hallmark of the American businesswoman. Today it serves the same functions for women that the suit does for men. The jacket identifies its wearer as a serious career woman with power, authority, or potential.

93% of businessmen and 94% of businesswomen assume that women wearing jackets outrank women without jackets.

A woman wearing the most conservative, businesslike dress will be seen as a professional by only 40% of the businesspeople she meets for the first time. If she slips on a jacket over the dress, the number of businesspeople who will assume she has power, authority, or potential will more than double.”

I can’t believe we are still discussing what to wear as women and that there’s still a debate between pantyhose vs. no pantyhose. But I guess one thing is clear – wear a jacket!

Girls Summit

(Me wearing a jacket over my Girls Inc t-shirt at our Annual Girls’ Summit)

 

Two simple words

I can still remember when my former Board Chair (and past Women of Excellence award recipient), Ann DiSarro, called me and said, “We want to nominate you for Women of Excellence this year.” My first response wasn’t “Thank you”, it was, “Are you sure? Maybe you can wait another couple years.” We are our own worst enemies, aren’t we? Doubting ourselves. Thinking we’re not ready. Thinking we’re not worth something. Thank God for strong women in our lives who believe in us and see the magic and impact we have on others!

I can still remember when Ann sent me the letters of recommendation that accompanied my application. She told me to hold on to them and save them for whenever I was having a bad day, or doubting myself. They were written by my other Board members, also past Women of Excellence award recipients. Those letters were award enough for me. To have women I respected immensely write the letters they wrote…that alone will always mean the world to me.

I can still remember when Ann called me to tell me that I was going to be the 2014 Women of Excellence award recipient in the category of Emerging Professional. I was in shock and couldn’t believe this was the conversation I was having. I thought about the years sitting in the crowd of over 600 people at the annual Women of Excellence luncheon, being inspired by their speeches, leaving energized like I, too, could change the world, and hoping that one day I would be considered “excellent enough” to receive that award.

Receiving the Women of Excellence award impacted my life in more ways that I can ever share on paper or in a blog post. It is meaningful to me because I was chosen by past Women of Excellence award recipients, my peers, to receive this award. I still to this day do not know who was on that clandestine selection committee that year. I became extremely close with the other women in my WOE class, and they have celebrated milestones in my life, including throwing me a gender reveal lunch when I was pregnant with my daughter. They are Carmela’s aunties and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I learned how to show appreciation to the people in my life who helped support, lift me up, and make me the person I am today, but also how to give myself permission to show appreciation to myself for all the hard work I put into my life and career to become this person and be deserving of this award.  Lastly, I learned how to say “thank you” because as the wise Benita Zahn told all of us, “When people say congratulations, say ‘thank you’. Don’t say, ‘oh it’s nothing’ because it diminishes the award for everyone who has received it in the past and will receive it in the future. You earned it. Be proud!”

WOE 2014

Success is a Mindset

Attitude is everything. We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” and “perception is reality”. Sometimes having confidence in ourselves is the biggest obstacle we have in achieving either professional or personal success.

I’ve always been a strong believer in the book called The Secret. It details the connection between the law of attraction and positivity. I’ve recited my positive mantras, sent them out into the universe, and created more than my fair share of vision boards to help me accomplish my goals in life. I remember almost 5 years ago when I was at the point in my career when I was ready for the next step, the new challenge, and I put out into the universe that I wanted to be an Executive Director of a non-profit organization that I was passionate about. I stumbled across the job posting for Executive Director of Girls Inc, mission statement – to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. The universe had listened and sent me what I asked for. But I almost didn’t apply. I was counting myself out, like we all too often do. I was 30 years old (who would hire a 30 year old to run a non-profit?!) and I had never been an Executive Director before. My attitude was not confident, and was certainly not going to “sell me” to get the job. My stepdad asked me if I had done most of the responsibilities listed in the job description and if I thought I could do the job. Of course I said, “yes”, so he said, “then apply for the job. Every Executive Director has to be an Executive Director for the first time at one point in their lives”.

My mindset shifted and my confidence grew. I didn’t focus on what I didn’t know 100%, but on my strengths. It just so happened that my strengths were exactly what the organization needed, and the other things could be learned. Having a clear plan in place for how to achieve goals was the second step in not only obtaining my dream job, but now continuing the success in the organization. Regardless if you are in for-profit or non-profit work, you need to have a sound plan. Goals should not be random numbers that could just set you and your team up for failure. Furthermore, you should surround yourself with a team that has the strengths and skills that you may not have. Too often people focus on their weaknesses vs. their strengths, instead of surrounding themselves with people who have those areas as their strengths.

When you put all of this together, a confident attitude, behavior that is systematic and intentional, and techniques that include your strengths and skill set, the possibilities are endless. I found this quote in an article written by James Alberson that sums it up perfectly, “The goals become your destination, your plans the road map, and your daily activities is the car that gets you there. So where do you want to end up?”

success-next-exit

Navigating Work-Life Integration as a First-Time Mom

Many of you know me as Ashley Jeffrey, or as of October 4, 2014 Ashley Jeffrey Bouck. I have been the Executive Director of Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region since 2012, and I love what I do! Besides adding on a new last name in the past few years, I proudly have added the title of  2017 WBC Chair.

I kicked off my year as WBC Chair a little bit differently than most chairs. I had my first child on November 27, 2016, so I was on maternity leave when my chairwomanship started. When I was asked by our previous Chair, Jen Regan, to be her Vice Chair last year, I told her my husband and I would be trying to get pregnant that year. But in true Lean In fashion, I didn’t want to count myself out of an amazing opportunity for something that hadn’t happened yet. The WBC was the first volunteer and networking council I joined when I became Executive Director of Girls Inc. It has given me so many opportunities to meet other like-minded professional women, provided countless resources and knowledge from our monthly programs, and introduced me to some of my now closest friends. The WBC has helped me grow not only professionally, but personally, too.

Now as I have added the title, and best job ever – MOM – I have new challenges that I know I can rely on the WBC to help me solve. The theme of Work-Life Balance is a constant topic for many events and programs, not only at the WBC, but all over the Capital Region and beyond. We have had panelists, like our most recent program in February, who share their wisdom of “how do you do it all”? We eagerly sit on the edges of our seats in anticipation that one of these times we will hear the most well kept secret, the silver bullet, on how to achieve Work-Life Balance. After all, before I had my daughter, I still could not figure it out! This is something that regardless if you are married, single, parent to human children or furry children, we all struggle with it. Then I heard a more realistic idea, and it’s what has helped relieve some of the stress of trying to achieve balance: Work-Life Integration.

The concept of Work-Life Integration was shared with me over lunch by my Board Chair when we were talking about the unattainable goal of Work-Life Balance. She had said to me, “With Work-Life Integration, you understand that there are some times that work may take up more hours of your day, and other times life may take up more hours of your day.” In a way, Work-Life Integration gave me permission to work long hours when we were busy with event season, and also permission to leave work for a few hours for a doctor appointment so I didn’t push it back. It allowed me to not feel guilty checking my email towards the end of my maternity leave to delete junk email, and also not feel guilty I can continue to work hard and also take care of me, which is what we all really want at the end of the day.

I’ve only been back to work for 3 weeks, and I wouldn’t have survived these three weeks without keeping this mindset of Work-Life Integration. I am also blessed to have a Mom Squad, many of whom I met through the WBC, who have given me the most invaluable mom hacks and are always there when I need to vent. Plus, they’ll go pump with you after our monthly programs in an empty room at the Desmond 😉

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My daughter, Carmela Rose, and me the day of our last WBC Program, which was also Valentine’s Day.

 

Happy Anniversary WBC!

Happy Anniversary WBC!

I’ve been thinking a lot about women’s history lately. It started while I was helping to plan the WBC’s 30th Anniversary celebration and it culminated last week when I took my kids to Washington, DC.

I had fun sifting through the Chamber’s archives and looking at the WBC photos and program materials over the past 30 years. I also enjoyed reading the “fun facts” that Leslie Foster of Siena College researched for us about women in business and other leadership roles between 1986 and today. Here are a few of my favorite stats:

  • In 1996, there were no female CEOs on the Fortune 500 List; today, 26 women head major firms.
  • In 1986, 25% of household breadwinners were women; today, that percentage is 39% of household breadwinners.
  • In 1985, women comprised 14.8% of legislatures; today that percentage is 24.2%.

In addition to thinking about this on a macro level, I started to think about this on a more individual level. I’m fortunate to work for a great company whose CEO is a woman and I happen to be the breadwinner in my family. On the political front, I was fortunate to spend a week in DC right before a historic election with a female presidential candidate. I was even more fortunate to get to sit in on a Supreme Court session in which the female Justices happened to be taking the lead. I was mesmerized watching them pose questions to the attorneys as they worked through the case.

And then I bribed my kids with ice cream and dragged them to a museum exhibit on the woman suffrage movement. In case you’re wondering what this photo is — it’s a statue of the courageous pioneers of the woman suffrage movement prominently displayed in the Capitol: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.

Speaking of courageous leadership, I hope to see you at next month’s program “Courage as the Currency Between Women,” featuring our very own WBC Advisory Board member, Corey Jamison. You can register here http://capitalregionchamber.com/events/courage-as-the-currency-between-women/>

The Importance of Community

I hope that everyone is getting to enjoy some lazy days of summer. I was fortunate to get ten magical days in Italy with my family recently. There are so many things to love about Italy that I could write an entire blog post on that topic alone!  In addition to the beautiful countryside, rich history and amazing food, my husband and I were impressed with the strong sense of community that we got to observe in several different towns. We enjoyed talking to locals and learning more about their lifestyle.

Coming home to the Capital District after this incredible experience led us to reflect upon the importance of community. My husband is from Troy and many of his friends and family members still reside in the area. My story is different with several moves, including a big move from California to Schenectady eight years ago. Knowing only two sweet senior citizens at the time (my parents), I set out to find a new job and cultivate a new community.

My Dad was involved with several different Chamber initiatives and encouraged me to get involved as well. He graciously took me to Global Business Network (GBN) events and eventually I stumbled upon my first Women’s Business Council (WBC) event. I still remember the warm welcome that Brandi Miller provided and how she kindly introduced me to several other WBC members. I was impressed with the caliber of the WBC programs and the diversity of its membership.

Since that warm welcome, I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the WBC program planning and communications committees and then most recently as vice-chair and chair. I have enjoyed meeting so many remarkable professional women and am grateful to have found a “soft landing place” as former WBC chair Paula Heller once said about the WBC.

I recently learned that the WBC is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It has been fun going through some of the Chamber’s archives and thinking about the impact of the WBC on this community over the past 30 years. You’ll be hearing more about the WBC’s anniversary as we kick off our new programming year in September. I hope to see you all at Women of Excellence Unplugged – one of my favorite events!