You Don’t Need To Win An Award To Be A “Hall-of-Famer”

You Don’t Need To Win An Award To Be A “Hall-of-Famer”

Dan Marino and Charles Barkley are considered the best athletes in their respective sports, football and basketball. Both of them are hall-of-famers despite the fact that they didn’t win a NBA title or a Super Bowl.

There are critics who feel that Marino, Barkley, and others should not be in the hall of fame, because they didn’t win the “big one.” According to conventional wisdom, winning a championship validates your legacy and punches your ticket into the hall of fame.

As the case, many great athletes have been inducted into their hall of fames without ever winning a championship.

The greatest athletes are enshrined into a hall of fame.  Does this apply to regular people and regular life?
The greatest athletes are enshrined into a hall of fame.
Does this apply to regular people and regular life?

There is a sense in local young professional circles that if you haven’t receive an award for making a difference in your community, then your accomplishments have no value.

Last October, at a YP event, a facilitator gave a group an assignment to write their dreams and what goals they wanted to achieve individually. On a majority of “dream” lists, YPs listed a plethora of dreams, but the majority theme on their lists is being named to “important lists” such as the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 and Juice’s YP of the Year Award.

After the event, several of us YPs read what was written on each list. A few of us found it troubling to read that the “end all be all” dream of many is “winning an award”. The question we asked was whether an award, being named to a board, or being recognized as an “up and comer” should validate a young professional’s status in the Des Moines business community.

Juice and YPC will announce the 2014 winner of the YP of the Year award in early February.
Juice and YPC will announce the 2014 winner of the YP of the Year award in early February.

As someone who have won two awards for community service, there is an harsh truth about winning awards: it doesn’t always validate your status and presence in the eyes of the community.

It doesn’t raise your profile as much as you think it should. For some, it does, which is why many YPs feel that Forty Under 40, the Business Record’s yearly honor list of 40 individuals under 40 who are making great strides in Central Iowa, is such a big deal.

None of those distinctions have landed me a permanent (or better) job and a higher profile. I’ve gotten a pat on the head for being a great volunteer, but nothing else. In 2011, there wasn’t much fanfare

The “checkbox “ that YPs are using to measure each other in the area of life and career is disturbing. If we’re not obsessively networking, gathering up as mentors, and taking leadership classes, then we must be failing and not living up to the standards of “being successful”.

Have Gen Xers and Millennials fallen into the "checkbox mentality" of trying to be noticed and admired?
Have Gen Xers and Millennials fallen into the “checkbox mentality” of trying to be noticed and admired?

It’s the Gen X/Millennial version of the “rat race.”

Last July, Juice’s Josh Hafner asked “do YPs do more than network, find mentors, and learning about leadership?” It was a great question because he was seeing a trend that I didn’t notice. When I look back at my experience as a YP over the past decade, I have struggled more than I have achieved. I didn’t get that big promotion, lofty job title, or the things that everyone I know already has: family, house/condo, significant other, et cetera.

Hafner’s column resonated to me. Being a young professional should be more than networking for your career, being mentored by great leaders, and learning how to succeed as a leader.

You are starting to learn how to live life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Not many YPs are going to have mentors. Either we can’t find the right mentor for the right fit, or a mentor may have no interest in mentoring you.

Many of us may be unable to sign up for leadership classes, if time permits us. There are leadership classes that will not be the best fit. Would it be better for me to take a Leadership Iowa class than GDMLI, because I’m interested in how leadership is done on a statewide basis, plus my interest level goes beyond what goes on here in Des Moines.

Despite those challenges, the list of finalists for the 2014 YP of the Year do not just sit on a bunch of boards, have a Rolodex of networks, have great jobs, and have mentors. Their interests include building houses for low-income families, encouraging women to run for elected office, raising money for children with serious illnesses, among other activities.

YPs understand that we have lives outside of the professional world and cultivating our individual lives is paramount for our sanity.

Gen X and Millennials are now experiencing their own “rat race” to success.

I have accepted that I will never be named to the Forty Under 40 list. I’ve never had the career or job that I could advance up the ladder in and have it linked to the activities I have done or doing in the community.

There are too many factors going against me for this honor. I’m at peace with never getting it. That’s one less thing I have to worry about.

I never sought out to win the YPC Ashley Okland Community Service award or receive the Iowa Governor’s Volunteer award. It was never a goal. Individuals nominated me because they felt that a person who is dedicated to what they love and believed in should be honored.

I never bring those awards up to brag or remind people about. Nobody cares.

It’s 2015, not 2011.

It’s nice to have them, but how many people remember that I received them?

I volunteer and network because I enjoy staying busy and giving back in a small way. Personally, it takes my mind off of feeling lonely and dealing with my own personal battles (health, lack of work). If volunteering and connecting people make a difference in one person’s life, I consider that a victory.

YP of the Year Award finalists (from left) Josh Dryer, Andrea Woodard, LaVerne Greenfield, Megan Ruble, Brianne Sanchez, Emilee Richardson, and Tyler DeHaan, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, at the YPC 2015 Kick Off event at Jasper Winery in Des Moines. (Juice)
YP of the Year Award finalists (from left) Josh Dryer, Andrea Woodard, LaVerne Greenfield, Megan Ruble, Brianne Sanchez, Emilee Richardson, and Tyler DeHaan, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, at the YPC 2015 Kick Off event at Jasper Winery in Des Moines. (Juice)

In her blog “BS in the Midwest”, Brianne Sanchez wrote about being fortunate in living in a city that let’s her do her job, pursue her passions and hobbies, spend time with her family, friends, and colleagues. Also, she never feel stressed out to hit those “self-made benchmarks” that most of us YP’s have unconsciously set for ourselves.

“Whether or not I “win” the YP award in February, the fact the I get to go to work in a job I love and live in a community that lets me pursue and explore so many ideas (and embraces me when all I want is to hang out in my sweatpants), is a huge reward in itself.”

Is an athlete a Hall-of-Famer, if they never won a championship?  The answer is yes.

Is someone a “Hall-of-Famer” if they don’t receive an honor or award, based on their accomplishments?

That answer should always be “yes.”


A Look Back: The Mind of a Young Professional

A Look Back: The Mind of a Young Professional
Des Moines skyline at night.

NOTE: I’m introducing a series of old posts I wrote for Juice from 2006 until 2008. This post was written on February 23, 2006, during my first week blogging. The topic for this entry is about what is a young professional in Des Moines.

The uptick of young professionals in Des Moines started to become the “buzz” in 2006. Companies, business leaders, and others started to take notice of YPs, and YPs saw opportunities to have “a seat at the table” in the community. I wondered if I fit the prototype of a “young professional” and what exactly a YP is to symbolize? The definition of a YP has evolved significantly from 2006, as this post from 2012 examined.

The Mind of a Young Professional

It’s amazing how Des Moines is embracing the growing number of “young professionals” that has made the Golden Circle their home. Young professionals are looked at as “up and comers,” “the ones to watch,” and “the new leaders.” There are several well-known organizations that are targeted to young professionals: Young Professionals Connection, Young Variety, and Impact Downtown, to name a few. These organizations are phenomenal resources and places to go to network with other peers, as well as establish friendships.

However, in the back of my mind, I don’t feel that I am a “professional”, a “leader”.  I don’t work in a corner office, don’t have a mentor, or is looked at as a rising star. I don’t beg for adulation or a celebration for myself. I do my job and feel satisfied when the job is done. 

When I think of a young professional, I think of attorneys, teachers, real estate brokers, advertising, and executives. Places like Principal, CBRE, Drake, and Bankers Trust, also comes to mind. Since I work in an administrative assistant position, I don’t feel that I am a professional. I should be a “professional”, but how do I get to be where they are at? Do those who work in blue-collar jobs considered to be young professionals? Artists? 

2014 candidates for Juice Young Professional of the Year. (From Left to Right) Sunni Swarbrick, Lincoln Dix, Liz Lidgett, and Gabe Glynn. Juice Editor Sarah Day Owen on the far right. (Juice)

What constitutes a young professional in Des Moines?

Do I have to be involved in so many organizations that people will notice me as an emerging leader? Do I have to live downtown? Should I be in tune with the arts (music, paintings, and cultural events)? Do I need to have all of the professional connections to be a mover and a shaker in this town?

Is accomplishing all of this too much to handle? Or should I do several of these to feel that I’m doing something not only to help others, but to make me feel better about myself?

At times, I feel like an impostor. I go to social functions to network with my peers, attend and support the arts, volunteer in community projects, and as Cavan (Reagan Reichmann) noted I’m involved in the social fabric of the young sector of Des Moines. But, when I look around, it feels like it’s not enough. If I don’t stay in the public eye, I become irrelevant and of little value. 

Which begs the question: what value do I offer by networking, being involved in the community, doing good things? To build and enhance my profile so I can have the chance to move up in the world, or does it really matter?

That’s a question I can only find for myself. 

Collaborative Silos

Collaboration is work in progress. It takes more time and effort to break down the "silo" effect among organizations.

A friend of mine, Jason Wells, guest wrote a blog for the Iowa Biz blog, hosted by the Business Record.  He asked about what could be done to foster more collaboration among organizations in Des Moines.

I’ve been trying to figure that out for the last 7 years.  For the reputation that Des Moines has in being one of the most charitable cities in America, having the most non-profit organizations per capita in the nation, and a great city for young professionals, there are areas that need improvement.

A better way of saying it:  we may need to demolish some silos.

There is a culture of silo thinking when it comes to organizations.  Most of it is structure, and some of it is territorial and ego.  To me, there is a sense that organizations do not like to have another organizations impede on what they are doing, and that kicks in their egos.

For disclosure, I’m going to use the organization I’m directly involved with as an example.  I serve on the American Diabetes Association of Central Iowa board.  Over the past year, we have brought in new leadership to help us rebuild our brand, mission, and our purpose:  to provide education and support individuals affected by diabetes.  We are different that what the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation does.  JDRF raises money for research to find a cure for juvenile (Type 1) diabetes in children.

A view of 7th Street in Downtown Des Moines
A view of 7th Street in Downtown Des Moines (Wikipedia)

JDRF is a great organization and does phenomenal work.  So do we at American Diabetes.  The difference is that ADA does more than raise money for research.  We provide and offer educational, nutritional, and health programs for children and adults, African-Americans, Latino Americans, namely all people who are affected by diabetes.

Regardless if that person has Type 1, Type 2, gestational, or various types of diabetes.

Would it be beneficial for both organizations to collaborate as a united front to fight and stop diabetes?  Sure.  My opinion is we can, but if JDRF chooses not to collaborate, then who am I to force them to?  I don’t know if they see us at ADA as competitors, but if they do, then it’s on my organization to go out and show the community how we can provide a service that JDRF does not to offer.

The fact being is that JDRF and ADA are committed to the same mission:  to eradicate diabetes, but they have different ways of going about it.

Ego is a touchy subject, for no one wants to admit that they have any, but organizations, in one way or another, do display a level of egotism.  They want to be the best and they’ll do everything to be on the top of everyone’s mind when it comes to people knowing who that organization is, what they do, and why people should support it.

Jason wrote that “Des Moines is near the top of the list in terms of having some of the most developed and diverse YP groups in the country…I can just about guarantee you there is a group in Greater Des Moines for you to join.”

That is true, though I have noticed that young professionals in Des Moines tend to join organizations that already has a large number of young professionals in it.  I’m guilty of that, for I’m a member of the Young Professional Connection, along with Jason (he is the past president of the YPC board).

That’s not a bad thing, but it makes it harder for other lesser-known organizations to reach out and encourage YPs to consider being involved with their causes and missions.

Before 2011, I was the only ADA board member that was under the age of 40.  I continue to have difficulty encouraging fellow YPs to be interested about diabetes.  The same can be said for someone advocating for Multiple Scerlosis, historical preservation, or tutoring at-risk students to become better students at school.

It would be nice to have her deliver my insulin shots everyday, but I digress...

Today, my board has 3 members under the age of 40.  One of them is a recent Business Record Forty Under 40 honoree.  The current makeup of the board is starting to reflect what the community looks like: diverse.  The point here is don’t join a group because everyone else is.  That’s silo thinking.   You need to expand into topics and causes you may or may not have a connection in.  It’s cool to help kids, but sometimes you have to learn how to help your peers, and other groups.

In order for a city like Des Moines to best represent it’s identity as a great city for non-profits, the number of people being involved in organizations, for-profit or non-profit, has to be distributed evenly.  .

There are some forms of collaboration, but not at the level that or vision some would like for it to be.  Collaboration takes time, patience, and sometimes a “Come-to-Jesus” moment where it doesn’t take one light bulb to go off in one person’s head.  It takes two light bulbs from both sides to see the opportunity to work towards a common goal.

The United Way and Community Health Charities is another example of how much work and time it will take for a transparent form of collaboration.  Up until 3 years ago, I did not know that the United Way doesn’t directly support or fund non-profit health organizations, which includes Alzheimer’s Association and Komen.  These groups have to be supported by CHC, which operates as a consortium for health organizations to connect with companies about their causes and fundraising.

Those are not the actual reasons, but this gives an insight from someone who has been involved in non-profits for nearly a decade about the challenges of collaboration and why there isn’t enough of it.  Can this change?  It’s possible.  It’ll have to take the right groups to establish that.  Let it be the wrong groups and the trains will jump off of the tracks very fast.

This is not to say that everyone should merge and pool all their resources into an “one-stop shop” kind of approach.  What I am saying is that organizations can collaborate on a project or goal that fits appropriately into what they are seeking to accomplish.

Catching Up

Liz Lidgett...a rising star in the Des Moines community, and a valued friend. (Rodney White/Des Moines Register)

A few days ago, several friends were interviewed for a cover story about Millennials and the perception of their generation

They shot down the notion that their generation are selfish and disconnected.  I agree with them.  Maybe because we live here in Iowa, but I’ve seen more Millennials active in organizations, being creative, starting their own companies, and doing other things that I wouldn’t imagine nearly 15 years ago when I left campus life, Des Moines-bound, with a Bachelor’s Degree in tow.  

I’m a late bloomer. 

I was late to the young professional movement in Des Moines, late to the tech startup movement, pretty much late to anything.  I couldn’t help but to think to myself while sitting during the Business Record’s Forty Under 40 event on Tuesday, just how lost, or behind, this Generation X-er feels.  

I’m trying to catch up.

When you grow up in an environment where the script is “finish high school, don’t knock any girls up, go to college, get a job (any job), get married, have kids…”, it is drilled into you not to deviate from that list.  So, imagine how behind I was when I finally joined a young professional organization, elected to a non-profit board, and writing up agendas and minutes for another organization…at age 29. 

Today, at age 36, I feel somewhat conflicted…and missing in action.  Just as people are starting to see and take notice of what I’m doing in the community as an Xer, I feel that I started too late.  Generation X‘s time in the spotlight is dimming and Millennials are now the new superstars.  Don’t get me wrong, I received two community service awards last year.  I’m appreciative of both awards, but I don’t spend time doing the “glory days” circuit, reminding people of my past accomplishments. 

Millennials are trending and they are, rightfully so, receiving the attention.   

Mad Men opening montage. (Courtesy of TV Worth Watching)

The maddening part is that the more I try to catch up with the Joneses (Boomers and Millennials), the further behind I fall.  If I’m not creating a startup, working as an executive VP at a bank, or cajoling a business executive to have coffee with me and invite him or her to be my mentor, I’m falling from the sky, like the figure in the opening of “Mad Men.”  

I was taught to keep my mouth shut, figure it out yourself, and grind for everything.  Deconstructing that mindset has been the most difficult.  People tell you how great you are as an individual and volunteer, but internally you feel that there’s no one to throw you a life-preserver when you’re drowning inside. 

Especially when it comes to a career or work.  If you haven’t achieved something in the business or work world, then the perception is that no one will give you the time of day, unless you do something phenomenal or rise up the ladder. 

That lack of achievement and accomplishment in the business world is what might be holding me back from being fully accepted and welcomed in the business community, especially in Des Moines. 

This despite being a rockstar in community service. 

I don’t feel “washed up” at 36, but as someone who is between Millennials and Baby Boomers, being lost in the shuffle is pretty common.

I’m still catching up to get to that place.  If I finally get there, as a late bloomer, will anyone notice? 

The Meaning and Purpose of An Award

I don’t believe in self-promotion by any means.  Okay, the picture above would contradict that, but follow me here.  If done too much, it makes you sound like a narcissistic hog:  walking around with its nose stuck up in the air, covered in mud. 

However, when something comes along that is very important and you get recognized for it, you feel proud. 

Last week was one of the moments, when I received an award for community service from the Young Professionals Connection, which is a young professional organization under the Greater Des Moines Partnership

The story, to me, isn’t how I received the award, or the acceptance speech, but the story of how this award was created. 

The Ashley Okland Community Service Award was created this year by YPC to honor the memory of an individual whose time here on this crazy place we call Earth ended too early, senselessly and unspeakable. 

Friday, April 8, 2011 appeared to be a normal day around town.  I was hanging out at Scooter’s Coffeehouse (now closed) in West Des Moines.  An acquaintance of mine, Liz Nelson, posted on Facebook that she had an extra ticket to a Civic Music Association concert at Drake University that evening and the first person who sent her a message, would get it. 

Not wanting to pass up a chance, I let Liz know I would take it and attend the performance.  About 3 minutes later, a twitter post came across my laptop that there was a shooting in West Des Moines at a model home.  I casually glanced at it and went back to work, waiting for more information to come out. 

Ten minutes later, it was posted that an Iowa Realty real estate agent was shot and was transported to the hospital.  At first thought, I selfishly was hoping that who ever it was will pull through. 

I headed home, got dressed, and headed to Drake University for the concert at Sheslow Auditorium. 

I arrived on campus, met Liz, picked up my ticket and went inside for the performance.  A little after 9pm, there was a 15-minute intermission period.  I headed outside to check my Twitter feed and get caught up.  The reception in the auditorium was not very good.  I started to see several “RIP” tweets and other tweets with “shocked”, “horrible”, and “sad.”  I scroll down my timeline to find out more about who was the agent that was shot. 

The agent died.  The name of the victim:  Ashley Okland.  I started running through my all-too informative brain trying to picture her.  I did.  I ran into her a week before at Smokey Row.  We didn’t know each other very well, beyond the fact that she served on the YPC board and the both of us participated in several YPC functions. 

The cool evening wind I was feeling felt like an ice storm that blew in and froze time.  It was surreal and unsettling.  I was not in a state of shock.  I was angry.  Pissed off.  Only a coward would do this and run.  Only a cold-calculated individual would commit a heinous and unspeakable act.  

Ashley Okland

A couple of deep breaths and then a long drawn in breath and I exhaled.  I turned around and walked back inside for the second half of the concert.  Yeah, there was no way I could enjoy the rest of the evening.  I was worried about everyone else that knew her:  her family, friends, and colleagues.  It was not going to be easy for them.  

During the final portion of the concert, I knew what I needed to do:  write about it.  I knew what to write and what I needed to describe.  Not for myself, but to offer what small solace it could offer at a time of raw emotions that is neither neat and clean, but rather crestfallen and heartbroken.  I have always been able to shut off my emotions and write what I think and observe.  That night, I needed that ability more than ever to do it. 

Arriving home, I sat down and read as much as I could from the Des Moines Register and other sources online.  As the cursor blinked, I began writing.  In two hours, I wrote this piece that resonated with the YPC community here in Des Moines.  Out of all of the blog posts I have written over the past 6 years, this one was the most challenging and the one I didn’t want to write.  In fact, I hate re-reading it even to this day. 

But I re-read the post once a month as a reminder for myself that internally I will not have satisfaction or relief until the coward who pulled that trigger and cut down an innocent person is captured, tried by a jury of his or her peers, and learn their punishment for this crime. 

Flash forward, eight months to that day in April, I’m receiving congratulations from friends upon being bestowed the inaugural Ashley Okland Community Service Award.  I was selected due to the work I have done as a volunteer in several groups and in general.  I’m a volunteer veteran.  I’ve been lending my time to volunteering for roughly 6 years.  Ashley was just starting to hit her stride as a volunteer. 

Yes, most of you who are my friends will keep reminding me that I’m deserving of this award.  I can’t deny that.  I should embrace it. 

But this award isn’t about the winner of the award, for it is the person for which this award is named after.  We tend to forget the story and the value of what an award means when it’s named after someone, as a way to honor them, or remember them when they are no longer here. 

Let us not forget this reminder when we are recognized for the great things we do in our careers, jobs, and in the community, be it church, park, or school.  For every award, there is a reason and a purpose behind it. 

“What do you do?”

Is your identity defined by the company, or by what you do for a job/career?

A week ago, Geoff Wood, a local entrepreneur and part of the Silicon Prairie News team, was talking to local tech wizard Jon Thompson of Evolve and I after a morning YPC social.  Geoff noticed something while networking with some fellow young professionals.

Geoff would ask someone “What do you do?”

That person would reply “I work for _________.”

Geoff was intrigued by that.  What does it mean?  Is the person defined by who they work for?  Does that person have an identity beyond their employer (accountant, customer service rep, administrative assistant, etc.)?  Is saying where you work at enough to be looked at as important and credible?

By only stating where you work at may sound “important”, but it doesn’t define you as a person with skills and expertise in a field of work.  What if you turn it around and say, “Hi, my name is _______, and I’m an accountant/computer programmer/lawyer at ________.”?  Would that get the other person interested in what you do, in contrast to thinking “Oh, he or she is one of thousands of people who work for __________.”

Will you stand out in front of the crowd if you talk about what you love or like to do?