While being interviewed earlier this year by Smart Meetings, I was asked about my first job. I quickly recalled that I was a newspaper "boy."
When the neighborhood boy had to be removed from his position and they couldn't find another boy in the neighborhood, they had no choice but to settle on me to be the newspaper boy. I couldn't envision any reason why equality shouldn't come into play, and after being named Newspaper Carrier of the Year in both the Iowa and the Illinois regions for the Rock Island Argus market, I quickly proved that girls had their place in the newspaper carrier world, too.
Although I hadn't given it much thought until now, perhaps that's where the first seeds of my self-confidence were planted. A few years later, I had a wonderful accounting teacher who believed in my potential and nominated me for a college scholarship for women. I hadn't planned on going to college, as I was unable to come up with the financial resources necessary for it. During the interview process, I convinced them of my passion for learning and my desire to propel myself out of my situation. I was beyond thrilled when I won the scholarship that allowed me to attend college. Goodbye, drugstore job. Hello, dorm life!
How many opportunities have you been given that have enriched your life? Do you recall the last time you took to thank someone who helped you along your way? Is it time to pay it forward?
If you're reading this publication, you're already convinced of the power of learning from and helping other women. It doesn't require much time. Perhaps you can share advice on how to connect with other women, or you can introduce someone to some of your connections, or invite someone to a women's leadership event with you. What about helping someone proofread her resume or spending a few minutes sharing some of your success stories? While you're at it, what about your stories of failure? Perhaps those could help someone, too.
When I am asked to speak, I get the most powerful feedback when I share the obstacles I've overcome — and there have been many. One young woman stopped me after a local speaking event and shared that she looked up to me, was inspired by me and had been following me online since she heard me speak over five years ago.
Me? I did that for someone I didn't know?
I've been told I should write a book about all the things that have happened to me in my life. I'm definitely not reality show material (I can hardly even watch them, truth be told) and, having had many of the same experiences, I'm convinced I'm just like many of you. We all encounter adversity. It's how we react to it that sets the stage for our successes, presents our next opportunity to make someone else's day, and maybe allows us to change someone's life for the better.
So the next time you get a chance to be a "boy," go for it! They may just have to rename the award you win because equality prevails.
Michelle DeClerck founded West Des Moines-based Conference Event Management and Financial Speakers Bureau. She is a 2017 Goldman Sachs 10KSB graduate, the 2017 Iowa SBA Women in Business Champion of the Year, the 2017 Inspiring Women of Iowa - Character Award winner, and a Smart Meetings Top Influential Woman - Innovator of the Year Award winner. She recently founded Iowa Hospitality Donation Network to rescue usable products from hospitality venues and get them into the hands of the hungry and homeless, and Mentor Tank to provide opportunities for young women to jump-start their careers. She sits on the Executive Council for Iowa Women Lead Change and for the Lieutenant Governor's Million Women Mentors. She also enrolled her company in the Epic Corporate Challenge to foster opportunities for women at all levels of their careers.