Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thank You Series: The Political Push - Part Three

My political mentor, Paula Yensen with Illinois Secretary of State Jessie White and Rep Jack Franks
As a lifelong, outspoken political junkie, it may surprise many that I'd never imagined myself in public office.

It was never a goal or ambition. I spent many years behind the scenes helping other folks get elected and I liked it that way. From the early nineties when I finished college, you could have found me helping the late John Stroger in my ward on his first Cook County Board Presidential race or helping former Milwaukee Mayor John Nordquist retain his office. I took a hiatus from my activism to get married and start my family but was re-awakened during Senator Obama's race to the White House in 2008. That's when I met the recipient of my final big thank you post - McHenry County Board Member Paula Yensen.

Paula and I connected first because of our political ideologies. She was in a race to serve on the McHenry County Board and a tight race it was. We got to know one another through a series of Democratic Party events and by the time the fall of 2008 rolled around, she asked me "walk my neighborhood" with her. No issue. We walked it together for several hours and had lots of fun meeting voters and listening to their concerns. Toward the end of that walk, she asked me something no one before her ever asked.

"Denise, would you consider running for public office?" she innocently asked between door knocks.

It was not something I'd EVER considered. Ever.

But once she put it out there, it never left my mind. I thought about it. Prayed about it. Consulted with my family about it. And while I did not have to make the decision on the spot - it is a moment seared in my mind for its significance.

For the question she posed instantly changed my view of myself from active participant in the political process to possible leader in the political process. The rest of the story is documented many times here in this blog and other places.

I ran and won. Twice.

And while I have no idea what my goals or political aspirations are long term - I am forever grateful to Paula Yensen for challenging me to do something I'd never considered before. I am grateful to her for the time and effort she put forth in mentoring me as a candidate. She helped me make a small piece of history in my village if not our entire county.

Her political push to me that evening forever changed my view of myself and my ability to serve.

Thank You, Paula!

It was super hard to narrow down all the folks I'm grateful to for this series so I'll have an honorable mentions post next week. Tune in to see the runner ups to the three I've honored over the last three weeks.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Thank You Series: My First "Investor" - Part Two

Logo for my first solo biz venture: FireWorks For Kids Foundation
Reflecting on one of my most significant career moments gives me chills all over again. Major kudos and thanks go to billionaire sports and entertainment executive, Philip Anschutz who showed confidence in my business abilities and gave me the boost that has fueled every endeavor since our paths crossed so long ago.

The year was 1997.

 I'd just turned 26 years old and moved back to my hometown, Chicago from Atlanta to be part of the management team of the new Major League Soccer team - the Chicago Fire.

Solid networking kept me in the mind of my friend and former colleague, Peter Wilt and when it all worked out for me to join his team leading community relations. I was in heaven. But really, I had no idea.

Anschutz known for his behind the scenes dealings (and reclusiveness - today you can Google a picture -when I met him - it was practically impossible to find one any where) as much for his philanthropy was the original owner of the Chicago Fire. When we started the team, Mr. A or Phil as we affectionately called him around the office, made it clear that "one day in the future" he'd like to see the team have a foundation attached. I remember that mention in my first few weeks at the office. It was clear that we as a leadership team were all more focused on launching the actual team on the field and that the charity could wait until year two or three. There was no pressure whatsoever nor was it ever mentioned but the one time in one of my initial meetings as community relations director.

I could not wait.

From the moment I heard that Mr. Anschutz had intended to have a charity - I was determined to launch it with the team in April of 1998. I joined the Fire in mid-November 1997. Quickly, I familiarized myself with the key players at the Anschutz Foundation who would "eventually" assist me in starting our team charity arm. Within 60 days of joining the team, I'd figured out all we'd need to do to establish the 501-C3 entity including identified the first set of board members to guide us. Peter Wilt was impressed and said we'd only have to circle back to Mr. Anschutz to confirm funding. Without hesitation, Mr. Anschutz confirmed an initial $100,000 seed fund for me to go start that foundation.

I even remember everyone telling me not to worry if I did not get it started in time for opening home game April 4, 1998. This is the moment, I know for sure changed the way I viewed myself as a businesswoman and executive. There was no doubt in my mind that our charity, then called the Fireworks For Kids Foundation would debut alongside the club on April 4. And debut we did. Our charity launched alongside our team and had a strong year one as did our team on the field. We made history. No other MLS team had a charity at that time and we set the precedent.

16 years later and over $1.5 million dollars awarded, The Chicago Fire Foundation is going strong. I am thankful to Philip Anschutz all these years later. Without his investment and belief in me at that time in my life, my career journey may have played out very differently than it did.

Thank you Mr. Anschutz for building into me so early in my career. That confidence has fueled every move since then, including my current solo venture, Relationships Matter Now, LLC.

Who in your life helped you build the "business chops"? Can you think of someone who encouraged and shaped your career in a very unique way?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thank You Series: Awakening True Womanly Confidence - Part One

The next three weeks, I'll be giving a shout out to three individuals who have impacted my life in tremendous ways with seemingly minor comments and/or actions toward me that changed my life from the moment they delivered them.

This week, I salute Paul Johnson, the man who in the summer of 1997 awoke my true womanly confidence by approaching me and declaring what he knew to be true about me.

Now, this is not your ordinary flirting pick-up line scenario.

Paul had observed me in action as I juggled two dates in one night while playing co-host to an awesome summer party in Atlanta.  I did not know he was observing but he was. And he noticed a few things about me that I'd not quite noticed about myself at the time.

My smile is magnetic. Lights up a room and hearts of many with little effort. I am very generous with my smile - always have been. Paul simply asked me to share my smile with him up close. He wanted to know the source of my joy and he knew it was not either of the dates I'd attended to that night, nor was it my job at the time.

We spoke for I-don't-know-how-many-minutes that night on that porch in Atlanta but what I do know is when we stopped speaking - I was changed. He finished our talk with telling me what a beautiful and confident woman I was and how any man is blessed to have time with me.

Until that point, no one had ever called me beautiful based on spending time with me. There were the hecklers who wanted to bed me down who commented on my "physical beauty" and "sexiness" but never before Paul had anyone taken time to appreciate the richness that is me. My full personality.

Of course, I ended up dating him for a short time before we both left Atlanta that fall - he for LA and I for Chicago. But nothing compares to that initial meeting on the porch where he awakened a solid confidence in me that has never slept again. That led directly to my next thank you which goes out to a billionaire who gave me a different kind of gift that propelled me in my career.

Tune in next week for Part Two!

In the meantime - who do you need to thank? Reflect on people/situations that have changed the course of your life. Write about them. Leave me a comment. Open up and recognize goodness in your past.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Bittersweet Sting of Mother's Day

I'd love some cookies like this for Mom's Day!
Each May, the world stops to honor moms. In Spain it is the first Sunday of May while in Mexico, Mother's Day is May 10 whatever day that lands. In the US and many other countries, moms are honored the second Sunday in May.

For most people this is a joyous occasion, either as a mom themselves or honoring their own beloved moms. There is, however, a fraction of the population that has a bittersweet sting each Mother's Day. Motherless daughters like myself know what I speak of.

I hadn't really thought much about it until I was asked last week to reflect on motherhood. The 40 minute interview was really the first time anyone had asked me in depth about my feelings on motherhood.  It was enlightening.

The question that triggered the most tender response was asking me to describe motherhood in three words. One of my words was "loss". We kept talking for a minute but then the interviewer circled back to that word and asked me to describe why I used it. Never before that moment, had I truly felt the deep and profound loss that I feel related to motherhood. It was telling. I could barely speak. And while my feelings take nothing away from all the mother figures in my life over the years - it was only in that moment that I made the connection of my motherhood to that of the lack of my mom in the journey.

So for all the joy that is being a mom to my two kids, I realized the sting of motherhood for me last week. And then I thought of countless other women; others whose moms have passed away - regardless of when it happened. Women who may have "lost" their moms to abandonment. Women who have moms that they do not have a relationship with or with whom they have a very poor relationship. Women who had children but lost them. Women who long to have children but cannot for whatever reason. Mother's Day has a bittersweet sting for these women.

Please take a moment this Mother's Day to be on the lookout for hurting people who are not quite celebrating. Look for them in your life this week as you cut through the clutter to buy gifts and take moms out to eat - notice people who may need an encouraging word. Take a moment to proactively reach out to women you know that possibly fall into the categories listed in the previous paragraph.

I'm certain they will appreciate the extra love this weekend.