My 16-year-old daughter recently hit a quarantine roadblock. "I was doing pretty well with a daily schedule and making healthy food choices and stuff," she told me. "But now I'm staying up too late, procrastinating on my work, and eating too much because I'm bored." I congratulated her on the win.
She looked at me like I was a little crazy. “Um,” I just told you that things are falling apart over here.” I nodded and let her know that my week was similar – I was skipping showers, also stress-eating (hello, York Peppermint Patties, my old friend) and not checking in with people as much I had planned on. But instead of punishing ourselves, we should appreciate that we recognize things are off track because it means we can adjust and try again with new intentions and a realistic game plan, or just give ourselves some quiet breathing room.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom’s valuable lesson of learning to take stock of my wins on a daily basis. I’m not talking about clearing enormous hurdles, winning awards, and getting huge promotions. I’m talking about the little invisible wins that quietly propel us forward while building resilience.
It’s about momentum…
When I started the nonprofit MEDIAGIRLS, I was overwhelmed those first few months. My background was making media. What did I know about incorporating as a nonprofit, setting up payroll, establishing a board, etc.? Who did I think I was? Even thinking about all the things I didn’t know made me want to call my boss some days and quit. Except…I was my boss, and I’d started this whole thing. There was no way I could endure the wild ride of establishing a new business if I remained panicky in my uncertainty.
So I followed my mom’s advice and jotted down a few bullet points each day in a journal listing my accomplishments. Again, we’re talking small wins: I called the bank to figure out how to set up an account; I researched the phrase “fiscal sponsor”; I cried only once that day from frustration. These bullet points created a sense of momentum. Maybe I wasn’t “crushing it” as a business owner but I was trying, learning, risking, and being brave. Every few weeks I looked back at my journal and noted how far I’d come. Writing down the tiny wins made my progress undeniable and gave me the courage to keep going.
Parents of girls: We are a culture obsessed with comparing ourselves to others (Instagram, anyone?) and hyper-focusing on our flaws. This is perhaps most true of girls, whose confidence drops by 30% between the ages 8 and 14 (The Confidence Code, 2019). It is a vital act and service to teach our girls, and model for them, how to appreciate who we are and what we bring to the table. Taking stock of our tiny wins is the way to do this because it is internal, in our control, and requires no outside validation.
Making “weekly wins” a policy
As MEDIAGIRLS started to grow and I hired a small staff, I instituted a policy that every Friday we would celebrate our “weekly wins.” What did we get right? What did we learn? What moved us forward? The rule is that we can’t mention at this time what went wrong or how it could have been better. Being humble and learning from our mistakes is also essential but a separate discussion. Some days are much harder than others to find the wins but I promise there’s always at least one.
Back to my daughter…
We appreciated the small – yet pivotal – win of realizing she was struggling and needed to adjust some habits. We talked out a few realistic changes she could try this week, not more than two or three, with a plan to check back in a week later to see what went well. Then we’d celebrate those tiny wins and tweak some more. I’m hoping this way of approaching life will stay with her long after quarantine ends and become part of her daily practice.
On my list of wins today: In addition to writing this blog, I showered before 9 AM. I remembered how to spell “accommodate” (okay, I had to look it up on Google but I’ve now memorized it, I think). I put my reading glasses where they actually belong so I wouldn’t spend an hour hunting for them later. It’s unlikely anyone will hear this news and fling confetti at me or raise their glass in a toast. But I’ll quietly cheer on my small victories and let them move me forward.
Last month, I went tubing down the Deerfield River in Western Massachusetts with my family. It felt so good to be moving freely in nature without a mask on, and the experience was a little surreal after spending years using tubing as a metaphor for starting a business.
It’s like this...
You pick up your tube and step into the river clutching it awkwardly but ready for adventure. You stand there wondering when you should go…is it now? Should I go NOW? Do I just GO? There is no one to tell you when. This part is like announcing to the public you are opening for business. It’s so exciting but you keep thinking about reasons to postpone it (“I don’t have the right office supplies,” “the website could be more dynamic,” "I should announce it on a Monday," etc.).
Eventually you realize there’s no right time; you have to just plant your butt down in that tube and pick up your feet. For a while it’s usually joyful and easy, especially when you have good weather, the sun is out, and the birds are chirping. And then, BAM!, you either get stuck on a rock or end up in the weeds wondering how the hell that happened. It had been so fun just minutes ago when you were in the flow. Now you’re stuck, frustrated and demoralized. You start worrying you're not going to make it out of that river in one piece.
This is the part in business when you launched but you’re not getting the publicity you anticipated; or you’re getting rejected for grants after all those excruciating hours of writing; or you’re realizing you don’t know the first thing about how to incorporate or form a board. Part of you will want to pick up your tube, and go home. You tried; it’s too hard.
Listen up, that’s par for the course.
But the key to running a business is staying calm, getting yourself unstuck and heading back to the center of the river. It’s okay to wait a few minutes, catch your breath, ask for help from a companion, and give yourself a pep talk. But you have to get back into the current and keep going. Take a moment to reflect on what you learned ("I should have lifted my rear end higher when I saw the big rock," "I should have faced forward when I heard the rapids coming"). Next time, you’ll have a model for how you got unstuck last time that you can draw upon. Knowing this will boost your confidence; the first time is the hardest.
The true trick of tubing and business...
The big win—on the river, in business, in life—is to keep applying what you've learned along the way while enjoying the peaceful or exhilarating parts. Don't waste your time worrying there are more hard parts down the bend. Spoiler alert: There are. Stay present and feel the cool water beneath you, the sun reflecting on the leaves, the fun of floating with people you love, and even silliness of getting whipped around a little. You will exit that river with a few scrapes, bruises and bug bites but that’s nothing compared to the wild joy of the overall ride.
Last week, I announced that I'd be stepping down as Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS. I know this was surprising to many of the people in my world. I get it. It's weird when founders leave because they almost always bring such an abundance of passion to the nonprofit they start (why else would you go through all that effort if you didn't feel strongly about the cause?). Many of you asked me what's next, and how I'm feeling about this transition. First, thank you for caring, and I figured I'd answer all of you who inquired at once.
As for what's next, I'm not sure yet. I'm in the process of interviewing for jobs in which I will NOT be the leader but rather a team player. I want to bring my love of storytelling and creating content to help heal this broken world while continuing to empower others. Here's my job wishlist if any of you are curious. Is it crazy to leave a job when you don't have another one lined up, especially in this economy? Probably. But I've always trusted my gut, and it's served me well (minus those cringey embarrassing moments, but those always make for the best stories).
As for how I'm feeling about the transition, I feel joyful. Keep in mind that I made the decision to step down last fall so I've had plenty of time to process the multitude of intense feels. I also believe that one of the best things a founder can do is know when it's time to go, and make sure that there's a strong plan in place for the hand-off. It's time.
Sidenote: If you ever create your own business, do not call it your "baby." You can't imagine how many times people labeled MEDIAGIRLS my baby, and I even came to believe it for several years. If you buy into this common notion, you will also believe that no one can really take care of your "baby" other than you. It's YOU that has to stay up at all hours feeding the crying baby and paying endless attention to it and not getting a break and feeling alone. Do yourself a favor and consider it a business that you care deeply about, and surround yourself with the right people to grow it.
That brings me to gratitude. I'm feeling full of it, for the wise, supportive, board who has always had my back, and for Amanda Mozea, our Education Outreach Manager, who brings so much attention to detail, challenges me in the best ways, and helped make our programming deeper and more substantial for the brown and black girls we serve. She brings the fire, and has an even softer heart than she knows. I'm thankful for the volunteers, mentors, donors, and cheerleaders who helped MEDIAGIRLS inspire thousands of girls along the way to use their voice to speak up and learn to advocate. I love this village so much, and am excited to watch the next leg of the journey.
I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to lead an organization based on the values I care most deeply about: empowering other people to do their best work rather than micromanaging; collaborating instead of competing; expressing gratitude for the gifts and kindnesses offered; being transparent even when you don't feel like it; asking for help; and building solid relationships. I made my fair share of humbling mistakes along the way, but I don't believe I lost sight of my values.
The universe did me a solid in bringing on Angela Scott as our Interim Executive Director. Angela has been such a pivotal part of the MEDIAGIRLS staff for several years, and taught me to be a more strategic and organized thinker. She shares my overall values, and brings her own set of unique talents to expand MEDIAGIRLS. She is warm and funny, and one of my favorite people.
So here's to being grateful for what we have, continuing to adjust and take risks, staying true to our own values and having faith in the magic of new beginnings. Please connect with me at LinkedIn if you'd like to stay in touch.
Michelle Cove is a journalist, filmmaker, author, and founder of the nonprofit MEDIAGIRLS. She uses storytelling and media to encourage, challenge, empower and inspire others and is seeking a job that allows her to put these skills to use; check out her resume if you may know the right fit. Michelle's favorite stories involve resilience, a blend of soft humility and sharp humor, and a belief that the universe is conspiring to help us all grow. Find her at LinkedIn.
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