lean in milwaukee: sharing stories and support

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The Empowerment Project asked us in their documentary, Sheryl Sandberg asked us in Lean In, and now we’re asking you.

Lean In Milwaukee

Kate R., on the left, started Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Way to Lean In, Kate! In this picture, I am holding the group’s namesake book, and everyone else has a “You Inspire Me” PWP postcard.

But first let’s rewind a little to 3 years, 6 months, and six days ago: January 20, 2013, the day before Kate and I launched our favorite little corner of the Internet—People with Panache!

Back then, Kate and I found reasons and ways to see each other in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the best rest stops in between just about every other week. In our professional lives, we were securely situated in jobs that fit well with our paths so far, but we weren’t quite satisfied. Sound familiar?

We wanted to start something that kept us challenged, something that connected us to each other and to the fun, innovative region we love best—the Midwest. In college, we had worked on several publications, even launching one of the nation’s first completely student-run online magazines during our senior year, which was all about the “flyover” states. (Check out the blog portion that still lives on.)

But after our craft vodka taste test, trying out quirky art classes and dabbling in fencing, we had a better plan: We’d use our journalism skills to interview and feature in-depth stories of Midwestern women who might not get all the press, but are paving paths that bring them to their passions! And we’re still going strong, nearly 150 interviews later.

Since then, we’ve grown this beautiful community of women, collecting and sharing their stories with as much of the world as will read us. (The punny person in me is also happy that we’ve featured a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker—though I suppose Big White Yeti’s scented little beauties really classify as tins.)

BlogHer Conference 2013

In 2013, we attended the BlogHer conference and got to see Sheryl Sandberg speak in person! We were close enough to get an autograph but missed our chance.

A few themes have emerged throughout our time traversing the Midwest meeting wonderful women. Last week, I was lucky to have the opportunity to share several with LeanINg Together: Milwaukee’s Lean In Chapter—and they all had to do with support.

  1. Love. Every single woman we feature is shaped by the love in her life. Sometimes that love is in the form of family, starting a foundation together like the McGinnity clan or launching a salon as sisters and business partners like Mal and Corinna with Goldpaited. Other times, it’s deep caring for children and wanting to show them that following dreams really is possible—á la Sarah of Treat Bake Shop and Lindsey of Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space (and many, many more). Who in your life lovingly provides you support?
  2. Mentorship. We love hearing about good mentors—because we hope to be them someday! Joey from Escuela Verde mentioned Bobbi, who was her sounding board and ended up starting EV with her. Carolyn, our resident financial whiz, told a great story about a man who mentored her, helping her launch her trading career to become one of the first women to trade on the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. Remember Jamie’s tip: When you find a mentor who can help you grow, find a mutual connection and ask for a warm introduction.
  3. Commitment to self. One of the most important keys to every woman’s story we feature is her commitment to her dream, her job and her vision that keeps her going. Although those outside forces can be the vital energy that brings a mission to reality, it takes daily perseverance to make it happen, and to keep it happening day in and day out. I always think about this quote from Lisa at Sister Pie: “The thing about being an entrepreneur or following a dream is that you have to give it your all, and there’s no time as an adult when nothing will distract you.”

So before we ask again what you would do if you weren’t afraid, how about instead we think outside ourselves:

  • How can we better provide love to those in our lives who are striving for something bigger?
  • How can we share our wisdom lovingly and compassionately to give others a leg up?
  • What can we do to help hold others accountable to their own dreams?
BlogHer Conference 2013

We were asked what we would do if we weren’t afraid, and we said: Start People with Panache to share women’s empowering stories!

Standing in front of smiling and thoughtful women at Milwaukee’s Lean In chapter, I was so grateful. Their chapter just recently launched, but it was already so warm-fuzzy-feeling knowing these women are on a journey together sharing some of the same struggles, helping hold one another accountable for their dreams, and providing inspiration and maybe even a little kick in the butt to help each other keep going.

Lean In chapters are like the umbrellas under which Lean In circles live. In Milwaukee at least, the chapter meets quarterly, while circles meet monthly or as often as they choose—and they could be circles of co-workers, friends, people with common interests in anything. Interested? Find a Lean In Circle in your area!

Whether you connect with like-minded people in a formal quarterly meeting or a more frequent, more informal gathering, or anything in between, we’re so glad you Lean In with us week after week! And we hope these lessons help you feel less afraid to do that thing you are meant to do—because we’re so with you, and we’re willing to bet many others are, too.

[Photos by Alysse.]

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