Note: see WINNERS link here for the BEST samples! Word counts in Microsoft word (strangely) tend to be "off" of our word count by about 200 words (you'll have to cut down by 200 before pasting here).
“One, two, three, four!,” the instructor yelled. Kate followed the comforting repetition of my Body Pump® class. As a huge “list nerd,” it felt good to cross “gym” off the list. Lists were really just a way of organizing Kate's mind which, recently, seemed a bit scattered. Was there the perfect list out there? Maybe that would magically solve everything. Kate laughed, internally, at the question. Maybe it was not internally because the person next to her just looked over like Kate had three heads.
Great - Kate was losing it. Here she was writing about role models and mentors for women and girls, and she was losing her mind. Awesome.
Background summary (including childhood) with “Aha” Moment
As a kid Kate was tomboyish. She ran around with boys and scared her great grandmother with her hyperactivity. Awkward girliness set in later, and it took Kate a while to get her bearings. She ran for secretary of her class and lost. She also tried out for the soccer team and was injured. Kate’s attempt to try new things was not going so well. Sophomore year marked the arrival of her “aha moment.” She applied to be a page for the Virginia Senate and was exposed to a world of leadership, people, and experiences that gave her confidence. She came back from that experience and thought, “Why not?” She ran for president of her class and won. Kate explained her aha moment inspiration:
“I liked thinking ‘Why not?’ and then going and doing it. It made me feel things were possible. For so long, I guess, nothing seemed possible. It seemed pretty 'blah,' in fact. So, I got pretty addicted to the 'idea, do it, repeat' process once I figured it out."
Kate’s on-the-job education continued During these early years, Kate had a tendency to ignore her own limits:
I remember sitting on my bed one day in college near-tears, drawing out a calendar of everything I had to do. I wasn’t sure it could be done, even without sleeping. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. I had no off-switch.
"Our funder pulled the money," Kate heard on the other end of the phone. Fast forward a few years and Kate figured out a way to have a limit! When working for a venture-funded firm after business school, the .com market crashed. With part of her severance she took a trip to Australia and New Zealand and thought about next steps.
A spreadsheet, several peptalks, and some deep thinking later...The next step was out on her own. The consulting firm Vision Forward was born. She knew consulting from her first job out of college, she knew sales from other senior positions, so she could run this thing. The model? Hire high-performing part-time women as consultants: The “Hot Mommas.”
Professional Section (What I have learned, what is a current challenge – use “Notes” in Appendix for additional info)
Kate remembered the butterflies in her stomach back in 2001 pressing“SEND” on what is now known as "the email of death" - at least, it felt that way at the time:
‘Dear Friends and Family, I am starting my own business. I am hiring a battery of part time consultants and we have our first contract. I would appreciate your keeping us in mind for leads.’
She thought, ‘Wow, if I fail…everyone will know.’ It was like mentally jumping off a cliff. Vision Forward did well. Kate knew consulting. She wasn't sure why she was surprised, but she was. But, a few years later when speaking to a group of students about her firm at a Boys and Girls Club...she noticed...well, they were bored. And, then she started talking about her consultants: The Hot Mommas. Well, that livened things right up.
"Do you have to be a mom?"one boy asked?
"No," Kate replied, "Just smart, able to think for yourself, and good with clients."
"Well then my sister is definitely a Hot Momma!"
The room was absolutely buzzing.
Kate realized in that moment she agreed with the students: The Hot Mommas were a whole lot more interesting than consulting.
She never looked back. Kate had been teaching at The George Washington University School of Business. She submitted a story or "case" to an academic conference. In 2005 a Hot Mommas™ case study won a national award from the Coleman Foundation.
What had started out as a hobby was beginning to generate a great deal of interest. There were applications for corporate women’s leadership programs, women’s entrepreneurial groups, academic entrepreneurship programs, and international markets.
In 2008, Kate sat at her computer and began to map out the The Hot Mommas™ Project business model. What was the Hot Mommas™ Project and its outputs? How would it make money? What is the competitive advantage? What is the long-term growth strategy? These were all elements of a business model Kate taught in her class, but what was the right answer for The Hot Mommas™ Project in real life? (See Appendix, notes for ideas). What did growth look like?
Personal Section (What I have learned, what is a current challenge – use “Notes” for additional)
Kate believed any ability to thrive in her professional career was based on stability in her family and personal life. She guarded it fiercely, without it – she believed she would crumble. She had several underlying principles in place she rarely shared, because noone asked, but here they were:
#1. Have your priorities straight - After giving up a great deal at an early age, and having no “off-switch,” Kate learned her lessons about priorities early.
#2. No career as a crutch – Kate refused to use her career as a crutch, something she saw as chronic in the “what do you do” circles. She was a full and developed person outside of her career.
#3. Family & Marriage - Kate worked especially hard on having a strong marriage and family life. It was hard. She never gave up, and would do anything for them.
#4. Rock solid friends - Kate had her “five cool friends” rule. She’d done it when she was pregnant. That is, she’d never be prepared for all the twists and turns that would come up, so, in her mind…or in her phone…she’d keep a list of five cool, trusted friends. She’d go to them when she needed a hand, a shoulder, advice. They were “call in the middle of the night” friends. They had her back. She worked hard to find them. They were treasured in her life. They helped, and here a big part of her balance equation.
It is so easy to say, ‘I want a strong family..I want balance’ and much harder to do. Looking back, I really think it’s easier to go out and secure a contract, write a case or win an award. The challenge-facing side of me doesn’t want to fail at anything, and that includes having a successful marriage, having happy kids, working on a support network. Yet, as I get older and my life gets more complicated, I need more support. That support is not going to come from an invoice a client paid or a certificate hanging on my wall. My resume won’t keep me warm at night or give me a hug or a shoulder to cry on.