Before You Win, You’ve Gotta Learn to Lose

The thing is, people hate to fail. And that is ridiculous. 

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“We can be truly successful only at things we are willing to fail at.” -Mark Manson

Someone recently exclaimed in despair to me that I “win everything.” First, I laughed. Second, I denied it. And third, I thought about how badly I wanted to bluntly reply: you clearly have not seen all the ways that I have failed in my life! I didn’t though. Instead, I’m writing this blog post.

Most people don’t talk about their failures. It can be awkward and embarrassing. But such is life. Here goes!

The thing is, people hate to fail. And that is ridiculous. 

The only way to step out of mediocrity, as I see it, is to stick your neck out, raise your hand, speak up, try something you’ve never done before, and then fail at said thing a thousand times. Because failure is a beautiful, humbling, edifying path to learning the best lessons life has to offer.

Over this past weekend, I had the honor of attending the 2017 Emmy© Awards in Chicago. Now, I have a lot of opinions about awards like these. On one hand, it feels pretty damn good to get acknowledged for the work that you do. And an Emmy is the ultimate form of acknowledgement in my industry. On the other hand, people obsess over awards. It’s strange to me when I see someone get so wrapped up over a pretty trophy that they lose sight of the big picture. And believe me, it happens all the time – I think particularly in the TV/entertainment industry.

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My friend and colleague, Teddy, and I at the 2017 Emmy Awards in Chicago! This photo was taken shortly after I got my gown stuck in the escalator. 🙄

Anyway, my work crew and I decided as a team that this ol’ stamp of approval was indeed a goal of ours. And we did it. Two colleagues and I were up for an Interactivity award for our work on Discover Wisconsin. To get a nomination alone was a huge honor and one I am very proud of.

And I’ll admit it: I really did want to win that award. But that is not what happened. Someone else walked away with it. (Congratulations Melinda Davenport!) I’m proud of the work we did but the lesson I learned was: maybe we didn’t put our absolute best foot forward. Maybe next time, we’ve gotta be even more clever, more creative and more inventive. And that is exactly what we’ll do (while keeping our eyes on the bigger picture, of course).

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”

-Thomas J. Watson

Exhibit B: My involvement in the Miss America Organization. Having competed in the program for three years, I lost far more than I won (7:1). For three years, I worked harder than I had worked for anything in my life at that point. And seven times in a row, I watched someone else be awarded the job I was so sure I would nail if given the chance. Each time, I had to reckon with the fact that a panel of five judges watched me interview, dance and sashay my way across the stage and said: “Nah.”

Each time I failed, I looked back at my performance and tried to figure out where to make adjustments. I asked my friends, family and most of all, the judges, to steer me in the right direction. I’d weed out the opinions that didn’t feel right in my gut and I’d hold on tightly to the ones that did. That’s important — following your instincts while navigating the success/failure line.

I did end up winning, only to lose a couple months later at the state level. And I learned so much about my own skill-set: I found talents I didn’t know I had. I also felt more in tune than ever with the areas I needed to work on.

When I gave up my crown a year later, I said to the next round of contestants: “Congrats to the future winner…take lots of pictures and enjoy the ride! But to all of you who don’t hear your name called tonight (I know how you feel!), know that you have an even tougher job. You can not give up. Keep trying and I promise you, something really great is just around the corner.”

Thankfully, lots of people encouraged me to keep trying before I won. It wasn’t just my own ambitions and dreams; it was also the encouragement of others. (Of course, there were naysayers, too. They will also be in the background. I liken them to “Ursula’s Garden”…remember those creepy sea creatures from The Little Mermaid? That scene is how I envision all the haters in my life.)

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Haters not welcome. 🙅

The “failure journey” is maddening. There is no way around it.

Even before landing my gig with Discover Wisconsin, I must have reached out to hundreds of folks in the TV industry with the hope that just one would crack that door open. Just one tiny crack in the door…that was all I was looking for.

Unless you’re one of the golden few who just happens to get “discovered,” you will get 5,000 “No’s” before you hear “Yes!”

Persistence and the willingness to play in the first place is everything.

 

My Day as a Gymnast at Badger Gymnastics

I gravitate toward gymnastics because it requires an insane amount of fearlessness.

 

I didn’t grow up a gymnast. But I was always obsessed with the sport. As a kid, I’d sit so close to the TV as the tiny teenage gymnasts would appear one by one, each of them so powerful and confident and mega talented.

I grew up on a farm in the “middle of nowhere.” I was the oldest of five so there was no talking my parents into driving me 30 minutes away for class. My elementary school offered a gymnastics unit once a year and my eyes would light up at the sight of the vault, four-inch beam and foam mats set up across the floor. That excitement has never waned, even through my adulthood. And that is exactly how I found myself at Badger Gymnastics in Madison. It was the only place around that offered adults (with or without gymnastics experience) the opportunity to feel (and be!) a real gymnast.

Welcome to my workout with Jessie Carlson, owner and coach at Badger Gymnastics.

From Wisconsin to Tanzania

I had no idea I’d be finding some of Wisconsin here in Tanzania. Life has had a habit of reminding me that people just aren’t so different.

 

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Adam Nothem, a fellow UW-Oshkosh alum. 

Sometimes, a seed sprouts best after it lands in new soil.

I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I grew up near Green Lake in Farmington and I always felt a sense of community around me there. We all knew our neighbors and people watched out for one another. My summers were spent with my friends swimming in the lake, exploring the nearby woods, and hanging out in the yard with my family and our dog and having campfires. Where I’m from, and likely many of you as well, we walked through yards to visit our neighbors because no one has fences. And when I got called home for dinner, it was by hearing my name being called from the porch. My drive home from school passed innumerable corn fields, dairy farms, and a quaint village named Cheeseville. Wisconsin was always my home and, in 2014, when I was leaving home to live in Tanzania for my US Peace Corps service, I had no idea I’d be returning to a very similar sense of community; one that I had lost slightly during my time in college and while living in the city.

In case you are unfamiliar, the Peace Corps is a government organization that favors a grassroots development strategy and a commitment to a particular village for at least two years. I lived in a small, rural village named Mnavira near the southern border of Tanzania where the sandy soils nourish mostly corn, beans, mangoes, coconuts, and lots and lots of cashews. Most people are subsistence farmers but many farm cashew nuts for pay as well. Cashews are the main cash crop and are harvested once each year. Many villages like Mnavira are absolutely dependent on the cashew harvest. If the rains or high winds affect the trees and the yield is less than planned, many families can be left with light pockets and heavy burdens. It’s common for extended families to share homes to all help one another out. Generally, the men do the farming and are responsible for bringing in income and the women maintain the home. Often though, with their child on their back and more in tow, the women find themselves in the fields as well or hauling water from the stream or spout.

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Upon first arriving, one may focus on many of the cultural differences. But part of what makes our 2 year time frame so advantageous is that it gives us and our community members time to get used to the shallow differences and start to connect to our deeper commonalities. And what I began to see early on is a very similar sense of community that I grew up with. This was partially due to how readily they welcomed me into their community. My neighbors kept watch on my house if I was gone, they would check on me if I was sick, and they would always welcome me to share meals with them. The Tanzanian people are an extremely welcoming people. That made my time here so much more comfortable and helped me integrate to my new home. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to receive a cold welcome or open animosity. It would’ve been nearly impossible to integrate effectively or to learn the Swahili language. As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), I have several goals. The first one, since I am a health extension agent, is to assess the health situation in Mnavira and to try to improve it in any way I can. The second goal is to make Tanzanians more familiar with America and the American people. For many people in Mnavira and Tanzania in general, their only experience with America is through news headlines, movies, or music videos. As you may imagine, that leaves people with a pretty interesting perspective of our home and an endless flow of questions. The third goal is to make Americans more familiar with Tanzania and see it as the individual country that it is among the vast expanse of Africa.

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The familiar sense of community that I returned to made reaching those goals possible. It’s amazing how much information you can share just through normal day-to-day conversation and inclusion into a new culture. I would do this while helping my neighbor farm his cashews, while my friend Mudi and I would do home projects and he’d teach me the local way of doing it, and while I would just sit with my neighbors on the grass mat under a mango tree. I was there during holidays, weddings, and funerals. These were new experiences for me because of the difference in culture but also because they were done along the Islamic traditions and prayers.

In Tanzania, Muslims make up nearly half the population and Christians make up nearly the other half. This ongoing interaction creates a very peaceful life with most people thinking of others as fellow Tanzanians first, and their religion or tribe second. In Mnavira, nearly everyone is Muslim but the few Christians were warmly welcomed to share their food even on holidays like Eid. I celebrated Eid twice during my time in Mnavira and I highly recommend it. There is just such a good mood in the air and the food is fantastic. And during Christmas and Easter, many Muslims break bread with their Christian neighbors. This close sense of community and togetherness gave me all the motivation I needed to do health work.

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In Mnavira, many people get infected with the malaria parasite. At the local clinic, an average of twelve people a day tested positive for malaria and got treatment. This is a heavy burden on a community both financially and emotionally. For some, the symptoms are fever, chills, muscle pain, and vomiting. For others, it can be serious enough to cause seizures, cognitive impairment, or death. These severe outcomes are more commonly seen in children under five, pregnant women, and people living with HIV. Mnavira, like many Tanzanian villages, also struggles with water availability, nutrition, and HIV. These factors combined with low income, inadequate health education, and inconsistent healthcare access can create a crisis for many families. That is why the headmaster of the primary school, Rweikanisa, applied to the Peace Corps for a health volunteer. He and I quickly became close friends and he was an invaluable neighbor to have throughout my service. Together, we came up with new ways to teach people about health information. To name a few, this ranged from doing formal lessons at the primary school and clinic, to painting a mural on the school wall, making radio programs for the nearest station, an educational storybook to be read by students and parents, and making visualizations of the high cost of continually treating malaria in the village rather than preventing it. He was also essential in our lessons about reproductive development and gender equality, a beekeeping program for people living with HIV, and in organizing the construction of a new pit latrine at the school.

During our time working together, he always helped me integrate further and helped strengthen the community ties between all of us. These projects were no easy task as many people often seem complacent in their situation. Malaria has always been here and it is difficult for people to imagine life without it so they can sometimes look at the disease like we may look at the common cold. I focused on malaria in my time at UW Oshkosh, so I was especially keen to put forth extra energy to our malaria work. It is a disease that is entirely preventable and treatable and I find it unacceptable how many people, especially young children, die of the disease. The number of funerals I attended for my community members was truly saddening and I was highly motivated for the two years I lived in Mnavira to give help in any way I could to the community who welcomed me so thoroughly.

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In fact, I decided to extend my time in Tanzania for another year. I found a small non-profit organization in the north of the country in a city called Tanga called MEA. I saw that they trained community health workers (CHWs) in the surrounding villages to treat their fellow villagers for minor ailments. Often, minor ailments can go untreated and can develop into bigger problems so these CHWs put in the time and effort to help. The organization, MEA, mentioned how they’d like to get those CHWs involved with malaria work and I applied to help start the program. During my third year of service, I was technically still a Peace Corps Volunteer but I was also the Malaria Program Manager for MEA. During the course of the year, we were able to gather the support and encouragement from the district level to the national governments for our new program, the first of its kind in Tanga region, and we were able to train and certify nearly 200 community health workers. The health workers, along with their usual treatment duties, now also test people for malaria using rapid diagnostic tests and treating people with the proper drug regimen. Most of them do this in addition to their normal work because they are paid whatever little bit their patients can chip in and no one is turned away for not having any money to pay. Their individual agreements are driven by their shared sense of community. The patient wants to help the health worker be paid for his or work, but the health worker doesn’t want to burden patients to where they won’t seek treatment any longer. As of now, nearly 200 health workers are participating in a program that will test and treat more than 41,000 people each year for malaria.

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When I was at UW Oshkosh, I dreamed of being able to do direct malaria work. I thought often of what it’d be like to live in a new place, to learn a new language and actually be able to use it to teach and have conversations, and to immerse into a new culture. I knew that, if I wanted to fulfill that dream, I’d have to leave my home of Wisconsin. I had no idea I’d be finding some of Wisconsin here in Tanzania. Life has had a habit of reminding me that people just aren’t so different. As my service comes to a close this week, I can’t help but reflect on that and count myself very privileged for being able to have this opportunity. It can be a scary thing leaving one’s home. For some, time like this can be a break from the life they were living and they can go right back when they’re done. For others, it can be a jumping off point to a new life if and when they return. For myself, I’m happy to not choose and just to see where it goes while enjoying my newfound perspective.

 

Adam Nothem, a native born Wisconsinite, has spent spent the last 3 1/2 years living in Tanzania serving with the US Peace Corps. There, he has continued with his passion for combating malaria; a passion he’s had since his time as a biology student at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

 

 

A Roadmap to Building Influence

You don’t need a fancy job title to make a positive and powerful impact. Let’s talk influence. First, what is it exactly?  

influence

[in-floo-uh ns] noun

the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior and opinions of others.

Quite simply, it’s “knowing the heart of the person you wish to influence and ordering your words (or more generally, communication) so they’ll act.” What I’d add here is: when they don’t have to.

The interesting thing about influence is you can be influential without being the leader. The old way was: the one with the power had the influence. Now though, the one with the influence has the power.

 

Why should you care about influence, you ask?

You’re influencing people every single day whether you realize it or not: at work, at home and everywhere in between. Employees are influencing their bosses. Parents are influencing their children. If you’re the type of person who is interested in moving the needle, you’re going to want to hone in on how to change others’ behaviors and outlooks.

Cruise through my Keynote presentation below for a deeper dive into some of the themes relevant to building influence – from self-awareness and likability to collaboration and authenticity.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

One young woman’s journey back home

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Wisconsin farmer and blogger, Lauren Rudersdorf.

Five months ago, my husband and I bought a home. Our first home. As we sat beside each other signing our closing documents, it felt positively monumental. It was the first time in my young life that I really felt like I had made it. My husband and I had started a small, organic vegetable farm four years prior and it had brought enough hard-earned income that we could afford a home of our own in a beautiful town within commuting distance to both our farm and my off-farm job. We had enough stability in our lives that we felt comfortable committing to a place. The fact that our new home was move-in ready and fully renovated five years ago was just icing on the cake of our late twenties’ lives. I felt mature. I felt settled. I finally felt like maybe I could call myself an adult.

We moved into our home on July 1, 2016 (give or take a few hell-ish weeks of schlepping boxes back and forth from Albany to Evansville in our Ford Ranger and my parents’ minivan). Over the next couple months, we did the new home thing. We unpacked boxes. We hung pictures on the walls. We put a “Rudersdorf” sign on the front porch and bought a lawn mower. Yet despite all the effort I put towards turning our new house into a home, I felt myself continually waiting to be excited about the move. There was no doubt it felt empowering to be a young homeowner, but something about the situation just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy. I felt anxious and insecure all the time.

The strange thing about our new home is that it’s located in the town where I grew up. The town where I had spent 13 years of my life in school, sports and community organizations. When I had graduated nine years earlier, I fled my hometown just as fast as I could for a small private school in Ohio and told myself I’d never look back. I wanted big things and was certain that big things didn’t happen in small towns. I expected moves to Europe, New York City and Washington D.C. I envisioned a big flashy career and non-stop travel. I imagined a life nowhere near where I grew up. I was convinced I would leave Wisconsin and become a totally different person. Returning home had baggage and baggage I had not yet dealt with.

How I ended up back home was a long and winding journey. I took a year off from college to travel and experience the world. I had solo trips abroad that were beautiful and transformative. I learned a lot about myself, and also realized, to my own dissatisfaction, that the private school I loved in Ohio was no longer right for me. I moved back home to earn some money and figure out next steps. I got my first apartment in Madison a few months later and by 2010 had transferred to the University of Wisconsin enrolled in an undergraduate program I was passionate about.

In Madison, I quickly fell head over heels for a man who loved soils and nature and wanted to live his life outdoors. We were the perfect compliments to one another and decided to begin an organic farm together. I was fortunate enough to have parents with farmland so we rented four acres and began building our business. Shortly thereafter, we decided to commit our life to one another. We were married in 2014 and began thinking about where we should build our life and home. Taking over the family farm was what made the most sense for us, and suddenly we found ourselves looking for homes in Evansville.

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Life moved fast, as it does, and a journey that began in other states and other countries had suddenly catapulted me back home. As I unpacked boxes and looked out the big windows of my beautiful new house at a community I’d ambled through as a kid and young adult, I felt uncomfortable. It was as if suddenly, I was right back where I started. I felt pathetic, almost like I was moving backwards.

Those first two months in our new home were really difficult for me. I was exhausted from the farming season and trying to process my feelings about being back in Evansville. I was forced to learn some really hard things about myself, like how I never quite escaped the need for validation from other people. Or how for a long time my greatest desires in life weren’t motivated by my own dreams or desires, but by my own obsession with always trying to impress people. Or how I felt like success could never be at home. It had to be somewhere else.

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I could have never imagined that 10 years after fleeing the town where I spent my childhood and adolescent years, I’d be living in a neighborhood with old teachers right next door. But it’s perfect. And I chose it. I chose to leave and I chose to come back. I hadn’t gotten lost, run out of options and returned home because I had to. I chose this. Every decision I’d made since I became an adult led me back here because it’s where I wanted to be. I had traveled and tried new things, and the more I did, the more I felt pulled back to the place where I had been raised. Despite my urge to fight it, my connection to the Midwest was undeniable.

In the end, it turns out moving home was exactly what I needed. It helped me forget and forgive that girl who grew up in Evansville 10 years ago: who could be so naïve and cruel, putting pressure on herself to change because she thought who she was and where she came from was never enough. It helped me stop caring about what other people think and do things for myself instead. It helped me move with confidence as I push my career forward in ways that aren’t always linear to the outside world. It helped me accept the person I have become instead of making apologies or excuses. It helped me shed the weight of expectations and find happiness from within. Moving home helped me finally heal.

And what I learned by removing any self-judgment was one irrefutable truth: I love this place. I understand it. It’s flawed, like anywhere, but its enchanting. The rolling hills. The agricultural and environmental legacies. The pristine farmland and beautiful bodies of water. The historic small towns and colorful main streets. The subtle charm that requires patience to be discovered. The hardworking people and sense of community. I love it here. I love everything about where I’m from. And I couldn’t be happier to build a life here and do what I can to make it better.

Lauren Rudersdorf is a Rock County, Wis. native who loves all things food, farming and Wisconsin life. If she’s not out in the fields of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm or kicking butt at her day job in Madison, you can find her hiking on the Ice Age Trail, testing recipes for her blog The Leek & The Carrot or planning her next vacation. You can find more of her writing at Edible Madison in the Farmer Voices column and Madison Magazine beginning in June 2017.

 

 

Unlocking Potential #12: Q&A With Mariah Haberman

You’ve really gotta own it and believe in yourself, and when you make mistakes, you assess and move on.

This article originally appeared on garthbox.com. {Interview by Garth Beyer, @TheGarthBox}

Welcome back to another Q&A with a remarkable marketer as part of the Unlocking Potential series. I heard about a woman named Mariah Haberman when I first moved to Madison, I found out she worked at the PR agency I hope to work at, and then I got to see her speak not too long ago. (Post about impressions and link to her presentation here.)

Mariah has drive, excitement, and more passion that I thought one person could have. It will be clear as you read on. Without further ado, welcome Mariah.

Q: What motivates you to get out of your bed in the morning?

Mariah: Caffeine! And lots of it! I am so not a morning person so the fact that I make it into work before 10 a.m. is a miracle in itself. That said, I can honestly say I have never dreaded a day of work. Getting to discover Wisconsin is a cool gig but I think working alongside amazing and talented people is just the best thing ever. (Also: Free Sprecher root beer :D)

Q: What business would you say you’re in and how did you get there? What’s your story?

Mariah: I have a weird hybrid role: I’m both a television/radio host and a PR and social media marketer.

I always dreamt of working in television. In fact, I can recall writing my sixth grade career report for Mrs. Herbers about my aspirations of becoming a news anchor. In college though, I threw those dreams out the window after coming to the conclusion that a television career in Wisconsin during a recession was a ridiculous dream to have.

So I picked public relations. And upon graduating from UW-Oshkosh, I threw a few suitcases in my tiny ’02 Corolla and with my shiny, new diploma in tow, I made the trek to Chicago. There, I worked as a temporary assistant at an entertainment PR firm. Next, I decided to freelance back in the Madison area and then I worked at a wonderful marketing agency in town.

Meanwhile, I spent three years competing for the title of Miss Wisconsin. That endeavor really reignited my desire to pursue television. So, I reached out to the one contact I had at Discover Mediaworks and asked if, by any chance, they’d ever consider letting me guest host an episode or two. After several months of back-and-forth, the crew finally invited me to come in for an interview and audition. Apparently, they saw something in me, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Q: What are four life lessons you’ve learned from following your muse?

1) Make things happen for you.

2) Be nice to people.

3) Own up when you’ve messed up.

4) Never take yourself or your work too seriously.

Q: You’re constantly putting yourself out there. How have you dealt with fear – be it of rejection or failure or even success?

Mariah: I hate to quote the most buzzed about kid flick of all time, but when it comes to being in front of crowds, you really have to just let it go. I’ll get nervous from time to time during the preparation of a big shoot or speaking engagement, but once I am on stage, or those cameras are rolling, I don’t even let myself go to that place of self-doubt. You’ve really gotta own it and believe in yourself, and when you make mistakes, you assess and move on.

So much of the television business I think is listening to your own gut. You are going to get people who absolutely adore you and your work. And the opposite of those people are Internet trolls :). I take it all with a grain of salt—both the compliments and the critiques.

Q: What do you do to continue growing in your field? Are there a few special practices or habits you think people reading may benefit from doing too?

Mariah: The idea of being stagnant or out of the loop as both a host and marketer downright scares me. I am constantly trying to learn and get better at my craft whether it be through improv classes or online marketing research—you name it. Regardless of how long you’ve been in the biz, learning is essential.

The beauty of working in the agency world is that you’re surrounded by folks who specialize in all sorts of things that you may not necessarily be an expert in. But making an effort to understand their work inherently makes you better at your own.

Q: What has been a major highlight of your work?

Mariah: A viewer reached out to me on Facebook the other day to tell me that he and his daughter make it a weekly tradition to sit down every Saturday morning and watch Discover Wisconsin together. Hearing things like that – from people who make our show a part of their lives – is the kind of stuff that sticks with me.

Q: What is one characteristic you’ve noticed every successful marketer has? Better yet, what the heck does it take to become a remarkable PR pro or marketer?

Mariah: Great marketers want to learn; they are asking questions. They are paying attention not only to what other brands are doing out there, but more importantly, they’re noticing what people care about, why they do the things they do, buy the things they buy, and hang out with the people they hang out with. I think a marketer has to be easily fascinated by and curious about the world around him or her—and I’d say the same thing applies to great TV/radio hosts.

When you understand why people do the things they do, the ideations, strategizing and executing for brands comes a whole heck of a lot more naturally. (It’s still a tough gig, don’t get me wrong!)

Q: Would you tell us about a time you almost gave up and what you did instead?

Mariah: Interestingly enough, I actually have to tell myself to let go of things more often. (Noticing a theme here?) I get invested too easily. I love to dream big and I think the upshot of dreaming big is that you tend to bite off more than you can chew. So while “giving up” often has a negative connotation, I really have to continue to remind myself the importance of walking away from the stuff I can’t or shouldn’t fix.

Q: How do you try to live your life? Do you have a life motto or a particular quote you stand by?

Mariah: Nah. No life quotes really. I just try to live life to the fullest…you know, find the silver lining in even the crappiest of days!

Q: What is a dream you have or a project you want to create that you haven’t had the time for?

Mariah: Sooooo many. I want to write my own book(s). Open a wine bar. Learn French. And piano. And how to cook (better). And more time for travel would be lovely!

Q: Where can people find you and your work? (Shameless self-promotion here!)

Mariah: Why, you can watch “my work” every weekend on your TV screens (or laptops or tablets or smartphones)! Broadcast guide here: www.bobber.discoverwisconsin.com/broadcast …and because social media is my thang, I’m pretty easy to find on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram 🙂

 

Stay Positive & Curiously Alive

 

Garth Beyer is a Madison-based writer and Public Relations Strategist focused on telling stories, running through trend-making PR strategies and trying new things in life.

10 Tips and Tricks to Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking

I don’t know a single soul who was born a brilliant public speaker…

I live for a great speech. I think that to write and give a speech confidently is a powerful talent to behold. It’s a big deal to me. I was probably one of the first people to follow Obama’s original speechwriter on Twitter. (Hi @jonfavs #iswearimnotastalker). And my penchant for watching commencement speeches on YouTube has turned into a full-blown side hobby. (All-time favorite? Eh, it’s a toss up between Conan O’Brien at Harvard and Jim Carrey at Maharishi University of Management.)

So yeah…to summarize: One could conclude I have a bit of an appetite for communication, specifically public speaking. I suppose it’s something of an obsession. 🙂

And truth is, I’m not the only one obsessing. According to The Book of Lists, “speaking before a group” is the #1 human fear. For point of reference: Death is #7 on this list! Jay Leno put it best: I guess we’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

I’ve been pretty fortunate to hone my public speaking skills by way of my profession. Thus, I thought it might be helpful to share a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. Here are 10 ways to channel that executive presence while all eyes are on you:

  1. Practice. Practice. Practice.
    The most boring and obvious tip on this list is also, undoubtedly, the most essential. I’d credit about 95% of the growth I’ve made as a public speaker to practice. Rehearse in front of your significant other or kids, in small groups at work, at your local non-profit…just put yourself out there. And be warned: To practice does not mean to memorize. When I’m getting ready to speak – whether it’s a premiere party for Discover Wisconsin or a speech at a wedding – it’s not uncommon for me to just make an iPhone note of three to five points I want to make or stories I want to tell. If I’m more anxious than usual for whatever reason, I’ll practice out loud several times in my car. (I’m sure those who pass me on the beltline are all sorts of confused when they spot an animated orator in the right lane! 😂)
  2. Watch Yourself Speak
    One of the “luxuries” of working on-camera is I have easy access to playback footage of my own work as a communicator. This has been incredibly helpful. But I was doing this long before I had a job in TV. In college and throughout my pageant days, I’d film my speeches and interviews and solicit feedback from my peers and professors. A major mistake people make is spending 80% of their time writing their material and only 20% of their time rehearsing it. You need to flip those numbers. Surprise! It’s less about what you’re saying and more about how you’re saying it. We’re getting a bit into paralinguistics here but people really have a tendency to mirror your emotions as a presenter. If you are communicating in an animated, exciting, cheery way, chances are, you’re going to notice some smiles on people’s faces. If you’re going for a more solemn, dramatic mood, expect some pensive crowd reactions.
  3. Study Others
    Whether it’s a bridesmaid speech or the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I’ve learned as much from others as I have my own speeches. There are always little nuggets to glean. For example, by watching a speaker I admired, I learned to be okay with a little silence – to embrace it actually. When I was in front of a group and unable to come up with a way to wrap up a point I was trying to make, I’d feel my face get real hot and search for words – any words – to fill the silence. But a little break in your flow is just fine. Take President Obama, for example. An incredible orator, inarguably, but one thing that has struck me about his speeches and interviews is the fact that silent pauses are trademark Obama. You can tell he is searching around for the perfect word, the perfect way to wrap up what it is he’s trying to communicate and it sticks with you because it comes across as authentic and not rehearsed (even if those dramatic pauses are indeed rehearsed).
  4. Tap Into Self-Awareness
    While studying others is helpful, knowing yourself is essential. Capitalize on your strengths – are you an amazing storyteller? Do you have a sense of humor? Are you able to simplify complex concepts? Or do you have a flair for drama?
  5. Consider the Audience, but Don’t Overthink It
    Knowing your audience is paramount. It can be daunting to try and guess what it is they’d like to get out of your talk. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to ask the host/moderator/event planner: “Is there anything in particular your group wants me to address or share?” That said, don’t overthink the audience factor. I find a lot of people focus a little too much on the audience and not on their own material. Don’t worry so much about them – they are not there to watch you fail.
  6. Ruminate Over Your Transitions
    Ah, the transitional trap…Picture this: The Best Man is at the head table – mic in hand. He’s really getting into a funny story about the groom and he’s telling it pretty well! But now we’re nearing the end of the story, and you can tell he’s unsure how to transition to the next point. He didn’t think that part through and this is where you usually get an awkward “So…yeah. I thought I’d share that…with all of you…” Gah, facepalm, we were off to such a great start! One of the biggest differences between a great speech and a mediocre one comes down to the orator’s ability to smoothly transition from point to point. In other words, he or she has built a roadmap for the entire speech and didn’t just work on the individual topics/stories.
  7. Get Your Audience Involved
    If it makes sense, consider asking questions in the middle of your talk. This shift in your presentation pace may re-energize the audience and also give you a chance to recalibrate. Plus, fun fact: people learn best in 20-minute chunks…which is a major reason why TED Talks are as popular as they are.
  8. Do not personalize the audience reactions.
    This lesson was a BIG one for me. I’ve always considered myself pretty attuned to how people are interpreting my messages. So during my first talk with an Alcohol and Other Drugs class at UW-Whitewater about a highly personal topic (alcoholism in the family), I was a little discouraged when the 75 students I spoke to seemed rather apathetic and incurious throughout my talk. As I would speak and make eye contact with each student, their expressionless faces had me thinking: “I’m not getting through to them. They’re not interested in what I have to say.” This is probably the worst feeling to have as a presenter. With every passing word, my confidence further dwindled while my anxiety gained momentum.Two weeks later, I received 75 feedback forms in my mailbox from the professor of that class. I dreaded looking through them, so sure these college students would rip me apart. But I was numb with emotion after reading every last one of those feedback forms; they told me what I had to say really moved them. Some of them shared their own personal stories with me that were over a page long. I was shocked. They weren’t at all disinterested…they were simply concentrating hard on what it was I was saying.

    Side note: This is also why, as an audience member, I always try to make a point to give presenters non-verbal cues while they are on stage. Whether it’s in the form of a head nod or even a smile, I think it’s important to let presenters know: “I hear you. And I like what you have to say.”

  9. Just Breathe
    Man, adrenaline is one hell of a hormone. When your mind and body are under stress, your fight-or-flight response kicks in. When I’m nervous, I pace back and forth. I tend to make everyone else around me nervous but I need to move around, it helps calm me down. Take deep breaths and reassure yourself that all the preparation you’ve done up to this point means you’ve got this.
  10. Know That It’s Okay to be Nervous
    Actually, nervous energy is a good thing. It means you care about this thing you’re about to do. Even though it’s my job to speak in front of people and on camera, I still get nerves – sometimes it’s just an adrenaline rush before I walk on stage and sometimes it’s full blown chest-tightening, hand-wringing nerves. I’m not convinced it’s anything you’re ever completely “cured” of. In fact, of all the speeches I’ve given, there is a handful of which I felt a bit disappointed with my performance and of those, there was one common thread: I didn’t feel nervous beforehand.

Most importantly, don’t just decide that this is something you’re bad at. I don’t know a single soul who was born a brilliant public speaker. It’s a learned skill and like any learned skill, practice makes perfect. So get out there!

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From Traffic Jams to Peanut Butter & Jelly

Truth is, I still struggle with my decision to stay home daily.

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Milwaukee media personality turned Los Angeles stay-at-home mom, Caitlin Morrall. 

It was the family Christmas vacation four years ago. Everyone was out to dinner on Miami Beach, enjoying steak, seafood and cocktails. Well not, everyone. Before the questions about why I wasn’t drinking the wine came up we presented our Moms with their Christmas gifts a few days early. Bracelets with little baby carriages because in seven months they would become Grandmas for the first time. There were the hugs, of course my Mom said she had kind of figured it out already and the congratulations.

Dessert had barely digested and we were walking back to our rooms when two family members asked, “Will you continue working after the baby is born?”… that didn’t take long. This was something my husband and I hadn’t discussed yet. To be honest, I kind of assumed he preferred I stay home. He was raised by a stay-at-home mom, his Grandma was a stay-at-home mom. It’s just the type of life he came from and I thought was accustomed to. On top of that, he was smack dab in the middle of a medical residency in plastic surgery. I wouldn’t wish marriage to a surgical resident on my worst enemy. It’s the pits. Plastic surgery is the second longest medical residency there is… six years of uncertainty, middle of the night pager noise, missed holidays and vacations, going alone to nearly every event you are invited to and sleeping alone more nights than you care to think about. One parent should probably be available and present to our child.

I replied to the question as I assumed much of the family would see fit… that I would likely stay home with our child. You would have thought I proposed taking up work as a professional hit man. Apparently what was once a way of life for many people in my family was no longer a thing… women belonged in the workplace now. It was never brought up again and seven months later we welcomed an amazing baby boy and 12 weeks after that I went right back to my job as a Traffic Reporter on the morning news.

Returning to work was not without its own challenges. Think back to the uncertainty I mentioned with my husband’s job… due to his call schedule I couldn’t count on him to be home overnight or home the next morning to take a baby to daycare. I had to be at work at 4 a.m. before daycares are open. That means we find a nanny who can arrive at 3 a.m. Who wants to work at 3 a.m.?! I mean besides my crazy ass! But lo and behold, we found one… somehow, someone who was willing to wake up in the middle of the night and hang out while our kid slept. Do you know how depressing it is to pay someone to sit in your living room while your kid sleeps? To be honest, I found two someones who were willing to do that. We had to find a fill in when the original nanny was offered a summer intensive spot at a prestigious university as part of her Masters program.

Clearly the work lives we led were not the norm. You’ve heard of the term “two ships passing in the night”? That was our life. Sometimes the only time I would see my husband was to catch a glimpse of him sleeping as I woke up for work. Or we’d let out collective groans during the third overnight wake-up with an infant. My day went as follows: wake up at 2 a.m. (often after having been up once or twice in the night with the baby), shower and do makeup, nanny arrived at 3 a.m., I take the dog out for a walk, come back up and make coffee, go to work. On the air at 4:30 a.m., last update at 9 a.m., home and take the dog out again before the nanny left. Mom all day, kid to sleep at 6:30 p.m., take the dog out, get myself to sleep by 7:30 p.m. I often called myself a stay-at-home mom who works full-time. I did most of my working while my son slept and once I came home I was “on” all day until bedtime. During that first year my husband was also interviewing all over the country for fellowship positions in orthopedic hand surgery and he was given the opportunity to travel to South America for a medical mission trip. To say things were stressful would have been an understatement. In May of that year he matched into a very prestigious hand surgery fellowship that would require us to move to Boston the following July after his residency had been completed. Around the same time, my mom asked me if we would even be married by the time that move came around. Our lives became a constant argument centered around who was more tired, who had the next turn on dirty diapers, who was waking up with our son next. It wasn’t like my husband could switch jobs and I was worn so thin, you could see through me (Although I wish I was saying that in a literal sense… baby weight is a bitch!). The only answer was for me to stay at home.

To make matters worse (or maybe better?), our nanny took a job as a research assistant and would no longer be able to work early mornings for us after the school year started. I had hoped to ride out my contract, which ended on December 31 but couldn’t hire someone for mere months under those conditions. I gave my two weeks notice and said I would be available to fill in as needed until they found a replacement. I ended up filling in for myself at least once a week until December 31. Thank goodness for a retired Grandpa who didn’t mind sleeping on our couch.

Now here I am… explaining my decision to you all, like I need to make excuses for being a stay-at-home mom. This blog post simply should have started out with “Hi, I’m Caitlin and I am proud to be a stay-at-home mom”. But no, our society doesn’t find a whole lot of value in the woman who doesn’t bring home a paycheck. I’ve always said one of the hardest things about being a woman is that now that we CAN do it all, we are EXPECTED to do it all. I’ve had friends start on the SAHM front, and months later they are reapplying for jobs because they feel like their education is going to waste, or that they aren’t contributing enough. That being said, I also have career Mom friends who tell me that my husband couldn’t afford me as an employee… that the work of a SAHM is a million jobs in one. In one day I work as a chef, a chauffeur, a dog walker, a maid and a nanny. Sometimes I work as an assistant too, managing calendars, picking up dry cleaning and booking appointments. There’s very little glamour (we’re lucky if I shower some days), there’s very little praise and there is nearly no encouragement. You are exhausted and irritable all the while never feeling like you’re doing enough. And let me tell you, coming from the working world of local television, that’s a really difficult transition. In Milwaukee I was “The Road Warrior”, people would see me out and talk to me about my future plans. I typically parlayed my decision into “Well, I am preparing to move our family to another state” instead of just owning my decision. Always the question of “Will you be returning to work?” and “What’s your plan once your son is in school?”. I had been coming into the living rooms of thousands of people every morning for five years. Many of them couldn’t grasp the idea of me not working. Their opinions weighed heavily on me and I was never happier to move to another state, a state where would only be known as “Jack’s Mom”. But in hindsight, was I just shifting the blame? Was it just me who couldn’t grasp the idea of not having a career outside of the home?

Truth is, I still struggle with my decision to stay home daily. I sometimes still think former colleagues and former viewers look at me differently for deciding to leave it all behind. More than ever I am realizing those thoughts are a product of my own insecurities. I often have to remind myself how much I loved having a parent waiting in the hallway at school to pick me up. How much it meant to have a parent in the audience at school programs. In my case it was my dad. My mom worked in corporate America for most of my life. She traveled the country almost every week. As a little girl I thought working until 7 p.m. every night was “the norm” for her. My husband will rarely be able to pick our son up from school. He will never be able to help organize the class Christmas party and couldn’t take a day off if our son needed to stay home sick. I have the opportunity to be that rock for our little boy. To be the face he sees after lunch every day (and when he yells “Hi Mama!” through his classroom window, it’s pretty awesome). I’m a work in progress most days still… but I do make a mean class treat, I have a hell of a cleaning schedule and like most moms who have 90% of their human interaction with a three year old, I lose my shit occasionally. But I do the best I can, the best I know how. I take each day as it comes. Some days are easier than others. Every stage of childhood and motherhood is equally difficult, unpredictable, frustrating, wonderful and amazing. I’m sure when my son is 18 I will have finally come to terms with my career… a Stay at Home Mom.

Caitlin Morrall is a former Miss Wisconsin USA and competed for the title of Miss USA, live on NBC in March of 2007.  She finished among the Top 15 semi-finalists. Caitlin continues to be involved in many areas of pageantry including judging, coaching and consulting. In addition to her work with contestants in the Miss Universe Organization she was also a four time titleholder in the Miss America Organization, placing as a runner up at the state level each time she competed. She continues to volunteer her time as a pageant producer, emcee, judge, coach and local competition board member in the state of Wisconsin. During her time competing in pageants Caitlin championed the causes of Breast and Ovarian Cancer awareness and the important of Character Education. She has also been very active in her community, participating in events supporting charities including Children’s Miracle Network, Special Olympics Wisconsin and the Make A Wish Foundation. 

Caitlin joined Milwaukee’s NBC affiliate, TODAY’S TMJ4, in November of 2009 as the “Road Warrior” Traffic Reporter on “Live at Daybreak”. Prior to joining the TMJ4 team, Caitlin was a freelance reporter for Fox Sports Wisconsin. In 2008 she was a sideline reporter for the WIAA State Football Championships. She also contributed to feature reports for “Bucks Live”, the pregame show for the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Caitlin attended Alverno College in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Professional Communication. Upon graduation she completed an internship with ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. In 2013 Caitlin appeared in a Wisconsin Summer Tourism television campaign alongside Hollywood Actor, Robert Hays.

Caitlin currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, their Pug and their three year old son, Jack.

16 of the Craziest Things I’ve Done on Discover Wisconsin

Cheers to another year full of adventure, mishaps and fearlessness!

One of the more popular questions I get asked is: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done on Discover Wisconsin?” There’ve been so many wild moments, but here are 16 that come to mind:

  1. Completely bombed a waterski jump on Lake Arrowhead…three times in a row
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  2. …but redeemed myself by waterskiing behind a seaplane!
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  3. Kept the bulls at bay as a rodeo clown in River Falls
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  4. Competed in a smooshboarding competition in Hudson
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  5. Judged a “Show Me Your Fur” Contest during Fun on the Frozen Flambeau in Rusk County
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  6. Kayaked these CRAZY rapids in Black River Falls…
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  7. Floated above Lake Geneva in a hot air balloon
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  8. Motorcycled my way around southeastern Wisconsin
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  9. Toured Lambeau Field with former Packers kicker Chris Jacke
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    Dressed up as an 1800s dame at the Baker House in Lake Geneva
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  11. Competed in a barrel racing competition in Buffalo County
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  12. Buzzed around Lodi’s Smokey Hollow Campground in a giant shopping cart
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  13. Made my way around the backwaters of La Crosse by airboat
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  14. Flew over Oconto County in a helicopter
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  15. Played snowshoe baseball at Blizzard Blast in Conover
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  16. Performed with the Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Show Team in Janesville
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Ah, the memories! Hats off to the #DWcrew for putting up with my shenanigans 😀 If you have a favorite moment or episode, comment below. Let me know if you have a destination you’d like to see featured on the show, too!

Cheers to another year full of adventure, mishaps and fearlessness!

What I’ve Learned From 13 Jobs in 13 Years

Work work work work work 🎶

There’s a lot I have yet to figure out about life but here’s one thing I know with absolute certainty: having as many varied experiences as you possibly can is a major and direct contributor to personal and professional growth. It is so much of what determines how quickly (or conversely, how slowly) one develops.

Many of the jobs I’ve held seem, at least on the surface, rather unremarkable. Others truly put the “odd” in “odd jobs.” Each – while diverse in the skill-set required – has impacted me in a pretty profound way. First, the super quick rundown:

Skipping the years I spent baby-sitting, my first “big kid” job was as a cashier for Piggly “Shop the Pig!” Wiggly. (I can still recite a handful of PLUs. Bananas: #4011) In high school and early college, I also was a waitress at a few different restaurants. (And subsequently, was quickly made aware of how sucky my multitasking skills were.) Then my dad, who worked at Oscar Mayer for 13 years scored me a stint as an assembly line worker in the factory’s ham slice department. He told me this job would teach me to stay in college. He was right. That same summer, I also worked the p.m. shift as a retail associate at Hollister at West Towne Mall. (Not sure which environment I hated more: 40 degree, smoked ham-smelling basement vs. the “So Cal” cologne-infused teen dungeon.)

Later, my lifelong obsession with gymnastics would draw me to a kids center near my hometown where I worked as a gymnastics assistant. On campus at UW-Oshkosh I worked as a journalism assistant as well as a phonathon caller, where yes, I called and convinced alumni to fork over some cash. (i.e. “I totally understand $50 won’t do but how bout a tax-deductible $5 gift to the UWO annual fund? Every dollar counts!”) And then there was the summer I was an MMA Ring Girl. (It wasn’t as interesting as it sounds but…$$$) I was also a bartender at a couple different golf courses as well as a bar in downtown Oshkosh. And then post-college, came all my recent stuff AKA social media consultant, marketing strategist, TV host and producer, etc.

And now for the analysis.

The thing is, in my early 20s, I was pretty insecure about how many jobs I had already held for my age. I had to defend my ADD-inducing resume at almost every interview I had. Working consistently at the same place for multiple years seemed to be the idyllic route – decided by my peers, my employers and by society. There is something to admire about that, for sure, but as you’ve probably guessed, I’m here to tout the opposite 🙂

For starters, working this many various jobs throws you head first into a lot of weird, wacky, frustrating, challenging, stressful, exhausting and rewarding situations. You’ve gotta buckle up, adapt quickly and brush off the stress when you show up for your waitressing shift, and the only two other scheduled waitresses called in that day and it’s Mother’s Day and you have the ginormous patio all by yourself and oh my God, you just spilt the entire pitcher of ice cold water on THE MOM and it’s MOTHER’S DAY. Shit. She’ll give you a good tip though because she pities you. Not all is lost.

When you work a lot of jobs, you’re never anywhere for too long. This means you’re always the new girl in a foreign land, which is translation for: learn how to have thick skin, especially when the veteran lady line workers at Oscar Mayer gave you major side eye when you stack up 3 feet of ham because sweet jesus, the bubble packages on the line MOVE SO DAMN FAST. Next thing you know, they’re shutting down the entire line because “COLLEGE GIRL CAN’T KEEP UP.” And because you’ve learned how to adapt well in previous roles, you’re able to shamelessly retort, “My dad is the maintenance guy here…just FYI” any time those nasty ol’ ladies get real out of line. Works like a charm!

Working this many jobs as a teen and through my 20s, also helped me weed through what I was looking for in a career and in the team I wanted to surround myself with. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t have to hold a lot of jobs to know that terrible bosses are a dime a dozen. I’ve certainly got a real vivid depiction of “Manager I Don’t Ever Wanna Be” but unlike a lot of other professionals (so it seems) I’ve also had the good fortune of working for some amazing people. And as much as I learned from the bad eggs, I also eagerly consumed every ounce of leadership lore that I could from the really great ones.

And these are just paid gigs we’re talking about. If job-jumping has you feeling uneasy, there are umpteen other ways to take in a variety of experiences like volunteering, travel and classes, just to name a few. However you decide to weave in and out of your own lane, I think these experiences will make you more sophic, open-minded and perceptive of the big picture.

Speaking of the big picture, here it is: The more people, places and positions you experience, the better you’ll be for it.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think below.