I don’t know about you, but I talk back to the newspaper, the radio, and the television on a fairly regular basis. It’s one of the reasons my thirteen year old runs screaming from the room once I get started on a rant. It’s also one of the reasons I love writing because I get things off my chest, express my opinions, and state my case for all the world, or mostly my journal, to hear. The problem is, the world is not hearing women’s voices as often as it should, and news stories are often so one sided I can barely make it through an entire editorial without audibly expressing my opinion. Channeling this energy into a more effective and productive place is one of the reason’s I attended the Op Ed Project’s “Write to Change the World” workshop last Saturday.
How curious it was to be in the company of such incredibly intelligent and well-spoken women having the kind of dialogues I long to have – only to find myself dumbstruck early into the workshop. When confronted with the fill in the blank statement: I am an expert at________, because_________. It was as if I had never done anything worth noting in my entire life. I’m 52 today! So, why is it so difficult to claim that space?
Last night I was watching the TV show, “Broadway or Bust,” a chronicle of the lives of extremely talented young people vying for coveted parts in a Broadway show. Each one so gifted in their own right that it seemed almost absurd to try and choose “the best.” In fact, one of the judges noted that during the final selection, with only a handful of roles to fill, their decisions were not made solely on who is the most talented, they are all talented, but about who stood out, who truly understood their role and added their own spark to it. In a sea of beautiful head shots on the decision board, it was the people who left an impression that were selected for the coveted roles.
So claiming our expertise and articulating it clearly and confidently is a critical reason why people are selected for jobs, speaking opportunities, op ed pieces, TV appearances or book deals – not just because we’re great at what we do, but because we stand out with the story we have to tell and how we tell it. It made so much sense after having sat in the workshop last Saturday in a room full of incredibly talented women (and one incredibly talented man,) that it will be those of us who claim our voice, through a well-crafted and articulated story, that will truly stand out. When you stand out, people listen, they want to know more. As writers, dreamers, visionaries and thought leaders – isn’t that what we are striving for?
(For the record, my name is Mary Lou Carolan; I am an expert in community development and marketing for the past twenty-five years. I have worked with organizations and small businesses to build vibrant, artistic, pedestrian-friendly downtown communities in cities around the country such as San Diego, San Antonio, Grand Rapids and in Ulster County, NY. My programs include the “Find Ike Scavenger Hunt” winner of the 2008 Children’ s Program of the Year award for uniting children’s activities with downtown revitalization efforts; and the 2011 award –nominee, “Books Alive,” now in its eighth year, uniting theatre arts and public libraries. I am the recipient of the 2008 “Pride of Ulster County Award” for innovative community programs, and have been published in the book “Marketing for Libraries” (2012), and “The Impatient Optimist,” the official blog of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)