This is a written version of a presentation given at the (WIPIN) Women in the Pet Industry Network conference, September 2016.
I will preface it to say first that I was so honored to be Woman of the Year for 2015. Shawna Schuh, the powerhouse behind WIPIN, has created a truly engaging and educational conference for women who work in the pet industry. This is a male dominated world; the voices at the top of the chain of command are mostly male. Yet, just a step or two down the ladder, the voices become female – where the teachings they can share and the experiences they have, become muted by louder chatter that drowns them out; intentionally or not. it happens.
As you read the presentation, understand that this written version has more content and detail than the spoken one at the conference. I determined that a paragraph here and there could be removed, for the actual presentation in front of the WIPIN audience. The goal was to share the right moments, in the time allotted.
I invite you to read the entire speech and comment below. We are working to have the video to share, but no promises on that.
WIPIN 2016 Keynote by Yvonne
“What’s Important Now” or The Story of a Wayward Woman and Her Path To Leadership
Let’s talk about life. And what’s important right now. Let’s talk about stories of Wayward Women and how the verses we write for each one of those amazing stories are part of a powerful play we call…life.
Our first story begins with WIPIN. I remember when I first discovered Women in the Pet Industry. I was building a community of pet bloggers to bring hundreds of voices together to share the true message of how we love our pets. Tom, Caroline, Chloe, and myself, we built a community people told us wouldn’t work, we built it in a way they said it couldn’t be done … and yet, because of our waywardness BlogPaws came to be and it is a thriving million dollar business, today.
Discovering the women of WIPIN reminded me of my work at Lipsticking, my first endeavor into entrepreneurship where my passion for working with women began. Lipsticking was and is, now as The Lipsticking Society, all about working with women like all of you, women who make magic out of old boxes and string. WIPIN reminded me that Shawna and I both have a deep desire to help other women succeed.
Shawna and I had a great talk. And, we laughed. Is there any time you have ever talked with Shawna that you didn’t laugh? Laughter is the cuisine of the creative. It sustains us through thick and thin, doesn’t it? If you can laugh at it, you can get through it.
The best part of meeting Shawna, after ‘meeting Shawna’…was becoming a WIPIN member and meeting all of you.
The “all of you” I’m talking about are the women in this room, and the women watching via live streaming. All of you are also all of me, whether you own or run a private business, a public business or a blogging business. In the end, we are front and center in a billion dollar industry that absolutely needs to recognize us as the leaders we are.
Because WE ARE leaders in the Pet Industry – aren’t we? We women of BlogPaws, we women of WIPIN, we women of The Lipsticking Society.
Today I’m going to celebrate our leadership and our waywardness. I am going to do this by sharing a verse in the story of a little girl who sat at her desk in second grade, and wrote stories about a life she wished she could live.
Yes, this is the story of me but I hope you see yourself in parts of it because
all stories are both personal and universal.
Let’s talk about that word: Wayward. I’ve used it a number of times already and you may have a notion or two of what it means. But, here’s why it’s important to me.
This sign hangs on the wall in my foyer at home. Tom and I purchased it at a flea market. It’s more of a window than a sign. (show image) “The Institute for Wayward Young Women: Making Bad Girls Better.”
Can you imagine the building it must have hung on – back in its day? A building that took in wayward women. You don’t need me to tell you who the wayward women of the early 20th century were…nor how each one of us might have been one.
Dictionary.com says wayward folk are:
“…a little stubborn and independent – determined to find their own way – not easily controlled.” Sound like anyone you know?
Wayward also reminds me of a favorite quote, from Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, which says: “Well behaved women seldom make history.”
Well, I’m here to make history, aren’t you? And, WE ARE making history – we women of BlogPaws and WIPIN and Lipsticking! We are writing history every day, creating new businesses out of hope and desire and old boxes full of crazy ideas! What about the Woman of the Year Honor? It did not exist, until a wayward woman named Shawna Schuh said “I’m doing it!” And look at it now! It’s an honor that will be passed on to some lucky woman this week!
So, let’s get on with the story of wayward Yvonne– who is just a figure in a tale of life and leadership. A figure who could be you, or you, or you.
Our story begins with a smile. Because smile begins with S, exactly like story.
Truth is, I didn’t have much to smile about as a small child. Growing up in the 1950s, living with a divorced mother who struggled to pay the bills on a waitress’s salary, I was a bit lost. I had been placed in a foster home early on and…didn’t know or understand why. Terrible things happened to me there, and for a long time, I just couldn’t smile.
Still, smiling is a human kind of thing. A smile is inherent in our heritage. We all smile. We even say our dogs or cats smile… because we believe they do. A smile is an invitation into someone’s heart.
What I did smile about, is my writing. I almost flunked out of second grade because I would write all day long. I wrote with each of my treasured lead-tipped pencils until the point of each one was dull, and when all of them were dulled, I would stop to sharpen them …and admire them as if they were the most amazing tools ever invented. Because, of course, they were. By the way, I still feel this way…
Then and now, I embraced my inner Virginia Woolf – a woman as wayward as they come. Virginia Woolf said,
“We write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.”
All of my stories about a little girl who had a dog. And, a cat. And more pets. Always more pets! I put pencil to paper, drawing the faces of these little girls and their pets, writing in my simple second grade way how pets made everything better. And it made me smile.
My smile really grew in 5th Grade when my teacher, Mrs. Mutz smiled at me after reading one of my stories and said, “You’re quite the writer, aren’t you?”
She made me feel like a writer, a real writer. Her praise and encouragement changed my life – isn’t it amazing how just a little praise and encouragement can change a person’s life?
Isn’t that what Pet Industry Woman of the Year is about? A good bit of leading by example? Are we praising and encouraging the other women we meet? Who have you said, “Great job!” to today? I heard a lot of praise and laughter, last night at the jewelry party. It was impossible not to notice how it made some of us beam with happiness.
I continued being praised for my writing, throughout my school years. The memory sticks with me because I am passionate about the concept of stories and how our stories make us real.
When I think of how my own made-up stories not only made me smile but how reading stories written by others lifted me up out of my own sadness, I’m reminded of the window seat at my old home – where I spent many a long afternoon, reading. I lost myself in my books but every now and then, I would pause and gaze through the window at a great tree that reached across the yard next door and brushed up against the glass, as if waving at me with its brilliant green leaves and strong gray branches.
The T in my story stands for TREE! – And being in Oregon, you know I had to fit a tree in here somewhere!
Go with me now, to that tree. Let’s sit beneath the green boughs, and close our eyes. Think of it; you’re in a place of safety, beneath an awesome tree, contemplating your day. Imagine a book on your lap. It’s a novel. It’s your diary. It’s a book of poetry. You feel good there, don’t you? Happy. Let me ask…do you have a dog with you? Because I did.
My first dog came to me, at that house, and I think of her when I remember that tree. Missy was my life and my love and she made me smile, a lot. When I remember her, I think of Melissa Clinton, a BlogPaws blogger, a proud WIPIN member, and an author I love, who says, “The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.”
And don’t dogs love trees? They relax in the shade of trees, they mark trees, they appreciate trees. My tree brought me solace and encouraged my talent (also a T word), while it offered me a place of safety.
I often imagined it speaking to me. “You can write a story like that,” it said. “You’re very talented,” it said. “Being wayward is not a bad thing,” it said.
That tree was unfailing in its loyalty, just like my dog, Missy.
As I was thinking back on my awesome tree, I wondered about other people and especially you… the women of WIPIN. Who do you have in your life to feel that offers unconditional loyalty and trust? An intern you’ve hired? A good friend? Your office dog or cat?
Is your support a tree…like mine was, or, is it some ONE Other than a tree?
The word other, which is the O in our story, beckons us to move on.
This may come as no surprise to some people, and a big surprise to others, but I enjoy being alone more than the average person. Being alone allows me a certain peace and…quiet. Just as I had trouble, as a young girl, learning to smile, I had trouble relating to other people. My solution was to become more and more introverted. I know some of you are the same way, because you’ve told me so.
We seem vivacious, we seem extroverted, we put ourselves out there daily, don’t we? And yet, in our hearts, we want to go hide in our rooms, all by ourselves!
It turns out that way back when I was considered a wayward, unfriendly girl, who spent too much time alone, I was really learning to be a great storyteller. My aloneness allowed me to observe myself, and others, from a place of safety. Recently I discovered, from a story in the Harvard Business Review, by Bronwyn Fryer, that all my introspection was a good thing. According to her,
“Self-knowledge is the root of all great storytelling.”
As a young woman, though, the story I was telling myself and others was full of criticism, self-doubt and unhappiness. The kind of story that comes with constantly telling yourself you’re not good enough! Not smart enough. Not talented enough. Not tall enough…or thin enough! We worry so much we pause in front of the door that stands between us and our future, and we hesitate to open it.
Some of us spend so much time worrying that we lose sight of our own talents! And, of course, (I wrote curse there – and maybe that’s a sign…because it is a curse) we tell ourselves we mustn’t accept praise, because we worry it’s not warranted.
A writer I discovered recently, Dan Zadra, says, “Worry is a misuse of imagination.”
Well, ladies, all you women leaders – it’s time to open the door. Let the world…all those other people and other ideas in. Accept the, “You’re wonderful!” praise. Because you will get it.
I finally opened my door, the day I met my mentor, Bruce Peters. There I was in another dead-end job, and this particular day I had been asked to sit with Bruce as my boss was on another call. So, I got us both coffee and we chatted.
I was feeling a bit contrary, a bit wayward that day, and Bruce was friendly and approachable, so I offered him a newly printed business card that said, “Yvonne DiVita, Content Writer.”
I didn’t allow my worry of being judged prevent me from letting this ‘other’ person into my life. I only remember that I needed to fill an empty spot in my soul.
I’ll never forget how he took my card. He smiled; he looked it over, and said, “We need more writers in this world.”
Hallelujah! I opened a door, let in a stranger – a dreaded ‘other’ and he did not reject me! He praised me!
How many of you are still shutting people out? Are you standing in front of a closed door? Or, have you opened the door open just a little, hoping other people will push it open for you? That’s not gonna happen.
It took me a good bit of time to let other people in, but in this powerful play we’re writing, it’s necessary to do that. And, do it with a smile.
I invite each one of you to turn acknowledge a new “other person” perhaps the person next to you, right now, and say, “I’m glad I met you.”
Go on, SAY IT OUT LOUD. Saying it out loud makes it real…so do it now. Tell someone at your table, how glad you are that you met them.
Doesn’t that feel wonderful? Do this again, every day, for the rest of the conference! Say it out loud… Make it real.
And that brings us to the letter R in our story – to the ‘real reason’ we all exist.
Yes, I’m going to tell you the meaning of life. It’s so simple.
The meaning of life is that ‘you… in YOUR OWN WAYWARD WAY…may contribute a verse’ to the powerful play.
I believe passionately that we are part of a greater narrative; a verse in what the poet Walt Whitman calls a “powerful play.”
His poem…Oh Me! Oh life! asks why are we here? In the middle of chaos and unrest, he says, why are we here?
His answer is profound. He writes,
The question, Oh Me! So Sad, recurring, What good amid these, O me O life? Is answered by…
That you are here – that life exists and identity;
That the POWERFUL PLAY goes on, and YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE A VERSE.”
This poem, written in 1892, inspired me to recognize the power of contributing a verse in a bigger story, making poetry out the work I do.
I wonder what kind of verses I’ll hear each of you composing over the next few days. Great dramas? Poetry from the soul? A comedy of errors? It doesn’t matter. Whitman tells us that the beauty of life, of our reason for being, is that we are here and WE decide our own verse.
Come with me now, in a quick “a flashback”, to the place my verse really began, beyond second grade but before meeting Bruce.
Let’s take a walk. Just two blocks. Two city blocks…not NY city, that would take forever! These are little city blocks that lead to a little corner grocery store in my old neighborhood. It belonged to my mother.
Having a corner grocery store is no mean feat. Back in 1963-64, women were not considered a good business risk, certainly not wayward women – from the “making bad girls better” SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS. But my mother got up that morning, wrapped her wayward woman’s cloak about her shoulders and settled in that bank chair until they gave her a loan to buy that corner grocery store! I didn’t know how awesome it was back then. But I know it now!
That store was a new and exciting verse for my mother, and it was also my initiation into the powerful play that is all of us.
It was fun being the kid whose mother owned a ‘corner store’. We had penny candy – you know the kind; licorice two for a penny! And, we had cold cuts for lunch. And milk and bread. All of it a two block walk from my home, the window seat home where my precious tree waved in the breeze next door and my delightful Missy lay on the front porch.
It was fun, until I had to work there after school, as a teenager.
In this amazing store, that my mother had mortgaged her life for, there was a horrid, clunky, old, dilapidated cash register. I fought with that beast every single dang day of my senior year in high school! And, I lost the battle, every single dang day of my senior year in high school.
So, here’s the light bulb moment…here is the REAL REASON that store is so important in the story of wayward Yvonne.
I wanted to write in the sanctuary of my window seat. I wanted to hide in my room. But, life had other ideas. Life said I needed experience to tell stories. Life said I had to get out and be more independent…Life said I should get out and meet people.
Being in charge of the store got me out, in front of other people, for sure. We called them customers.
This is me, standing at the dreaded cash register, praying no one comes in! And then, someone comes in…and I think but don’t say out loud, “How are you Mrs. why-are- you-coming- in- my- store-now?” Or, “Yes, it’s a nice day, Mrs.why-are-you-buying-so -many- things- I’m- never-going-to- be-able-to-add-all-that-up!”
I was pretty sure the store and the cash register and all of those frightful other people, would kill me before I graduated high school! But, as you see… I persevered.
Have any of you had a mentor in a mother, an aunt or a neighbor? Another woman who didn’t even know she was influencing you? A wayward woman who seized her reason for being and went after her goals, even when the world told her she couldn’t. A woman just like all of us.
By the time I co-founded BlogPaws, I had been through several transformations, a dozen ‘real jobs’, a marriage, childbirth, many of the things each of you has been through. I kept my reason for being – my writing, tucked in a corner of my heart, brought out on occasion for review, knowing that one day, one amazing day, I would find a place for it.
And so, I did. I found the web. Tom introduced me to blogs. And I found Caroline. Mind you, I already had Chloe. She was MY girl – animals were her life perhaps more than they were mine. Deciding to create BlogPaws, with that amazing team, at that time, was a no-brainer. I took the verse I had been writing in secret for so long, and made it real – on the web, for the whole world to see.
I know YOUR verses are full of pet hair and dander and wet kisses, just like mine. I know because I feel it in your handshake. I hear it in your heartbeat. I see it in your eyes.
The powerful play called WIPIN is alive with waywardness… women determined to make their own way! Am I right? Are you ready to make things happen? Say it out loud. Remember, saying it out loud makes it real!
Say YES! And let’s move on to the close of our STORY. To the Y, if you will. To saying YES to SUCCESS.
Don’t suppose this is the end of our story! It’s not. It’s merely the end of a verse, and the beginning of another. Because all great stories are eternal.
And they’re full of drama. For instance… when you decided to become an entrepreneur, did you just take the leap? Or, did you, like me, find yourself in front of three doors and hesitate? Which one should we choose? What happens if we choose the wrong one? Personally, I believe it matter which door we open as much as…how we let our wayward woman loose and dance through the door, and into our new life.
Someone once asked me what I would tell my earlier self – the woman who decided to leave a job and become an entrepreneur…and I said, “I’d tell her she should get up and dance more. She shouldn’t worry about who’s looking, or what they might say, she should just dance.”
Dance is another form of communication, isn’t it? It’s all a part of our verse in the powerful play we’re living in. And dancing makes us smile, doesn’t it?
We women of BlogPaws, and WIPIN, and Lipsticking Society – we need to dance more. We need to stop worrying about other people – the naysayers and doubters! We need to embrace our reason for being and show the world we will not be ignored!
I didn’t get comfortable dancing until I truly began accepting the praise and encouragement, all the yeses, from so many other people – like Bruce, and Tom, and the women of my life – Robbi Hess, Donna DeClemente, Lena West, Caroline Golon, and my daughters, Chloe and Maggie. And my son, Donald, who said, “You can do it, if you really want to, Mom.” And Shawna, who has changed my life this year!
All of those yeses outweighed the no’s in my brain. The whisper saying my verse was ready and it was time to dance became a song.
I know you get it. I know, particularly, that the fantastic women who put themselves out there to be considered for this year’s Woman of the Year, get it. You said, “Yes, I will,” loud and proud. And I have my fingers crossed for each and every one of you.
Today, I’ve added a powerful new yes to my agenda. From the book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, I am now practicing the principles of WIN.
“What’s Important Now?” Right now. Today. This very minute. Not tomorrow or next week. Today. Now.
It’s not worrying about the office back in wherever. Or, checking email every five minutes. It’s focusing on the work of today – making the connections you need to make. It’s sharing the powerful play, and the verse you are contributing.
And, don’t forget to be a little wayward? Because, “Wayward folks like to go their own way…and they often take the unexpected path – together, with other like-minded folk who think being wayward is the right way to be.”
I am proud to be a wayward woman. I love that my story is overflowing with smiles. I love trees more than the average person, they help me feel safe and happy; I love other people, especially smart talented women, like my friends here, at WIPIN. And I love that I discovered a place for my reason for being – that my pets and my kids, and my Tom showed me how my writing could make a difference.
My verse, my Oh Me! Oh Life!, is about all the yeses I’ve said over the last 10 years, and all the Yeses I will say over the next 10 Years. Because each yes is the beginning of a new and wonderful verse I will contribute to this powerful play we call life.
Let us begin, we Women in the Pet Industry Network! Let us begin doing what’s important now as the leaders we are. Let us dance our wayward selves out and about and make some history this week!
Let’s Do it! Now!