10 Years After Graduating

I was honored when the Class of 2017 at my alma mater, The College of New Jersey, invited me to be their Senior Class Speaker (their version of a Commencement speaker). 10 years ago, I was in their shoes and became the first in my family to graduate college.

On May 17, my dad drove me to campus--just as he did when I was a high school junior touring it for the first time and then countless times thereafter. He filmed the speech if you'd like to listen, and I'll also post the transcript.

I love graduations. Congrats to the Class of 2017, at TCNJ and beyond!

Senior Class Speech for The College of New Jersey's Class of 2017

Congratulations, Class of 2017! I am very honored to be a part of your graduation festivities. It’s special to be here with you, and to share this incredible moment that you’ve worked so hard for.

I love graduations, and I’m sure you’re beyond excited. Maybe you're also a little anxious, or a little sad, and that's completely understandable. But I don’t want you to worry.

I want you to imagine the 31-year-old version of yourself just showed up to tell you everything is going to be OK. More than OK, it's going be AWESOME. 10 years ago, I was sitting exactly where you are right now. So when I was getting ready to put on my cap and gown, you were awkward 7th graders. And look at you now--confident, accomplished, employable adults ready to take on the world!

I consider it my duty today to get you even more excited for the decade ahead. I want to tell you what I think 21-year-old Tammy would have loved to hear.

So far, my career after TCNJ has taken me far beyond my wildest dreams. I went from being a journalism major to raising $4 million dollars for a nonprofit that I founded. I never got around to taking a business class, so I never saw that one coming.

I went from working at Seventeen magazine, to working on the frontlines of the movement for gender equality. Who knew my minor in Women’s & Gender Studies would become the Major Focus of my life. I never guessed 10 years ago that my life would grow this way, but sure enough, all the seeds were planted right here at TCNJ.


She’s the First isn’t just the name of the nonprofit I founded--it’s a piece of my identity that is tied to this campus: I am the first in my family to graduate from college. Is anyone else going to be the first tomorrow?

Or maybe you’re the first in your family to major in Engineering, or Interactive Multimedia, or Biology. Maybe you were the first to study abroad. Or maybe you’re going to be another kind of first someday, we just don’t know what it is yet. I really believe everyone is a trailblazer in his or her own way.

As I look back on 10 years, 4 big mantras jump out at me. I’m going to use these mantras as if they were boxes. I’ll pack up some stories inside of them to make them memorable, and then I’ll hand them over to you. They’re your box of tricks and you can unpack them whenever you need it.

Sound good? Alright, here we go.


As a college graduate, people are going to expect a lot of you. Maybe you can already feel that pressure. It makes sense why the expectations are so high. College was a big investment, and it should have a big return. I’m not worried about you guys though. With a senior class this accomplished, I am sure you will meet, and even exceed, expectations. It will take hard work, but you’ve got this.

Here’s mantra number 1: While you’re so focused on meeting expectations, be alert to the times when you need to DEFY expectations. It was during my Freshman year at TCNJ that I learned the power of this.

In high school, you know how they do those superlatives in the yearbook? Most Likely to Succeed, Most Likely to Be President, Best Smile? Well, you’re looking at the one voted “Most Shy.” When I came to The College of New Jersey, I was over it. No more shy girl here. I was determined to defy the expectations that my peers at home had of me. They expected me to be the quiet one who sat on the sidelines and didn’t raise her hand. Honestly, that's who I had always been up to that point.

So freshman year, I challenged myself to run for Freshman Class Secretary. I had to knock on doors in Travers & Wolfe, get petition signatures, and staple “Vote for Tammy!” flyers everywhere. The last step was the most nerve-wracking: I had to give a speech. My first real public speaking moment. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember the butterflies I had, I remember the little nervous shake in my leg, I remember the note cards I held in my sweaty palms.

I lost that election--but it ended up being one of my biggest victories. I proved to myself I could stand up and speak up. And once I knew that I could do that, I was able to raise my hand in the classroom, be a leader in my extracurricular activities, be vocal in my internships...all the way up to being the activist for girls’ education that I am today.

When have you had to defy expectations? Think back to a time. Hang on to that fire and determination you had. Ladies, you may go on to work in an environment where women are expected to be agreeable. Defy expectations and negotiate for the salary that you deserve.

Guys, you may work in an environment where men are expected to climb over others to get to the top. Defy expectations and take a more collaborative approach.

Never has our country needed a more defiant class of graduates. In all aspects of your life, refuse to accept what is not equal, or just, or truthful--and if people think you are not powerful enough to change things, well then, show them otherwise.

No one has taught me more what it means to defy expectations than the 881 She’s the First Scholars around the world. They are young women who have received scholarships through our program, so that they can be first in their families to graduate from high school. Every day, across 11 different countries in Africa, Asia, and Central America, these Scholars are pushing ahead. So if you’re struggling to do the right thing and need some courage think of

[see slides]

Maheshwari: She is also a member of the Class of 2017...getting her Masters in genetics. We watched her graduate high school in India 5 years ago. Born into the “Untouchable” caste, she is not only the first educated woman in her family but also among the very, very few Dalit women to wear a lab coat.

Elly is the youngest of 9 siblings in Tanzania and somehow the first and only one to graduate high school. The job market doesn't have much to offer her, so she's starting her own business while in university.

Angelica is graduating this October in Guatemala. She was born to parents who each speak different indigenous languages, neither can speak Spanish or English. Angelica speaks all 4 of those languages--and is learning her 5th so she can help them all break out of poverty.

Here's Sinforosa: Born up in the Andes Mountains of Peru, she would have been like most other girls in her community, dropping out after elementary school, because the nearest high school is a 7 hour trip away. But because she received a scholarship to a boarding school in more populated town, she was able to beat the odds and graduate last year.

And Sirjana. In Nepal, culturally women are not expected to show dominance or aggression, so when Sirjana brings out her competitive drive on the soccer field, and does not back down from getting that ball back in her command, she is defying expectations.

Your actions will define who you are. No one else will.  


I learned all about Mantra #2 from She’s the First. On this box, I’d write Ponder Your Purpose.

Your purpose is the reason you’re on this planet. This is a heavy box to think about, I know, especially at a time when you’ve just finished your FINAL final exams and are ready to party. But it's a really rewarding one too.

Doesn’t it seem like we talk about our passions a whole lot more than we talk about our purpose? Until recently, I remembered senior year as being the year of chasing my passion for magazines. To get that dream job, I was obsessed. I had so many subscriptions to women's magazines and I could pour over the magazine racks at Barnes and Nobles for hours. I even started a magazine club here on campus.

But then, a couple years ago, I came across my diary from that time and it reminded me how my purpose had been hiding out behind the passion all along. I had forgotten that while I had wanted the glamorous magazine job as badly as Andy Sachs wanted it in The Devil Wears Prada--I knew it wasn't the end all be all.

I’ll tell you what I wrote in that diary. (By the way, for me to share my diary with hundreds of people I don’t even know shows you how much I already like you as almost fellow alumni)

So this was the first entry in a brand new journal my supervisor gifted me after completing my summer internship. It was right when I was moving back to campus for senior year. I wrote:

“This journal is just what I needed, a fresh start to release all the anxieties that are creeping in on me senior year. I know exciting times are on the way, but I’m afraid of losing a good opportunity--or of growing up too fast.

It may be because I’ve had too much time to think and overanalyze lately--I have a fear of falling into the real world too fast, of being pigeon-holed, of not knowing where I’ll end up in May. My hope for senior year is that I’ll find a way to make a difference firsthand. To do a meaningful volunteer project. To never take being 20 for granted, and to never stop shifting around, outside my comfort zone. I hope I can read back on this in May and say, “You did it, Tammy, you made me proud.”

OK, ok, I know that's all SUPER cheesy, but c’mon, you must have written stuff like this in your diaries too, right? Cheese aside, these words were really true to who I am.

So what did I do, besides write it in my diary? Well, I talked to my Professor, Professor Pearson. I was doing an independent study with her during my final semester of senior year. I told her I wanted to report on a story about a woman who was changing the world. A woman who had overcome adversity to create a change in her community. A story that most people wouldn't have heard of, but should know about, because they would be inspired to support.

This moment was the seed for all that was to come.

Professor Pearson suggested I write a story about one of her former students, also a TCNJ alumn, who had been a refugee of the Liberian Civil War and who was leading a foundation to educate Liberian girls and boys. So I did. This woman was living in New York City and I’d go interview her after my internship. I so intensely learned about the problems in Liberia and girls’ needs for education, that after turning in this assignment and getting my cap and gown, I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t shake the fact 50 million girls were denied a high school education around the world. I couldn't accept that young women who were my age at the time, who just happened to be born in Liberia instead of New Jersey, were already mothers, they were not able to graduate, and had no control over their futures.

After I graduated, I volunteered my writing and leadership skills to her foundation. I didn't want to work at a nonprofit. The magazine world is what excited me, and I knew I could use media as a powerful platform to support philanthropy. In my free time, however, I wanted to do everything I could to help this little organization that had no staff; I organized their galas, I started their Facebook page, I wrote thank you notes to donors. That was exactly what I was looking for in my August 2006 diary entry--a chance to make a difference firsthand.

This never would have happened if I hadn’t put what I was looking for out to the universe--by writing to myself in my diary, talking to my Professor during office hours. Even if your purpose feels kinda vague, give yourself the space to think and talk about it. Tell people about what lights you up: stopping climate change; protecting women's reproductive rights; fighting racial injustice. Or maybe you're not even sure what issue pulls on you the most yet, but you know you want to feel connected to a movement, you want to leave the world better off than when you found it. Ponder Your Purpose. It's the surest way to find it.

Building on this story, my third box says: Say Yes. This box is light and easy to pick up and toss around. Inside is a story about giving unexpected opportunities a chance. It's light because when you're at the start of your career, you really don’t have much to lose.

Now don't take this too literally, I’m not asking you to forfeit all discretion. Instead, I’m asking you to consider invitations that weren’t what you were expecting, but have something to offer you. Here’s an example from my own life.

I mentioned that after graduation, I landed my dream job at a fancy publishing company, Hearst Magazines. I was so proud of that. Hearst is still in my Twitter bio actually, and that’s because I learned as much there as I did here at TCNJ. Ultimately, I wanted to be covering important feminist issues for a magazine like Marie Claire or Glamour.

I started out as the assistant to the director of digital media for Hearst, and that was awesome, I got a bird’s eye view of how everything worked. After a few months on the job, he asked me if I’d be interested in a new opportunity to be a web editor. It would make me the youngest web editor in the company. He asked me if I’d like to edit the websites for quinceanera and prom, the sister sites for Seventeen, CosmoGirl and Teen magazines.

I am not Latina, so I have not had a quinceanera, and truth be told, I never went to prom. Actually I never went to any high school dance or college formal. But he didn't ask… so I didn't tell him that! I just said yes. This job was my entry way into working with brands that touched the lives of young women. And although the door was bedazzled with the sequins and sparkles of prom dresses when I was looking for a door that was much more gritty, it was still a door leading me closer to my goal.

And it ended up being exactly the right door for me at that time. Managing this tiny website was a crash course in entrepreneurship. I worked with web designers, developers, marketing and advertising teams. I managed freelance writers, I produced video content. I built a brand.

The next year on the job, my boss asked me if I would launch a new media campaign called It would be an online directory of dress drives, places women could go to donate formal dresses they didn’t wear anymore, or places girls who couldn’t afford dresses for prom could go to pick one up. I said yes again, of course. I was so hungry for a project with social impact, and sure enough...If my college reporting on Liberia planted the seeds, then this was when everything started to sprout. set off an ah-ha moment in my head that led me to where I am today.

The experience I was gaining in digital media started to mix with the education issues I confronted in my volunteer work for the Liberian foundation. I wondered what would happen if there was a media campaign, like DonateMyDress, but to help girls who couldn’t afford school get an education. I knew when a girl was first in her family to graduate, she could break the cycle of poverty. That is when the idea for She’s the First hit me. I launched it in 2009 as a YouTube video campaign, because I wanted to reach our generation with the message. All it took was hitting Upload on YouTube. I had no idea then it would receive a response strong enough to catapult into the global nonprofit it is today.

Looking back, I can see a clear line from TCNJ, to my work in Liberia, Hearst and then DonateMyDress which takes me to She’s the First. But it wasn’t like that at the time. At the time, each new door was just an opportunity and I was scared, and nervous, and uncertain about how exactly it would lead me to my goals (especially as I didn’t even know what my goals were!). But I worked hard, shared what I was passionate about and was ready for those opportunities when they showed up. And ultimately that’s what led me to where I am today.

As you’re looking for your first job, don’t be discouraged if the first big role you get isn’t what you thought it would be. You’ll be surprised to find what BIG opportunities and valuable skills are hiding in the roles that don’t seem very profound at first glance.

Say Yes.


Box #4! We’ve made it to the final one. And it’s got my favorite mantra: This box is golden and engraved with the words Pay It Forward.

Despite what you might read, no one does anything on their own. Behind every successful person is a team. We all have them. We all have people in our lives that help us become our best versions of ourselves. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in smaller, but no less important, ways.

My Dad's one of those people. He drove me to campus the first time 15 years ago, and he drove me here again today. His hard work made it possible for me to be a first-generation college student. My professors in the School of Journalism and Professional Writing, especially Professor Pearson, are definitely on my team. You brought me to the path that led to She’s the First.

So box #4 isn’t advice. It’s a thank you. A thank you to the people that helped me, and a thank you to the Class of 2017. Class of 2017, if you at any point in your college career had a tie-dye cupcake sold by the TCNJ Chapter of She’s the First, if you went to their Zumbathons, if you attended their documentary screenings -- then you took a small action to already pay it forward. Your senior leaders --Devon Tam, Alison McCarthy, Samantha Selikoff--made the TCNJ chapter of She’s the First one of the strongest in the nation.

During your time here, this chapter has made a real difference to people around the world, raising about $4,000 to support the education of girls. Here is one of those lives you’ve changed. Meet Kabita in Nepal. She won’t be graduating until the Year 2024 but every year she’s gotten a step closer thanks to you. She’s doing well in her classes and just like you did, she gets to do extracurricular activities, like swimming and art, that grow her mind in other ways. She also has access to good nutrition at school so her body and mind is stronger than it would be if she just had the meals available at home. These opportunities were made possible by your support, and in some cases, that was one cupcake at a time. It doesn’t take much to pay it forward but it makes a real difference.

All I ask is that you continue in that spirit. Lift others up, globally, locally. Down the line, reach back to campus and pull up younger students with you. Make TCNJ Alumni a force to be reckoned with in the world.

Defy Expectations
Ponder a Purpose
Say Yes
Pay It Forward.

Seniors, thank you for having me. I’ll see you on the other side.


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On the TEDx Stage in Edinburgh

In February 2017, I had the opportunity to follow up my TEDxBerlin talk with another international one! This time, I was at TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh where the theme was passion. (My TEDxBerlin talk here challenged assumptions about philanthropy, redefining the identity of philanthropist to include young, grassroots donors and those you typically think of as beneficiaries.)

For my new talk, given an audience of mostly university students, I got more personal and shared career advice for pursuing a passion. My title, “To Decode Your Passion, Ask Yourself This” leads in to one of our favorite questions at She’s the First: What Are You the First to Do?

 The illustrated version of my talk by @sketchnoters.

The illustrated version of my talk by @sketchnoters.

At TEDxBerlin, while I was so pleased with the response from the audience, self-doubt got to me. That’s not how it should be after putting in so much effort and knowing your stuff! But we all learn the hard way. Having proven to myself I could do this, this time, I lifted unreasonable expectations and just spoke from my heart, as a tribute of sorts to my parents and grandparents—who were supporting first-generation graduates (me and my sister) long before I was. I enjoyed the experience so much more.

Read on for the transcript of my talk. I’ll post the video when I have it.   

I’m extremely passionate about firsts. People who are the first to achieve something—whether that makes them the first in history, the first in their family, in their company, their country, their community. In can be personal history or world history. Either way, they blazed a trail. They had courage to face critics. They had passion and persistence to push forward—even when there weren’t examples to follow.

So, I love to ask the question: What are you the first to do? Or what will you be the first to do? Everyone’s answer has a different, unique story attached to it. Sometimes, when you share your “first,” you’ll find you’re not alone. Don’t be surprised, for instance, if when you share what you are the first to do in your family, someone else replies, “hey, me too.” Being a “first” is an identity that unites us.

Today, I’ll share my answer to the “first” question with you. I think this is a great question to use to explore our passions and what’s important to us. Along the way, I’ll share three lessons I’ve picked up about passion.

What am I the first to do? I’m the first in my family to graduate from university. Not uncommon; I’m sure many of you are or will be too.

I grew up in New Jersey, in a suburban town that’s just over an hour outside of New York City.

My parents and grandparents went right into the workforce after high school, doing office work, custodial work, postal work, inspections. They enjoyed aspects of their jobs for sure—but their job was a paycheck. Their passion was taking care of their family.

My parents and grandparents would ask me when I was a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up. With my college degree, they told me I’d be able to do anything. They’d invested in me, and they were excited about my future. Their hard work set me up for success. It’s as if they built me a launch pad that I could use to go anywhere my passion would take me. With my education, I could choose a career that I loved. Do something that wouldn’t make me count down the hours until the day was over. Do something that would make me excited when the alarm clock went off. Something that would make me look forward to Mondays.

When I was in high school, I figured out what I’d use my launch pad for. I knew I wanted a career in journalism, being a reporter or a magazine editor. I’d cover the serious issues and topics that mattered to women. I was already reporting on some tough topics, such as women involved in gangs in New Jersey. I won my first award for that story.

Given those ‘serious’ aspirations, I have to admit, it was surprising where my rocketship landed. You see, somehow, despite never having gone to one single dance in all my high school and college years, I became a prom website editor for a major teen magazine, Seventeen. For anyone not familiar with the American tradition: Prom is the equivalent of Cinderella’s ball when you are in your final two years of high school.

So here I was, with my Bachelor’s degree, qualified for so many jobs that were out of reach to family who came before me— and I landed in a role that I was seemingly totally unfit for. But I took it, because it was my foot in the door of the magazine industry. I’m sure many of you can relate to being in situations where you felt way out of your element.

So my strategy to deal with that was to use my reporting skills. I could ask questions and figure it out. And I did. And guess what? Before too long, I even became passionate about this job that at first felt very superficial on the surface. I liked connecting with girls who needed a boost of confidence that I could give them. Being the editor of this tiny website was also a crash course in entrepreneurship. I worked with web designers, developers, marketing and advertising teams, I managed freelance writers, I produced video content. I built a brand.

So this brings me to my first bit of advice about passion:

#1: You Can Create It
Passion might not be apparent in the job description. You might be applying for jobs that don’t excite you at first. But don’t let that deter you at the beginning of your career. Challenge yourself to find meaning in something that might seem superficial or mundane. Especially when you’re just starting out, you have the most to learn. You can turn almost anything into a worthwhile learning experience. Get passionate about discovering what you’re good at.

The second lesson about passion came soon after I mastered this one.

#2: Passion Leads You Down Unpredicted Paths
Think about a hike you’ve gone on. You don’t find the big beautiful vistas at the foot of the hiking trail, right? No, you have to spend time deep in the woods first, going down trails like these. You can’t see what lies in the distance, so you have to rely on the trail markers to find your way. The entrepreneurial skills I was developing at my job were like those trail markers. They were like breadcrumbs leading me toward dreams BIGGER than I could have ever imagined for myself.

My second year on the job, my boss asked me if I would launch a project called DonateMyDress It was an online directory of dress drives, places women could go to donate formal dresses they didn’t wear anymore, or places girls who couldn’t afford dresses for prom could go to pick one up. I of course said yes. And this experience is what set off an ah-ha moment in my head that leads me to where I am today.

You see, while I was working as a prom editor by day, I still had that “serious” side. I was volunteering for a nonprofit organization by night and weekends—a nonprofit that was focused on helping kids in Liberia, who were orphaned or abandoned by war, to get an education and meet their basic needs.

The passions started to mix. I wondered what would happen if there was a media campaign to help girls who couldn’t afford school—let alone a dress—get an education. I knew when a girl was first in her family to graduate, she could break the cycle of poverty. I knew that 50 million girls of secondary school age around the world are denied an education. That’s where the idea for She’s the First was born. Our mission is provide scholarships to girls who will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. We’re building a worldwide movement to support them across the globe, including at 216 chapters at high schools and universities across the U.S. and UK.

Three years later, the She’s the First campaign I started by using social media would become my full-time job. Today, She’s the First is a nonprofit supporting a network of 805 Scholars in 11 countries around the world. We’ve raised nearly $4 million to support their studies year after year.

As a result, girls like Mariama in Sierra Leone are in the classroom. Girls like Vicentina and Sinforosa are graduating—these two did in December, in Peru.

I have more passion working for She’s the First than I could have ever imagined would be possible, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t at first try to create my own passion in that prom job.

This brings me to my third and final passion point:

#3: You Find Passion in Helping Others
10 years after I became a first-generation university graduate, I’ve realized something. Maybe my passion isn’t all that different from my parents and my grandparents. Their passion was supporting my sister and I to be first-generation grads, and now that’s what I do for other young women. It’s funny how that works, right? You think you are so different from your relatives only to realize how similar you actually are.

This gives us a different way to think about what being “first” means. Take these famous words by Martin Luther King, Jr. “Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.”

Passion can live in the simple act of giving someone else the chance to be the first. To give them their launchpad. How would things change if you framed your passion around not just what made you happy, but also what you could do for others? What if you could use what you are the first to do to pay it forward for another?

You might be a first-generation graduate. So mentor someone younger who will also be one, or donate to a scholarship fund. You may be the first in your family to open a business; so give back a part of your proceeds, or volunteer your skills and services. You could be pursuing the family business, doing the same career as previous generations, but adding your own innovations so you can make a bigger impact on the planet or people in the local or global community.

That’s what I hope you take away: Never ever underestimate your ability to be the one who makes someone else a first. You can be the first person to support or believe in someone else’s dream. That will matter a 100 years from now, it will matter throughout their entire life.

Now that you’ve heard my “first,” and now I’d love to hear yours. Please tweet, come talk to me, or leave a comment if you’re watching this later on video. I’m ready to cheer you on.

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My international TEDx debut!

 Photo by TEDxBerlin/ Sebastian Gabsch

Photo by TEDxBerlin/Sebastian Gabsch

She's the First made it onto the international TEDx stage! I'm so grateful to the TEDxBerlin team for inviting me to be the closing talk, which I titled "The New Face of Philanthropy." I'm thrilled with how warmly the crowd of 800 people received our mission. The social media comments and emails I got from the audience were everything I could have hoped for and more. One person wrote me, "I liked your comparison of responses to the question "What characterizes a philanthropist?" and find the cause of your engagement highly useful, even urging!"

TEDxBerlin created a top-notch experience that would make the TED organization proud. Each speaker had a coach to help us prepare (mine was Patrick Liebl, and he rocks!) Alongside the stage, there was a visual artist, translating our talks into illustrations. Kudos to Stephanie Igunbor who curated an amazing lineup of game-changers. My fellow speakers included a roboticist, physicist, artificial intelligence expert, cyborg (yes, really!), and eco-real estate pioneer. 

This was the first time I gave a memorized talk to this many people! I feel so strongly about my message—though to be honest, after stepping off the stage, I was frustrated with myself for skipping over three paragraphs. In the end, NO ONE NOTICED! But I think it's important to mention, because otherwise impressive looking photos would hide the fact that speakers very often still have insecurities and nerves. Those fears—what will happen if I forget my lines? what if what I have to say isn't that original?—stop a lot of people from public speaking, and I don't think they should. Anyone can give a TED talk if you really practice (really — see And remember, the ideas that you think are obvious aren't so obvious to others. Plus, if you hold yourself back, then you hold back the possibilities of people contributing to the issues that matter the most to you.

Thanks to everyone for cheering me on, and as always, the STF Scholars who motivate me through any challenge. This time, it was Maheshwari in India and Elly in Tanzania, who contributed their stories to my talk and reviewed multiple drafts. Ladies, I can't wait to listen to your TED talks someday. 

PS: Video will be released in about a month, but in the meantime, I published my transcript and slides on Medium.



My Favorite Speaking Engagement - Ever

 Me as a college sophomore with Dana

Me as a college sophomore with Dana

Twelve years ago, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Dana Canedy invited methen a College of New Jersey sophomoreto shadow her for a day at The New York Times. Googling led her to my brand-new website, the first iteration of I had a page listing my role models, where her name appeared. I was taking a class on Race, Gender, and Religion in the News and we were all studying her reporting in detail.

Back in 2004, it was uncommon for students to have professional websites, but Professor Kim Pearson made us all launch one in Introduction to Professional Writing class. She said it was essential to have our resume, contact information, and links to our clips online. This was before anyone really knew about LinkedIn. There was no Squarespace. I uploaded HTML pages I created in Microsoft Publisher to an FTP server.  The pages were light pink. Humble beginnings. 

I think I did a good job acting normal the day I was Dana's guest, inside the mecca of journalism at The Times, but I was utterly starstruck. I didn't know anyone in the industry as accomplished as Dana. I was a first-generation college student paving my own way. When she showed that she believed in me, just a state school teenager from New Jersey, I reasoned anything was possible.

Fast forward 12 years. In an incredibly serendipitous twist of fate, on April 8, Dana interviewed me on stage at the Arthur W Page Society Spring Seminar about She's the First! I was invited to speak by Andy Polansky, one of the most accomplished alumni in TCNJ history (he's the CEO of Weber Shandwick!) It's an event exclusive to CEOs & Chief Communications Officers. Dana and I did not know we'd be paired up on stage when accepting our invitations. No one involved in planning this event knew our backstory. Crazy, huh?


The most exciting part: the President of our She's The First at Staten Island Academy chapter, Megan Shkolyar, was interviewed alongside me. She nailed it as a spokesperson for Gen Z social consciousness. NYU is very lucky to get her this Fall.

 STF Campus Programs Manager Katie Riley; STF*{Staten Island Academy} Chapter leader Lisa, Advisor Dina Large (who joined us on her birthday!), Chapter President Megan, and me

STF Campus Programs Manager Katie Riley; STF*{Staten Island Academy} Chapter leader Lisa, Advisor Dina Large (who joined us on her birthday!), Chapter President Megan, and me

Bottom line: Take a chance on a young person who stands out to you, who may not have anyone influential in their court. Just a job shadow day will do! Your impact can be more profound than you ever realize in the moment...hopefully, it will all circle back to you so you can see the ripples.  



How I Tricked Myself into Liking Cooking & Snapchat

 Introducing my #SnappyMeals!

Introducing my #SnappyMeals!

No matter how busy we get with our day job, most people know how important it is to carve out time for hobbies--such as fitness, volunteering, art, music, cooking, reading or writing. It's proven to give you an edge in your career. 

Fitness is my best pastime, teaching me that I’m stronger than I think, results take time, and to push through challenges because there are always endorphins at the end.

Recently, I invented a new little hobby for myself that I’m sharing with you because it gave me an ah-ha moment: It's possible to create something you enjoy out of two things you dislike.

I abhor cooking. I dislike the time it takes to make a meal when I get home from the gym after work and am hungry.  I have more work to do and don't want to be preparing food for an hour. Take-out is expensive, so I resort to eating things I can microwave. I'm not proud that I lack basic culinary common sense, but other priorities get in the way.

Snapchat is also something I dislike. I used to love every new social media platform on the scene, but this is one I just couldn’t get behind. Why would I want to publish low-quality, shaky video of my life, that disappears in a day, when I can make high-quality posts on Instagram that last forever? I resent saying I dislike Snapchat, because that means I'm no longer an early adapter of everything and am getting “old,” at least compared to Gen Z. 

I didn't want to lose touch with the social media platform most used by my teenage audience, and I sure don't want to go through the next 70 years with my life depending on the microwave. 

One weekend when I was visiting my family at home (where the kitchen gets used a lot), it came to me! What if I create Snapchat Stories of me cooking meals that have 5 ingredients or less? I love being creative on social media. (That’s how She’s the First was born, after all.)

I scoured my Mom’s awesome Pinterest board for recipe ideas. I pretended I was programming my own cooking show for dummies. I settled on pancakes made out of a banana and two eggs. It doesn’t get easier than that—and it was delicious! You can watch below on YouTube, because, like I said, Snapchat Stories disappear after 24 hours, but at least you can download them before they do.  

The following weekend, I made stuffed peppers filled with a mixture of no-meat beef, shredded cheese, salsa, and rice. My best friend Rachel, who is a true foodie, made a guest appearance!

I started calling them Resnapies, then Snapcipes, and then @Mike_D_Walters gave me the idea to call them #SnappyMeals. And that’s exactly what they are. Ready in a snap and they make me happy.

What do you think: Could you combine any of your dislikes to actually turn them into a new hobby? If so, leave a comment, because I'm curious!

And oh yes, follow me on Snapchat! (tammytibbetts)



"Her Infinite Impact"

As I write this, Winter Storm Jonas is blanketing us in several inches of snow, and I'm daydreaming about warmer days last weekend when I was visiting She's the First Scholars in Santiago, around beautiful Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

 Photo by me! 

Photo by me! 

The best part about my visit was connecting with our She's the First partner organization, Starfish, on a whole new level. While I've always understood their programs and theory of change, on this trip, I got even more insight into the conversations my extraordinary co-founder Christen Brandt, STF's Director of International Operations, and Starfish's Executive Director, Travis Ning, have all the time about quality education.

What you should know about Starfish.

In Guatemala, the programs impacting our Scholars are directed by Norma Baján (Her bio in 140 characters: born in rural Guatemala to illiterate parents, one of eight siblings to graduate university, has dined with the President in the White House. In one word, she's amazing.). Norma told us all the girls Starfish serves are born with four strikes against them: Poor, Rural, Female, and Indigenous. Their parents have just a few years of schooling, if that, and only speak the indigenous language. Only 1% of Mayan women will ever go to university. 

Norma told us how Starfish's motto, "her infinite impact" or "sin límites," explains their philosophy, and it's our belief at She's the First, too. More important than how many girls you reach is how far each one you do will go. With extremely engaging mentorship programs building the leadership capabilities of these young women, they are well-positioned to make systemic changes in their communities or on a national level, which will enable them to affect exponentially more girls and families. (It's already working. Starfish proudly jokes that the girls in their program dominate the student councils at their respective schools.) 

I think I'm as passionate as I can possibly be about She's the First, but then every time I travel, I come back even more reinvigorated. It occurs in moments like this, when Norma presented three graduated She's the First Scholars to us with their mentors from the Starfish program.

Give me a moment to brag...

Maria Lucia is now in her first year of university, studying teaching and school administration. She did everything she could to try to fund her own higher education, but then came to Starfish when all possibilities were exhausted. She qualified for an additional scholarship and at the same time, she started a small business selling baby clothes to work her way to financial independence. 

 Maria Lucia's shop! Photo by Kate Lord, via @shesthefirst Instagram

Maria Lucia's shop! Photo by Kate Lord, via @shesthefirst Instagram

There's Lola, who is co-founding a tourism company called "Mayan Life" and capitalizing on an unmet demand. Donors who come to Panajachel to visit Starfish, for example, want an authentic experience and she can take them to homes to make tortillas with Mayan families, or bring them to the roving Catholic saint/Mayan deity Maximon, which turns out to be a huge tourist attraction that only the locals can find for you. (As someone who took Lola's tour of Santiago, I give her a warm recommendation!) 

Then there's Brenda, who is a receptionist for a female architect, a job she was recommended for by someone who worked for Starfish. Just like in the U.S., to get through the door, you need to know someone. Now these girls not only have a high school diploma, they have contacts. Brenda's the oldest of nine siblings, who are all able to attend school, since she's helping supplement her family's income. She's on a scholarship to continue her education in business administration at the university on weekends.

Back in New York, I happened to read a couple articles that helped me process what this all really means for the future.

One is called "What's Your Endgame?" in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, co-authored by Alice Gugelev, whom Jill Iscol introduced me to in her Hearts on Fire community. It so intelligently synthesized everything I observed from Starfish and am experiencing while working on the growth trajectory of She's the First. 

I loved this article because it defines success for nonprofits based on the metric that truly matters. Scale is not the goal for every nonprofit, especially when funding is so limited. I underlined this: "Nonprofits, in short, should take into account not just the direct impact they hope to achieve, but also the sector-wide change they ultimately aim to create."

In that statement, I saw the magic of Starfish and She's the First combined. Alone, neither of us will get remotely close to reaching all of the 62 million uneducated girls around the world. But together, and with our other partners, we can be a strong force in the sector-wide change we aim to promote: Investing in quality education, so that graduates can be the ones to drive bigger change and have "infinite impact." When you invest in a She's the First Scholar, including one who is a Starfish Girl Pioneer, you may be changing one life, but she's changing so many more because she's learning the skills needed to lead and challenge the status quo.  

Starfish called itself an "open source" organization--which is one of the endgames defined in Alice's article--meaning while their direct services may never go beyond Sololá, Guatemala, they're sharing their knowledge base and helping others replicate their model and programs elsewhere.

She's the First has a mission achievement endgame. We have a well-defined, achievable goal, which is to live in a world where it's difficult to find girls who will be first-generation high school graduates to sponsor. We'll get there by investing in the scholarships of girls with the greatest need and highest potential of disrupting the poverty cycles that have oppressed their families for generations. 

Another example: In Fast Company, I was reading about Toms founder Blake Mycoskie and how he took a step back from scaling the business up, when sales started to plateau, to create the Toms Social Entrepreneurship Fund that will invest in other businesses with social purpose. He had $100 million to start this after selling 50% of his shares of Toms to Bain Capital, which also invested $100 million of its own into his fund. Applying the endgame question, you begin to see how Toms' impact isn't just how many shoes or eye surgeries they've provided through their one-for-one model, but it's the sector-wide change they inspired. Social entrepreneurship and one-for-one models are now far more commonplace in business than when Mycoskie started his company a decade ago. 

"What's your endgame?" I'd love to know in the comments!

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The Powerball

So many people are buzzing about the $1.4B Powerball lottery (although the winner will actually take home much less after taxeseven so, they'll net millions of dollars, and given how excited I was for raising one million at She's the First, that's a big deal).

But every time there's a major jackpot, I can't help but remember how the lottery is one of the main metaphors for the reason She's the First exists. Nicholas Kristof has frequently called poverty versus privilege the "lottery of birth." 

Our society is so transfixed by the fantasy of winning the lotteryand I get that, I grew up watching Yolanda Vega call out the New York lottery numbers in a commercial during Wheel of Fortune, where we watched people go from $0 to $25,000 and a vacation in Hawaii within 30 minutes.

But now, working in the non-profit sector, I have another type of fantasy: What if the hundreds of millions of people buying $2 tickets (440 million were sold in the last drawing) donated instead to She's the First (or any education non-profit, local or global). What if the person who won was given the option of donating all $1.4B to education needs, tax-free?

In the fundraising world, it's too easy to get caught up in, and discouraged by, whimsical what ifs of how people could spend their money differently. I'm not saying you should feel bad for buying a lottery ticket. I too purchase lottery tickets from time to timethe scratch-off ones are fun to put in birthday cards. You're allowed to have a guilty pleasure.

My point is to remind us all that the resources to create education equality do exist in this world. That's why I go to work every day. Because I know a future in which there are no more first-generation high school graduates is possible.

The difference between buying a lottery ticket and donating to an education non-profit is this: The latter, the ticket out of poverty, almost always wins. I have so many examples of this. If you have time, read STF Scholar Maheshwari's story on Medium. Born to uneducated parents in India, she's on her way to becoming a successful geneticist and having multiple degrees to her name.

Maheshwari, and all our Scholars, remind me every day that unlike the Powerball lottery, where we entertain what if fantasies that we don't expect to come true, when we invest in education, we're creating a reality driven by why not? We can expect the best, and the most unlikely things, to happen. Last year, one of our Scholars in Ethiopia, Tizita, even starred in an award-winning film produced by Angelina Jolie (and DVF blogged about her). Why not? With an education, anything is possible.

Should this blog post find its way to the winners of the Powerball, let's talk about philanthropy! But more realistically, since it's found its way to you, there's a good chance you've already donated to She's the First to help more girls win at life even if they lose the birth lottery. For that I thank you so much! And if you're brand new to She's the First, then I'd love to invite you into our world of girl power.



My 30th Birthday Wish Came True!

All I wanted for my 30th birthday was a million dollars--that is, for She's the First. Our 2015 goal was to raise seven figures for the first time, a 56% increase over last year. And as of December 18th, we did it!

I'm bursting with gratitude and joy for every dollar that you've given to push us past this milestone. You are transforming upwards of 600 Scholars' lives, thousands of their family and community members, and nearly 200 campus chapters with more than 3,000 engaged student leaders. It's astounding!

Even though this December 19th is the big 3-0 for me, it's funny how life always finds a way to take me back to the age that really changes everything: 17. For me, 17 was the year I graduated from high school and was voted "Most Shy," a title that catalyzed the personal growth that put me on the path to She's the First. I then went on to work for Seventeen the magazine. 17 is the age in which girls should be so close to high school graduation--yet for far too many around the world, we've already lost them to poverty, forced marriage, and unexpected pregnancy at this point.

On December 17th, I knew we were so close, only $25,000 away, from the million. That morning, I happened to receive an email as I was riding the crosstown bus to meet a friend for coffee. It was sent through this very website from Anastasia, a 17-year-old high school senior from New Hampshire. She wrote:

For one of my classes, we were able to choose a charitable organization to pretend to donate one million dollars to. I chose to donate my money to She's the First. I admire your mission and philosophy, and also see the immense value in girls' education. While I calculated the number of girls one million dollars would send to school, I don't know if that is how you would use it. So, I was wondering, how would you use one million dollars for She's the First? I would really appreciate your help with my project. Thank you!

I was stunned! Anastasia had no idea I was actively trying to reach a million dollar fundraising goal for the first time. I guess I was really putting some strong vibes out in the universe! I took this as a good omen, and I wrote Anastasia back to schedule time to speak with her Friday, December 18th at 3:30pm.

On Friday, during lunchtime, we received enough donations online to push us over the one million dollar mark! When Anastasia called me just a couple hours later, I learned she had heard me speak at a Her Campus conference this past February. She's taking a class in high school that prepares seniors for "life after graduation." Knowing how many adults do their charitable giving in December, her teacher assigned the class to vet a nonprofit to receive a fictional million bucks. Remembering my speech and after doing her research on our website, Anastasia chose us!

I then told Anastasia something she didn't know: That I could tell her what a million dollars would do for She's the First, because as of two hours ago, we had raised it. When she reached out to me, she wasn't sure she'd actually get a reply, but she figured it was worth a try. Little did she know, she sent an email that would mark one of the happiest celebrations of my life.

Thank you, Anastasia, for giving us a million dollars if you had it. Even if it's pretend money, that means the world to me. Thank you to each and every person, company, and foundation who made the real million happen with your hard-earned dollars. I've been floored to see friends who've known me since I was 10, up to people I only met last week, donate to our efforts.

If you'd still like to be part of our million dollar year, you can! We are running our campaign to sponsor the first 10 She's the First Scholars in Sierra Leone and I've chosen to dedicate my 30th to it.

Here's to the 30s!!!!

 Future STF Scholars in Sierra Leone, jumping outside their classroom. Photo by Kate Lord

Future STF Scholars in Sierra Leone, jumping outside their classroom. Photo by Kate Lord

 Celebrating with a cupcake and a co-founder (hi Christen Brandt!) in the Birchbox office! 

Celebrating with a cupcake and a co-founder (hi Christen Brandt!) in the Birchbox office! 



Dedicating My 30th Birthday

 My 3rd Birthday, 1988

My 3rd Birthday, 1988

On December 19th, I'll be 30 years old! I'm eager and optimistic for this new decade.  

My awkward teenage years were full of studying and minimal self-esteem because I was so shy...but always surrounded by love (because my mom and dad are wonderful). Then, in my 20s, amazing things started to happen. Looking back, I see how none of it would have been possible without graduating from high school, which is what She's the First helps girls around the world to do.

I'll remember my 20s most of all for these 7 reasons:

1) At 21, I was the first in my family to graduate from college (go TCNJ!).

2) At 23, I founded She's the First as a YouTube video, and little did I know it would explode into a non-profit that now supports 568 Scholars in 11 countries with 1600 scholarships, and 177 campus chapters at U.S. high schools and colleges. In our first few years, we raised over a million and a half dollars, caught the attention of Diane von Furstenberg, Chelsea Clinton, the TODAY Show, etc...and now we are so close to raising $1 MILLION in 2015 alone! I can't imagine my life without STF, my work wifey Christen, Katie, Perrie, and all the people behind our mission for universal quality secondary education.

3) I accomplished my dream of working in the magazine industry and spent 5 fantastic years at Hearst Digital Media and Seventeen. I became the first social media editor of Seventeen and got to connect with millions of teen girls across America, who I just wanted to make feel more confident than I was at their age.

4) I moved to NYC and got to be neighbors with Central Park and have the best roommates (and more recently that includes Poptart, the cuter than cute dog -- see my Instagram!).

5) I traveled all over the world--Liberia, Guatemala, Tanzania, and Nepal were the most memorable places--and to the mid-west and West Coast of the U.S. for the first time.

6) I discovered my passion for fitness, running my first marathon and becoming a certified Spinning instructor, despite being the worst kid in gym class at school.

7) I fell in love, had my heart broken, went on countless disappointing dates, but ultimately fell in love again when I was least expecting it with the most outstanding partner.  

So, what brings me here today is this: There's no other way I want to celebrate these 10 amazing years of my 20s than backing She's the First's campaign to sponsor the first 10 Scholars in Sierra Leone.  

Would you join me by contributing $10 or more? Our goal is to raise $10,000 for their scholarships this month. Please go here to support.

Education is the best gift any of us could ever ask for.

 Our soon-to-be STF Scholars in Sierra Leone, jumping for joy. Photo by Kate Lord

Our soon-to-be STF Scholars in Sierra Leone, jumping for joy. Photo by Kate Lord



What I Learned Clowning Around

 Ready to make my Macy's Parade debut! 

Ready to make my Macy's Parade debut! 

On Thanksgiving Day, I lived a lifelong dream of being in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, when I played the part of a Bumble Bee in the Springtime Clowns group, which marched ahead of the Wiggly Worm balloon. You can thank us for the lovely spring-like weather on November 26th in NYC. ;)

At 5am, when we arrived at the New Yorker Hotel, where we'd change into costume, I went downstairs to the restroom. There was a woman, about mid-50s, drying her eyes with a paper towel. She was crying, tears of joy. She mentioned it was her lifelong dream to be in the parade. And you may remember Grandma Boop's reaction to getting into the parade last year after 30 years of trying--it went viral. So I'm not the only one! 

In my line of work, I'm exposed to the tremendous lack of basic opportunity and human rights in the world, namely education. It's often jarring for me to switch from my serious dreams--to be part of the generation that ends education inequality--to the seemingly silly ones, like being in a parade or finishing a marathon. I am incredibly fortunate to have a network that supports my dreams on both ends of the spectrum. 

The truth is, the "silly" dreams motivate me. They teach me that persistence pays off. I can tackle them as I work up to the serious dreams, and in doing so, I pick up insights and skills that truly matter.

The Macy's Parade was more surreal than I ever imagined for a couple reasons. First, even though I've run in the closed-down streets of New York City during the marathon, then I was sharing the asphalt with thousands of runners. During the parade, you've got a HUGE amount of empty road to dance around, space you're only sharing with about six or seven people. And you're not dressed as you. In the marathon, people shouted my name, which was written on my shirt, whereas in the parade, they chanted "Bumble Bee! Bumble Bee!" and shouted, "Hi Bee!" I got to be a character, a piece of the magic that is the 89-year-old Macy's Thanksgiving Day tradition. 

Clowns are the only part of the parade that get to run to the sidelines and literally touch the spectators. I gave hundreds of kids high-fives. I tossed thousands of pieces of confetti on their heads. I walked away thinking: As people, we just want to be seen, don't we? More than we may even realize it. To have others acknowledge our bee-ing. (I couldn't resist.) 

I shouted "Happy Thanksgiving" to the crowds a zillion times, and when I looked someone in the eye and smiled, they smiled too. It was contagious. We looked up at the buildings, where people were watching from windows. We pointed at them and waved. They lit up. People don't do that on a regular day in New York City--look each other in the eye and smile. We are too busy avoiding eye contact. But on this one unseasonably warm morning, as Macy's put on its annual parade as safely as ever despite security threats around the world, I'd like to think most people understood how lucky we all were to just be.

Thank you again, Macy's and Madeleine Magardician, for letting me bee in your parade! 

 Every participant gets a pin at the end! 

Every participant gets a pin at the end! 

 On Clown Corner on Central Park West, with my sister Shelley (a flower pot)

On Clown Corner on Central Park West, with my sister Shelley (a flower pot)



Happy Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, I'm fulfilling a lifelong dream to be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! In addition to my more serious life goals to move to New York City, make it in the magazine industry, and send as many girls as I can to school, I've always wanted to experience the magic of the Thanksgiving Day Parade that I've watched on TV every single year. So, over the course of a decade, I manifested it.

About 10 years ago, I learned that you had to be nominated by a Macy's employee to volunteer in the parade. So I kept talking about this bucket-list dream, and last year I eventually found someone who knew someone, and this someone actually assistant produced the parade. Madeleine Magardician is magical.

Once I was accepted as a Macy's Parade Volunteer thanks to Madeleine, I got to choose from three roles: Float Escort, Balloon Handler, or Clown. I always envisioned myself as a Float Escort, but then, just before I hit "send" with my selection, I remembered Grammie.

"Grammie" is what we called my dad's mom. In her retirement, she became a clown. No, she didn't join the circus, but she was properly trained on how to be a clown, whom she named "Ellie Bell" (her name was Eleanor) so she could visit hospitals and cheer up kids.

 Grammie in her clown costume

Grammie in her clown costume

If Grammie knew I had the chance to be a world-famous clown and didn't take it...I knew what I had to do to honor her spirit and laughter. 

When I chose to be a clown, I did it in Grammie's memory, not realizing what else makes the clowns so special. They are the only part of the Thanksgiving Day parade that gets to touch the hearts and hands of the 3.5 million bystanders. No one else, not the marching bands, nor the balloon handlers, nor the float escorts, gets to run to the sidelines to high five a kid or throw confetti on people.

To prepare us for our role, Macy's held "Clown U" at the Big Apple Tent last weekend, which I attended with my sister Shelley. Real Big Apple Circus Clowns taught us how to master the art of being silly and making people smile. We'll be part of the Springtime Clowns group, which opens the parade! 

 We graduated from Clown U! That's my sister Shelley, Noel (Queen Bee of the Springtime Clowns, who works for Macy's), and Moo Chacha, our Big Apple Circus Clown coach.

We graduated from Clown U! That's my sister Shelley, Noel (Queen Bee of the Springtime Clowns, who works for Macy's), and Moo Chacha, our Big Apple Circus Clown coach.

I'll head home to New Jersey after the parade, full of gratitude to be surrounded by people I love; fortunate to do what I love in the city I love--and reminded that all of that stems from the gift of a quality high school and college education I was given.

The lesson I'm taking away from this: Talk about your dreams, OUT LOUD, from the serious ones to the seemingly silly ones. It's the only way to turn them into a reality.

 In 1994, Grammie was a clown at my sister Shelley's 7th birthday party. I'm the big sister standing up in pink.

In 1994, Grammie was a clown at my sister Shelley's 7th birthday party. I'm the big sister standing up in pink.

 My Halloween costume circa 1988 could have also predicted my destiny.

My Halloween costume circa 1988 could have also predicted my destiny.




Welcome to my new online home. (I built it myself!)

I wanted to recommit to my goal to write more about the incredible insights, learnings, and questions coming out of She's the First and the non-profit entrepreneurship sector, from my point of view. I've transferred over some of my favorite entries from my old site, but I'm mostly starting fresh as I gear up for 2016 (and a new decade - my 30s!).

I'm reading Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin now, and the new good habit I want to work on is reflection. We are always working at warp speed and my personal writing seems to fall to the bottom of the to-do list when there's a pressing deadline or a pipeline of donors to follow up with. Social media, in its immediacy and bite-sized sharing, creates good habits of staying informed and visible, but bad habits of not taking time to process, create conscious improvement, or even plan long term.

Besides that personal benefit, I'm also hoping that this blog and my newsletter might work as a means of "scaling up" my mentorship abilities. As She's the First grows, I'm unable to take as many individual coffee dates with entrepreneurs and students as I used to, and giving advice is still something I love to do. I'm hoping that I can still manage to help you in this way.

My plan is to blog 2-3 times a month, and then at the end of it, deliver a newsletter to my subscribers, summing up what the theme of the month was for me.

Would you like to be part of this habit-forming mentorship experience with me? Then please subscribe! And please let me know in the comments below if I can reciprocate and be part of your list serv.