CREW Network Leadership Certificate Program – One Participant’s Perspective

October 2, 2019
Written by: Meg O'Brien

I have been trying for years (7 to be precise) to get “permission” to join the CREW Leadership Certificate Program. This year was my year. I will tell you, with all sincerity, that this program made all the difference for me in my professional career choices, personal development, and proving to me the power and value of CREW Network.

Like some of you, I thought the larger CREW Network (outside of Richmond) was really for other people. Why bother being a member of the national organization when all I really want is to network with people in my metro region? Why do I need to be a member of CREW and GRACRE and ULI? They all do the same things, right? Prepare thyself…. I was doing this program solely for me. I wanted some leadership training as a minor stepping stone to my real goal. Selfish, I know.

I arrived at the first session proud of myself for finally asking to do this, being granted permission and finally making it happen. Upon entering the room to have cocktails with 60 complete strangers, I met my first challenge. I had to choose ribbons for my nametag. If you’ve been to Convention, you know the ribbons are fun. What to choose to meet & greet with high-achieving, type-A women? I picked “No Drink Left Behind” (when in New Orleans……) and “Bass A**”. Why Bad A**? Because Samuel L. Jackson would pick that ribbon (No lie. THIS was my reason). I proceeded on my happy way. We had a dine-around that night where I met 6 new ladies. I’ve never bonded so instantly and so completely with a group of people in my life. I shared that short-term career goal was to transition to marketing and business development within my firm to take advantage of my technical expertise and my gift of gab. This was to help prepare me for my ultimate goal…….. wait for it…….. CEO. I’ve been ridiculed for this goal. Laughed at. Told that there are men in line ahead of me. To that I say, it’s my goal and my dream. Life is not so scripted that I have to follow the traditional path to a non-traditional role. I drew inspiration from these ladies that night. We went on to have an all-day class in Presence. We learned all about how to present our ideas and selves to the world. Pretty intense stuff! During the Leadership Summit that followed our first class, I was meeting my fellow regional CREW members. We were asked to give a traditional introduction – name, chapter, etc. When my turn came, our regional board member asked me first to explain why I chose the Bad A** ribbon. Without thinking, without letting the world in, without even invoking Samuel L’s name I said “Because I am. And let me tell you why”.

Epiphany is the word that best describes the second session for me. The class focused on vulnerability and self-discovery. Sitting at a table of 8 strangers, I found myself having an emotional moment that can be best described as a breakdown. It was the moment I realized that in order to keep growing and fulfill my goals, I needed to make a change. It hurt. I was as vulnerable as I’ve ever been in a professional setting. Before I could escape to the restroom to compose myself and hide the tears of shame, my tablemate looked me directly in the eyes and said “whatever it is, we’re going to talk about it right now.” My epiphany was met with hugs, tissues, and love. That’s a sisterhood of support. I made a call at lunch to start the ball rolling on my change. WHEW!

This fall, I was reunited with my sisterhood for our last all-in adventure. Negotiation is not my strong suit. Harvard Business professors will convince you that you have all the potential in the world and not one shred of talent all at the same time. For instance, I thought I did well in buying my car. This class specifically let me know that the dealership won that round. Regardless, it was a fun way to learn that I have a lot to learn and to never stop stretching. Flexibility is key in negotiating and in life. Be open to possibility. Opportunity comes in many forms.

Bottom line, this program was more than just leadership skills I know that CREW is more than just what’s happening in RVA. CREW presented me the opportunity to meet women from all over the country who are now my personal and professional champions because I dared to be present, vulnerable, and flexible.