I am introducing a new type of blog entry where I interview other small town alumni. This series – titled “From a small town to making it big” will feature people who grew up in small towns – which I am defining as population of 10,000 or less. Most interviewees have since left their small town and moved to a larger city while some continue to live in the small town where they were raised, or have moved to a similar town somewhere else.
In light of the recent events in our country (I’m typing my initial draft of this on Saturday, July 9, 2016), my first interviewee seems an appropriate and timely candidate to talk about her experience growing up in a small town and how she has instilled the values she learned there as she has moved onto a bigger stage.
René Delane is the CEO and Founder of Women Who Dare. René is a nationally published author, Inclusion/Diversity Speaker and Consultant. Her expertise is inspiring, educating and advocating for women to be strong leaders, effective communicators and confident influencers. Wisdom from her global interviews of successful women who have overcome gender, color and cultural barriers and men who are allies provide inspiring role models. Her research-proven training Chocolate for the Brain provides the strategies of positive self-talk that leads to confidence.
In addition to the interview below, I also recorded an episode of The Collective Voice with René where she shared her story in even more detail. I encourage you to listen to Episode 09 – Women Who Dare with René Delane.
During our time together, I asked René about a blog post she authored earlier this year titled “Born White”. The post describes in minimal, yet wonderful detail her upbringing. The quote that made me stop and pause was as follows: “Because of my experiences I’ve become increasing aware of the privilege bestowed upon me at my birth solely because I was born white. I received another ‘bump up’ because I live in a world largely governed by others of the same color.” She goes on to tell me in our time together that the single greatest lesson she learned growing up in a small town was from the chapter in her Girl Scout handbook about friendship. She told me that simple lesson is what can help us get beyond our judgement and prejudice. It’s easy to judge from a distance when the person is not “real” and accept the stereotype. Today, more than ever, we need to follow René’s advice to suspend judgment and challenge defaulting to stereotypes.
Where did you grow up? Irwin, Pennsylvania – a town of 4,000 people 40 minutes from Pittsburgh. I was raised in an 850 square foot home with my sister and parents, only one of whom graduated from high school.
What has been your geographic journey from the time you left your small town? After graduating from high school, I attended Point Park University and the University of Pittsburgh. Since then I have continued to live in small towns or suburbs that are within close distance to major cities. Some of my other hometowns include Butler, PA, Sylvania, Port Clinton, Lexington, and currently, Westerville, OH.
What is your professional journey? I have worked most of my life in the medical field as a PA (physician’s assistant). During this time, I became very good at listening to others and understanding their needs. After a long career, I wanted to combine the things I love and start my own business. I wanted it to be about women, listening, research, and advocating for what I believe in. That’s how I built my business, Women Who Dare.
What experience is the most memorable from your time in a small town? Going to the library was a formative experience. Books helped change my perspective. I couldn’t wait to get home and read my new books. After I was supposed to be in bed, I would go into the closet and attic crawlspace and read with my Girl Scout flashlight. My father read to me at the kitchen table – everything – including the classics.
What is the single most important lesson you took with you from your small town upbringing? We need people around us – people who we don’t just pass in the street, but people we know. We need physical contact from others.
How have you brought the small town spirit with you in life? I get to know people. I like being part of a community. I observe those around me – the children who go fishing in the pond behind my home, the families who go sledding on the hill in my neighborhood. I got to know the woman who delivers my mail and will often take time to offer her a cold drink during her route.
What would you tell kids who are growing up in your hometown today? Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. Find a mentor. Don’t fear asking questions, like “would you share how you got here?” People are willing to help, you just need to seek it out.
René’s advice for girls is particularly poignant – Take the “I want you to like me” sticker off of your head and put it on your mirror. You need to love and respect yourself. It will not only help you be a more confident person, but it will also help you suspend judgement of others.
I want to thank René for being my inaugural guest for this section. As you are getting your news through your Facebook or Twitter feed, make sure you are taking time out of your day to get to know those around you – especially those who don’t look like you and who didn’t come from where you are from. René would be proud of you for that!
Please send René a message on Twitter @WomenWhoDare or contact her through her website www.women-who-dare.com to show your appreciation!