Life Lessons from Girls on the Run's Molly Barker
We believe that every girl can
embrace who she is.
can define who she wants to be.
can celebrate differences.
can rise to any challenge.
can change the world.
What if—in your middle school years—you had heard these words of encouragement? If, forgetting the awkward growth spurts, the braces and frizzy hair, the here-today-gone-tomorrow friends and boyfriends, there was a place where you could put your insecurities behind and be exactly who you wanted to be?
That place does exist, and it’s called Girls on the Run (GOTR). A nonprofit aimed at encouraging positive emotional, social, mental, spiritual, and physical development for girls ages eight to thirteen through an active, running lifestyle, GOTR offers an avenue for girls to untangle from the stereotypes established around their middle school years. Not surprisingly, the program has had explosive success: founded in 1996 in Charlotte, NC with only 13 girls, it’s estimated to reach 110,000 teens and pre-teens all across North America by 2012.
And the woman behind it all is Molly Barker, a former high school chemistry teacher and drug prevention specialist who combined her counseling and teaching expertise with new research on adolescent issues to create GOTR. Today, aside from leading the thriving nonprofit, Barker is the author of two books, a four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, and a mother of two.
Dying to know her secrets for success? So were we. Read on for our exclusive interview with Barker and her inspiring advice for young women on how to balance it all—and still keep things in perspective.
What’s your personal secret to success?
You ready? Call me crazy, but it’s quiet time and solitude—whether on a run, during yoga, on a walk, or during meditation. As a person often in the public, who works with literally hundreds of individuals, it’s critical for me to refuel with time for myself, time to breathe. Oftentimes I overthink and overprocess, and meditation and other forms of quiet allow me to stop thinking and simply be.
So what does a normal workday look like for you?
I spend a lot of time communicating with GOTR “people:” coaches, directors, and, of course, the girls. I do a lot of public speaking and am frequently on the road, and every day is different.
But running and physical movement are very important to my spiritual and mental fortitude. So though everything else may be changing by the day, I generally run, practice yoga, or lift weights five to six days per week.
Being frequently on the road and at speaking engagements, I’m sure you’re a power networker! What’s your golden rule of networking?
Surprisingly, I didn’t score incredibly high on the Myers-Briggs test as an extrovert. But I do enjoy talking one-on-one with folks—hearing their stories, learning about their lives, understanding the way they view the world. I’ve been known to chat with a complete stranger on a coast-to-coast flight.
The key is to find even the smallest of similarities and then proceed into a “real” conversation. I enjoy talking with people about the things in life that matter most to them.
Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started your career?
The importance of breathing. I know this sounds a bit odd, but I’m prone to react too quickly, both in thought and action, and know that a lot of headaches and heartaches could have been avoided had I known to stop, breathe, observe, and simply “sit with” whatever was happening before responding.
What advice do you have for young women starting their professional careers?
I know this is hard to believe when you’re looking out over the huge “professional” landscape ahead of you, but I promise, promise, that every job, every relationship, every up and down, every tear, every laugh, every love, every love lost, will one day connect in a beautiful series of dots, dots which will pull up from the deepest part of you, your purpose, your passion, and your power.
I know this to be fact. The only requirement for you is to keep your eyes open, observe, allow, and understand that positively growing and moving in the small eight feet of world around you is all you can do within any moment.
Know that if you’re the best you can be, and you pursue the world within your immediate grasp with vigor and unbridled curiosity, then that world will open up to create bigger and bigger opportunities for you.
Photo courtesy of Molly Barker.
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