Belonging: My Experience as a 2019 Launching New Voices Protégé

By Leah Burman

Playgrounds today often include a buddy bench.  When a child sits on the bench, they are seeking an invitation to play.  Children who are playing invite anyone sitting on the bench to join them in play. Sometimes, all that’s needed to feel included is an invitation to belong.   The Women In Agile Launching New Voices program provided the invitation to belong that I needed to be a conference speaker.   The program gave me the confidence and experience I needed to assume I belong moving forward.

Selection and Pairing

I was excited to be selected for the program and thrilled – yet a bit intimated – when I learned Lyssa Adkins would be my mentor.  She immediately put me at ease.  Lyssa has an ability to look you in the eye and say simply yet powerfully “you belong” through her actions and the mutual respect she brings to relationships. During our first meeting we established ground rules, including how to push back safely, and discussed what it was I wanted to get out of our collaboration.  By listening to me and letting me drive the discussions we had, Lyssa continually validated that I indeed belonged.  Conversations with Lyssa are like one big, ongoing, hug of acceptance.  Each time I finished a mentoring sessions with her, I felt more confident and excited for the talk.  She met me where I was and guided me to additional discovery from that point.  Her self-control to listen, embrace a silent pause, and invite me to fill the silence before speaking herself led to significant revelations. 

Finding My Why

A takeaway from Stephanie Thomas’ keynote at the event was to let the journey shape the destination.  This resonates with me time and again when I reflect on the process I went through creating my LNV talk.    I had initially compiled lots of facts and examples for the talk, but was not sure how to pull those together into a cohesive call to action.  During an initial session with Lyssa we spent the entire hour just talking about the tagline or throughline.  That discussion led me to realize it’s not about the facts or examples, it’s about finding my why.  As I journeyed through the process of working with Lyssa to formulate a talk, the call to action became clearer and the important elements of the story and facts crystalized.  I learned to use my story to teach and inspire. 

Another step in the journey that shaped the talk I gave was a workshop provided by Ten Women Strong for the organizers of the Women In Agile event, mentors, and protégés.    We created titles for ourselves with accompanying gestures and that activity further shaped the call to action in my talk.  Again, when I think back to the workshop, the theme of belonging comes to mind vividly.  Everyone participated in the workshop equally, it wasn’t protégés participating while more experienced mentors facilitated.  We all belonged to the community of women who improved together through that event. 

Lyssa and I iterated through the talk many times; each time she shared her insights on the craft of storytelling with me.  At one point, I recorded a trial run of the talk and we watched it together, stopping the recording when we needed further discussion.  By embracing the journey, my content changed frequently and it wasn’t until the last week before the talk that I felt it was ready.  At that point another great suggestion from Lyssa was to spend the remaining preparation time finding the emotion behind the call to action again.  As we tell stories over and over we can lose some of the emotion that made the story such a compelling teaching moment initially.  I had to dig deeper and over-emphasize my emotions to find that original, organic level of emotion after so many practices. 

The Big Day

The love, acceptance, support, and sense of belonging I felt on the day of the conference was amazing.  A true testament to what women can enable each other to achieve when we support each other, rather than compete against one another.  As we hugged in person for the first time after virtual conversations and thanked each other with gifts, I exhaled.  This was going to be fun! The protégés got to know each other better; I’m honored and proud to have my name alongside theirs. 

As always, Lyssa encouraged me to continue to grow and learn.  She invited me to walk on the stage before anyone came into the room.  Look out.  Breathe.  Get comfortable.  Take your space.  You belong here.

Near the end of the day, I got on stage and gave my talk – Giant Leaps: An Agile Generation’s Moonshot.  The embrace of love and support I felt during and immediately afterwards forever changed me.  I belong. 

The Afterglow

I learned the power of a community of women supporting you.  They lift you up and whisper (or shout!) that your voice is valuable and belongs.  Looking back, I am humbled by all the women who encouraged and supported me:

  • From my amazing LNV mentor who embraced me throughout the process and jumped up joyfully clapping when I finished the talk; to my fellow agile coaches who were smiling faces in the crowd helping me with timing and video taping while I spoke. 
  • From my coworker who videoed dry runs of the talk; to my daughter who listened to countless variations of my call to action, always encouraging me that “You’ll do great mom!”.  
  • From my friends who answered my panicked, last minute text requesting photos of them to use in the talk; to my work mentor – an accomplished speaker – who checked in with me the night before and the day of

Women In Agile provides a community where each and every one of us belongs; a grown-up buddy bench.  They invited me to join the speaker community and believed I belonged before I did.  Launching New Voices gave me the confidence to apply to speak at future events and I’m happy to say I’m presenting at the AgileDC conference this year.   I belong.  If you are interested in the Launching New Voices program, please apply to be a speaker or mentor.  If you are local to the Maryland area, you are invited to join the Women In Agile Mid Atlantic local group.  I promise you will be welcomed with a smile – mine!