Her suit fits just right, she knows everyone in the room, and you can just tell she’s got it going on!  You wish you could be her or simply wish you knew her secret to success. WOTV 4 Women wants to give you a deeper look at the many power women who are helping make West Michigan a thriving place for women at work.  We’re having them dish the details on everything from work life to home life and what has led to their career success.

25 career questions with Lori Burgess, Executive Director of Girls on the Run- Kent/Muskegon counties

Q1 – Describe your job and why you love it.

I have the privilege of leading Girls on the Run of Kent and Muskegon Counties as the Director. Being a small non-profit brings with it a very broad set of responsibilities, tasks and opportunities. There are no two days alike, but rather “seasons” that are similar.

In every season, I get to work with and meet terrific people, mostly women, that share a passion for empowering young girls. We have a small staff, myself and 4 others, but hundreds of volunteers that lead our lessons with girls across our two counties. In the fall we are reaching out to schools across our community to get them set up to host teams. In the winter we are spend much of our time gathering our coaches in for training and preparing them to lead their teams. In the spring, we are busy getting new running shoes to each girl and ensuring that the coaches and teams have what they need. Summer – we pretty much rest and renew for the next year.

Throughout the year, I am out and about in the community sharing the GOTR story and recruiting volunteers, donors and sponsors to make it possible for us to serve as many girls as possible. I have met fabulous people and made wonderful friendships that will extend beyond my days at GOTR.

When I started 10 years ago, it was myself and our Board members doing the whole range of tasks to get everything done. A day could include taking out the trash and making a presentation to a company for sponsorship or even being interviewed on radio or television. I used to joke that Girls on the Run was wherever I was with my phone and computer.

As we have grown and added terrific staff members, much has changed in my day to day work. While there are still days I take out the trash and some days are filled on the computer; writing grants, completing reports and answering emails – most days I have time in the community, connecting with the marvelous people of greater Grand Rapids and Muskegon and sharing the Girls on the Run story.

I can definitely say that, from my first days to today, sharing the magic and power of Girls on the Run and our mission to empower young girls with whoever will listen, is one of the greatest joys and passion in my work. Best os all though, there is nothing quite like the experience of greeting the thousands of GOTR girls and coaches at the Celebration 5k, leading cheers from the stage and giving high fives at the finish line! Seeing the transformation of young girls from tentative and shy to empowered and confident is an incredible gift.

Q2 – Dig through you purse and tell us three must have items you found and 1 item you were surprised to find.

I don’t generally carry a purse but I seem to always have my computer bag. My must haves – my computer, my phone, and (I am old school on this) my planner/datebook. What is always a bit of a surprise probably shouldn’t be since it happens so frequently. I seem to always have a bit of cash lurking in my bag somewhere. I love finding a $20 bill I forgot I left there!

Q3 – When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

The first thing I remember want to be is an archeologist. I read a book about excavating Pompeii and was fascinated by what I saw as adventure, mystery and learning about people and culture all wrapped into one job. The idea of doing that in other countries around the world was very intriguing to me.

Q4 – What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

I have received so much good advice from many people over the years, but there are some common themes in the counsel I have received. These three have been applicable in every type of work I have done. First – do what you love (that makes some of the less palatable tasks worth it). Second – do your best work, always. And third, take care of yourself in the process; balance work and relationships and fun. The better I do a number three – the better I do the first two.

Q5 – What’s the job you’ve had (in your lifetime) that still gives you nightmares?

Years ago, I worked for a prisoner re-entry program in Lansing. My job was to escort ex-cons around the community, by myself, as they sought employment. Thinking of it now, I was in my early twenties and my clients were all male felons and it was always just me and them. It is something I would never do, nor ask someone to do, today. One night, I got a phone call from one of my clients who was very high on drugs and alcohol, who was afraid he had murdered someone and wouldn’t make our appointment in the morning because he needed to hide. Yikes! What was I thinking? I did transfer to the women’s re-entry residential program shortly after that night.

Q6 – What’s the best thing you’ve done to advance your career?  

I really thing that being a life-long learner and the choices I made to get advanced degrees (two Masters) and additional skills training has made the most powerful and important difference. I learned new skills, stayed fresh in my work and have had opportunities to teach and train others. I was able to gain a reputation as a skilled therapist for survivors of abuse and innovative program developer and facilitator of life skills programs for youth.

Q7 – Flats or heels?

I have to go with flats because they are the closest to running shoes. Like a lot of runners, I have many pairs in lots of colors.

Q8 – Crying at work? Okay or not okay?

As a person who can cry at a well-done fast food commercial, I have to go with it being okay. In the work I do, I have frequent moments of joy. In addition to leading Girls on the Run, I am also a middle school counselor. There I often share moments of sadness and anxiety with and staff. Just this week, I had situations that included tears of joy and celebration and others that included sharing sad news of loss and sickness. In both roles, I find it important to value and make space for the expression of feelings and the empowerment of skill sets to manage strong feelings in healthy ways.

Q9 – Work/life balance? How do you make it work?  What time do you “clock out”?

Finding balance in work and life is a day to day challenge for me. There are seasons that make it more challenging than others. When we are in the midst of coach training, shoe fittings and season start-up, finding balance is especially difficult. Because I have many long days, where clocking out can’t really happen until late evening, I try to find times throughout the day to back away. What works for me varies; from a enjoying a cup of coffee or a coke to getting out for a walk, run or bike ride. Everyday I try to find time to read.

I am also blessed to have a restful home and a great relationship with my husband. There is nothing quite like coming home to a peaceful and comfortable home each day. In addition, I have a few people in my life who will tell me to take a break, speak words into my mind and heart that support and renew me, or join me on travel adventures and exercise. In fact, i just returned from a 10 day adventure in Spain, where some friends an I spent days walking the Camino de Santiago.

As I think of it now, each day was really my picture of a healthy life; fresh and quality food, exercise that was at times difficult, time with friends, laughter (and tears), good conversation, time alone to think and pray, and at the end of the day, a clean, safe and comfortable place to relax and sleep.

Q10 – Eating lunch at your desk? A do or a don’t?

Do. I often eat lunch at my desk. What matters most to me at lunch, is that I have a pretty quiet environment. I can close my door if I want and even if I am still engaged in a work task, it’s the quiet that is most important. However, that does not rule out going out for lunch with a friend, colleague, or business contact a time or two a week..

Q11 – What makes you grateful?

What I am most grateful for in my life is how I have been blessed with love from husband, family and friends. At the end of the day, no matter where I work or what I do, having people I care for and who care for me to share life with is the best.

Q12 – What was your biggest blunder in a job interview? What did it teach you?

Many years ago, I was recruited to apply for a job at a local hospital. The corporation that recruited me had one thing in mind related to my skill set and the medical director had other things in mind. Knowing this tension existed, I went into the interview with the medical director pretty arrogant and believing that the corporation had my back. I really did not treat the director with the respect he deserved and left feeling like I had probably blown it. While I did get the job, I think that my attitude always inhibited my relationship with him during my time there. I certainly learned/relearned that the way we treat people, all people, matters.

Q13 – Describe your morning routine.

I am not a morning person so mornings are a challenge. It generally starts with one or two presses of the snooze button and a few minutes of prayers of gratitude for the day ahead. Then I get a cup of coffee, lovingly made by my husband makes before he heads to work. Shower, make-up, and clothing choice is accompanied by NPR news. I pack my breakfast and lunch and head out the door around 7:25am. The drive to work includes a morning call to my husband to say and hear “have a good day and I love you”.

Q14 – Proudest career moment to date.

In my time at Girls on the Run, I have been given the opportunity to be on the curriculum development team with staff from the national GOTR office. This includes the the renewal and revision of the elementary school curriculum and the development of a new model for the middle school program, called Heart and Sole. Knowing that ideas I have shared and that have been translated into GOTR lessons are being used with girls across our entire country and that lives are being impacted and empowered through them, is both humbling and brings me incredible joy.

Q15 – What’s the most important thing in your life right now?

Aside from continuing to enjoy and invest in the many great relationships I have, I am seeking new opportunities to invest my time, talent and energy. I am heading toward “semi-retirement” the end of the summer. I will be leaving Girls on the Run but I still have a lot of energy, ideas and passion to bring to the table and I really want to find meaningful use/s for my time. I hope to find some part-time opportunities with an organization and/or cause I can invest in. I would like to consider serving on a Board and volunteering as I am able. I care about girls/kids, abuse prevention, literacy, our wonderful parks and the arts.

Q16 – What time did you wake up today?

Today is Saturday, my sleep-in day. Even if I wake up earlier, if have no place I have to be, I stay in bed until 8:00 or 8:30am reading, dozing, relaxing.

Q17 – What’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

I like eye contact, a smile and a good hand shake.

Q18 – What are you reading right now?

I am always reading at least two things. I just started re-reading Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish and always, the Bible.

Q19 – In a typical day how many emails do you answer?

I would say 50-75 plus.

Q20 – What’s your favorite TV show?

I really love The Voice. Such talent!

Q21 – What’s your favorite spot for a meeting in West Michigan?

I like to say that I have a “remote office” at Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon. During the summer, if we don’t need a table or our computers, that is where you will find me and my Muskegon staff at least once a week.

Q22 – What’s your favorite app?

Personally, I like iRunner – I use it to track running, walking, biking and other exercise. Professionally, I like Tiny Scanner which helps me remotely transfer aspects of my work to pdf documents for later use.

Q23 – What experience in life made you the most nervous?

Years ago, my husband and I were traveling in Oregon. We were stuck in traffic from an accident in the hills outside Portland and I was driving. At that time I was not very confident with a stick shift and that’s what we had in our VW. I got so freaked out that I stopped the car and got out in the middle of all the traffic and told my husband to drive.

Q24 – What’s one question you always ask in an interview?

How do you notice stress showing up at work and how do you manage it?

Q25 – What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the people I have opportunity to serve and work alongside. I meet and interact with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of truly remarkable youth, women and men every year. I am very sure that I don’t say this enough, but I truly appreciate this and I am awed by the unique and special people I get to meet day in and day out.