I remember the day I met the former first lady of North Dakota.
I arrived early to the 2010 Women’s Health Summit in Fargo, breathing deeply to calm the nerves I always get before speaking in public. I imagined someone of her stature would arrive with an entourage, checking her schedule with her personal assistants as her new intern stood at her side, fanning her.
To my surprise, she didn’t have anyone serving her, but rather it was the other way around. She was walking around barefoot, enthusiastically organizing the last details of the event, carrying boxes and setting tables.
That woman was Mikey Hoeven, and she was there to serve.
“I firmly believe that God intended for all of us to give back to others. In doing so, we fulfill one of the greatest desires of the heart … to feel needed and appreciated,” Hoeven wisely said.
As a passionate advocate for women’s health, Hoeven, who is married to U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and lives with him in Washington, D.C., has hosted 19 Women’s Health Summits in both Bismarck and Fargo. She continues serving at these summits, sitting on the committee as a consultant.
Going beyond the labels of “first lady,” “senator’s wife” or “Republican,” I was able to get to know an inspiring, humble woman with an undying faith – a faith she learned from her mother, and a faith she in turn wants to pass on to her grandchildren.
As you read this column or watch our conversation on InforumTV, I hope you will feel inspired, like I did, by Hoeven’s wisdom.
She emulates humility, but not a humility that puts oneself down. Like C.S. Lewis observed, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Q If your life was a best-selling book, what would be the most challenging chapter you needed to overcome?
A In my younger years, (mid-20s) I remember feeling insecure about myself. Specifically, I didn’t think I was as smart as certain individuals that were in my life at the time, and intelligence was (and still is) something I have always valued and admired about others. In a nutshell, I didn’t have much confidence in myself.
Q What empowered you to overcome those challenging moments?
A I remember calling my mother decades ago and complaining to her that I just didn’t feel that smart.
I know it sounds ridiculous and juvenile, but I was really questioning my abilities and intelligence on that particular day. She stopped me mid-sentence and firmly told me that I was just as smart as or smarter than anyone else and that I could achieve anything I could put my mind to in life.
Coming from my mother, who had always been my mentor, these words had a very powerful impact on me. I have never forgotten that conversation, and on the days I need to be encouraged, I think about her words.
To this day, I encourage young mothers to say the same encouraging words to their children starting at young ages so they grow up truly believing they can achieve anything in life.
Q If you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what do you wish she’d know then that you know now?
A I would tell her that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to in life. I would also advise her to develop a strong faith foundation at an early age.
I had the good fortune of having a mother who firmly planted a solid faith in all of us kids at early ages. She walked the talk, and we all marveled at the comfort she derived from her deeply rooted faith.
I am currently working with both of my adult children now to make sure they have the relationship with the Lord that I feel he wants to have with them.
Q What advice can you give to empower a woman’s life story?
A I think it’s critically important for women to love themselves. This may sound simplistic or a little selfish, but to me, it is imperative.
If they truly love themselves, they can then open themselves up to loving others in their world wholeheartedly.
If they love themselves enough to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually, they can in turn offer themselves to others with a balanced, holistic approach.
Q How women can best impact the world today?
A With many working women trying to juggle so many balls, I think some of us can feel isolated and the need to connect with others.
I believe we are at our best when we choose to get involved in a project we feel passionate about. For some of us that may translate into running or baking or writing. For others, it could mean getting involved in your church or volunteering at a shelter.
Whatever it is that “feeds” your soul, I firmly believe that God intended for all of us to give back to others. In doing so, we fulfill one of the greatest desires of the heart – to feel needed and appreciated.
At just 23 years old, I have a full-time job, weekday entertainment show on InforumTV, a weekly column and so many opportunities that sometimes it blows my mind.
One of the most rewarding opportunities is working with the nonprofit, Diva Connection, an organization with the mission to connect women to empower each other and impact the world.
As the youngest volunteer, I sometimes feel the pressure to get everything done, do everything right and prove that I can run with the big guns.
I was so pumped last week to share the true meaning of the word “diva” in this column and to show people who we truly are and to move past their judgments.
But then life happened.
Over the weekend, Diva Connection’s mobile site was hacked.
While trying to figure out what had happened to the website I’d helped create, my thoughts also started to feel hacked.
My insecurities started flaring up. I started to question what people were going to think about me and what I’d written.
I wrote last week’s column because it’s a conversation many of us have had in the foundation. But I wanted to show people that I believe in its mission.
I believe in who we are and what we do.
So with everything that’s going on – all the new changes, opportunities and a couple of hackers – we discovered a doorway to expand our plan and our mission.
With our expanded mission comes a new website, new magazine, new opportunities and a new name. Diva Connection has become “Women’s Impact.”
We decided to take an unfortunate situation and turn it into a leap of faith to become more.
Did my insecurities flare up again because I just spent all last week convincing you we love our name? Uh, duh.
And you know what the worst part is? That one thing turned into a zillion other doubts.
I began second-guessing everything about myself. But we’re trying to do something better for our community. Why should I feel bad about that?
Take Mikey Hoeven’s responses to the questions in the Women’s Wisdom column, for example.
She’s beautiful, wise, talented and compassionate. And she even doubted herself.
That gives me hope that I can take my insecurities and turn them into something more.
Moral of the story: Don’t let those insecurities that are always in the back of your mind make up who you are.
You are so much more than what other people think or say. You are so much more than those insecurities.
Just like we are so much more than a hacker, a negative voice, a doubter.
We’re going to change the world, one insecurity at a time.
“I grew up on a farm, you know. I’m a farm girl!”
That’s what Andrea Hochhalter told me when I asked her in our interview for InforumTV.com where she acquired her determi-nation, perseverance and strong work ethic.
As Andrea grew emo-tional, sharing what she learned from her parents while living on a farm, I couldn’t help but remem-ber the lessons I learned from my own father – a proud born and bred farm boy.
Growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a population of 19 million, I always had this secret city girl fantasy of imagining how my life would be if I would have been born knowing how to drive a truck on a farm like Old McDonald’s with cows, chickens and ducks.
What always fascinated me is what’s behind the expression “I grew up on a farm.”
It’s much more than a reference to a location; it’s seems like a reference to a certain kind of wisdom – a “Farm Girl Wisdom.”
It’s a wisdom that gave Hochhalter the skills and drive she needed to em-brace the challenging task of bringing the powerful mission of the Jeremiah Program – a nationally recognized nonprofit that works to transform fami-lies from poverty to pros-perity two generations at a time – to our community.
As the director of com-munity outreach, this inspiring woman and mother of two beautiful girls is responsible for working with community leaders to break the cycle of poverty in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“I’m drawn to the Jere-miah Program because like me, this program places great value on education, attitude, hard work, life skills and accountability,” Hochhalter says.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2,312 single mothers – 42 percent in total – are living below poverty in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The num-ber was 26 percent in 2009, accounting for 16 percent increase, she says.
I don’t know if you were raised on a farm or in the city, but I hope as you read Andrea’s interview below or watch our conversation on InforumTV.com, you will feel inspired, just like me, to apply her “Farm Girl Wisdom” to empower your life and impact the world.
Q: If your life was a best-selling book, what would be the most challenging chapter you needed to overcome?
A: When my first daugh-ter was 12 weeks old, she contracted meningitis. She was hours from death when diagnosed. Holding your limp, lethargic baby during a spinal tap not knowing what’s wrong with her and then caring for her in the hospital for 10 days wondering if she’ll come through without complications was definite-ly a challenging moment.
Q: What empowered you to overcome those chal-lenges?
A: Two things I believe strongly in are nurturing your support system and the power of the mind. My support system and my attitude are what helped me through life’s challeng-es.
Knowing I have a support system, succeed or fail, gives me the confidence I need to tackle a challenge. Believe it and you will be it. An attitude of self-confidence, believing I can tackle a challenge brings me internal strength.
Q: If you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn then that you know now?
A: Two lessons:
1. Hard work not only builds character, it pre-pares you for life.
As a teenager I would have loved to not work on the farm or wash dishes, bus tables and waitress at the local café, but my par-ents had different plans for me early on. It’s funny though how today as an adult I’ll reference those days when speaking about experiences that shaped who I am.
My personal traits, for example, of determination, communication skills, and problem solving, which have served me very well, were developed through my early “hard work” life experiences that at the time never felt nearly as valuable as they do today.
2. When unsure follow your gut.
As a teenager you fre-quently find yourself navi-gating new territory. Teenagers have to make choices daily that they’ve never had to make before and often feel pressured to choose ways that will please others. Listening to your internal voice, your gut, can lead you to the best choice.
Q: What advice can you give to empower another woman’s life story?
A: Three bits of advice: First, you are center stage in your life and when you are center stage, you define your performance. You get to choose the play, acts, cast and even pick your audience. Knowing you are center stage in your life is empowering.
Second, don’t ever forget you are loveable, valuable and important. Treat oth-ers this way and be sure that you only allow those in your life that do the same.
Last, if you ever expect to receive gifts in life, you must first give gifts. In giving a gift you open your arms and hands. Without giving a gift your arms and hands are not open to receive a gift.
Q: How can women best impact the world today?
A: Women can best im-pact the world today by getting involved in the communities they live in. Community engagement makes you smarter; it increases your awareness and heightens your in-vestment in your commu-nity. It brings opportuni-ties for you to influence, develop skills, make con-nections, help others or serve a cause.
No matter if you choose to volunteer at a nonprofit, serve on a school commit-tee, join a mom’s group or provide a meal and ride to someone in need, get in-volved in your community; you will be richer for it.
As a child, I cut all of my hair off and wanted to be a boy. I despised the color pink. I didn’t even know what a hair straightener was until my senior year of high school, and I always thought I can do every-thing on my own.
That being said, the last thing I would have ever called myself was a “diva.”
When I heard the word, I automatically thought of women who take two hours to get ready and think they’re amazing. Or I thought of Beyoncé. She’s downright divalicious.
This was all before I be-came a part of the Diva Connection Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to empower other women and impact the world.
Our organization brings women together to help others, those in need who don’t necessarily desire a hand out but a hand up.
I’ve seen this foundation do great things for great women, so why bring up the word “diva” you ask? Well, because it’s not a word often associated with doing good.
People have told me they love our foundation and our mission but don’t love the name. They think I used to when they hear “diva.”
After a lot of discussion, let me tell you what I learned and what changed my mind:
The word “diva” was originally used to describe a woman of rare, outstand-ing talent. Its origin is from an ancient Italian word meaning “goddess” and derives from the Latin word divus, meaning “di-vine one.”
So why not use a word that has a literally “divine” meaning to describe the many great women out there and show that we aren’t going to change ourselves to fit society’s definition. We’re going to prove that we are so much more than a word.
The Diva Connection Foundation was made to empower women who may be going through a hard time and give them that spark of hope or courage they needed to take the next step and give them connections to other great women in our community
If being a diva means that I can encourage, uplift and help someone – to help them and myself become a better person so that we may do the same unto someone else – I’ll be a diva any day, and I hope you would too.
Move over Beyoncé, we’re changing the mean-ing of the word “diva,” and maybe in turn, helping change the world.
Wisdom is not just knowledge but the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life.
One of the challenges of our generation is to effectively tap into women’s wisdom in a way that can provoke empowerment and social change.
Michelle Bachelet, former executive director of UN Women, a United Nations group devoted to gender equality and the empowerment of women, said, “Women’s strength, women’s industry, women’s wisdom are humankind’s greatest untapped resource.”
Coming from Brazil, a country where the word “empowerment” doesn’t exist in the language, I became fascinated at a young age by the impact of the American Women’s Rights Movement. I saw that a relatively small group of women had the ability to change the course of history by standing up for the equality of all.
After college, my first job as a psychologist was to give a workshop about self-esteem for women from abusive relationships in the slums. After my first talk, where I shared the meaning of the word “empowerment,” one of the volunteers said:
“You are not in America, girl! Your job is to help these women to get along with their husbands so they can survive, not giving them the false hope that they can have the power to do it on their own.”
More than a decade later, I am glad that women’s empowerment in Brazil and in other countries is improving, but we still have a long road ahead of us. Now, more than ever, women’s wisdom is necessary to create a more just and peaceful world.
My intention in this new weekly column is to express my deepest gratitude for every woman who shared her wisdom and bravely paved the way so we could express our voice today.
In a selfish way, I hope my daughters will read these wise women’s stories and feel empowered to sit in the drivers’ seat of history and make a difference in the world.
I am honored to have Erin Prochnow, executive director of the YWCA of Cass-Clay since 2008, as the first inspiring woman to share her story.
I met Erin a few years ago when I started connecting with the powerful mission of the YWCA. Her unwavering passion for human rights is simply contagious.
But, please, think twice before reading my conversation with Erin because after you’ve been touched by her wisdom, you will feel empowered to refuse any excuses. There will be no more “Next Monday…” or “After my kids go to college…” There is just now.
Like Prochnow wisely said, “Advocacy can be contagious. It needs to start with you.”
Q: In the story of your life, what was the most challenging chapter you needed to overcome?
A: The most challenging decision I’ve ever made was whether or not to become a mother. For years, I told myself and my family that I just didn’t see children in my future.
However, as my life progressed, my personal life intersected with my professional life. I became involved with advocacy on behalf of women and children, and I began to understand that these areas of crisis I see will not be solved in my lifetime; there would be more work than my generation can complete.
Q: What empowered you to overcome those challenging moments?
A: When we did decide to become parents, it was because we wanted to share our lives and were in a position to do so in the midst of our hectic professional careers. We could financially afford to provide for a child and offer a loving and stable home. It was the best decision of our lives and we can’t imagine our world without Sydney.
Q: In your autobiography to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn from what you’ve accomplished?
A: I would encourage her to pay attention to what is happening in the world around her. Tell her to watch the news, read the paper and talk about issues with people in the community. I would challenge her to think about ways she could help by taking action and sharing her time and talents.
Q: What connection changed that changed your life story are you grateful for now and why?
A: The story of one particular woman we served at the YWCA was especially powerful.
She went out for a walk one day and just kept walking. She was eventually picked up on the side of the road and brought to the YWCA. In my conversation with her, she talked about her situation and revealed how she was too scared to trust people. It was difficult to open up and ask for help because she was never previously allowed to do so and she was ashamed.
It serves as a reminder to me about why I’m in the profession I am. Not only does the YWCA serve a very specific and necessary purpose, but it is part of my life’s work to ensure there is a welcoming place for women and their children to find safe refuge and support.
Q: How can women best impact the world today?
Get involved in something you are passionate about.
It’s easy to say, “Oh, I should volunteer there.” Or “I would love to help with that.” But the reality of our busy lives is that our thoughts and ambitions often fall flat at the idea stage. Taking the idea and passion to the next level by getting involved requires picking up the phone, sending an email or inquiring, “How can I help?”
There are so many worthy organizations and issues to join and become a part of in our community. I encourage women to think about what they are passionate about – or even something they just want to learn more about – and then take action and get involved.
By: LaurelLee Loftsgard
Domestic abuse is all around you.
It could be your friend, cousin, sister, co-worker or a person you pass on the street.
How do you know? Unfortunately, a lot of times you won’t know, but there’s always something you can do.
The first is to understand what domestic abuse is and its signs.
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control of another intimate partner, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
While the most commonly known type of abuse is physical, there’s more to it than that. There’s also sexual, emotional and psychological abuse.
Keeping or taking your paycheck; stopping you from seeing your friends and family; putting you down; threatening suicide to get you to do something; forcing you to perform sexual acts you don’t want or like — all these are forms of domestic abuse, according to domesticviolence.org.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, almost 25 percent of women experience at least one physical assault during adulthood by a partner.
According to helpguide.org, there are some ways to recognize the warning signs of domestic violence and abuse.
• They seem afraid or anxious to please their partner.
• They go along with everything their partner says and does.
• They check in often with their partner to report where they are and what they’re doing.
• They receive frequent harassing phone calls from their partner.
• They talk about their partner’s temper, jealousy or possessiveness.
Some other signs of physical abuse, isolation or psychological warnings are:
• They have frequent injuries with the excuse of “accidents.”
• They frequently miss work, school or social occasions without explanation.
• They dress unusually to hide bruises or scars such, as long sleeves in the summer or sunglasses indoors.
• They’ve been restricted from seeing their family and friends.
• They rarely go out in public without their partner.
• They have limited access to money.
• They have very low self-esteem, even if they used to be confident.
• They show major personality changes.
If you suspect someone is being abused, speak up. They probably are scared and confused, so don’t wait for them to come to you.
Talk to them in private and tell them your concerns. Explain what you’ve noticed and why it has made you worried. Just listen, offer help and try and support their decisions.
If you are a victim, the main thing to remember is that you are not alone.
It is not your fault.
There is always someone there to help, places you can go and people you can call. All you need is the strength to say “no.”