Sharon Reed does many things. Sharon serves as Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of the Global Girls ProjectTM, a not-for-profit storytelling platform that elevates the importance of character and core values in the global gender conversation. Add into the mix – parent, artist, advocate, author, and much more.
Sharon just published Walking the Heart Path: Bite-Sized Bits of Wisdom on Living & Leading from the Inside Out. A beautiful book with colorful art and short bursts of inspiration. What the inspirational thoughts represent is Sharon’s journey to living and leading with heart-based values.
With this background, I caught up with Sharon for an interview. My approach uses selected quotes from her book to center each question.
Interview with Sharon Reed, author of Walking the Heart Path
“Advocacy is born at the intersection of deep conviction, purpose, and passion.”
Jon: Your work is about advocacy. Two questions: 1) Where do you focus your advocacy today? 2) What role does advocacy play in leadership?
Sharon: I am a strong advocate for living a values-aligned life – one in which our outer lives and choices reflect our inner values and convictions, though how that shows up for people differs depending upon their personal value system, priorities, and season of life.
In recent years, for example, much of my message and work has focused on empowering women and girls across the globe by encouraging them to find their own authentic voice and develop the skills and resources to realize their own leadership potential, whether in their careers or in their role(s) within their family and/or community. It’s an important distinction – my work focused on the internal journey and process of becoming rather than exclusively on achieving, where far too often markers of ‘success’ are defined solely by external measures (wealth, power, title, etc.), rather than character and the core values by which we lead ourselves and others.
Advocacy is important in leadership because part of realizing a collective vision and/or influencing change requires a willingness to stand up for and align actions with our stated values and goals, whether at an individual, community, and/or corporate level. No matter how clear your vision or strategic the roadmap, if you lack the courage of your convictions; if you are unwilling to advocate for your ideals and principles, whether for yourself or others, you will not get very far.
“On every journey towards a dream, the path is paved with potholes, road bumps & detours.”
Jon: What detour taught you the most and why?
Sharon: In 2012 I found myself unexpectedly laid-off at the peak of my rebound career, having returned to the workforce full-time only a few years prior. The news came only four months into what I thought at the time was my ‘dream job’ – the same month I learned my father had stage IV terminal lung cancer. The uncertainty around my father’s health combined with my role as a single mother forced me to take a hard look at my priorities, while at the same time, doors closed to me under challenging circumstances provoked and gave rise to my own voice and inner convictions. Eventually, I found a way forward, though not before spending a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself.
Perhaps the most important lesson I had to learn is that if I wanted to get unstuck, I had to shift my mindset from feeling victimized by circumstances outside of my control, to taking ownership of my attitude, choices, and outcomes. I also learned that fear and pride are the biggest enemies to my own progress and that when reframed, the inevitable challenges we experience in life can serve as important catalysts for personal growth if we’re willing to open ourselves to the learning.
“Hope lies at the intersection of love, faith & courage.”
Jon: How do you describe hope to someone? What role has hope played in your life?
Sharon: More than a passive feeling or a positive affirmation, to my mind, hope is faith in action… an active way of seeing and engaging in the world. When we are filled with hope, we can envision what’s possible, even when present circumstances might look dim. Our heart’s hero, hope emboldens and empowers, providing strength to endure and/or the capacity to overcome, while enabling a sense of possibility, purpose, and potential for our lives.
Hope, like faith, has played an important role in my journey. Together, they have sustained me during difficult times, allowing me to paint a new picture of possibility for my own life during times when I struggled to envision a different outcome, whether for myself and/or others. While my faith is tied to the external – specifically to my belief in God and His plan for my life, my sense of hope is tied to the internal belief that I am worthy… that life itself is worthy and ultimately good. In this way, they are integrally linked, and together, they drive my deep sense of calling and purpose.
“The more we connect with people different than ourselves, the better we can see our common humanity.”
Jon: What practices and ways can people connect outside of their own comfortable circles?
Sharon: Often there is this tendency to want to jump ahead… to find those places of common ground when we first connect with people outside of our comfortable circles or to avoid connection altogether. Sometimes we may even be tempted to lash out, responding reactively instead of acting with thoughtful intention. As human beings, we’re quick to want to quiet the dis-ease we feel when we encounter people different from ourselves, whether physically, culturally, politically, socio-economically or spiritually.
Yet all of us want to feel seen (and ultimately accepted) for who we truly are, not just the ways in which we appear to be like others. And it is this willingness to hold space for others to be truly ‘seen’ that creates a basis of trust and respect, essential for building authentic connection with others.
One of the best practices and ways people can connect outside of their own comfort zone is to approach difference from a place of curiosity… to invite dialogue from an inquisitive rather than judgmental point of view, recognizing that so much of our experience of someone or something is influenced by the lens through which we view the world.
When I encounter someone whose views and/or values differ significantly from my own, for example, I try to view it as an invitation to learn – not only about the person I’m connecting with and the stories that may have shaped or influenced his or her journey but about myself, too, and what my experience of them might be triggering internally. This applies as equally to communities and organizations as it does to individuals.
Holding space for another’s truth does not mean acquiescing, condoning, or abandoning our own values and beliefs. We can respectfully disagree. But the process itself is essential if we hope to build communities of trust and bridges of peace across those divides that threaten to undo us.
Jon: Final questions. What inspired you to write Walking the Path and what is next for you in your path? For the next generation of leaders, what is the best advice do you offer for a 20-something?
Sharon: Walking the Heart Path is part of a larger collection of insights written over the span of seven years, derived from a personal and professional journey that lead me away from a life once defined largely by external measures of ‘success,’ to one that is now heart-aligned and purpose-driven. While the stories behind the insights are personal to my journey, the insights themselves are universal in nature and speak to the human experience.
A lifelong lover of quotes, inspirational writing, and artwork, Walking the Heart Path is the first in a series of inspirational books designed to not only inspire but to challenge others to go deeper within themselves on a journey of self-exploration. My hope is that as people grow in self-knowledge, they will become stronger, more authentic leaders in the process.
As the parent of a teen and young adult, my advice for the next generation of leaders is the same advice I offer my own – take time to explore, experiment, and discover who you are and what you stand for. Take risks and be willing to fail, for this is often how we grow and learn best. Stay open to life and embrace learning, for the journey never ends. Remember that there is no success without sacrifice and hard work, and no acclaim worth attaining if we lose ourselves in the process. In the end, the security we seek is not found in things, but in the currency of trust, self-respect, faith, love, respect, kindness, and acceptance, from which we can then make our way in the world.
Thank you, Sharon, for your time in sharing your story and insights, and best wishes with your book, Walking the Heart Path: Bite-Sized Bits of Wisdom on Living & Leading from the Inside Out.
Note: $1 from every book sold will be donated to the Foundation for Girls, a Charlotte, NC-based 501(c)3 providing mentoring, financial literacy, STEM, and other skills-based training to at-risk girls in the Charlotte region.
Sharon Reed – Background Information
Sharon Reed is a blogger, author, artist, advocate, speaker, entrepreneur, and innovative change-agent for good, with a passion for helping others find their authentic voice and realize their leadership potential.
Sharon serves as Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of the Global Girls ProjectTM, a not-for-profit storytelling platform that elevates the importance of character and core values in the global gender conversation. A former communications consultant and Global Community Champion for the United Nations (UN) Empower Women team, she served as co-architect of the award-winning social media campaign, #iamwoman, and later served as project lead and co-editor of the book, Voices of Change, released at UN Headquarters during the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Shriver Report, Women in Foreign Policy, and UN Women, among others. She has also won numerous awards for her service, advocacy and leadership work, including the ATHENA International® Women’s Leadership Award and Distinguished Rotarian Award, and was recently named one of Mecklenburg County’s 50 Most Influential Women in 2016.
In addition to her work with the Global Girls Project, she currently serves as program facilitator for the CREW Charlotte-KPMG LLP ATHENA Women’s Leadership Program and enjoys writing and creating inspirational art and giftware under the brand, Heart by Design™. She lives in Davidson, NC, with her two children, Michael and Allison.