What: LeadHERship luncheon
When: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday, April 21
Where: University Center Tennessee Room
Register: Sign up by Monday, April 18
Sharon Couch asked the group of 72 women to think about their most important relationship.
“Who answered ‘Themselves’?” she then asked.
Most admitted they had not, but the exercise made Couch’s point.
“Having a relationship with yourself helps being in relationship with others,” she said. “Engagement takes energy, and where are you going to get the energy if you don’t take care of yourself?” she told the women, all employees of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Being nice to yourself means setting goals, asking for help and “avoiding cutting yourself into pieces to make other people feel comfortable,” she said.
On the Zoom call, Couch, a former Olympian long jumper and now a motivational speaker, kicked off the UTC LeadHERship program, a professional development series.
“There is no straight road to get where you’re going,” Couch said. “It’s easy sometimes to look back and see how you got somewhere, but it’s tougher to believe and know that because you got here, you can get there.”
The idea for LeadHERship spun out of feedback from members of the UTC Commission on the Status of Women, said Abeer Mustafa, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and an active member of the commission.
“We heard people saying they wanted more leadership opportunities, and so we wanted to develop something that gave women across the board an opportunity to get that training and development,” Mustafa said.
With the objective of starting in the fall, plans are underway for a certificate program for women participating in LeadHERship, she said.
In the series’ kickoff, Couch, a member of Employee and Organizational Development for the UT System, spoke frankly about personal and professional setbacks and challenges that, though disappointing in the moment, factored into her future successes.
She grew up poor, has been divorced and suffered a short-term speech impairment after a car accident, so hardships were nothing new, she said.
She also lost her job through a tangle of office politics, “but I’m glad I lost my job,” she said with a smile.
The setback led to her decision to earn a Ph.D. in sport and performance psychology, a goal in which she now can see the finish line.
“I don’t like to call these things ‘obstacles’ because that implies you can’t get past it. I like to think of them as opportunities,” she said.
“My story is only told to help your story. Our stories should push each other along for the goals we have for ourselves, our families and our futures.”