10th Anniversary Dreams Campaign 10 Question Series - Lauren Manning
One of the ways we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary Dreams Campaign is through a 10 Question Series. The Dreams Campaign was created on the belief that girls who dream, become women with vision and through this campaign we hope to connect the SEGA girls with people and organizations around the world through their shared dreams. Our goal is to show each girl at SEGA the endless possibilities that come from investing in girls' education.
We are excited for you to read our 10 Question Series with Lauren Manning, the Senior Manager for Communications and Community Engagement at Girl Rising.
What did you aspire for at an early age?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact dream that I had, which is funny because I’m working on a project right now focused on dreams and aspirations and I keep thinking about it. Growing up I was always told I could be and achieve anything that I wanted to be, so I think it took me a long time to realize that a job and a career must be specific. I always felt that if there was something that I loved to do, that’s what I would do as I got older. Then I went through the journey of understanding talents and opportunities and better knowing what actual tangible professional opportunities were there for me, but I think as a little kid my ideas of professions were just tied to my likes and dislikes.
What inspired those dreams?
So much of it came from the members of my family and the people around me, who recognized that there doesn’t have to be any limit to dream, imagination, and opportunity. I have 4 siblings, and raising a big, loud family with many personalities led my parents to be super intentional about how they could actively make choices so that each of us felt like we were being nurtured and encouraged. That combined with their investment in our education definitely went a long way.
What is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make to pursue your dream?
A difficult decision that in part I now regret was letting some of the practicalities of the world dictate what I wanted to do, career-wise. There were times where I made decisions based on finances, where I felt that I needed to take that specific job to move forward in my career because I wasn’t going to get compensated otherwise. I think working in the education and non-profit space, it was easy for me to choose organizations and positions that had values to the work they were doing and were making the world a better place, but there were definitely times where I didn’t have to jump at the first job offer I got or follow one particular pattern because it felt like I had to. I wish that I had taken a step back and thought a little more critically and waited a little longer to craft the right opportunities.
What’s one thing you would tell your younger self?
Similar to that, I would say don’t be afraid of different possibilities and alternative paths. There are a lot of people (I think part of it is generational) who see a very clear path of going through school, then getting a job and staying with it for a couple of years, and then moving along that trajectory. But with the nature of the world today, we have this ability to interact with other cultures, to expand our global mindset and cultural appreciation, and in order to take as much advantage of that as possible, your path isn’t exactly a straight line, it’s more of a squiggly trajectory. I wish that I had known that. I would also tell my younger self to be more curious about the paths of the people around me. I wish that I had talked to older family members and acquaintances in different career spaces more, about why they made their choices, and just learned about their experiences. That’s a meaningful thing to be able to do. I think we are less curious about people who are older than us and who form the future that we have than we should be.
Who is someone you look up to / admire?
I think a natural answer is your parents or someone who is older than you, but I’ve been trying to be intentional recently about admiring members of my immediate peer group. Especially with the world that we live in today, where we have the opportunities to confront gender inequality and promote equality in ways that previous generations might not have been able to. We have the dialogue and the words to describe how we are feeling, and I really admire the people around me who are doing that in their own small ways without any prompting. I’m working on a project focused on sisterhood, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot, how it doesn’t always have to be someone who is above you (in terms of age or career); you can really look up to the people that are seemingly on your level. I feel proud to have surrounded myself with strong women who are on similar trajectories, and I use that as a constant motivator for how I live my life and how I pursue different opportunities and ideas.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
One thing that really stuck with me recently was the idea of mentoring and lifting other people up. I was at a panel event, where the corporation that sponsored the organization I work for was leading the whole event talking about gender equality, and some of it felt sort of icky. It wasn’t their fault, but it felt like a pat on the back, a reassurance of all the awesome things that we were doing. But then, everyone on the panel had the opportunity to share some pieces of advice or share some thoughts from their journey working in this space, and one person said that her advice was that we all have to be mentors. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, but if you meet someone and they ask you for some kind of love and support, you have a responsibility to lift them up and bring them along with you. I’ve always been primed by the idea of pulling other people forward, so that advice felt like a vice, until I realized that there were other people in that room who this was new for, the idea that we can’t be proprietary in our opportunities or be competitive and prevent others from achieving. I thought that was great advice because it wasn’t mind blowing, but rather a really necessary reminder of something all of us in the room probably believed, but hadn’t been actively supporting.
Who was your best teacher/helper on your journey?
Someone can teach and help you on your journey without being someone you know. I studied journalism in college, and I had this really interesting experience when I was on a reporting trip in Malawi and I met people who were living in a refugee camp and they shared stories of their experiences in a way that completely turned my group of students from the US on our heads. We realized we approached the situation in completely the wrong way. Their stories taught us the concepts of voice and agency and community empowerment, and how critical that is in every story you tell, and in every program you design, or in every action that you take when you are working with people all over the world. That experience helped me make my personal pivot from journalism to international development in realizing what role I thought I should play in that space. It must have felt challenging for these community members to have a group of American students come and ask all these questions, but the fact that they were willing to do that and share those stories was really transformative.
How did your environment/friends shape/support your dreams?
A big part was finding the right people, the people who are definitely in my corner, and who are there to nurture and support me even if they don’t totally understand the dream that I am trying to follow. I think that listening really goes a long way. I think it’s also useful when we surround ourselves with people who are following slightly different paths, because they will remember how independent each of our journeys are but also how we can support each other along the way, and I think that is an absolutely critical concept. There’s always someone out there who is looking for support just like you are, and while it might take a little looking, you can definitely find them.
Was there ever a time you felt uncertain about your dream?
Yes, 100%. Everyday I change my mind about what path I’m on. I try to ground myself in what my motivations are. My uncertainties have often come from “Is what I’m doing every day actually creating any sort of impact for other people and/or myself?” and if I look at it and think, “This is clashing with my goals” or “I’m not confident that this is actually meaningful,” then that leads me to press the reset button. I was in a previous role at one job where I felt like my ideas were really clashing with the leadership team, and I just had to get out of there and find myself in a place that nurtured and understood me more as an individual. Sometimes you just need to shake up your perspective a bit, by talking to someone you don’t normally talk to, or going to a place that you don’t normally go to, just to experience it. If you are feeling stuck at a point when you are trying to reach that next step to follow your dreams, sometimes it's just placing yourself in a different perspective and taking a break from thinking it all through that helps get through it all.
What is a piece of advice you have for the SEGA girls?
It’s a common thing to say “You can’t be what you can’t see,” but I think that for the girls, it’s really important to ask for help from the people around you. Even if it may seem like a certain dream is so inaccessible, just start to ask. It’s important to feel that you aren't alone, in following your path and chasing your dream, but it is also important to know when to ask for help. And, when someone comes to ask you for help, you should also answer that call, and recognize the power that you have in your own abilities to also help others go forward and achieve their own dreams.
Lauren Manning is the Senior Manager for Communications and Community Engagement at Girl Rising, an organization focused on providing education for every girl through raising awareness with compelling storytelling (such as the film that started it all), and through partnering with organizations such as Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn. Lauren focuses on building online and offline communities to inspire change for girls.