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I’m thrilled to be one of the newest volunteers for the United Way’s Financial Education Program!  As a workshop leader, I will be teaching financial management strategies to low and middle income individuals in New York’s Westchester and Putnam Counties.  There are several workshops topics in the curriculum, including budgeting and financial planning, credit and credit cards, and getting out of debt.  During my orientation last week, I delivered a practice workshop to other United Way volunteers.  It was an exhilarating experience, and I am looking forward to teaching my first workshop out in the local community!

I decided to get involved with the Financial Education Program for a number of reasons.  I love presenting in front of a room full of people.  It can be nerve-wracking at first, but I always end up energized and having fun.  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to teach people something new, whether it’s a fun topic meant to entertain them for a little while, or a serious topic intended to persuade them to change their beliefs or behavior.

Financial education is close to my heart as well.  I used to be surprised when I had conversations with people about finances, and someone would ask me questions like “I just pay the minimum balance on my credit card.  Can I pay more than that?  Does it make any difference how much I pay each month?” Then I thought back through my own childhood and realized that none of my schools ever taught me about managing finances.  Growing up, everything I learned about finances was from my family, reading articles on the Internet, and speaking with salespeople who just wanted me to buy their mutual funds or other financial service.  It occurred to me that I am not alone:  many other people have never received a complete and non-biased financial education. The United Way’s Financial Education Program helps fill this important need in the community.  I’m excited to help bridge the gaps in people’s financial knowledge, clarify misunderstandings and myths, and give people tools to help them become financially secure.

Photo of piggy bank

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Basketball hoop

A few weeks ago, I coached some high school students through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship program. As part of this program, each student comes up with an idea for creating their own business. They work throughout the semester to create a business plan for their idea, and present it to their peers and local corporate executives.

I remember coaching one girl named Kaya:

“Hello Kaya!  So, what ideas are you thinking about for your business proposal?”
“I don’t have any ideas,” she replied quietly. Her eyes wandered, then looked down at the desk in front of her.
“Maybe we can come up with some ideas together,” I offered. “What kinds of things do you like to do?”
She thought for a while. “Well, I like basketball,” she said.
“Ok, that’s good … What is it that you like about basketball?”
Kaya lifted her eyes. “I like playing it … I play on the varsity team in school. I’m pretty good at it and I would like to play in college, then go on to play in the WNBA. I also really like coaching my younger brothers, showing them how to move the ball down the court and shoot baskets …”

Kaya went on to describe how she would like to set up an organization that teaches younger kids how to play basketball, how she already owned sports equipment she could use for this organization, and how her uncle was a basketball coach at a nearby university who could help her execute her idea. I asked her a few more questions to help her flesh out some more details. By the time the bell rang at the end of class, Kaya’s eyes were lit up with excitement, and she was well on her way to creating her business plan.

I was fascinated by this turn of events. At the start of our conversation, Kaya said that she didn’t have any ideas. Ten minutes later, however, she shared a well thought-out business plan that involved the sport she loved. How was this possible?

Like Kaya, many of us struggle with what we want to do with our careers and our lives. We get stuck doing things that we have to do (or believe we have to do), but that don’t bring us fulfillment. We may take our strengths for granted — if they come so easily to us, we think, how valuable could they possibly be? We can lose track of our passions that bring us enjoyment and happiness. After a while, we may start thinking that we “don’t have any ideas,” and fail to remember or recognize what we want to do with our lives.

The good news, however, is that we actually do have ideas. They may be pushed to the back of our minds, packed behind walls of perceived impracticality and fear of the unknown — but they are still there. I think back to when I was about Kaya’s age, when I got excited about my musical performances, loved teaching people how to use the computers at the library, and wanted to be a guidance counselor when I grew up. I’ve done many other things since high school, but those core passions still live within me (with one small change: my interest in guidance counseling has morphed into a fascination with career counseling and coaching.) Over the next few months, I’m going to be making some changes that will help me move my passions to the forefront. I look forward to sharing my adventures through my blog.

We may say we don’t have ideas for how to fulfill our passions and use our strengths. But I believe that our ideas are there, waiting for us to rediscover and nurture them. Sometimes we just need a little coaching and encouragement to bring our ideas out into the open.

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