Working Hard to be Joyful!

Dedication: My girl on the run, Jamie.

A few years ago, my husband and I were at an event where the speaker challenged us to develop a family motto. He suggested we sit down with our kids and create a simple phrase that embodied our values and spoke to our “family brand.” We took this to heart and sat with our girls (then ages 4 and 6), and had a lively discussion about what was important to us, what we believed in, and who we were as a family. After much debate, we settled on our motto: “Johnsons Work Hard.” And over the past several years, we have all taken that motto to heart. We remind each other of this core value when someone is struggling, or tired, or feeling lost. It has been a fantastic tool in our lives. But over the past year, I have been reminded that simply working hard isn’t the end all be all. While this is an important aspect of our family identity, like most things, it must always be taken with a grain of salt and a whole bunch of perspective.

When our family relocated to the South Bend area almost two years ago, I was excited to start a dream job, I thought our family was complete, and I rushed through boxes and the babyhood of our third child with effervescence and confidence. In fact, I was moving so fast, that before I knew it, I was forgetting to look around and enjoy all my blessings. I found myself in a job that looked amazing on paper, but didn’t make my heart sing. I was short tempered with my three young children, who were growing up SO fast. I was too busy to take care of my body through good exercise and nutrition, and forget about social/emotional/spiritual care…..there was no way I had time for that! Before I knew it, I was swirling in a self-made tornado of expectations….all on the premise that this is what it had to be because after all, “Johnsons Work Hard.” And then came Nell.

That Christmas, I found out that we were going to be expecting our “bonus” baby #4. To say we were shocked would be an understatement. This wasn’t our plan! How could we manage another baby? Regardless, we prepared to welcome baby Nell. Leading up to her birthday, I went through a process of intense soul searching. I realized that although our family motto might be the right way to do things, I didn’t have the right end game in mind. What was I working so hard for? It took a while, but eventually I came to the realization that I needed to put JOY at the center of my life.

So….I quit my job. I dedicated myself back to my family. I got ready to welcome our “bonus” baby. Don’t get me wrong, it was scary. It was hard. It was an enormous leap of faith, but what happened next, even I couldn’t have predicted! In August, we welcomed sweet baby Nell. And from the first moment I saw her, I knew that only now was our family complete. I had more patience for my three older kids, even my precocious two-year-old. I went to soccer practices, cooked dinners, and my husband and I even started training for our first half marathon (and trust me, we aren’t runners by a long shot!). I was still a little skeptical at times, but the JOY had definitely started to seep back into all corners of my life.

Then, out of the blue, a friend referred me to a job with a local nonprofit. A few conversations and interviews later, and I was the new development director for Girls on the Run Michiana. I cannot begin to express what even my short time at this organization has meant to me. To be able to work towards a goal of empowering girls in my local community means more to me than words could ever adequately describe. My talented co-workers and our remarkable volunteers inspire me daily and I cannot wait to see my relationships with these people continue to grow and blossom. This work and these relationships have been a critical piece of my JOY seeking journey and I am so blessed to be part of this organization!

As a new employee, we all agreed that it would be great for me to see the GOTR program firsthand. I was a little apprehensive when I started coaching this group of 3-5th grade girls, but the weeks have flown by! Every Monday and Wednesday, I find myself entrenched in these incredible life lessons with these creative, fun, kind, hopeful girls. They have touched me. Volunteering means to give of your time, but in my case, these girls have given me much more than I could ever give them. As we all learn and grow as a GOTR team, they both give and receive JOY so freely. You can’t help but breathe it in!

As luck would have it, my 3rd grade daughter’s school was starting a GOTR program this year. It has been wonderful to talk with her about the lesson we experience each week. I see the lessons of being a GOTR girl impacting my daughter already….and it doesn’t hurt that I feel like it has given us a common language to discuss issues we face in our day to day life and issues I know we may face down the road. We are both looking forward to running in the 5K Celebration and I know that this experience will not only change both of us for the better, but also provide memories that we will forever cherish. To be able to share in this growth and JOY with my oldest has been such a gift.

So while our family motto is still “Johnsons Work Hard,” we are now a little bit more careful to clarify what exactly we are working towards. For me, it’s JOY. Trying to soak in these fleeting moments with our young family. Taking care of myself physically and emotionally. Giving back to others first, only to then receive later. While putting JOY at the center of things has taken a lot of faith and intentionality on my end, Girls on the Run has come into my life and been a force for JOY that I could never have expected. I am honored to be a GOTR employee. I am proud to be a GOTR coach. And I am blessed to be a GOTR parent. In the spirit of the start of spring and new beginnings, I wish for JOY to become the center of your life. See the good, be the good, chase the good. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Girls on the Run International and Say It Forward are committed to the empowerment of girls everywhere. We believe that every girl has an important story to share – a story of determination and perseverance, a story that can inspire others to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that keep them from reaching their fullest potential. We are also committed to empowering the women who invest their time and energy in these girls.

We invite you to share your story at Say It Forward and to keep in touch with us via Twitter and FacebookGirls on the Run International Facebook and Twitter. All stories written by girls are shared with the permission of a parent or guardian. Girls’ first names only are posted with their stories.

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Liz Johnson