Grants

Delve into Your Dreams

I spoke at the Los Alamos Rotary Club this week. It was the second time I had presented to their club, the last time being almost three years ago. I was invited back because November is Foundation month, and since I was a Rotary Scholar, they wanted to hear how the Rotary Scholarship impacted my life. Recounting the many ways in which those first interviews for my scholarship formed who I have become was easy, since they were practically the beginning of the rest of my life. 

I also took the opportunity to present the work I've been doing with my book. Before the meeting started, I introduced myself around and took the opportunity to talk with some people. One woman asked, "What will you be talking about today?" I told her my book and topic was about finding funding to do what you love. The woman, about 70ish, said, "Oh! I am way too old for that, but I just learned about this amazing effort being done to help protect giraffes. Everyone thinks giraffes are safe and in no danger, but it turns out they are! So they've developed this technique to transport the giraffes because they are so tall and unwieldy."

What a wealth of enthusiasm! I made sure to tell her right then and there that she certainly wasn't old enough to pursue her passions and it sounded like she even had her project pinpointed. I also made a point of bringing her up multiple times in the presentation. When you take the time to think about what you would do if anything in the world were possible, you'd be surprised at how some "impossible dreams" are already mapped out for you. Do yourself a favor and delve into your dreams sometime, you might find some treasures!

A Strong Handshake

I read a blog yesterday about improving your body language. Since writing my book, I have been working on all my communication skills and it is essential to be aware of your body language. If your message is strong but your body language is weak, the message is lost. The blog said, 

When first introduced to a leader, we immediately and unconsciously assess him or her for warmth and authority…. So the best leadership strategy is to embody both sets of traits—and to do so early and often.

What body language conveys authority? Good posture, taking up space, a firm handshake and a purposeful stride.

The part about the handshake resonated with me. I don't know how it came to me, but when was preparing to do my first panel interview for the Rotary Scholarship, I resolved to stride confidently into the room and greet each person with a firm handshake and a smile. Perhaps because handshakes have always been scary to me (I have sweaty hands), this action took a lot of buildup. It made an excellent impression, however. In every interview since, I have made sure to give a good handshake. 

First impressions matter a lot. Everything from your grammar to your handshake give cues to your audience about your character. If handshakes are scary for you too, try practicing them with a friend. One great way I get to practice is by participating in Toastmasters. Every time you get up to speak, the Toastmaster leading the meeting shakes your hand to welcome you and shakes your hand to finish. It's a way to recognize each other and add formality to the role you are taking on. It's a reminder that you are a professional (in whatever field you practice), and that you should be treated as such. 

Handshakes have become less common in some crowds, but I think it's an important way to bridge generations and reminds you that you should be taken seriously. Give it a try sometime!

Don't Wear Yourself Out

I know, I know, I've been pushing you to add in more research and time to write, so why am I saying "Don't wear yourself out?" Seems contradictory, doesn't it? I limit my number of applications each year to only one or two major programs, and perhaps a few small applications (e.g. for conference scholarships) sprinkled in. Much more than that and I feel like I'm depleting my resources. 

We know a few dance and yoga teachers who go full speed ahead, teaching five, six, seven, eight classes a week. But inevitably, they all hit a wall. And they don't come down softly. It's like juggling too many balls until they all crash at the same time. You don't have time for crash, let alone have a backup plan for the downfall. It just happens where things all unravel at the same time. 

Spare yourself, it's not a pretty picture. Applying for a fellowship, scholarship, or grant takes a large toll on you mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's better to save up your creative juices and focus on the few big things that you want instead of tossing your valuable energy to the four directions. Once you have those refined applications, you can always come back to them and alter them for another project later. 

Save up your motivation and your passion for what you truly want to be doing. It will shine through the writing and the project, which will make you a better applicant. Plus, working on the application will be more fun that way!

There is No Such Thing as a "GOOD" First Draft

When I was writing my book, I joined a writing class that gave us time to dedicate to our work. The first part of the day was for talking about our processes and then the rest of the day was dedicated to just . . . writing. Some people um'd and ah'd about what to write, but I quickly learned that I just needed to get going. The best lesson from this class was: there are no good first drafts. 

If you are finally at the stage of putting some ideas down on paper, don't be intimidated. The first words you ever write will probably be long gone by the time you actually submit your application, but you have to start somewhere. Oftentimes, writing things down can help you think abut exactly what you want (and need) to say. It's a tool to clarify your thought processes. 

In my office, I work with some extremely talented people. For weeks, even months, two of my colleagues have been brain-storming a management plan. They round and round, talking about the components and the structure and the desired outcome. This week, I had the pleasure of being asked my opinion on their process. "Just start writing it," I told them, "you have been thinking this thing to death and it's time to put it on paper." The next day, they started writing. At lunch, I asked how it was going. "It's almost too easy, I feel like we're leaving something out," they told me. I posed an alternative, "Or maybe all your planning and talking about it made it so that the work is actually done and all was left was to write it out."

If you're waiting until you have everything figured out to start writing, you'll be waiting forever. Sit your butt down and get a draft done. It'll be a start, but from there, you'll overcome the hurdle "starting" your application and coming back to revise your thoughts will be much easier. I promise. Give it a try. 

Rainy Day in Santa Fe

It's rainy here today. Appropriate for the first day of fall. Since we don't get tons of precipitation in New Mexico, a cozy rain is always appreciated. One of my favorite things to do on a rainy day is curl up and dream. Dreaming is a big adventure for me. It's my favorite phase of preparing applications because anything is possible. In this cherished state, I can let my thoughts wander to the near future or the far, to a project in my town or to a country far away. I can be doing the same work as I do now, or I could be doing something completely different. Dreams are lofty and fluffy and wonderful ways to envision the journey of life. 

You don't need to have a rainy day to dream. Taking a walk or even just sitting on the couch, listening to relaxing music can allow you to let your mind wander. Try it sometime. Don't force it, just see what thoughts come into your head when you allow some free time. I have a worksheet that I use with groups when I give workshops. It comes directly from my book, which is full of resources to flesh out your future fellowship application. Once you plant an idea of what you want to do, you'll find that opportunities will start coming into your field of vision. And if you're interested in pursuing them, I can help you along the way. Happy dreaming!

Decorate Yourself

I bet you are really good at something. It might take you a minute after reading that sentence to think of what that is, but I know you do something better than most people you know. What is that thing? Have you ever been recognized for it? One of the things that I love about fellowships, scholarships and grants is that you can finally get noticed and congratulated for doing something that you already know how to do. 

Maybe the thing you do is obscure, like some exotic instrument or type of singing. Maybe it's something you can't possibly imagine getting funded for. But after researching literally thousands of grants, I can tell you that you'd be amazed at what types of funds are out there. 

Take a chance, look into finding a fellowship or scholarship that would compliment your unique skillset. You might be surprised. This could be your chance to decorate yourself with an accolade that nobody else can claim. 

What Gets You Down?

This week has been a very emotional week for me. My sensitivity radar has shock off the charts for some reason so all the news and daily interactions that usually pass me by have been getting me very down. As I tell my daughter all the time, everybody has feelings and it's normal to feel ALL of the emotions from joy to anger to fear. It would be really weird to not feel those things. And yet, when I'm feeling like the world is falling apart, I have to remind myself that everybody has ups and downs. 

Sometimes the downs have lasted a long time for me. Months, even close to years, but then the ups come again. So what is good about a down? For one, it makes you appreciate the ups more. Like when you experience a harsh winter, you are so much more grateful for the warmth of summer. But it can also let you tap into motivation. If something gets you so down, perhaps the only way to get out of the sorrow is by doing something about it. Your DOWN could become your UP. 

Brainstorm some things that make you feel down (I know, if you're not in a down spot, thinking about the downs is the last thing you want to do). But just generally jot down some ideas of things that have made you sad or hopeless in the past. Then think about something you can take action to do about it. There may be the seed of something brilliant in those negative feelings, it just takes some investigating!

Making Your Passion Persuasive

In ninth grade, we were assigned to write a paper on something we were passionate about. Even back then, I felt so violated and distressed about how humans treat mother nature. I wrote about how we needed, as a species, to change the way that our selfish behaviors destroy the planet. I got a C- on my report. I completely shut down, thinking that my topic was stupid or unworthy. In fact, it was how I stated my feelings. 

Capture Your Passion

Capture Your Passion

In order to be successful and persuasive in the fellowships sphere, you have to CARE about something. Passion drives you study and pursue a topic, but oftentimes our feelings block logical argument and articulate dialogue. This certainly happens to me when I try to calmly discuss politics. 

This also happened to me when wrote the first draft of my Fulbright statement of purpose essay. I wanted to describe how beautiful the Senegalese culture is. And yet, the words were so . . . dull. I couldn't articulate my feelings of love, sophistication, implication in an essay form because they were just so visceral to me. Not being able to describe how the dance made me feel was a just roadblock. 

If you are lucky enough to be passionate about something, how do you transform it into a document or relatable form? I think it helps to bounce ideas off of other people. When you have a vision in your head, it's hard to know which parts of it are coming across when you describe it. Write down, or talk about your topic and then have someone who is unfamiliar with the subject read or hear it. Ask them to repeat back what they heard, and start to note the gaps in the story. 

Having a passion is one of the great joys and distresses in life. Caring so deeply about the planet, or protecting children from abuse, or an element of culture is a gift. So try to use that gift to make a difference in the world. But don't get discouraged if your first attempt to communicate falls flat.  

When You Are Not the BEST

As a parent, I have learned that encouraging kids to have a growth mind-set is more important than outright praise. What do I mean by that? Instead of saying, "you're so smart!" or "you won!" say, "you worked really hard on that, even if you didn't get a good grad." This type of encouragement fosters the belief that a person's most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work (instead of just innately being good at a subject).

Even if you have fostered this belief in yourself, you will usually never be the best at what you strive to do. This can be discouraging, especially when you're trying to convince yourself that you deserve a large fellowship or scholarship. That nagging voice in your mind might try to stop you before you even start, cutting you down by saying, "why even bother when there are so many more qualified people who should get this?" 

But don't let the voice (which you have control over) squander your talents. You may never be the premier scholar or activist or teacher, but you have something unique to offer. 

When I was writing my book, Funded!, I was about two months into the process when I saw on my friend's desk, The Ultimate Guide to Grants (or some such title). My stomach dropped but I asked if I could borrow it. This was pretty much the book I wanted to write, wasn't it? I sat with the book by my computer for a few days, feeling depressed, but one day I jumped into the fear and cracked it open. As I skimmed through the chapter headings, too nervous to actually delve into the info, I realized this wasn't the same book I wanted to write. This was about getting funding for non-profits. I had something different, and unique, to contribute to this field that was not addressed in the tome. 

When you are beginning the process of looking into funding, your nagging mind might unhelpfully present more qualified applicants (I know a few of my outrageously extraordinary friends kept popping into my thoughts as I applied for my Fulbright). But come back to thinking about what makes you special and what combination of experiences give you a different angle than practically anybody else out there. 

You may never be the best person to win a fellowship (or write a book), but something inside you deserves a chance to try. So remember the qualities that you, only you, can offer to the world. 

Surprises Await

When I talk to groups about my book, Funded!, I liken the process of getting fellowships to getting a wonderful present. You know how wonderful it is to get a box on your doorstep? I think that secretly we all order things online so we can forget it was us who bought the thing; we can pretend someone else bought us a present. So how wonderful is it to get a "gift" in the mail? Now imagine that it's a letter saying, "Congratulations! We have selected you to be a _______(program of choice) Fellow!" Or even better yet, imagine that it's a check for $500 or $1000 or $25000? How awesome would that be? This has happened to me and each time, it's the most wonderful feeling. 

Working on fellowship applications is not easy. It's an arduous process that takes many months in most cases. But the rewards are plentiful. And best of all, if you submit multiple applications every year, a surprise could be waiting for you at any time. Planting these seeds of joy that could explode into your life unexpectedly is the best present you could give yourself. Try it out, get my book Funded! from any of the vendors listed on my site