You are doing better than you think. This idea was recently introduced to me by Chris Winfield, and it has made a shift in my thinking. When you are trying to shake things up and create social change, it is a slow process. Having big dreams with significant impact, I have very high expectations of myself, and it is easy on days where the progress seems to be in “baby steps.” I have started reminding myself that I’m doing better than I think, and I try and think back about where I was a month ago or a year ago and feel good about my progress.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Jones.
Melissa Jones is the founder of Girls Positivity Club, a youth organization dedicated to advancing the confidence, self-awareness, and power of every girl. Melissa believes every girl deserves a space to shine and a platform to spark their influence. She has been motivating and cultivating connections through her clubs and teaching career among hundreds of girls and providing families with resources she has created through over 22,680 hours of experience.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was a happy and confident child until I was eight years old. I had a best friend who lived across the street. I loved my school and have happy memories as a carefree child. Everything changed when my neighborhood became dangerous in my parents’ eyes, and they moved us to a new part of the city, a safe, suburban community close to my new school. The same confidence and sense of belonging did not move with me. The kids were different, and I suddenly realized I didn’t fit into their friendships and clicks. I remember crying a lot at my desk, and although I was in a loving home, my parents didn’t know how to help me gain confidence and understand my worth.
I spent most of my growing up years comparing myself to other girls who were better than me in one way or another in my mind. I focused so much on not being good enough that the feeling rooted itself deep inside me and was my biggest struggle through my teen years and even well into adulthood.
Becoming a teacher was a way to motivate and impact kids. With over 22 years of experience in the classroom, I had a realization that there was a common need among girls in every school setting (rural, urban, suburban, and private). I noticed a common theme: many girls lacked the same confidence and self-worth I lacked as a child. They needed a positive connection around a common goal of empowerment, so I started being intentional about teaching the girls in my fourth-grade class at lunchtime personal growth techniques in mindset, confidence, and creating a community of powerful girls (Girls Positivity Club).
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The work I’m doing is disruptive because the way girls are taught to see themselves and their available opportunities need to be shaken up. We need to help girls see their potential and prioritize the importance of teaching girls positive daily habits to empower themselves to be women who aren’t held back by limiting beliefs about their potential. By the time a girl is in her tween and teen years, lack of confidence rises from 18% to 45%. According to a recent national survey, 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school, relationships with family and friends, and 98% of girls feel pressure to look a certain way. Raising awareness about gender equality to girls is the start of choosing to challenge ideas to increase girls’ self-confidence and to help them to envision their place in the world now and in the future. By connecting them in an empowering community of girls (Girls Positivity Club) and using creativity to bring these ideas to life, we are shaking up the impact they will make on the world and see themselves as more than “just a girl.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was still teaching clubs in person, I had to cancel a session due to being sick. To make up the time with the girls, I decided to have an extended Friday evening session. I figured I would keep the girls for double the time, and we would have a blast, and I regularly held club sessions on my own with no problems. What I didn’t take into consideration is the level of energy they would have simply from the idea of having an extended session or the fact that not all of the girls would be able to stay for the entire session. I told parents that they could pick up their daughters early or they could stay the whole session. What I didn’t take into account was how difficult it would be to manage both the early pick-up and the rest of the girls at the same time.
I had planned to take the girls to the gym to do a movement activity with drum sticks when the other girls were being picked up. In my mind, I would send the girls out to their cars while the other girls waited patiently with me. The complete opposite happened. When we walked down to the door closest to the gym, the girls all broke out in a run and within 5 seconds were chasing each other around the gym, rolling on the floor, doing cartwheels, screaming, and it was complete pandemonium. Meanwhile, I had to get the other girls to their parents safely. It only lasted a few minutes, but the chaos taught me that although I have a lot of experience with kids, the combination of it being a Friday and two hours after the school day and an extended session was the wrong combination for any pause in structure. Everyone got picked up, and no one was hurt, but the experience taught me to ask for help and plan for the unexpected.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
There have been many mentors who have impacted me along my journey of creating Girls Positivity Club.
Danette May is the first person to start me in my personal growth story. Learning about mindfulness, joining a supportive community of women, and transforming my body and mind through her healing program was how I gained confidence and inspiration to know that I wanted to start a unique space for girls to shine.
Lori Harder has been that voice of encouragement in my head for the past four years. I met her briefly at Danette’s conference in Denver, and she was sincere, kind, and has taught me countless lessons on her podcast, Earn Your Happy. I have listened to her podcast for the past three years. She has taught me how to keep going toward big dreams when it gets hard, and the mindset techniques I have learned from her have become the driving force of having the grit to do this work.
Chris Winfield and Jen Gottlieb have been hugely influential in my life. They have taught me how to focus on the experiences I have had in life, leading me to be the best version of myself and to be seen in the public eye, which has always been the biggest struggle in my confidence. Being part of their community and learning from their teachings has had an enormous shift in how I show up for myself and get visibility for doing this work, which helps my mission. I will be forever grateful for all of the mindset work, personal encouragement, and for living their mission of H.O.P.E (help one person every day). They genuinely go the extra mile and have inspired me to continue taking significant risks and taking action even when it feels messy.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I believe disruption is positive or negative according to the perspective of a person around an issue. Disruption is neutral. A disruptive thought is outside the box thinking to create change in an environment or for a system that usually has history or pattern. When disruption is viewed as negative, someone’s thinking or an approach or way of doing something has not seen change over time and can be seen as scary to individuals or groups of people. Sometimes disruption can challenge morals and tradition, and I think those are often the times when it makes people uncomfortable. For example, men have historically been in leadership positions for hundreds of years, and we have never had a female president (although we are now close with Kamala Harris). Having a female vice president is a disruption in the system of our government that is disruptive. It is an encouraging disruption to some of the public, while others view it as a threat to politics’ historical norm.
I am a person who loves disruption because although change can feel uncomfortable, it is necessary for progress and growth. A disruption in women having more roles in leadership and the workforce is needed desperately. I would like to shake things up is to start in elementary school, teaching girls how to have confidence by providing opportunities to experiment with ideas that will create thinking, innovation, and leadership experiences. I want to support girls with t this type of growth as they progress in education rather than wait until they are in college or later in life. I believe that girls deserve to have opportunities in male-dominated areas and can form a community of girls who encourage and support other girls instead of seeing other girls’ success as competition. To create positive change in girls and women, having a space to shine and a platform to spark their impact will disrupt the roles, and way girls have learned to see themselves. There has to be disruption to create change. Disruption is where the innovation of thinking is necessary and small change can have a ripple effect to make a big shakeup in the way girls grow up to see their power and potential to impact the world in significant ways.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1) You are doing better than you think. This idea was recently introduced to me by Chris Winfield, and it has made a shift in my thinking. When you are trying to shake things up and create social change, it is a slow process. Having big dreams with significant impact, I have very high expectations of myself, and it is easy on days where the progress seems to be in “baby steps.” I have started reminding myself that I’m doing better than I think, and I try and think back about where I was a month ago or a year ago and feel good about my progress.
2) The extra mile is never crowded. I have learned this from my mentors Chris Winfield and Jen Gottlieb, and I always keep it in the back of my mind. I ask myself how to go above and beyond to help people or show my appreciation for their guidance. I want to model with my girls how to go the extra mile to create unforgettable experiences for them and to teach them to think about how they can push themselves in their growth to go the extra mile and also go the extra mile to help out other girls.
3) Keep your eyes on your paper. It is so easy to compare someone else’s progress to yours and to compare your ‘chapter 1” to someone else’s chapter 20 and feel discouraged at times. I think about what we have all learned in school: keep your eyes on your paper and focus on your progress. Even on the days that it seems very small, I can write down my good things or wins of the day and keep going.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I plan to create a platform for girls to highlight all of their talents, ideas, and creativity to help them be visible to our community and the public eye. Girls want to be seen and want to be shown that there is a place where their ideas are valid and worthy of exploring and sharing with the masses. I want the girls in Girls Positivity Club to know that they are in an empowering environment where they can explore their ideas, have leadership opportunities, and accept who they are regardless of their background. In our community, all girls are valued and supported and have a place to spark and impact influence.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think that typically, women who share their ideas, innovations, and who are ambitious are seen as “too much” or bossy or power-hungry, and it is simply not the case. Women disruptors can be seen as feminists who are man-haters instead of collaborative partners and impact leaders. I think the way women are viewed when they want opportunities to innovate and create social impact can be seen as an uncomfortable change in how leadership is regarded. Male leadership is so common that the general public can feel uncomfortable with the idea of a female CEO or boss, or leader in any capacity. That thinking needs to be shifted, and women in nontraditional roles opened up to unlimited possibilities.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo is a book everyone should read. I first heard Marie speak on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations about the story behind the idea and applied it to my life. If something doesn’t work out as planned (which happens a lot), I use this mantra, “everything is figureoutable” to help me develop creative solutions, ask for help, or simply keep persevering. I even have the phrase displayed on my classroom wall to remind my students that they can figure anything out.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊
I believe every girl deserves a space to shine and a platform to spark her influence. The movement would advance girls’ confidence, self-awareness, and power. The movement’s goal would be to highlight powerful girls to help them see that the power is within them to dream big and see their positive impact on themselves and other girls. It would be a ‘pass it on’ idea where one girl shows her power then highlights another girl’s power. This movement would be visual and in the mainstream media to create a ripple effect of empowering influence. My hope would be for girls to see other girls confident and spreading positive messages about their diverse power, which would create a community of powerful girls who are “seen.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The measurement of intelligence is the ability to change,” Albert Einstein is one of my favorite quotes. It says a lot about the importance of being positive and being an intelligent mantra for living your best life. It fits perfectly with the idea of disruption and innovation. People who are most open to growth and change end up making significant progress and, as a bi-product, positively impact others.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for your time and for helping me shake things up for girls who are the future of leaders and social change-makers in our world.