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Q&A with Keynote Speaker Whitney Hinshaw Sullivan

On October 29th, 2021, I will deliver the keynote session for the Nebraska Women's Leadership Network Fall conference, offered as part of the Nebraska Alumni Association. I am a two-time alumna of the University of Nebraska Lincoln ('11, '14). As a contribution to the network's quarterly newsletter, I address these three questions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The counsel: "Whitney, I'm proud of who you are. Needing everyone to agree with your decisions is insecurity. You want everyone to like you. Not everyone is going to like you.”

The story:

A number of years ago, I had made a high stakes decision about my life that I knew would be unpopular to some people close to me. I received phone calls, texts and even handwritten letters about my choice. But, I was crystal clear in my conviction that the decision I made would move me towards the future I wanted to create and was an accurate reflection of my own personal truth.

After one of the questioning phone calls, I was word-dumping and self-doubt-spiraling as I cooked dinner with Tim, now my husband. When he finally could get a word in, he leaned in toward me and spoke seven beautiful words I'll never forget:

“Whitney, I'm proud of who you are.”

A simple sentence of support and affirmation that injected a large dose of courage into my vulnerable state. Then, he continued with some of the most powerful encouragement I've ever received:

“Needing everyone to agree with your decisions is insecurity. You want everyone to like you. Not everyone is going to like you.”

Exactly the wisdom and connection I needed in a vulnerable, high stakes moment. Anytime I cross paths with someone on the brink of taking courageous steps towards their personal truth but spinning in self-doubt, I'm committed to sharing the same message:

✨ I'm proud of who you are.

✨ Needing everyone to agree with you is insecurity.

✨ Not everyone is going to like you.

What I've learned: there will be moments where you must make courageous decisions that are right for you and right for the future you want to create. Others may not like you for it. Others may passionately disagree. Others may call and try to tell you how to live otherwise. But, you're not making decisions to please others, you are making decisions right for YOU.

Be proud of who you are and what you want. Surround yourself with people proud of who you are and what you want. Invest in connections that boost your courage.

If you could learn anything, what would it be?

I'm fascinated (and terrified) by airplanes. If I could engage in something in-depth, it would be: "How do airplanes fly?" or more specifically, "How is air travel so safe?"

I get the basic physics of it: wind, speed, lift. But, really:

How does a multi-ton hunk of metal going 500+ mph, 38,000 feet in the air stay up there?

What was the process to make it so safe, efficient and effective? It baffles me.

I would love to talk 1:1 with a pilot or engineer to absorb how it works and all the fun behind-the-scenes facts. As passengers, we don't see that side of aviation. There are no pilot or engineer Q&A's after the plane ride. I read all about it, but to sit down with a human who has that experience and expertise would be invaluable for learning and understanding.

If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you do?

Today, the answer is short and not very sexy: pay off school loans, invest a portion in life and financial goals, and determine the best way to be generous with the rest.

In early 2020, however, there was a longer, juicier answer. An answer that created a seismic shift in the trajectory of my life and illuminated my vision for the future. The essence and power of this question is:

"What would you create, who would you be if resources were unlimited?"

It all started when Albertsons grocery store began their annual monopoly game with a grand prize of one million dollars. My husband and I dreamed and schemed. What would we do with our winnings?

My response was instinctual and immediate: pay off student loans and start my own business. I would pursue my childhood ambition of being a motivational speaker, coach and writer. I would be an entrepreneur, an identity I had deemed as far too mystical and elite to pursue without some big sign from the universe (like winning the lottery).

Shortly after these conversations, the pandemic hit. Life was put into slow motion. Suddenly, a question stuck to my brain:

"Why can't I have that?"

It dawned on me that I didn't need a million bucks to achieve my dreams (although I wouldn't turn it down). I needed clarity, courage and strategy. I needed to hone in on the answers to “Why can't I have that?" and clear limiting beliefs and obstacles from my path.

You don't need to win a million dollars to make a million dollars worth of change.

Asking yourself strategic questions, creating clarity in your answers, and establishing effective habits...that's YOU making the change, not the money.

Proudly, as of October 1st, 2021, I've taken the leap into my dream: I've resigned my day job and will be fully devoted to speaking, coaching and training as Whitney Sullivan Coaching, LLC. Still have those student loans though...where can I buy a lottery ticket?


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Whitney Hinshaw Sullivan is an energetic speaker, facilitator and coach committed to helping purpose-driven professionals align their passions, values and talents to a meaningful career and an impactful leadership style. In addition to public speaking and retreat leading, she advances her “Passion to Purpose" mission through private and group coaching programs that provide career counseling, leadership training, emotional intelligence development and courage building. Whitney lives in Bozeman, Montana with her husband, Tim. Follow her adventures on her social networks by connecting here.



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