Living BIG

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Blog written by: Janene Ritchie

When I joined Team RWB in September 2014, I was peering over the edge of a box that was far too small for me. The messages from those around me were that I was asking for too much from life, that I should lower my expectations…and the heart of what I heard in those messages is that I wasn’t worthy of the goals and dreams that brewed inside of me.

And then, in August 2014, I saw a guy in a bright red shirt and flag shorts, running with a flag in a local race, and cheering on his teammates. Once I learned more about this group and joined Team RWB Dayton, I was hooked. For the first time, I found myself among a group of people whose positivity was contagious. Instead of wondering why I would dare to pursue big things, they asked “why not”. The camaraderie and passion I found among Eagles encouraged me to step outside of the ill-fitting box I’d allowed others to build around me, and tiptoe into living the big things that were screaming inside of me. I ran a 50k on my 30th birthday. I started doing Crossfit. And I took the reins of Team RWB Dayton and became the Chapter Captain.

This time last year, I was full of conflicted emotions. The window for Eagle Leaders Fellowship applications was approaching, and I was torn. My husband and I had just found out that we were staring down our biggest challenge yet – becoming parents. Although I badly wanted to apply, the voice that I thought I had quieted came creeping back in. The fellowship sounded amazing, but who was I to think that I could tackle pregnancy, becoming a mom, work, and serving as a fellow all at the same time? I had all but written it off entirely.

And again, I had Eagles to the rescue who wouldn’t allow me to crawl back inside my old box. I volunteered at the Team RWB Midwest Functional Fitness camp last fall, where I met Marissa May. Marissa was a 2016 Eagle Leader Fellow, and we bonded immediately. In countless messages over the following months, she answered my questions – both about the fellowship and motherhood, and encouraged me to apply.

Teambuilding activity at Detroit ELA

On a cold January afternoon, I opened an email from Joe Quinn, Team RWB’s Director of Leadership Development. Finding out that I had been selected as an Eagle Leader Fellow brought an electrifying mix of excitement and anxiety. A large part of my responsibilities as an ELF this year have been to coordinate our region’s Eagle Leader Camps and Academies (collectively known as Experiences). With our first ELA on tap for the beginning of March, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Being a part of ensuring success for 3 ELAs and 3 ELCs has been incredibly rewarding. These multi-day Eagle Leader Experiences can be life-changing if given the proper enthusiasm and effort, and to be a part of that for other Eagles is an honor; meeting and learning from so many Eagles in my region and across the country is always humbling and inspiring. Our Regional Director and Program Manager, Zack Armstrong and Kian O’Donohue, have been amazing mentors, pushing me to continually give my best and challenging my comfort zone with progressive responsibility; and I’ve been equally inspired by and grateful for Star Cathcart, my fellow Midwest ELF.

If my work with the Midwest Eagle Leader Experiences were all that my fellowship entailed, I’d consider it well worth it. But that certainly hasn’t been the case as I’ve been able to pursue some of my own interests as well. This fall, I became a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, and I am also completing a 6-month long process to become a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide – the perfect complement to my background in adventure guiding and outdoor leadership. I look forward to using these skills to continue to serving my local chapter, the Midwest region, and beyond.

My 2 years as Dayton’s Captain were amazing, filled with too many memories to count. Through becoming vulnerable, discovering my authentic self, learning how to fully express that to others, and building genuine relationships, I have learned how to live big. While I could talk for days about how equally amazing the Eagle Leader Fellowship has been, the most meaningful thing it has allowed me to do is to speak truth to my experience – to be the same voice for others that pulled me out of my too-small box. Whenever possible, I try to remind those around me that they are worthy not only of dreaming the big dreams, but chasing them down too. I owe everything I am today to the people who reminded me of my worthiness while I was still hustling for it; to be that person for others is the least I can do to repay what has been given to me.

Trail Running Camp

If there’s one thing that Team Red, White & Blue, and my Eagle teammates have taught me, it’s that living big is why we’re all here. Keeping yourself small enough to fit inside of others’ expectations serves no one – least of all, yourself. By not allowing yourself to live up to your own expectations, you’re holding back talents and skills that the world needs. And on the days when I doubt myself, I remind myself that my son will always be watching. If nothing else, I want him to know that with hard work, perseverance, and integrity, he is capable of pursuing his wildest dreams – and it’s my responsibility to show him how.

If you crave to serve others, to work as part of a team, to grow as a leader, and to pour yourself into an experience – APPLY! If you have doubts, apply anyway. I can promise that it will challenge you and change you if you let it, and it will be worth every ounce of effort you give it.

Ultimately, my advice should come as no surprise: Don’t be afraid to LIVE BIG. It’s by living as big as we can possibly imagine that we best serve others.