I recently had the privilege of speaking and attending the Inspired Leadership Initiative Annual Speaker Series event held at the University of Notre Dame. If you’re not familiar with the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI), it is a premier “oncore education” program for people who have completed a core career and seek to discover, discern, and design who they want to be in the next phase of their lives.
My experience was truly amazing! The most compelling way I can describe this event is the strong sense of community I experienced among the current cohorts of the ILI program (approximately 15) as well as approximately 40 alumni from the previous four cohorts.
I had the pleasure of meeting several ILI alumni that I featured on the Midlife Fulfilled podcast. In fact, I recorded episode 5 of 5 of our immersive storytelling series featuring five ILI alumni on-site in Notre Dame’s ND studio.
It is an understatement to say that I’m impressed and inspired by the tight community within each cohort of the ILI program. These people have completed a core career, then they invested in a full academic calendar year ILI program that is held on campus at the University of Notre Dame.
Most of the alum I spoke with shared how they remain in close contact with their fellow alums in their cohort. Several of them mentioned that they have regular zoom calls throughout the year and periodically also arrange to meet up with each other in person.
Another aspect of the ILI community that impressed me is how the spouses of fellows have become active in the cohort community as one big family of ILI fellows.
The most impressive thing about each alum’s testimony is the life transformation they experienced in the ILI program. Many of them enter the ILI program with the goal of figuring out their next career chapter and they end up discovering much more than that. To a person, they speak of transformation in mind, body, and spirit. The result for most of them is deciding on their next chapter in life, not just their next career chapter. This is very powerful. It aligns with the mission of Notre Dame, to empower people to be a force for good.
On the first day of the event, I was the first featured speaker, interview style. I was interviewed by Tom Schreier, the founding director of ILI.
As you may know, I have featured five ILI alumni on my Midlife Fulfilled podcast, on episodes 102, 108, 112, 120, and upcoming on episode 132. Additionally, I featured Tom Schreier on episode 64 with the original introduction and overview of the Inspired Leadership Initiative at Notre Dame.
The interview was held in an auditorium and attended by current and former alum, as well as people I refer to as “future fellows.” These are people who are considering applying for the next ILI program. Tom had a handful of prepared questions for me. Since he is familiar with my perspective on midlife his first question was to explain my definition of midlife. I explained that midlife is not the midpoint of your life because none of us know when we will die. Then, I explained the three phases of midlife, early, mid, and late generally characterized as 30s and 40s for early midlife, 50s and 60s for mid-midlife, and 70 and beyond for late midlife until we reach an end-of-life season. If you’re learning about this for the first time, I understand it may seem counter intuitive. I’ve spoken about this many times on the podcast and written about it on my blog.
After about twenty minutes of an interview-style conversation, we opened it up for Q&A for about 15 minutes. The questions I received were very engaging and thoughtful. The best thing is that I had the chance to continue conversations after the interview at the evening event which was held at the renowned Notre Dame stadium at Seven on 9 in Corbett Family Hall following a memorable tour of the Notre Dame football stadium where I took a fun picture acting out the Heisman Trophy pose on the 50-yard line. That will be a life-long memory.
Other Inspiring Presenters from Notre Dame
I had the privilege of attending the entire event. The other presenters at the ILI Exploration Session provided great perspective on what is meant by Notre Dame’s motto: A force for good. This is more than just a slogan. This is the institution’s North Star. For everyone, from staff to faculty to students to alumni; being a force for good in the world is a sincere mindset.
One such presentation was from Heather Reynolds, Managing Director of LEO, short for Lab for Economic Opportunities which is housed within Notre Dame, and comprised of research staff faculty. LEO matches top researchers with passionate leaders in the social service sector to conduct impact evaluations that identify innovative, effective, and scalable programs and policies that help people move permanently out of poverty. Heather and Jonathan Thebes, Assistant Research Professor of Economics shared an overview of the organization’s programs using evidence-based research to secure funding for programs dedicated to reducing poverty in the U.S. The positive results they shared were very moving.
Another presentation by Peter Holland, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, and Scott Jackson, Executive Director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame delivered a surprising presentation. I was expecting them to inform us of their on-campus educational programs teaching Notre Dame students about the literary virtues of Shakespeare.
They acknowledged they spend much of their time teaching undergraduates about Shakespeare. But, they dedicated their presentation to sharing two examples of community outreach. One such program reaches local, economically disadvantaged young people who would otherwise not be exposed to Shakespeare studies. They invite these young people to perform Shakespeare plays under their leadership and guidance. The Shakespearean characters portrayed by these young people empower them to express themselves through the inspiration of Shakespeare’s drama and in the process they experience life-changing self-discovery. As a result, they develop confidence and motivation to live life with a purpose. This experience is life-changing for these young people.
Another impressive outreach program they shared is for a local men’s prison. They invite prison inmates to perform in Shakespeare plays under their leadership and guidance. This program has grown from an early-stage program with its share of doubters to a waiting list of inmates applying to perform in Shakespeare plays. These men experience life change through self-discovery and develop a sense of purpose when they learn that they are more than their worst moment which resulted in their incarceration. This presentation blew me away!
The last session was a panel of three recent graduates from the class of 2015, 2021 and 2022. This panel session was moderated by Emily Turner Associate Director of Alumni Relations at the ILI. Emily masterfully guided the conversation through a discussion that gave a room full of ILI fellows and alums, all of whom are over age 50, an impressive respect and optimism for our future when we witnessed their intellect, wisdom, and heart for being a force for good. Each of them is working in the early stage of their young careers channeling their talent and passion in ways that have an impact on the world.
Waleed Johnson (Notre Dame class of 2015, far right on the panel) is a software developer in Detroit. He’s also an artist. He channels his passion for art by painting large-scale murals. His murals can be found in cities across Michigan as well as Chicago and Charleston, WV. His purpose is to beautify cities through his art.
Renee Yaseen (Notre Dame class of 2022, centered on the panel) is a writer and entrepreneur from Indiana. She currently writes for The Washington Post in a weekly series dedicated to the experience of recent graduates and early career professionals. She shared several stories of people who influenced her thinking, in particular Notre Dame professors. She is following her passion for writing after acknowledging that her degree in economics was not her true passion. Writing is her true passion. She has learned at a young age the importance of self-discovery and taking action on it.
Conal Fagan (Notre Dame class of 2021, far left on the panel) is an emerging leader in the disability sector. He completed his M.Sc. Disability degree at University College in Dublin, Ireland. He is currently the Funding Executive at Arthritis Ireland. Conal shared his journey to working in the disability sector through his personal experiences. Just like Renee and Waleed, Conal recognized his purpose early in his career and listened to the calling by pursuing his education and career in the disability sector.
The impressive thing about this panel of young talent is how mature they are and how they each have a passion for using their talent as a force for good.
When you add it all up, the Inspired Leadership Initiative annual event was a celebration of the program’s young existence (five years), as well as the opportunity for ILI alumni to enjoy each other’s company, continue to learn, and grow together as well as inspire future fellows who are considering investing in the sort of life transformation that is imminent for each ILI fellow.
Catch my podcast episode 130 where I recap this amazing experience.