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Three ways to live a braver life

The winner of Philadelphia's Grow Your Value contest shares how she changed her outlook on life.

"I could really use your help with my self-confidence, to be honest," Joanna Schwartz of Philadelphia, PA told Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski in her video submission to Philadelphia's Grow Your Value contest  part of the Know Your Value event series to empower women in the workplace. A former school teacher and family counselor, Schwartz recently founded Toolbox for Teachers, a series of trainings to help educators work with children’s social emotional needs. 

In April, she was selected as a Grow Your Value finalist and despite feeling "terrified" to stand on stage and compete for a $10,000 bonus, she eventually went on to win the competition  returning home with winnings to grow Toolbox for Teachers and a renewed sense of courage. "I think that in America, as in much of the world, women struggle to feel as valid as men. I think we see this all the way from classrooms where boys tend to get called on more, to unequal pay, to who is in a position of power to make laws and policies," she told msnbc. Here she shares the lessons she learned from the Know Your Value movement. 

Follow your bliss:

A lesser-known fact about my experience during Philadelphia’s Know Your Value event is that shortly before the competition, I quit my day job as a family-based therapist to pursue my company Toolbox for Teachers full-time. What is incredible to me about the whole process was that I spent an entire year at my old job feeling like I was drowning.

It wasn’t until the universe made it abundantly clear – via being randomly selected for a nationally televised competition in which I had to clarify my mission – that I realized that my job, despite its good points, wasn’t the best fit for me. In comparison, the full-time work I do now with Toolbox for Teachers feels like navigating my own ship in the direction of my most authentic life.

When under stress, get out of your head and into your body: 

For much of the three weeks of the competition, I was totally nervous about the whole process. My nervousness reached a fever pitch during the event in Philadelphia. I was panicking while preparing for my speech, and it was made worse by the fact that I sometimes faint when under stress! But when my ever-wise coach Jenn Lea saw that I was too much in my head worrying about my fears, she sent me to go for an adrenaline-releasing run around my hometown of Philly.

The turning point of this run was when I stopped outside of the very first school where I had taught. Gazing up at those windows, I remembered that nothing, not even my fear of keeling over under the stage lights, or of having made a mistake by quitting my job, was going to keep me from my dream of improving education for teachers and students in Philadelphia. What going for a run did for me – and what I try to instill in my mindfulness trainings for teachers – was place me squarely back in the present moment so that I could stay focused on where I needed to go. 

'We' not 'me':

My mentor used to have a saying that life is about we, not me. No moment of the competition illustrated this principle more clearly for me than the days that I spent trying to write my pitch. Thinking that it had to be perfect and that I had to generate it alone, I spent hours writing and rewriting drafts of the pitch.

It wasn’t until one night when my dear friend came over with her teenage daughters that everything clicked. The deep caring and love that I felt for these two girls as they made their way into the world inspired me to write a pitch about what had really been in my heart, that when we know our value, we are called upon to live our truest and our bravest lives. As it turns out, the best part is that we don’t even have to do it alone. We do it best when we do it for and with the people we love. 

You can watch Schwartz and her fellow Grow Your value finalists compete for a $10,000 bonus during Philadelphia’s Know Your Value event here.