Posted Suzanna McCloskey on 4/21/2015 |Featured Columns & Series
This year, Girls on the Run will serve its one-millionth girl! We’re honoring this milestone by celebrating what makes each of us one in a million and by showcasing some one-in-a-million women who have made exceptional contributions to empowering girls and women.
Cigna, a remarkable Girls on the Run National Partner, aims to help people improve their health, well-being and sense of security. This week, we hear from Cigna Executive Vice President and General Counsel Nicole Jones, JD, about how she stays true to her authentic self and strives to achieve a healthy work/life balance. Jones, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University and a JD from New York University, has held increasingly responsible leadership roles throughout her career and always aims to lead with an open heart.
Here’s what Nicole has to share about being one in a million.
Q: Girls on the Run envisions a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams! How did you start to realize your own limitless potential and pursue the path to where you are today?
Nicole: I was fortunate to have been introduced to sports early in my life. I focused on basketball, at the suggestion of my ninth grade teacher, and I loved it! And because I loved it, I committed and gave a lot of myself to the sport. Basketball then gave me a lot in return... I was offered a full basketball scholarship to college, the only way I could have afforded higher education, and that in turn led me to pursue law school. So for me, basketball opened many doors and introduced me to experiences I would have never otherwise had. Those experiences led me to realize that there were many different opportunities in the world that were available to me.
Q: Of the traits and achievements that help make you one-in-a-million, what stands out most to you?
Nicole: Authenticity is a trait that has served me well, especially in my professional career. I know that I won’t necessarily be the smartest or the fastest or the most insightful person in the room at any given time. Early in my life, I became comfortable with that and focused on the things that I can do well—being prepared, being constructive, being positive, working hard and being a team player. Those traits are core to who I am, and focusing on them helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. As a result, I laugh a lot, I can poke fun at myself and others, and, at the same time, I can be focused and tackle big tasks. Being authentic means I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not. I can be me—and I’m comfortable with that.
Q: Which one of the core values of Girls on the Run resonates most with you and why?
Nicole: Many of the core values resonate with me. If I had to pick one, it would be “Lead with an open heart and assume positive intent.” That has been critical to me as a professional who is both female and African-American. That attitude has helped me stay positive and has enabled me to be open to feedback and translate it into better performance. It has let me be open to accepting advice and help from others whether they looked like me or not. And it has empowered me to take risks in my life by being confident that there were plenty of people who would support me along the way.
Q: One of the many things our curriculum teaches girls is how to recognize and work through challenges in productive ways. What is a challenge you have faced (or still face)? How did/do you respond, and what have you learned from it?
Nicole: An ongoing challenge is achieving the right work/life balance. I love my family and I love my work and I love to have some time for myself. Giving the appropriate amount of attention to each is always a challenge. I try to say “no” to those things that aren’t essential to these three important areas of my life. It is important that I use my discretionary time wisely. I have also accepted the fact that I will not achieve the ideal balance on any given day... On some days, I will be required to focus more time on work. But other times when I have the opportunity to leave the office early or take a long weekend, I take it and plan something fun with my family. I get up early to get in a workout as many days as I can—working out and feeling fit make me feel great about myself. I strive for balance over the longterm and don’t beat myself up about short-term imbalances.
Q: What insight or advice would you offer a young girl today? What would you say now to your 8-year-old self?
Nicole: I have always had a tall, athletic build, something I wasn’t always completely comfortable with as an eight-year-old girl. I would tell my younger self to stop focusing on what you don’t have and embrace what you do have. Figure out what is unique and wonderful about you and celebrate it! That tall, athletic body will one day lead you to become an accomplished basketball player who is equally comfortable in workout clothes as she is in pretty dresses. Don’t waste another moment wishing for anything more—you have all of the tools you need (mind, body and heart) to accomplish anything in life you want to do.
Who do you think is One in a Million? Take the One in a Million Challenge today and help build a chain of affirmation! Post a photo of someone you think is One in a Million, make a donaton to Girls on the Run in their honor and ask them to accept the challenge to do the same.