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This Month’s Selection: Game On!

By Nicole R. Smith

The fourth in a series of Better Impact Book Bites
A taste of great books worth consuming.


Book Background Information

Every other month I’ll choose a non-volunteerism specific book to share with you. I’ll relate the text to my experience in our field as volunteer engagement professionals (VEPs). Have you seen Nicole R. Smith present about volunteer engagement topics? Have you bought one of her journals? If not, let me introduce you to this powerhouse professional. Nicole is a Panamanian-American, workforce development specialist, published author, motivational speaker, podcast host of “From The Suggestion Box,” dancer and volunteer engagement professional. I bet I’m missing a few things in that summary – Nicole does it all.

Why This Book

I connected with Nicole in the summer of 2020 when everyone was looking online for support, friendship, and networking. She was in Florida, I was in Texas, and we found a fast connection in our love for volunteerism. I chose this book because it helped me reach some of my professional goals as a motivating read. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Nicole and hope you will too. The story of Game On! takes us through Nicole going for her dream.

Who Should Read This Book

I recommend this title to anyone who loves a solid inspirational story. It’s a quick read at 89 pages, but it’s not just a tale. What I love is Nicole is a real person, and she’s out there cheering for everyone to pursue their dreams. If you like biographies or memoirs, this is for you.

Better Impact Book Bites - Reading Books-1

Who Should You Gift This Book To

Gift this to someone who’s embarking on a new journey or getting discouraged because their goals seem out of reach. I routinely tell Nicole something I’m pursuing, and we both say, “Game On!”

First 50 Page Do’s

  • Do find a connection to others on the journey. (Page 3)

    “You are not alone on the journey. No matter how many tries or how long it takes.” I feel like some working professionals lose sight of their ability to dream. We may have avoided setting goals since college because it feels too late. When I train VEPs I often quote Nicole because the path that led her to a career in volunteer engagement took courage and perseverance. I love professional groups that connect us to be vulnerable and share what we are working on, contemplating starting, or dreaming about. Nicole and I both serve with such a group, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE).

  • Do keep your vows to achieve your goals. (Page 20)

    “I was coming back with a vengeance to claim my spot on this team.” During the great resignation I’ve supported several VEPs who pursued new positions. Some succeeded immediately, others took more time. It is part of the job-searching process to face disappointment. Like Nicole’s experience in her first attempt at joining an NFL cheerleading team, we must not give up if finding a new organization is our goal. If we want elevated titles and an increase in salary and benefits, we have to stick to pursuing our highest goals. It’s not easy, but we can’t give up. This book will give you plenty of examples of how Nicole refused to quit.

  • Do ask for feedback. (Page 24)

    “Feedback is the most valuable commodity in the audition process.” We may not be auditioning to be a Miami Heat dancer, but we’re auditioning for a lot of things in life. Maybe we’re looking for a new job, applying for graduate school, going for a leadership program or professional association board position. When going through an experience, it’s helpful to receive feedback. It’s not easy though, is it? I remember a presentation I gave and in the survey feedback someone wrote that I was a 6/10. The only problem was there wasn’t a rating scale. So I look at feedback with one eye open, but I still have to look. It makes us all more humble, determined, and transparent each time. That’s one reason why Nicole’s podcast “From the Suggestion Box” resonates with me. She persuades wildly successful people to talk about how feedback has played a role in their career.

  • Do listen to the reasons why you started your goal in the first place. (Page 28)

    “I was so determined to do everything right that I forgot to have fun.” Nicole brings up fun several times by this point in the book. While auditioning for the Houston Texans sounds like a daunting task to me, I can see how Nicole could have lost sight of the joy of dancing during that huge tryout. Is fun something we find only on the weekends? Is it possible to have a passion for volunteer engagement and seek a paid position that allows for creativity and fun in volunteer program administration? I think so! If your goal sounded exciting and fun at first but then the red tape became too much, center yourself back on the joy and see where your gut tells you to go next.

  • Do give yourself credit for showing up. (Page 30)

    “Showing up is actually a huge win.” In Nicole’s journey she showed up for her next audition for the Houston Dynamo when others chickened out, but that is career determination. How we show up for our career success and for the field of volunteer engagement matters. Some of us serve with a national association like AL!VE, while others help a colleague study for their CVA (Certified in Volunteer Administration), or still some pursue their career dreams and then share their successes to inspire others.

First 50 Page Don’ts

  • Don’t stop from imagining yourself in someone’s shoes. (Page 8)

    “I can do that!” When Nicole saw a live performance from NFL cheerleaders and immediately knew she was meant to share their stage someday, it started her on a long road of discovery. In my recent keynote at the MAVA Conference, I highlighted those curious about the volunteer engagement space need to see leaders shine, so they can imagine themselves doing this work too. Exposure to career fields can build exciting dreams. VEPs may not dance in front of millions like an NFL cheerleader, but we’re a group worth admiring. If you see someone you want to emulate, don’t stop yourself from creating goals to get there.

  • Don’t discount other people’s belief in you. (Page 22)

    “I made the decision right then and there to get back on the horse.” Nicole received feedback from the NFL choreographer at her first audition, encouraging her to try again to reach her goal. Instead of dismissing those words, Nicole used them to push herself at another attempt. I love how she described the way this encounter made her feel – we’ve all been there. When I train VEPs about tactics they can use to build a fanbase for their work and network of supporters, I often comment that people don’t need to understand 100% of what a VEP does to believe in their work.

  • Don’t let rejection make you lose steam. (Page 28)

    “It was as though each dismissal was ‘rejection fuel.’ It led to me starting my own non-profit dance company.” Nicole’s rocky start created opportunities for her to find the fuel to keep her going. She also was able to help others along the way. VEPs faced so many challenges during the pandemic, and many problems are still lingering within their organizations and communities. We lost volunteer programs, had core volunteers never return, and more consequences that felt like hard rejection. We want to learn from those experiences and return to set a new goal and spring forward. As Nicole describes, it’s possible to take the rejection and still have the desire to triumph.

  • Don’t stop yourself from taking action! (Page 30)

    “I realized that inaction is the greatest enemy of dreams fulfilled.” This quote is one I think of while presenting and have used it in several situations when trying to explain why our bosses should not decide our career goals as VEPs. We must make a plan and decide what we want from our career experience and take action.

My Millennial Moment

Oftentimes when I read a book, I pause and my age or my place in time offers context. This book was written in 2018, so it’s much more recent than some of my other #BookBites. I connected with the struggles and feelings Nicole transparently shared. Millennials have now gone through two recessions, mounting student loan debt, a volatile housing market, the great resignation… should I go on? I think some of us have let go of our wildest dreams because of the incredible stress to raise our families and keep track of our parents too. I hope my generation can stay positive and persevere like Nicole.

Book Bites - Game On - Hope

Next 50 Page Do’s

  • Do find a network that will help you reach your goals. (Page 64)

    “A strong support system is crucial. If you don’t have one, work on creating one. I encourage you to be what you need to others first.” Nicole works hard to support groups she cares about. I’ve had the pleasure to work with Nicole on the AL!VE IMPACT Award committee this year. Groups like AL!VE are full of amazing professionals who will support a VEP who is chasing their goals. Having a professional network is powerful when you need a boost or fresh perspective. I met Nicole through LinkedIn, and I’m so glad she reached out!

  • Do keep going. (Page 68)

    “I will keep pushing forward and fighting through until I can’t anymore. No excuses.” Nicole was so determined throughout the retelling of her cheerleading journey in her book. It was inspiring to hear her describe the struggles she encounters and how she remained true to her original dream. We all have something deep down we’ve thought about and are afraid to speak into existence. Nicole’s advice is transferrable to what we experience in the field of volunteer engagement.

  • Do remain uniquely you. (Page 72)

    “It was then I realized that the best thing to be is you.” Nicole auditioned 20+ times for 11 different teams over a 16-year period. She remained true to herself and kept fighting. I challenge all VEPs to find your unique voice and goals and present them in the way only you can.

Next 50 Page Don'ts

  • Don’t get it mixed up! (Page 60)

    “It is extremely important not to confuse our excuses with valid reasons to not push forward. An excuse is something that you can fix.” I encourage VEPs to find their spotlight in the workplace and focus it on goals that will help them achieve what they want out of their career experience. We can list reasons all day why we shouldn’t apply for funds to take the CVA exam, or why someone else deserves an IMPACT Award more than we do, but it’s not worth it. Making excuses in our field to keep us feeling overwhelmed and undervalued is not good.

  • Don’t get in your own way. (Page 66)

    “Of all the hurdles I have had to overcome, the most daunting one I had to conquer was my own self-judgement.” It’s so important we practice positive self-talk around our goals and achievements. I recommend getting coaching and finding a support system for professionals, so we can gain momentum and move forward on our professional goals.

  • Don’t let rejection topple your dreams. (Page 28)

    “Rejection, like pruning a tree, has its benefits. Embrace and welcome rejection. If you so choose, it can make you stronger, faster, wiser, and better.” It’s natural to be leery of putting yourself through rejection, stress, and embarrassment, right? But how often does that limit where we can go with our career goals?

Things That Never Change

Nicole addresses her age frequently in this book, and while I rarely think to ask anyone’s age, sometimes we still try to compare our achievements to others based on those criteria. Nicole made a team when she was 42 years old, as noted at the end of the book. I see many professionals joining the field of volunteer engagement in their 40s after leaving other professions. I hope those who find themselves in the field of volunteer engagement can see we are all striving to have incredible volunteer programs, to move our missions forward, and to go to bed at night happy with our impact on the community. We will always marvel at someone like Nicole who kept going, but at some point, that could be us too!

Final Musings

I had a summer hiatus and am glad to return with this title. Thanks to everyone who has shared these bites, left a comment, or given me a thumbs up in person about this series. I faced my own challenges over the last two months, and Nicole was in my DMs cheering me on and helping me believe in myself. For that I am grateful and have continued to carry her book with me. If you’re facing a goal in the field of volunteer engagement, let me know so I can tell you: Game On!

Coming Up Next

I’m looking forward to spotlighting a great volunteer management-specific book that was gifted to me. Stay tuned!

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