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Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Meet Jews

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How I found more social success through YLD's LEADS in my 30s

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Meet Jews photo

Anyone who knows me well would never imagine me quoting something football-related. I've never seen one episode of Friday Night Lights (much to my sister's chagrin), but I love the mantra: "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose." Many have adopted this phrase as a source of inspiration for coping with various hardships or they even channel it to win the big game. I think, with clear eyes and a full/open heart, anything is possible -- be it professional, athletic, or merely adopting a socially open attitude.

In our 20s, we're desperately trying to figure out who we are; in our 30s, we begin to come to terms with who we're growing up to be. Perhaps a cliche for good reason -- I think women really begin to find themselves in their 30s and I've just started that journey. I'm less afraid to speak my mind, and I find myself progressively fearless in pursuing outlets that truly bring me happiness.

My 20s were a more tentative time, both professionally and socially. As someone who grew up in Chicago's northern suburbs, it was easy to take my ready-made friend network for granted when I returned to Chicago after college. Like many home-grown Jews, I found my way back after a few years away. I eased into city life, surrounded by a combination of suburban, home friends and friends who had migrated from my Big Ten school. I spent several years in my 20s blending friend groups with other friends who went to nearby Big Tens, until our roots were nearly seamless. Additionally, I layered in friends from various jobs and social groups.

My last roommate, a non-Chicago native, found this city to be quite difficult to break into for the very reasons that made my return easy. I had a foundation dating back to my childhood. The Jewish community here is very tight-knit, and many of us grew up in the area -- newcomers don't know where to begin.

As such, it is fair to say that I was somewhat nonchalant about becoming active in the Jewish scene in my early 20s because I felt like I had already grown up in it to some degree. I cherry-picked events, while my roommate faithfully kept up with nearly every opportunity.

However, as friends pair off and get married, single ladies must inevitably keep refreshing their single friend network, or else they risk getting too comfortable on the couch in PJs, binging on Netflix.

A couple times in my 20s, I tried JUF's LEADS program with the expectation of, perhaps, collecting a few new friends and a new love interest. During those 20s trials, I knew one or two people in my group and we stuck to each other like glue. We lost out on the whole benefit of LEADS -- meeting new people. I made few friends through the program.

For those who aren't familiar, LEADS is a social series for young professionals comprised of groups of 10 to 15 people that meet in multiple neighborhoods around the city. Group members are matched based on age and location, and come together weekly for eight sessions to discuss and explore contemporary Jewish issues. After most sessions, all of the LEADS groups converge for a bar happy hour. The program is ideal for young professionals looking for new friends, newbies to the city and even couples who are looking to branch out.

I think those who might find the most immediate success from LEADS are those who are willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones. I've spoken with several friends who were new to Chicago, tried LEADS early on, and made some great, new friends from the program. Newcomers have to attend with an open mind to truly benefit from the program's network.

I didn't reap the program's benefits until I tried LEADS again this past fall. I've spent the past year re-grouping socially after a couple very close friends moved cities. I signed up for LEADS without a safety net -- I didn't sign up to be in a group with any existing friends. I decided to go in alone and see what happens. I also approached this experience without any agenda and truly wanted to meet some interesting people.

Luck met opportunity and this LEADS session was my best. I certainly can thank the fact that I had a wonderful group. But, I also think my success had a lot to do with my frame of mind and my open, "full heart." I shed my high school-esque need to stick to a built-in safety net and opened myself up to a handful of really fabulous people, many of whom I now spend time with on a regular basis.

I was actually on the young end of the group's spectrum, which consisted of Jewish professionals in their mid-to-late-30s. The group had a level of maturity, cooperation and warmth I had never experienced. All of us seemed to shed those 20s insecurities.

This LEADS experience created a snowball effect -- I am now more involved than ever in the Jewish community and attend regular events, often with the friends I made from fall LEADS. Not to mention, I've met so many new and interesting friends through the contacts I made from the group.

All of that early 30s self-awareness I've gained so far has also provided me with the right attitude and openness to let some really great, new people in. If we accept that we never stop growing, it's amazing who we might meet along the way.

"Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose."

Spring LEADS registration is closed as sessions begin next week, but for information about future LEADS sessions and other YLD opportunities, emailyld@juf.org

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