Getting Personal: Erin Tarr

Getting Personal: Erin Tarr

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 39-year-old Champaign resident ERIN TARR chats with staff writer Paul Wood. She has a day job, but in her spare time, she has created Be the Benchmark to help young women. Tarr mentors girls, loves "Friends" and has a deep faith in God.

Where did you grow up? Did you enjoy your teen years?

I grew up in southern Illinois, attending high school in Belleville and Nashville, Ill., and while I did enjoy my teen years, I was constantly riddled with self-doubt and insecurity about where I fit in and if I was "good enough," constantly wishing I was more athletic like this girl, or more popular like that girl, or had more friends, etc.

What interests you most right now?

I am fascinated by personal development and have been since college. When I read books by Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni, John Maxwell and other thought leaders, I constantly think — I wish someone would have told me this earlier in life. This is why I now work to teach young girls about everything I have learned and am learning — so they can benefit from the wisdom earlier in life.

In your mentorship programs for teen and tween girls, you use the '7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.' Did you create those?

The "7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" is a book by Sean Covey that is a take on the original book his father, Stephen Covey, wrote. I use the principles of the book as one of the foundational pieces of the Fierce Girls curriculum, but make it developmentally accessible and fun to learn about and apply at all ages.

And what are the seven habits?

1. Be Proactive.
2. Begin with the end in mind.
3. Keep first things first.
4. Think win-win.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
6. Synergize.
7. Sharpen the Saw.

These can be very big and overwhelming concepts for kids (and adults) to implement, so I create games and activities to help them understand each one and integrate them into their daily lives. Memorizing the habits isn't the goal; internalizing them to the point that they show up naturally in your life is the goal. So the earlier you start, the easier it will be. Change is natural when you are young; it gets much harder with age.

You have a monthly Fierce Girls Friday for grades three through five and weekly groups for girls in sixth through ninth grades 'to help them embrace their inner fierceness.' How do you bring about fierceness, if you don't mind talking about that?

Happy to talk about it. Our Fierce Girls mantra is "I choose my thoughts, to create my life and change the world. I am fierce." This breaks down into a three-year curriculum cycle, where year one is all about choosing our thoughts. In this year, habits one, two and three are highlighted alongside growth mindset and mindfulness activities, gratitude practices, assessing our personal values and how those play out in our lives, personal mantras and learning about successful communication tools with a group of super supportive girls their own age.

Then what?

Year two then continues with "create your life activities," where we build on the year one foundation and bring in habits four, five and six, conflict management and financial literacy tools and highlight female leaders in our community. And finally in year three, the capstone is "change the world" — bringing all of these fabulous ideas together, engaging in local service projects, reflecting on our own passions and how we want to show up in the world to make a difference.

I like that you have Facebook and podcasts for teen girls. That seems like something that age group would engage with.

Currently the Facebook group/page and podcasts are primarily geared toward the moms and parents of the girls, giving them support and encouragement to raise fierce girls day in and day out. In addition to the events for girls, I also have a monthly in-person event for moms as well, where we talk about the tools I am teaching their daughters and give them ideas for extending these ideas into their 24/7 home life. I primarily use text and Instagram messaging to engage with the teen girls directly outside of our face-to-face times together.

And for high school and college students, there's the possibility of one-on-one mentoring. Have you started doing this, and what has been your experience?

I have several one-on-one clients, and I have to say this is where the most growth happens in one-on-one or smaller group relationships. I really get to dig deep with these clients, and we develop a high level of trust, where we can have the hard conversations about what is really happening in their lives. I get to listen without judgment, offer comfort and advice when life gets rough, keep them accountable to their individual goals and celebrate with them often.

Did you have a mentor growing up?

For two critical years of my life (freshman and sophomore years of high school), I had a Sunday school teacher who was an amazing mentor for me. She did all the things I outlined above, and I think of her often when I am working with the young girls.

In the #MeToo era, is it more important than ever for young women to change the world by also changing themselves?

I don't think it is about changing themselves but being comfortable and confident with who they are and how they show up in the world. For my daughters and all the girls I mentor, I want them to be able to speak their truth and not feel a need to become less than their best self in order to "fit in." Be the Benchmark is all about not comparing ourselves to what everyone else is doing, but instead charting our own course armed with habits, mindsets, knowledge and a community that can help us do that.

How did you develop your entrepreneurial side?

Working under Barb Sullivan at Next Generation School in Champaign was really the first place where I was exposed to a strong woman building a successful business. That was such a learning experience for me, and her example of what can be accomplished when you have a passion for your endeavor and the work ethic to support your passion is really an inspiration for my current work.

Tell us about your own family.

My three daughters are really what fueled the genesis of Be the Benchmark. As a trained social sciences educator, I have always felt a strong call for sharing knowledge, encouraging kids to live their best lives and be involved in their communities. But when I found myself raising three girls, I uncovered my passion for making sure girls were able to live their best lives — without boundaries or glass ceilings or fear of rejection. I realized that much of my own life had been spent making decisions based on fear and insecurity — instead of courage, confidence and a clear idea of what I truly wanted in life. Developing a program and a parenting style to help my own daughters quickly morphed into developing it for all girls and thus Be the Benchmark (and Fierce Girls programming) began.

You've done everything from teaching to wedding planning. What have you learned from these different looks at life?

I have learned that my greatest calling is to serve others, and it looks differently depending at various stages of life. The how changes (often), but the why does not.

How important is God in your life?

On a scale of one to 10? Ten.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I am 100 percent addicted to the show "Friends." Even now, almost 15 years after the final episode, I watch it for at least 20 minutes a day.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Michelle Obama, Brené Brown and Oprah — we would probably have a taco bar.

What was your first job?

I worked as a waitress at Denny's in Mt. Vernon, making less than $5 per hour (plus tips), but I was a great waitress so I made pretty good tips.

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