INSPIRING WOMEN: Tina VanSteenbergen

Tina VanSteenbergen is one of my absolute favorite people. She is an inspiring woman in my life from our time together at Hamline University. I have always been drawn to her bold spirit. Tina is driven, outspoken, positive, confident and dynamic.

Tina and I were both attendees at Hamline’s 2007 Women’s Leadership Retreat. This retreat was a pivotal moment in my college life. I stated college as a first-time freshman in the spring – which was tough. My first semester, I had an odd kind of existence but, at the end of the spring, I attended my first Women’s Leadership Retreat and things changed! I was introduced to strong female leaders on campus, like Tina, and felt immense opportunities before me in terms of friendship and leadership.

Then, college life took off for me. In the semester that followed, I became a part of student government, started working for the McVay Youth partnership, made amazing friends, met the love of my life, attended Hamline’s conference/student retreat on race and ethnicity, and the moving and shaking began.

Tina was closely tied to many of these experiences and played a large part in my growth through college.

I spent the most time with Tina through our leadership roles in student government, orientation, and our gig at the Student Center Front Desk. Looking back, I think I got involved in these areas because she was active within them. Tina occupying these leadership positions showed me that I could do the same. I loved being around her and wanted to absorb her energy and wisdom.  

Tina is a proud Minnesotan and has lived all around the Midwest and and traveled North America. Professionally, she serves as an Education & Training Director with two sister companies, Phired Up Productions and The Social Excellence Project. She’s a professional speaker and trainer, teaching college students to put down their phones, and connect with other human beings face-to-face. She absolutely loves her job! (And, knowing her, I am sure she is an amazing speaker and trainer!!) She has two degrees in education, one from Hamline University in Saint Paul, MN, and a masters from Illinois State University in Normal, IL.

Tina spends lots of time with her dog Sherri and her great roommates and friends – while in the sunshine as much as possible. She loves to travel, read, write, journal, watch baseball, yell about football, teach, sing (although, “not well” she says), and listen to great music that speaks to her soul.

I admire Tina and always have. I’ve been watching the moves she’s been making since college with joy and admiration.  She is so perfectly suited for her role as a speaker and trainer. The women she works with are lucky to have her inspiring and guiding them in their reflection and interactions. Tina has been and always will be an inspiration to me.  I am fortunate to have her in my circle.

Tina had soooo much to say in her responses. And, when she wrote me back I let her know that I would probably cut them down. But, I don’t want to! I love what she has to say and I want y’all to experience it, too. So, please read about Tina’s passions, inspirations, and advice below. . . 

What inspires you?

 “I think the capacity to create change, to help people, is what inspires me most. Not just my own, but in general, peoples’ capacity, ability and willingness to do good is what gets me most excited—what gets me out of bed in the morning. When I’m feeling lazy, defeated, unmotivated, or discouraged, that thought, that I have a capacity to create positive change, that there are people to help, is the one that gets me up and moving again. I like to think that I, we, have a responsibility to help people. We all do it in our own ways, but we all have a capacity to help. Some serve, some bake, some bank, some create, file, run, deliver, educate, while others heal, build, edit, count—doesn’t much matter how we do it, as long as we’re all doing what we can to help others. It feels human to me, like it’s our job. In whatever way we can, we should at least try. It inspires me to think that in some way, I’m helping. To me, that often looks like speaking—sharing my messages with people. By teaching students to connect, to join, to believe, to help, I feel like I’m helping. Seeing others help others, being kind and sharing their gifts with the world in meaningful ways, makes my soul sing. Helping inspires me. Our capacity to help, and the choices we make to do it.”

“On a lighter note…Music. Poetry. Spoken word. Sunshine. Snow. Stories. Thunderstorms. Powerful people. Action. Kindness. A beautiful sunrise. A gorgeous sunset. Love. The perfect cup of coffee. Smiles. Pictures. Hugs. ….also inspire me. :)”

 What do you care deeply about?

 “I care deeply about my work. I’m blessed to love my work, and to believe powerfully in the messages I share and the impact they can have. Doing my job feeds my soul, and makes my heart sing. I often have a moment during a program I’m delivering where I look around and literally think to myself, “I can’t believe this is my job!” It’s magic. But there’s a part of my job that means something special to me that I don’t often talk about… I’m an educator, so for me, being on stage is more about what they’re learning than it is about me and how I’m feeling. That being said, I’m often on stage in front of hundreds of women at one time—and I think, more times than not, I’m the first person they’ve seen on a stage that is NOT a size 2, and yet, is still confident, comfortable and authentic. I can see it on the faces of the women who approach me after a program, women who are inspired not just by the words I said, but by my comfort in my own skin. In a strange way, it feels like I get to give them permission to love themselves, to feel good, to be confident, exactly as they are. I don’t say those words (although maybe I should…), and that’s not necessarily my purpose or goal, but it gives me my own, personal, secret joy—each time I get to give permission to women to be proud of who they are, to know they’re beautiful and good enough, to be confident, I’m reminded how deeply I care about that, and them. “

“I care deeply about people. Sure, yes, of course I mean the people in my life that I love—family, friends, colleagues, etc. But when I say “people,” I mean it in the larger sense. We need people in our lives. Deep social connection, honesty, trust, real conversations and relationships—these things bring our lives meaning. Being social with one another is essential to who we are as humans, and we’re forgetting how to do it. We need one another, and we need to remember how to need one another. This is one of the topics I share with our audiences, and it’s truly my life’s work. Helping college students remember not only what skills they need to connect with people, but its importance and its benefits is one of my favorite things to do. Social Excellence is something I care deeply about.”

“I care deeply about sorority. Sorority changed my life. I never used to ‘get’ women, or to be friends with them. I was afraid and intimidated. My mom had always said, “Boys are dumb, and girls are mean.” Dumb seemed easier, so I was always friends with boys instead. I decided that women didn’t like me, so I didn’t like them. I didn’t like myself. Then, when I was in graduate school, I took a job as a house director for a sorority on campus. I was terrified, sure I was going to hate this experience. But moving into that house, taking that job, changed my life. Those women were warm, kind, welcoming, honest, vulnerable, and loving. They taught me about the power of female relationships—that women, when kind to one another, when choosing to be sisters, are powerful. Beautiful. Amazing. Game changers. The richest relationships in my life are those I have with other women, women who love, support, challenge, and move me. Without sorority, I don’t know if I’d be able to say that today. I care deeply about sorority, and about helping sorority women do it right. Sorority was created in an act of justice, of equity. When we’re doing it right, when we’re living our values and deepening our relationships with other women as we strive to better ourselves and the world, sororities can change the world for the better. I believe that. And I care deeply about helping that happen.”

“And my dog. I care deeply for my dog :)”

Who are women in your life and/or throughout history that have inspired you?

  • My little sister is brave—braver than she believes. She inspires me to have courage, to be bold and brave.
  • My big sister has always had more confidence than anyone I know. She is who she is, with no apology. People have always been drawn to her for that reason, and when I think about where I find my confidence in my life, and especially on stage, I think she’s been a huge part of that piece of me.
  • My 4th grade teacher, Ms. Palmquist, inspires me. When I remember her now as an adult, I liken her to Ms. Honey from Matilda—seriously! She was smart, kind, nurturing, but funny. She believed in me, and taught me to believe in myself when I was 10.
  • Wendy Burns, my advisor and mentor from college, inspires me. She has always been the definition of authentic to me. She never pretended to be something she wasn’t. Honest, transparent, real, and truly Wendy. She inspired all of us female leaders at Hamline to be unapologetically ourselves—6 years later, her voice is still in my brain, teaching me that same lesson. [Cat’s note – ditto to ALL of that about the amazing Wendy Burns!]
  • Cat, you inspire me. You always have, actually. You’ve always had an intensity about you that motivates me. You have passion, sure—lots of us do. But you, more than most women I know, can channel that passion into real action. You don’t just talk, you do. [Thank you, Tina!]
  • My boss inspires me. She's smart, bold, daring, unafraid, compassionate and captivating. She’s so naturally talented, and yet still works harder than most people I know. She teaches me strength and leadership in new ways on a regular basis.
  • Mostly, my mom inspires me. She’s literally the best person I know. After all she’s been through, she is still the one that reminds me to be kind, patient, resilient, loving, giving. She’s my heart.
  • And Beyoncé. Obviously. #flawless

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self, what would it be and why?

“Young Tina,
If I could give you one piece of advice based on what I’ve learned in the last 10 years of my life, it’s this: trust women. Open up to them, and build healthy relationships with women. They will bring so much more to your life than you’ll ever know. The women in your life will teach you power, goodness, empathy, intuition, acceptance, self-worth, connectedness, understanding, kindness, patience, strength, love, growth, authenticity, and vulnerability. “

“That’s the other thing, Young Tina. Vulnerability scares you right now, and will for most of your young-adult life. You think that choosing to be vulnerable makes you weak. That’s not true. Choosing not be vulnerable just makes you lonely. You’re still feeling all of your feelings, you’re just feeling them alone. Let down a bit of your wall from time to time—choose vulnerability. It will make you a better human, a better leader, a better friend, sister, and woman. Let people in—you don’t have to do this alone. You need people more than you think you do. We all do!

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!