From Shy to Fly (Part 1)

I would like to tell you more about where I came from and why I know I can help you become the best you that you can be.  I could start with who I am today, which is a Program Manager, (or a Project Manager), leading a very large team with a Billion-dollar budget (phased over several years).  The thing is, I was not born able to lead this effort, I was not even ready for this upon graduation from high school. In fact, it took me nearly 25 years after high school to arrive at where I am today and A LOT of sacrifices and hard work.  I was not born with money and college was not assured either.  One thing I strongly believe is: with mentoring and coaching, it is possible that you would find your way to my level (or higher) much faster.

I lived in a small farm town in eastern Colorado until I was nineteen years old.  During those nineteen years, I was incredibly shy.  My closest friends probably thought I talked a lot, but outside my tight, small circle of friends, I was timid and rarely talked.  I did find outlets for creativity, I loved music and singing.  I joined the church choir, the show choir at high school, and was in all the school plays and musical productions.  I also held the lofty goal of becoming a “famous country music vocalist.”  I always added the qualifier “famous” to that dream, which I realize now, may have been one of the biggest parts of my dream, the dream that has contributed to my success today.  How can an exceptionally shy girl dream, so strongly, to become famous?  Why did my main outlet become performing music and standing on stage, singing solos to the crowds in my town?  I can tell you, I found it empowering to sing to a crowd, though I was nearly paralyzed if I had to talk to three strangers.  There was some kind of “thrill” I got from performing.  It was out of my comfort zone, but it was also addictive and I loved it.  I searched out the opportunities at every turn.  This dream gave me one strong desire, to find a way to leave my small town, at least for a while, to see what the world had to offer.  No, I was not brave enough to move to Nashville.  Although, I do occasionally wonder what would have happened if I had.  I imagine, given my personality and current position, I would have found a way to become a business manager at a music production company, ha ha!

I do believe that your “passion” or what you perceive as your passion will lead you to make decisions that will move you along in life.  If singing was my passion, why didn’t I go to Nashville?  Why didn’t I just take the leap, as some people suggest you should do when it comes to your passion?  Instead, I used the desires that were attached to my passion and the drives that fed by my passion to propel me along as I found where I belonged in the career world.  In my case, my passion led me toward desires to explore the world, a desire to stand on a stage, desires to be considered so successful that everyone knew my name and wanted to be on my team.

One way I found to start a new adventure was that, at the age of nineteen, I talked to a U.S. Navy recruiter.  I told him I either wanted to be a teacher or a singer.  So…  he put me in the advanced electronics field, WHAT?!?  He said the Navy would let me sing and teach if that is what I wanted to do.  Did I mention that my recruiter did not lie to me?  I did join the Navy that day, went off to boot camp, then A-School, where I spent nearly two years learning basic electronics, advanced electronics, system-level troubleshooting, calibration, and how to be a good Sailor.  About six years later, when I had advanced to First Class Petty Officer (E-6), I was transferred back to the school where I spent three years teaching Sailors, fresh out of boot camp, about basic electronics and was also able to mentor hundreds of Sailors through their first year in the Navy.  During that same tour, I became the director of the Performing Arts Company Military Choir, which was one of the best joys of my life.  We sang at events on base and multiple events and ceremonies around Pensacola, FL.  I was also able to sing the National anthem as a soloist numerous times throughout my life, which takes me back to my young dream of wanting to sing.  So, you see – my recruiter was telling me the truth.

I also think I have a bit of an unconventional personality, compared to others in the military.  This did cause me some challenges, but it also allowed me to stand out at times.  (It was up to me to make sure I was standing out in good ways, which can be a challenge as a young Sailor.)  My first tour after my A-School was in the Azores (Portugal), and if you asked my supervisors back then, what they projected for me, it is hard to know what they would have said.  I did have a good work ethic, and I was trying very hard to learn.  I also had super curly, crazy hair and was still shy, and I do not think anyone thought of me as the “Sailor of the Year” or a strong leader.  I was more of an average Sailor, not amazing, not bad, just finding my way.  I remember talking to a young man who was my age and rank (20 years old and an E-4).  He had a perfect uniform and he was a poster child for the “look” of a Sailor.  He told me he was going to apply to be an Officer.  I listened to him talk for a while, and I did not think he was any smarter than me.  I replied to him that I might become an Officer too.  He laughed at me and said that I shouldn’t apply. If the chain of command thought I should apply they would tell me to put in a package.  He said I could not ask to apply.  Then he laughed again.  That conversation sticks with me to this day, mainly because at that moment, I know that I believed him.  Heartbreaking, I know.  Feel free to comment on Facebook if you have had similar moments in your life.

At that time, the command I was at had about 120 people and there were only about 15 women (across all ranks) at any given time.  I did not see many role models that looked like me.  I loved that tour because of where I was, the Azores was a wonderful place.  I loved it because I was able to experience old school Navy cryptology.  I also look back on it as a learning experience where I began to see how challenging the Navy was going to be for a woman with crazy, curly hair, a bubbly, though shy, demeanor, a desire to grow and succeed, but no clear path for what success looked like.

I did have two really good mentors in the Azores, one was my direct supervisor.  He taught me the path to getting promoted in the Navy. Going from E-3 to E-6 is highly within the Sailor’s direct control. If they take certain steps, and actions, they can advance to E-6 quickly. I immediately began to work on that path, due to my supervisor’s mentoring. There was also a female Senior Chief (E-8). She was several levels up the Chain of Command from me, but she took me aside and talked to me woman to woman, and gave me useful advice on how to be a woman in the military. You know, the kind of advice your mom’s best friend might give you after she had a glass or two of wine, ha ha.  I wish more women helped other women like that more often. Just say it like it is. We could all be saved from so many challenges that way.  I thank God for her and her unfiltered advice, I think of her often.

So, there I was, eventually at the age of 21, a Second Class Petty Officer (E-5) in the Navy, but I was still not quite ready to be who I am today.

This post is getting pretty long…  if you need to take a break, I understand.  When you are ready,  click here to read to read part 2!


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