New Year, New Perspective

New Year, New Perspective

“I want to be a secretary like my mom.” As a child, that was my response every time someone had asked what I wanted my future career to be. Like many children, I aspired for my life to reflect those around me… after all, that was what I knew.

Whether I lacked creativity, bravery or just knowledge, I never imagined a career outside of the walls I had grown up with.

Even in high school, after a tragedy struck my family, I was surrounded by local advocates and I still had imagined myself growing up to be just like them.

Fast forward to today

Mom Betsy (L) and Dad Jim (R) with Traci Willis

I graduated from The University of Findlay in April of 2016. While enrolled I quickly changed my major to social work, I aligned myself with a diverse community of students and I learned to question the status quo.

At 21, Steve Jobs started Apple. What was once entirely Microsoft-driven was being questioned and replaced with newer, personalized machines. Jobs had realized that he was equally as smart as those before him and, over the span of about 40 years, he had led Apple to becoming 2016’s third-ranked Fortune 500 company.

A wise, innovative man once said,

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is…

Your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That is a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.

But you can change it.

You can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

—Steve Jobs

My Intention: ACTION!

My adventure began simply with a phone call to State Representative Mark Romanchuk and an invitation to get coffee. While there, I told him that I could see potential for our city and I wanted to get further involved. He provided me with a list of about 20 local advocates and I began making phone calls that week.

By about my third phone call, I had already received a guided tour of downtown Mansfield (Jenni Paramore), an invitation to Mind Body Align Coffee Talks (Donna Payne), and a possible opportunity with Downtown Mansfield Inc. (Jamie Thompson).

My Intention: show up and lead

Since then, I led the movement to create an event in the Brickyard for International Overdose Awareness Day. I began participating in a variety of meetings and networking opportunities, and I accepted an AmeriCorps position serving with Downtown Mansfield Inc.

In addition, I was offered the opportunity to serve as a chair member of the Richland Young Professionals and was invited to participate on the board of the Starfish Project of Richland County.

Similar to when I was a child, I had taken everything I experienced as truth. A few years ago, I had never questioned a career outside of what I believed, as a woman, my life could be.

And last year, I began to question why Mansfield was never a consideration for where I could live after college. I had always been instructed to leave Mansfield and, unfortunately, the majority of my high school friends have moved or are intending to move away. But, since I have done the opposite, I am often confronted with the question:

Why are you still here?

So here is my answer: I am in Mansfield again because up until now, I knew nothing positive of my hometown.

I had once believed that Mansfield was a black hole and, once I settled, I could never leave. I had the perspective that I could never amount to anything here and I would have to move away to find opportunities or a successful career.

However, the sole reason I believed that is because I had grown up with it. I had heard someone say each of the statements above and, unfortunately, I took that to be true.

Mansfield is “The Field” of opportunity!

Until about seven months ago, when out of pure curiosity, I made a phone call and scheduled a coffee date. Since then, what I’ve realized is that Mansfield is great. It is full of opportunities, it is full of hard workers, and it is a community that, I believe, I could not find elsewhere. After three phone calls, I would have never been offered a personally guided tour of the city, nor would I have found the opportunities that Mind Body Align offers. And most importantly, I would not have had the opportunity to participate, hands-on, in the revitalization effort of my hometown.

While transitioning to where I am now, I kept saying that, eventually, if I remained active in the community, I would become a part of the circle of advocates. However, what I’ve learned, is that it isn’t a circle, or a clique or even a neighborhood. Rather, there is a community within Mansfield determined to maximize the city to its ultimate potential and they are always looking for more supporters to challenge, with them, the status quo.

Similar to the article posted two weeks ago by Jodie Perry, President of the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce and Guest Columnist for the News Journal. Jodie expressed that her hometown of Rochester, NY, experienced a similar period of struggle. However, with time and a change of perspective, they have revitalized. When she confronted her hometown for advice to help Mansfield, they responded with a “simple, yet groundbreaking response – they worked together, stopped accepting the status quo and took a few risks”.

A beginners mind

Great things are possible and, with a beginner’s mind, there are many solutions. Please don’t encourage the youth to leave our city, rather offer to take them on a tour.

Show them the history and the resiliency of those who reside here, as well as the determination of those who are investing and looking to recreate.

Talk about the opportunities that Mansfield has, the cheap living options and the convenient location between Cleveland and Columbus. And lastly, show them a community that has been hiding in plain sight for years.

As a New Year’s resolution, find someone who has been entrenched in the negativity of Mansfield and, please, invite them to participate in something meaningful. Prove to them that, despite negative reputation, Mansfield is somewhere worth considering.

I am here because I believe in our city’s potential, why are you?

Connect with a mentor

Connect with a mentor

Upon graduating from The Ohio State University, I immediately put my engineering degree to work at IBM as a Marketing Representative. The company was known for its world class sales training. If you worked for IBM, you were regarded as the “best-of-the-best.” And, that’s exactly what I wanted.  I was suddenly immersed in a world of high rollers. Monthly commission checks of $25k-$30k were common place. Jaguars, Corvettes, BMWs and a certain someone’s Ford Escort lined our private parking garage.

As an engineering student, I was accustomed to being one of a few females in class. Engineering was a man’s world at the time. This was not the case in sales and marketing. The coolest thing about my new world was that there were as many incredibly successful women as their were men. And of course, I expected one of those successful women to take me under her wing and show me the way.

I’d graduated in the top 5th of the Engineering College. I’d been inducted into the engineering honors society with five years of technical and marketing internships under my belt. If anyone qualified for the “ wing” thing, I surely did, or so I thought.

Well, I must have been delusional because the “wing” thing never happened. In spite of all the world class training, I struggled. What did I know about selling Million Dollar solutions? I had technical training in closing a deal but no real life savvy. I eventually figured some things out through trial and error and enjoyed some pretty decent success. But I knew I had the ability to achieve more.  Does this resonate with anyone?

Have you ever had a time in your life when you were doing okay but knew that you were capable of something greater and you just didn’t know how to get there? Well that was me, all day every day. And the gap between my reality and my possibilities was exasperating! I needed some help. I needed someone who’d gone before me to care enough to teach me in a moment what would otherwise take months, if not years, to learn.

The best of the best had help along the way

No one can soar to new heights alone. We simply need each other. And more than anything we need to benefit from the wisdom and lessons of those who’ve gone before us. That’s the circle of life isn’t it?

So, back to the “wing” thing.

Have you ever said to yourself some version of “I could be so much further ahead if only I’d known better, if only I knew how to… if only I’d been aware of… or if only someone had taught me?” The unspoken subtext is “I have so much more potential! Can someone help me get to the next level?”

Well guess what? When you can’t find the answer, sometimes you have to become the answer. Over the years, I discovered that my purpose was linked to helping women unleash their potential, ultimately discovering the greatness that lies within them. Shucks! Life is too short and we’re too dog gone valuable for anything less than the fullest expression of our beings. This life would be a cruel experiment by the cosmos if there wasn’t something greater to be created, to be experienced, to be manifested.

The I.N.H.E.R. Circle

So I’ve decided to create The I.N.H.E.R. Circle which is a community of women dedicated to the pursuit of purpose, passion and destiny. (I.N.H.E.R., Instruments of Nurturing, Healing, Empowerment and Resources) We honor the magnitude and majesty of each other’s lives by serving as instruments of nurturing, healing, empowerment and resources. We believe that every human being is a gift to the universe and must be treated as such as we simultaneously challenge one another to discover who we are beyond our titles, to cultivate our unique skills and talents, to find our voices, become our authentic selves, harness our strength, unleash our potential and manifest greatness.

As women, we are tied to one another by our very essence. And we are never alone. You are in my circle. I am in your circle and together, we are I.N.H.E.R. Circle. ”

The first I.N.H.E.R. Circle gathering is October 27th from 6-8pm at the Area Agency on Aging in Ontario, Ohio. Save the date! Details forthcoming on Facebook. Email

We all need a mentor

We all need a mentor

Washington_Monument_RainbowIn Gloria Vanderbilt’s memoirs, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes,” she reflects on the choices she made in her tumultuous life. As she looks back at her younger self, she pens a letter of advice which includes her desire to have had a mentor. Despite her massive wealth and fame, she felt alone much of her life. It’s a feeling we can all relate to at some point or another. The need for mentorship is foundational, though not something we talk much about.

In my own life, I can look back on several occasions where mentors have played a huge role in the development of my professional and personal life. During a Co-op semester through Antioch College, I moved to Washington DC to work as an intern Policy Analyst for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. I was alone in the completely strange city with a real job where I was regularly on the phone with Chiefs of Police from Boston, New York and other communities beyond my scope of appreciation.

My role was to assist in the development of new policy aimed at how police departments handled Hate Crimes. As foolishly confident as I was, I had no idea how to function in this world of business suits and formality. Luckily for me, I found a strong and confident mentor in John Firman.

John should have been too important and smart to bother with me, yet he wasn’t. Day in and day out he guided me through this unknown world, giving me more opportunity than I deserved and guiding me through the process. John didn’t spend our time together going over small tasks and instructions, he used his confidence to mirror what mine should look like. He wasn’t afraid of me failing, which gave me strong wings to build my own confidence.

The Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr holiday, he took me to lunch in Chinatown. We jumped in a cab and he showed me his favorite part of the city. At the restaurant, he ordered me Pad Thai and we sat at the sidewalk café as I fumbled with chop sticks and pretended this wasn’t the coolest thing I had ever done. He asked me how I would spend Martin Luther King Day. I’m sure I looked puzzled as I figured there was a right answer, but I didn’t know what it was. He proceeded to tell me how important Martin Luther King had been and encouraged me take time to read or listen to some of his work on that day.

Though it had nothing to do with the important work we were doing with the development of Hate Crime Policy, his mentorship was a full circle and touched on more than skill development, but offered personal inspiration on living a full life. I’ve never forgotten that, and each year I slip into that memory with a vision of John and his record player listening to his favorite MLK speech in the Washington D.C. winter.

Mentoring is a big task. There are nuts and bolts to mentoring that go about helping guide someone through a process or teaching them a skill, but real mentorship can be about much more. It’s an opportunity to frame the course of possibilities in someone’s life, and open them up to a world where they have the power to transform their own lives into something that’s right for them.

When we launched BUILD 128, we looked at mentorship as a possibility. As we met with entrepreneurs and talked to others who run similar programing in the state, we came to understand the critical importance that mentoring can play for an individual while developing a business idea, a circle of influence and the launching of a new venture.

BUILD 128 will be developed as a family of support under the umbrella of Downtown Mansfield. Alone, we can provide a space and support for the launch of a new business or artist, but together we can continue to transform our local economy by providing the circle of support necessary to build both a business as well as a person and community.

When we look back to reflect on the successes of BUILD 128 and the development of the entrepreneurship community in Mansfield, we don’t want to look back with regret like Gloria Vanderbilt. We want to look back knowing that what we provided enabled people to realize the possibilities alive in their own lives. That is the real power of mentorship at BUILD 128.