29 Jan anne petera.
virginia. (but her heart is in kill devil hills, north carolina) | wife. mother. sister. internal consultant. mentor.
When I first met Anne, I could feel a warmth radiate from her smile. A few minutes into our conversation, we learned that we were both from unusually large families. Anne is the fourth born out of nine children and I am number three out of a clan of eight—we connected instantly. Anyone from a large family understands this special bond—it’s arguably tribal. There is a special pride in sharing the nuclear family experience with so many unique personalities. (The pride could come from survival. I jest.)
The only thing an only child may miss out on in the world is the joy of siblings. How nice would it be to have your own bed growing up or your very own clothes or just a spell of privacy in the bathroom? I wouldn’t know such things, but I do have joy in my relationships with siblings. No matter how many opinions or differences siblings may have, in most cases, they will be the longest running relationships in life. You experience the world together—often times learning simultaneously, sometimes years apart—and there is an authentic beauty in that connectivity.
Anne Petera’s genuine desire to help others bares the true mark of a middle child. Her 93-year old mother describes her as simply brilliant and always been willing to lend a helping hand. “Anne is just plain good, always has been,” the prideful mother of nine told me the other day. Anne’s colleague’s describe her as a hard working, dedicated public servant with a heart of gold. Anne knows what it takes to climb the proverbial ladder and understands the significance of mentoring. I am honored to share her thoughtful words with you today. Enjoy today’s highlight!
Tell us about your career.
I define career as “my life’s work,” and believe it encompasses what I have done to earn a living, my marriage, parenthood, family, passions, and hobbies. Also of note, I finished two-thirds of my undergraduate degree by taking evening classes after work for six years. So, I have been a gainfully employed wife and mother for all of my adult life. My work career began in commercial banking, moved to real estate sales and development, and included being a real estate educator. My passion for good representative government led me into voluntary political activism, working to elect good candidates to the local board in the growing suburb where we raised our son. Some success at the local level led me to volunteer for statewide campaigns, and the first big success there led to an opportunity to move into state government. That opportunity came at such a good time for me. I was a bit bored with my work in real estate development and my son was in college by then – that it was an easy choice. I spent the next 10 years in state service to three elected officials, and then a dramatic change of the “party in power” in the state capital caused me to reassess the landscape and determine where my next good opportunity might be. Then I made a truly life changing decision to move to the D.C. area and pursue service in the administration of President George W. Bush, who saw fit to place me in the three-year old Department of Homeland Security, where I served until the end of Bush’s second term. For the last six years I have been an internal consultant for two major government contractors. My hobbies include travel, reading, golf, and knitting.
Can you share a little about your family?
I was blessed with four sisters, four brothers, 19 nieces & nephews, a husband who is the love of my life and my best friend, and one perfect son of whom we are immensely proud and his wonderful wife, Andrea, the daughter I never had! And then there is my great bonus in life, my beautiful granddaughter, Abby! My mother is still with us at 93.
If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what are a few necessary steps they need to take?
Know enough about what you want to pursue to be sure you have the necessary credentials. And then go get them. I knew that my ambitions lay primarily in business and government, and even considered law school at one time, but not seriously. Getting back into school and finishing my B.S. though was a very conscious decision because I knew I could not successfully compete without it. And I was right. The Governor who asked me to take over a $400 million enterprise agency would not have considered me if I had not obtained that degree.
Also—and this is for everybody,—get involved in this American democracy. Know your philosophy of government, what you think it should and should not be. Do some research on candidates and by all means VOTE EVERY SINGLE TIME the opportunity arises. It really does matter, and it is sad how disengaged most people are.
You have been in the American workforce for over 30 years. Can you shed some light on the history of female mentorship in the professional workplace? In other words, who helped you when you were just starting out?
My husband and my sister Trudi were amazing, both of them encouraged me, listened when things were not going well, and gave great advice. This was quite fortunate because mentorship in the early 70s was an intangible and dominated by the “old boys network.” The women who outranked me consistently said, “I figured it all out by myself and you will too.” In other words, no help at all. I promised myself that I would not be that woman, and I have not been. I try to teach, challenge, coach, and guide everyone with whom I work (men and women), and find it to be richly rewarding.
Are we ever to old to have a mentor?
In this great experiment called life, we all need mentors at every stage of it. We CAN learn from others mistakes and successes. All we should have to do is ask.
Difficult conversations are well … difficult. Can you give us your thoughts on having these difficult conversations in a professional setting? And why is it important to face these conversations head on?
Because the truth will set you free. You don’t help employees by telling them they are doing a great job when they aren’t. You don’t help yourself by allowing others in positions of authority to mistreat you or behave unprofessionally. Finding your own “voice” in difficult times is a tough challenge, but well worth the effort required. The two most important things to know are 1.) listen to and take to heart any criticism that comes from a superior or co-worker and work on improving that weakness, and 2.) be professional and both expect and demand professionalism in others. Several times in the course of my career, I had superiors speak unprofessionally to me and even raise their voices in criticism of my work, often in earshot of others. The last time this happened to me was over 10 years ago, and I literally held up my hand to the individual, said, “Stop this right now.” (And then he took a breath in shock!) I continued, “When you can speak to me in a normal tone of voice about this I will be in my office,” then turned and walked out. Funny, no one has ever yelled at me in an office setting since.
What makes a successful mentorship relationship?
Mutual respect and understanding, a commitment to one another, and willingness to trust that someone else has a more objective viewpoint than you do.
Was there a fork in the road that distinctly determined your lifestyle?
Oh yes – my husband and I became grass roots activists in our twenties, working to get candidates elected at the local level. Our commitment to a conservative philosophy in government ultimately led to positions in state government for both of us and in the federal government for me. That passion has led to a lifestyle that includes homes in two different states, lots of time on the road, and a lot of chicken dinners!
If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?
I would instill in the youth of the world a great thirst for freedom and love of democracy, and then watch the world become a better place.
Is there such a thing as work-life balance?
Yes – but it is not 50/50, nothing in life ever is that balanced. I do recommend finding employers and managers who recognize when your life takes priority over your work, though. It also helps to learn to say “no,” so that you don’t get over committed. You really don’t have to always be the person who takes on that extra project at work and then the next day agrees to chair the PTA fundraiser!
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
SLOW DOWN!!! Make sure to fully experience and enjoy everything, because it really does all go by so fast!
What would you do, if you knew you could not fail?
Write a novel. I love a good story and wish that I could also tell one.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
My marriage of 45 years–it is hard work, but oh so precious.
What is your best advice on how to live a graceful life?
Learn to look at things from the OTHER point of view, not just your own—and to respect that other viewpoint. Recognize that everyone’s education and life experiences are unique and different from yours and that is why we have such differing points of view. I believe that respect for others and true self-respect is the definition of a graceful life. I must add that for me, a deep and abiding faith in God keeps me focused, calm and always hopeful.
j. jane side note:
Like all other highlights posted, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below. A very special thank you to Mrs. Petera. I truly appreciate your time.