I hear the faint sound of applause echoing in the next room, followed by the gentle thud of two tiny feet. Kirby Claire, my seven-year-old daughter, is at it again. When she doesn’t have gymnastics practice, she likes to work on her balance beam at home while watching both college athletes and world-famous gymnasts compete on the television. I smile. My determined little athlete has won back-to-back state titles and spends nearly eighteen hours a week in the gym year-round. She’s strong-willed, fierce, and unstoppable, despite only starting gymnastics a mere two years ago. She practically lives in her leotards. In fact, she has an entire wall dedicated to her brightly colored leos and in her room a rack filled with medals from her meets.
“Did you see that, Bear?” I hear her ask our three-year-old dog. Our golden retrievers, Bear and six-month-old Birdie, must be serving as Kirby’s audience this morning. They love to sprawl out on her pink-and black-mats while watching their “sister” perform.
As I walk across the kitchen, I spot a small white package on the counter. I pick it up and examine it. It is addressed to Kelsey Westberg, my twelve-year-old daughter. She’s my oldest. Kelsey wants to be a professional makeup artist and business owner when she grows up. Together, we run a small business on the side as a mother-daughter beauty guide team for LimeLife by Alcone. This package must be a new product she is hoping to debut in her makeup tutorial video tonight. I put it aside and make a mental note to remind her it has arrived when she returns home from cheerleading practice.
I grab my coffee and head over to my workspace. It is my personal oasis of productivity. Upon reaching my desk, I spot a bright-blue-and-orange object lying next to my laptop. I laugh. The foam projectile belongs to my six-year-old son, Grice. He enjoys building things, tearing things up, and, above all, playing with his Nerf guns. Looks like my desk fell victim to his most recent assault.
My phone lights up. Ah, a text message from my husband, Joe.
Grice has football practice tonight, right?
Yes, could you pick up dinner on the way home, too?
You got it.
I smile. Joe and I met in high school, but we were not high school sweethearts! He was the quarterback for our football team, and I was the cheerleading captain. Since my dad was a football coach, it was forbidden for players to date his daughter. Joe and I were just good friends. We stayed in contact, reconnected several times after graduation, and the rest is history. We will celebrate our fifteen-year anniversary this November.
There are three things that get me up in the morning. The first is my family. The second would be a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with cream only. The third is the work I do for Round Table Companies. When I was a little girl living in Vero Beach, Florida, I wanted to become an ice cream truck driver when I grew up. Something about delivering joy to everyone really spoke to my young heart. The prospect of free ice cream didn’t hurt either. Little did I know I’d eventually become president of a company where one of the core values is Joy.
Growing up, I always had a thirst for knowledge. I was an excellent student, even skipping a grade. However, I always felt like I needed to work hard to prove myself. I never wanted to be seen as younger or less competent because of my age. I was labeled “smart” and “gifted,” which was nice, but I was also a hard worker. Being an achiever was important to me, and I’ve just always had the willingness to put in the work required, no matter what.
I graduated in the top of my class from my high school’s International Baccalaureate program and was accepted early decision to Vanderbilt University. My dreams of driving an ice cream truck had long faded away, but I knew I wanted to major in medicine, law, or something prestigious to make my family, but especially my dad, a dedicated business owner and high school football coach, proud. He inspired me and expected me to reach for greatness, and I didn’t want to let him down. I didn’t want to let myself down.
At Vanderbilt, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. Honestly, I wanted to study everything! I ended up combining a lot of my interests and received a bachelor’s degree in human and organizational development, specializing in leadership and organizational effectiveness. I know: that is quite the mouthful, but it blended psychology, law, business, and other disciplines into something I thought was interesting yet practical. I enjoyed school so much, I stayed on for a fifth-year master’s program and earned my master’s of education in higher education administration while working for the Vanderbilt University Athletic Department as a marketing and promotions assistant.
After graduation, I still wasn’t sure where my path to purpose might lead. I had experience in marketing and gained a wealth of knowledge during my time at Vanderbilt. After a brief stint at a medical testing company as a marketing director, I resigned because something felt out of alignment. I couldn’t put my finger on it in the moment, but I knew something was off and many things weren’t right. A few months after I resigned, the company got caught up in years of litigation and had to lay off the entire staff with zero notice. If there is one thing I rely on the most, it is my gut instinct. It rarely leads me astray.
Freshly unemployed and newly married, I set out to find a new field to test. As a beach-loving Florida girl who wanted to eventually start a family, I found the idea of having summers off appealing. I decided to channel my childhood dreams again. I remember playing school all the time with my little brother and neighborhood friends. I loved guiding, teaching, nurturing, and coaching. I realized I have always had an attraction to teaching and the field of education. I took this rediscovery and earned a temporary teaching certificate. Freshly certified, I entered a new venture as a middle school language arts teacher. For the next nine years, I taught English, language arts, and writing.
Ever the learner, I went back to school again to earn a master’s degree in youth development leadership at Clemson University while teaching. My degree proved to be valuable, but the real benefit was a meaningful connection I made while in the program: I met my good friend and future colleague, RTC’s Leeann Sanders.
One of my favorite quotes is: “Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” The author is anonymous. This quote couldn’t be more applicable to my life. What was I meant to become? I enjoyed teaching, but was that the endgame for me?
I know I’ve spoiled the plot, but clearly the answer was no. In 2009 I had a hunger for some side work other than teaching. I found the opening for RTC’s part-time social media coordinator. It was only five hours a week, but it allowed me to dust off my marketing chops and use them again. I supported clients in growing their social networks. I felt like I was connected to a greater purpose and part of a company who worked with writers and authors wanting to make a difference in the world. My five hours felt meaningful.
My role at RTC quickly evolved into an administrative and project-specific position. Eventually, my husband received a promotion that would require our family to move out of state. I had to leave my teaching job, but that opened the doors for me to take on more work with RTC. I never played football for my dad, but I have played nearly every position on the RTC team. I have served as staff editor and project coordinator, held the official title as coordinator of chaos, and eventually grew to manage the company operations as a whole. In January 2016, I was appointed to president.
I love this company. I believe in the work we do and the impact that stories can have on educating, informing, entertaining, and inspiring others. We might not deliver ice cream, but we certainly deliver joy to our clients and their future readers.
What does a life learner do when she becomes president of a company? She continues to learn any way she can. I’m always adding plays to my professional playbook, because you never know when you might need them. I spend a lot of my spare time reading professional development books. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning, and I hope I never stop growing professionally and as a leader. RTC has supported and encouraged my professional and leadership development in profound ways. I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Stagen Leadership Program, where I defined my purpose, planted my flag in the ground, and shared what it is I stand for. Here is what I created: I stand for seeing possibilities, sharing positivity, and showing up authentically. This stand carries over into the work I do, the relationships I build with team members and clients, and the way I approach life in general. I remind myself of this purpose statement each day before I begin my work.
I open my laptop, excited for what will greet me as I turn on the power button. I can still hear Kirby practicing in the other room. I look out the window, past the pale-green curtains, and smile. It’s a new day full of possibility, brilliance, and, above all, joy.