Five years ago when my husband and I first started dating, I knew I would be relocating to Northern Virginia to start a new life. Chris and I have known each other since we were 14, no, we weren’t high school sweethearts…we were in the Marine Corps JROTC program together which always seems to create that close-knit camaraderie that the military has. After high school, Chris went on to join the Marine Corps, and I went to college.
Knowing that I would be making a move within a year, I started looking for a new career. I have been fortunate enough to have several employers who I am still in contact with, many of them becoming friends and family. I never imagined at 30 years old I would be starting my career over and that I would find an employer who would teach, inspire and challenge me to grow in ways I didn’t know I could.
Some in Northern Virginia would call Rebecca Barnes a ‘serial entrepreneur.’ She has successfully built numerous businesses in her 30-year career, three of which have won the new business of the year from our local chamber of commerce. Also a philanthropist, she was the youngest female chair for the largest chamber in Northern Virginia, Founding Task Force member, Past Chair and Board of Regents member for Leadership Prince William, Committee Chair for the Prince William Valor Awards and a longtime volunteer of the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department, serving on their board and as their Public Information Officer. She is publisher and owner of two award-winning publications that I am currently director of operations for. Having someone like this to guide you on your journey to greatness has been more than I could hope for. Here are some of the ways that Rebecca has helped inspire me, push me to the limits and helped me grow not only in business but my personal life as well.
Cultivating My Strengths
Once I finally made it to Northern Virginia and began working my life changed so much that my confidence was a little off. Being in the print and digital media industry for four years before moving, I felt like I knew my stuff. I had worked on all stages of the print processes and knew I would be an asset to Rebecca’s team. However, it took me some time to get into the swing of things as I struggled to find my footing. My publisher used my vulnerability and lifted me up. She gave me projects that she knew I would easily accomplish so that I was able to build my confidence quickly and get in the game!
Being in the media business, you must be creative and think outside the box to stay ahead of the curve. As Director of Operations for two regional publications, I work closely with the publisher and editorial team. Having someone to bounce ideas off in a candid and nonjudgement environment helps boost creativity. Having such a candid relationship also builds trust, trust to be yourself and trust that she always has my back.
Having a great mentor isn’t always pretty. Empowering and inspiring is only part of the job. Having someone honestly call out your shortcomings and hold you accountable for mistakes is key for personal and professional growth. Being able to take that criticism, acknowledge the error and create change is also key.
Connecting the Dots
When Chris and I decided to start our nonprofit, of course, I reached out to Rebecca to get her opinion. Not only did she encourage us to go for it, but she also put me in contact with influential people in the community that could help us. Having someone well connected in our corner gave us instant credibility on the local level, which then elevated our status in the region and on to being nationally recognized for our work with veterans. Her connections have helped us help others, which is an important part of who we are personally.
I have always been a strong personality. My whole life I was destined for entrepreneurship, always helping my father with his business when I was a young child or being the leader in school projects or at work. Having an employer who treats me as an equal, like a partner in her business has helped me grow more than the other things I mentioned above. Rebecca values my opinions and ideas and utilizes them to help grow her businesses. Knowing that she trusts my decisions has given me the confidence and strength to cultivate my talents to help others. I own a consulting company, operate a veteran service organization, publish a quarterly magazine, operate one monthly and one semi-annual magazine, AND I am a wife, mother and friend. All of these things are possible because of Rebecca. I sometimes try to imagine what life would be like if I had not reached out to her while doing my career search five years ago. I can guarantee that my life would be completely different…that is how you know you have a great mentor and friend.