When the door of opportunity opens say, “YES!”
When I entered the door to the Building Museum in Washington DC, the hair on the back of neck stood at attention. I couldn’t move any further, my legs locked up, I simply stood there trying to make sense of what was in front of me….breathe.
I had been active for many years with ASTRA Women’s Business Alliance, a WBENC partner organization based in Portland, Oregon. My business had grown during those years and I had fallen in love with the amazing businesswomen who offered me guidance and support asking nothing in return.
In 2002, The ASTRA Executive Directors announced that I was to be honored as a WBE “Star” at the WBENC National Conference in DC. I thought, “Well, that’s lovely but I have two companies to run. I can’t possibly travel all the way across the US to attend a dinner.” After some serious arm twisting from the ASTRA women I reluctantly agree to go.
So, when I arrived at the black tie event and the doors were opened for me, I was in no way prepared for the sight I now beheld. A gigantic building, decorated to the rafters, lights flashing throughout, ice sculptures and at least a thousand people dressed to the 9’s. I thought, “Am I in the right place?” Once my legs stopped shaking, I walked slowly throughout the event hall and OMG I spied a huge, framed picture of ME near the podium.
I finally looked at the attendees. I recognized some faces but I didn’t know where I had seen them before. I spoke for the first time, “Do you know who that person is” I asked a lone lady standing next to the jumbo shrimp, as I pointed to a lovely Asian woman seated nearby. The woman replied, “Oh, that’s Elaine Chao, Labor Secretary.” Other people I recognized included numerous Fortune 500 CEO’s, Entertainers, Congressional Members and national women leaders. “Now I KNOW I must be in the wrong place.”
Secretary Elaine Chao’s story had always inspired me and I really wanted to meet her. I put on my brave face and introduced myself. We had a great conversation; she was genuinely kind and gracious. She asked for my card.
The hostesses showed me to my table and I was seated between three Fortune 500 CEO’s. The hair on my neck stood up again. “Oh goodness, did they seat me at the right table?” I decided to pretend I belonged there and struck up my best confident attempt at chit chat with these guys. It’s times like these I’m grateful for my obsession with sports, I can always fall back on my opinions regarding athletes and sports teams, whew!
What an amazing evening. I learned how Fortune 500’s compete against each other on how much contracting dollars they can redirect towards minority and women owned businesses. These events showcase their accomplishments and afford the top corporations enormous publicity opportunities and increase customer loyalty.
Within a few weeks of my attendance, I received a call from Secretary Chao’s office asking if I would represent the U.S. as a Delegate for International Trade Missions on behalf of The Labor Department, The Commerce Department and The SBA. My answer, a resounding, “YES.”
A year later, I was asked if I would be interested in advising the President with regards to eliminating international trade barriers for women? “HELLO, YES.”
I’m so grateful to the women at ASTRA who twisted my arm to attend what I thought was a simple dinner in DC. I soon became a WBENC National Forum member attending meetings in DC every three months. In addition, never missing another national gala event for many years. My company thrived because of my involvement; I was soon a Tier 1 (Prime) contractor with several of the Fortune 500’s whom I had met through WBENC.
Lessons learned…the more times I say “YES,” when asked, the more unexpected and amazing doors have opened to me for personal and professional growth and success.