Donie's Berkeley Experience

Donie's Berkeley Experience

Starting and running a business from home can feel solitary at times. Of course, my husband and my dog Tuxedo are with me, but as I build my Vital Pet Life business, I long to be part of a like-minded community of entrepreneurial women, with whom I can collaborate, brainstorm and share my dreams.

Being a 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow was a long-time dream of mine, both because I admire Tory Burch’s business acumen as well as her mission of giving back and empowering entrepreneurial women. Her Fellow’s program brought together 50 dynamic women, all striving to grow and develop their businesses. Knowing that the Fellowship program also awarded grant money to further each Fellow’s business education, motivated me to apply. I knew exactly what educational program I would attend, if and when I became a Fellow.     

Never having had women mentors, attending the Women’s Executive Leadership Program at UC Berkeley would be a great opportunity for me to learn from women who have succeeded in their industry. The program is unique in that it is designed by women for women. It addresses specific strengths and challenges facing women entrepreneurs in today’s complex corporate world. The program incorporates high-ranking women speakers from top Silicon Valley companies. I knew this four-day program would give me a sense of ownership over my leadership potential as well as embracing the different female forms of power and leadership. In May of 2019, when I became a Tory Burch Fellow, it also meant that I began to count the days until I realized another one of my dreams; to attend the Women’s Executive Leadership Program at UC Berkeley. 

 The Women’s Executive Leadership Program at UC Berkeley: 

Weeks before the Leadership Program began, I had copious amounts of reading and surveys to take so that I arrived properly prepared and ready to dive in. This program promised to focus on helping the participants get a unique perspective on how to use our strength as women in business. I couldn’t wait to learn and be among a new community of like-minded women, similarly to my 49 other Tory Fellows. Once settled and having introduced ourselves, I realized that out of 53 women, I was the only entrepreneur. I was surrounded by dynamic Mid to C-Level professionals who were fortunate enough to work for evolved corporations; wanting to facilitate and support their employee’s life-long learning. In our four days together we learned strategies for investing in ourselves, identifying our own value as a leader as well as navigating our social network.

Sitting with these smart, funny and wise women, I was learning about leading with a growth mindset and focusing my energy on self-compassion, building trust and many other softer skills that create a company in which employees are loyal, happy and committed. Yes, we also covered power, influence, resilience, and persistence, although as an entrepreneur who’s growing my own business, I was drawn to topics such as focusing on my collaboration and listening skills, enabling me to build a more authentic and in the end, a higher achieving business. Every evening I went back to my hotel room exhausted and yet exhilarated. 

My takeaways:

Looking back on the Women’s Executive Leadership Program at UC Berkeley, I am grateful. Grateful to have met this dynamic group of powerful women. Grateful to the speakers and teachers who taught me about leadership styles; including how to hone and evolve my current one into my desired, future one. I learned the ways in which I need to harness my power and become a leader who enhances motivation and strategic clarity.  

I learned the term psychological safety; where we feel safe and secure through vulnerability, collaboration and authenticity. When we feel valued, we’re able to bring our A-game.  In today’s world, we tend to spend so much time in our own head or on our devices, not connecting with others. We can easily sabotage our sense of psychological safety, leading us to feel disconnected and alone. 

Another critical component of successful leadership is finding one’s work-life balance. Understanding I have only 24 hours in my day, I was asked what and who is important to me. In addition to renewing my focus on my health, my husband Kyle and my dog Tuxedo are my worlds. I need to make time for reflection in my day, to keep in touch with my priorities and my story. I learned that in creating my story, I have the choice of being a victim or an inspiration. Thankfully I have lived my life feeling that the obstacles I encountered as a young woman empowered me to move forward while searching for meaningful experiences and people.  

After my week in Berkeley; listening and collaborating in small groups, I realized that people want to be asked to assist, to be of service in some way. I find it lifts me up to help someone and by doing so, I’m able to create meaningful relationships, which often blossom into supportive communities. This was my experience in Berkeley over four intense and wonderful days.