EP: 140 Why Not Me?: One Simple Question To Make A Big Difference With Marilyn Vetter

BWW 140 | Why Not Me

 

It’s an exciting day at Brave Women at Work! Our second book baby, Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence, comes out in hardcover today! Woo hoo! This book was such a joy to write. I hope that you are inspired and motivated by all the authors’ stories to build your confidence so you can reach the professional and personal fulfillment and success you deserve.

Also, we are hosting a Brave Women at Work Virtual Author Summit today, August 24th, from 12:00 – 1:30 pm CT/1:00 – 2:30 pm ET today. At this event, the authors and I are sharing the 5 Steps in the Building Your Confidence framework. These steps will help you identify what may be holding you back from getting that promotion, speaking up at work, getting recognized, and more. You will receive tangible steps you can take today to build your confidence.

 

And spoiler alert, this content is NOT in the book! Visit bravewomenatwork.com for more details and to register.

I’m also so excited that I get the opportunity to chat with one of the authors, Marilyn Vetter! Marilyn is not only an author in the book, but my friend and colleague. Marilyn’s chapter, Why Not Me?, is the first chapter in the book and so powerful. I am pumped that she’s with us!

During my chat with Marilyn, we discussed:

  1. How she has had three distinct parts of her career, starting with journalism, then to the pharmaceutical industry, and now to non-profits
  2. Why she decided to write a chapter in Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Leadership and what she gained from the experience
  3. She provided an overview of her chapter on how asking and thinking why not me can make a big difference in our careers
  4. How her chapter helped someone get a promotion just by reading it.
  5. What mental hurdles she faced as she decided to become the CEO of the current non-profit organization she leads.
  6. Marilyn’s top tip for developing confidence

Listen to the podcast here

 

Why Not Me?: One Simple Question To Make A Big Difference With Marilyn Vetter

It’s an exciting day. Our second book baby, Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence, comes out in hardcover. This book was such a joy to write. If you haven’t picked it up out there, it’s on Kindle. It’s on hardcover. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope that once you do, you’re inspired and motivated by all of the authors’ stories to build your own personal confidence so that you can reach professional and personal fulfillment and the success that you not only want but that you deserve.

Also, as this comes out in late August 2023, we are hosting a Brave Women at Work Virtual Author Summit. It is from 12:00 to 1:30 PM Central Standard or 1:00 to 2:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. If you missed it, no worries. You can always reach out to me at Hello@BraveWomenAtWork.com. Even if it’s a year from now, I’m sure I’ll have a replay for you. Who knows that may even be a freebie on my site. Check back if you’re tuning in to this at a later time.

At this event, the authors and I are going to be sharing the five steps in building your confidence framework. These steps are going to help you identify what may be holding you back from getting that promotion, from speaking up at work, from getting recognized, and so much more. We all know that we faced struggles at work, and I want to get this whole framework in these steps in your hands. You’re going to get these tangible steps that you can take today to build your confidence.

As a spoiler alert, this content is not in the book, so make sure to visit BraveWomenAtWork.com for more details and to register. I’m also so excited that I get the wonderful opportunity to chat with one of our authors, Marilyn Vetter. She is not only an author in the book, but she’s my friend and colleague. Marilyn’s chapter is called Why Not Me. It is the first chapter of the book. It sets the book off so powerfully. I’m so pumped that she is sharing some time with us.

During my chat with Marilyn, we discussed how she has had three distinct parts of her career, ranging from journalism to the pharmaceutical industry and now to nonprofits. She also went into more detail about why she decided to write a chapter in Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence and what she gained from the experience.

 

BWW 140 | Why Not Me

 

She talked about an overview of her chapter and how asking and thinking “Why not me,” has made a huge difference in her career and can make a difference in all of our careers. She also touched on how her chapter helps someone get a promotion just by reading it. You want to jump into her chapter. That’s why we put it at the front of the book.

She rounds out our conversation by discussing the mental hurdles that she faced. Right at the time she was writing the chapter, she was fun facing mental hurdles because she was deciding if she wanted to become the CEO of a current non-profit organization. She’s going to tell you. She took the CEO job and I think she’s very happy with that decision. I asked her at the end her top tip for developing confidence. Make sure you stay to the end of our conversation.

Here is more about Marilyn Vetter. She has 30 years leading and developing teams in the biopharmaceutical industry. Building expertise in government relations and providing access to therapeutics is her expertise. What makes her soul sing is mentoring women to become confident and empowered leaders. Her passion to serve includes a lifetime of volunteering with organizations that speak to her passions, which include life sciences, professional development, hunting dogs, wildlife, and habitat conservation.

Her professional and personal worlds collide in her newest role as the President and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, the nation’s leading organization committed to conserving upland birds and wildlife through habitat Improvement. Marilyn leads the passionate 450-person team and expands awareness of their critical work. In her free time, Marilyn enjoys traveling, writing, hiking, and hunting with her husband Clyde and their German shorthaired pointers.

Before we get started, if you are enjoying the show, please make sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. As I always say, if you very left a rating and review, I appreciate you. Thank you so much. Your support of the show means not only the world to me, but it helps this get into the hands of more people and more women like you and me. Thank you again for leaving a rating and review.

One final reminder, if you haven’t yet gone to my website to grab some of my newer freebies, go to BraveWomenAtWork.com. I have a freebie called Getting Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips, 24 Career and Leadership Affirmations, and the 5 Steps to Managing Imposter Syndrome. They are absolutely free. Let’s welcome, Marilyn to the show.

Marilyn, welcome to the show. How are you?

I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on the show.

I always joke with everybody that all of my gut feelings, and one of my old podcast editors said, “You should get a button that says ‘LinkedIn Stalker.’” I am not stalking you via LinkedIn, Marilyn. Although we’re connected and colleagues on LinkedIn, we met through other colleagues. We met through Natalie, Hope, and Her C-Suite. I think that’s how we were connected.

That is correct.

I do meet people outside of the LinkedIn sphere and Marilyn has been such a joy to get to know and to see a little bit of your history and big step in your career, which we’ll talk about in our show. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? You can share any point of your history, any part of your backstory, and how you’ve gotten where you are.

I suppose I could say I’m a fellow LinkedIn stalker. It’s my social media platform that I spend the most time on. We are colleagues on that front. You asked about how we get to where we are in our lives. If there’s one word that I could say that got me here, it would be curiosity. I’ve always been the person that asked why. If my mother was alive, she would verify that for you.

She’d always joke about the fact that I was the kid that asked why about everything. When you’re a busy mom, it’s fun to have kids that ask why but after a while she was like, “I don’t know all those answers and I don’t have the time.” This is a funny side story. At that point in my life when I was born a very long time ago, encyclopedias were a big thing and my parents were not affluent. Getting a set of encyclopedias was a hard lift for them. Here I was the last kid in the group of seven, and they invested encyclopedias so that they could say, “Go look it up.”

Curiosity and learning for me has been a driving force in my whole life. In particular as a kid, it’s pretty common in farm families because I grew up on a small cattle ranch in Central North Dakota to be politically interested. Farm families have to be engaged in the political process because so much of their livelihood is driven by that arena. From a little on, I thought I was going to end up in that political space. I thought I was going to be on the other side of it. Either being a politician or perhaps, I had this mad fascination for Sandra Day O’Connor because I thought I will be a Supreme Court Justice someday.

I never did go to law school so that dashed that dream, but I ended up going into communications and becoming a journalist. That allowed me to play in that space. I could ask why, what, where, how, and all of those questions. I also reported in the political arena, but no surprise to the world, being a journalist is not a way to build a 401(k) or any other assets. Sadly, I decided to leave that career. It was sad at the time. Now, I look back and I think it was a wonderful opportunity for me to grow in other areas.

I entered the biopharmaceutical world. I spent 30 years in that arena and loved learning about patients, learning about different disease states, how they impacted people, and how as an industry we could build answers for them. I spend a lot of time in very different departments, in and out of the political part of that and political advocacy. I got to weave in and out of things that were important throughout my life.

In parallel to building a profession, my parents instilled a deep sense of responsibility. Part of that was volunteering. I’ve always been involved in nonprofits. I have been on boards because I felt it was a sense of responsibility, but also I loved it. I got to be involved in organizations and associations that either enriched the planet, enriched people’s hobbies, or in trade associations, and chambers of commerce in ways that I could engage in environments that I probably would’ve been able to do.

The reason I bring that up is you mentioned a career shift for me. In February 2023, I became the CEO of a large nonprofit dedicated to wildlife habitat and conservation. It was a hobby for me. My husband and I are upland bird hunters. If you’re going to be part of that environment, I’ve always felt that you should give back. You should be advocating for strong conservation principles and making sure that the world is cared for, which was also established by my parents.

It’s fascinating how the world can come full circle. For me, I don’t think of my professional life in a vacuum. It has always been fully aligned with my volunteer world because I did sit on lots of boards that were part of the lobbying space when I was in political advocacy. I was on a lot of those political organizations and it was a fascinating opportunity to watch both of those collide in my new career.

I didn’t know that. I appreciate you sharing it because I didn’t know how this opportunity came about. It’s fascinating to me. I’m wondering if you were to have a conversation with Marilyn 5 or 7 years ago, would you think that you’d be in a role like you are right now?

In some ways, yes. I don’t know if it would’ve been here. I probably would’ve thought I was going to be leading a patient group or something like that. I remember we were doing an icebreaking session with one of the teams that I led at my last company. We went around the room and said, “If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?” I had a tie. I said that I would’ve either been a pediatric psychologist or I would run a nonprofit.

You keep it down in your bones. It was there.

It’s so funny because I look at all my siblings and most of them are crazy busy, even if they’re retired because they’re always volunteering for something. It’s something that is in our bones. My parents, it wasn’t so much that they were involved in communities because they lived in a very rural area, but I guess you can include volunteering as taking care of neighbors and family members. They were always making sure if someone was in the hospital, we’ll go over and milk their cows or we’ll make their hay or whatever they needed to do. They never questioned that sense of responsibility to help others.

That sense of community, belonging, and caring is amazing. I’ll say that I’m as guilty as many others. I live in the suburbs of the Chicago area and you drive right into your driveway or your garage. You shut the garage and you don’t interact as much. That’s the way that I grew up, even living in suburbia. I think it’s fascinating. Hats off to you that you decided to incorporate your worlds in that way and in a beautiful way.

Thank you. Some of my best friends in life have come from my volunteer space.

I’m glad that you shared that. I want to pivot because we want to talk about your involvement in our book that came out, Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence. It’s been so fun to have you as part of this. It’s such a joy. You’re busy. You were making the decision to lead a nonprofit. You have a lot going on. You have a whole personal life, you have family, all this stuff, and then you decided to jump in. What made you go, “I’m going to be an author in this book?”

BWW 140 | Why Not Me
Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence

When you and Hope reached out to me, I’d known Hope for a long time, the other co-author of the book. I was so intrigued by the fact that she had written a couple of books. I’ve always thought that if someone would say, “If you were independently wealthy and you could spend the rest of your life doing something, what would it be?” I would be like, “Who doesn’t want to be a writer?”

I’ve always thought that would be a fun way, to go back to my journalism skills, to spend more time writing, and I miss that. When she asked me, I was always too busy to do a project like that, but those opportunities don’t come along very often. I jumped at the opportunity and then I said, “By the way, what’s the topic?” She said, “Confidence.” I said, “That could be a challenge.”

Although not everybody has issues in this space, I was like, “I don’t know. Am I the right person to talk about confidence?” Hope laughed and said, “See? That’s why you should because we all question that.” For me, I took it on as more of a challenge because this space was a bit vexing to me. I have probably portrayed that I’ve been more confident than I was sometimes when my stomach was swimming with butterflies about decisions, “Am I the right person to be leading this meeting? Am I the right person to be leading this department?”

We all ask ourselves those questions. I thought what a great way to be able to write about it and then not make it so much my story. My story is woven in and out of the chapter, but to talk about how this topic of confidence impacts all of us, particularly women as they come into their careers. Hopefully, it’s less now than it was when I came into my career in the ’90s. A fascinating part of doing some research around it and how much I found out about the topic of confidence that I did not know before.

Why don’t you dive in a little bit? I want people to read your chapter. We’re not going to give away all the spoilers, but I want you to share a little bit about your story because it was so powerful. It ended up being the first chapter of the book, and a wonderful way to start this book. Isn’t that ironic too? You said, “This is a challenge,” and then we ended up picking your chapter as the first chapter of the book. It was beautiful by the way. Why don’t you share a little snippet of your story?

Thank you for that. This goes back to the why. The chapter is called Why Not Me? The story revolves around the fact that I had a fairly new supervisor in my role at my last company. The executive part of the organization was working on succession planning. He was having a conversation with me about it. He said, “I have to start thinking about who my successor is.” He was talking about one of my peers.

He said, “I’ve had a conversation with him and he’s not interested. The next time we get together, let’s make sure that we talk about this and brainstorm about it a bit.” I don’t know at the time he was hinting or alluding to me or maybe he was even subtly questioning or not, but I assumed he was not. As they say, assumptions are dangerous. I left the meeting stewing a bit, “Why not me? Why would we have a conversation about who the successor would be when we haven’t even talked about whether I could be potentially that person?”

I go right from that meeting to it was the Healthcare Business Women’s Association’s annual luncheon. We had someone that was going to be accepting the award, but I couldn’t be in New York City for the event in person. I was watching it virtually in this conference room full of people and we were all watching it together. I’m still stewing a little bit and I’m listening to this story of a woman who had nominated a gentleman as the mentor of the year. She talked about why he was such an important mentor in her life and her career because he saw things in her that she often did not see in herself.

When he was succession planning, he asked her if she would consider herself to be the person to fill that role so that he could focus on developing her over the next 18 to 24 months so if and when he left the organization, she would be ready. She even said, “I thought I’d thought it when I said under my breath, ‘Why me?’” He looked at her and said, “Why not you?”

I remember it very vividly. I still have the piece of paper where I wrote down, “Why not me?” I thought, “This is my charge.” I got myself ready for that next meeting with my supervisor and I sat down with him and I said, “You mentioned succession planning and we’d like to have a conversation about it. I looked him straight in the eye and I said, “Why not me?” The room got quiet and he said, “I didn’t even think you were interested.” He looked at me and he goes, “Indeed, why not you?”

That simple question that I asked changed our relationship forever. We had this wonderful working relationship that blossomed from that, and he was thrilled that I was interested. For whatever reason I had sent off signals, vibes, or something along the way that showed that I wasn’t interested, and because I finally asked. I spent most of my life being that obedient little kid who from early on says, “People will ask you for these things. People will come to you with opportunities. You should be more modest and not ask.”

Yet, all the while my male counterparts never hesitated to ask. That’s not a jab against them. That’s great. They grew up in a culture that fostered that they ask for their success. I grew up in a very different cultural environment that said, “Little girls wait. Little girls get asked.” It was so silly. It completely changed my viewpoint on my career on its head like, “You’re not going to get what you don’t ask for.” It turned into a great opportunity for me and I finally got to get a good answer to why.

You are not going to get what you don't ask for. Share on X

It’s such a good lesson for everyone. I tell my daughter, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” My little one, if she’s like, “Can I have candy?” With my older one, we saw the Barbie movie as we’re recording this. I told her. I’m like, “Charlotte if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” You’d be amazed and I’m sure that maybe you wouldn’t Marilyn, but there are so many of us, me included. I had to train myself to be okay with asking. I’m so thankful that you had that nudge to ask. I was curious. Where did that little nudge come from? Were you nervous to ask or at that point, you had already grown the “I’m going to ask the question” muscle?

I was nervous because they always say that all feedback is good. I don’t necessarily prescribe to that notion, but I was worried. I was worried that he might say, “For the following reasons, I don’t think you’re the right person for that.” I was nervous. I would say the nudge came from listening to someone in her own mind had said, “Why me?” He was like, “I see these wonderful things in you.”

When we were chatting about this, I said I have a great story to relay to you about my job. About a year ago, a friend of mine and I were having dinner. She was talking about work and she said, “I really want to get this promotion and it hasn’t happened.” We started talking through a strategy of how she could do that, how she could go to her supervisor and enunciate what she wanted.

I said, “Write a job description and tell her, ‘This is exactly what I think the organization needs. This is why I think I’m the right person for it.’” It hasn’t happened exactly like that. What happened is that she raised her hand and said, “I want more.” Now, when there was an opportunity that came up in the organization, she did the exact same thing that I did.

She was stewing about it a bit, “Why has not somebody come to me and ask me to be in it?” They were talking internally about how other people might be suited for it. She went home that night and she downloaded the electronic version of our book and read my chapter. We’re having dinner and she said, I was telling my husband, “This is me. This is my life right now.”

He said, “Why don’t you take the lesson from the chapter and say, ‘Why won’t you consider me for this role?’” Her boss looked at her and said, “That’s fantastic. I’m excited you’re interested in it.” A week later, she got the promotion. It was fascinating how all of us have those two competing voices on our shoulders. One that says, “Why you,” and the other one who says, “Why not me?” It’s to make ourselves listen to the voice that has a positive tone to it.

Sometimes we do have to pep talk ourselves into it. I did have to pep talk myself into, “This is why I’m ready for them.” I didn’t just say, “Why not me?” I said, “Why not me? I think I do check off this box and this box. I need to grow in this area and I’d love your support to have me considered for a potential successor.” I was very clear about the areas that I knew that I also had to grow into.

That’s a beautiful story. That’s why I’ve written my chapters. I feel so blessed that I’ve had the opportunity to publish not one but two books of these anthologies of women’s stories because I’ve had a few. I think that you even said that my first chapter touched you. Mine was on secondary infertility and burnout. This one was on confidence and imposter syndrome. That’s why I think that your chapters are making a difference. I’m sure, with someone that’s so into volunteering, it means the world to you.

It does because you never know when your story or any action in life can inspire someone to better their own life. You mentioned something about your first chapter and that was how you and I connected. I’ll never forget that first conversation we had about how we both connected on the workhorse part of our lives and how we had learned to work harder and you’ll always get through it.

This is one of the things that I learned about this. When I did the research in this chapter, it was fascinating to me that it isn’t just you and I. We know that it’s systemic, particularly, for women. Maybe it feels that way because I am one. We tend to rely on our work product and our performance in our minds as our key indicators for promotion.

There’s fascinating research that I found in some of the studies, and I’ll throw in a couple of numbers because I thought they were so telling. Over 7% more women are likely to be rated as top performers in their reviews, but 12% are more likely to be rated as lowest potential in their organization, and even lower when it’s compared to men.

The incongruency there is that 33% of women are more likely than men to have earned the highest performance rating and the lowest potential score. Potential is the greatest indicator for promotion. We have fooled ourselves to believe that if we work harder, we will inherently be recognized for that work and be promoted. If we haven’t raised our hand and said very clearly that’s what we want, what we need, and tell me how we need to get there, then it will be harder. The road will be longer if we don’t ask.

When I saw those statistics, my mouth was ajar. It was just open when I read your chapter for the first time. I knew of it but when it was in print, it was a little bit shocking for me to see it the first time when I read it on paper.

Me too.

I appreciate you doing all that research because it added extra dimension and weight to your chapter. With the whole publication, this was my second rodeo. I’ve been through the publication process a couple of times, but I believe this was your first. I want to inspire and motivate women who want to become authors in the future.

The first thing is as you and I talked about in this conversation, being a writer or writing a book is on so many women’s and so many people’s bucket lists. It’s one of those that always potentially gets pushed back. This is not an easy way. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it is a way to step into that. What would you say to encourage women that want their own chapter? What advice would you give?

It is a bit intimidating, particularly when someone says, “Your product has to be between 3,000 and 5,000 words. That’s just for a chapter. If you’re going to write a book, think about all the words you need to transfer from your brain to your laptop. I had to step back from that. I’m like, “Let’s not worry about 3,000 words. Let’s worry about the first word.”

I spent the first week randomly thinking about things and I’m still old school. I always have a piece of paper around me somewhere. I would write down ideas and things that came into my head. Random thoughts like, “This has been important in my life about confidence, about learning, or about how I’ve reflected on successes and failures.” I wrote them all on separate pieces of paper so that when I sat down to start writing, I started shuffling them around. It helped me create a tactical version of an outline.

I’m like, “That story works here,” and then I could weave in. I did some research along the way, “That data that I found, will that help support my story?” It’s not just a story. It’s validated. That helps people then say, “My story is validated because I’m not alone. The data says that this is common.” Sometimes that commonality is a real sisterhood of we all stand in this together.

That made it feel so much easier to have an outline of what I want to tell and portray, not just sit down and start writing. I think it would’ve been a lot flatter then. One of the women that’s writing for your next book reached out and asked me, “How do I start?” I’m going to tell you what worked for me. Even if it was a quote, that inspired me. That helped me then weave in and out the data points that I thought were important along with the thread of a story that could weave it together.

That made it pretty darn achievable. I’m not going to fool myself that writing a book would be harder, but if I was going to write a book, I would probably do the same thing. If I was going to write twelve chapters, what would they be about? You would then start salting those stories throughout those chapters to then, “How does that come together?”

That makes it feel a lot more achievable when you sit down with six slips of paper and say, “I have to build this out, but at least I have the topics that I want to focus on.” Once you start writing, you take the pressure off and say, “It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.” You’re going to have lots of copy editing and lots of opportunities to change it along the way. It made it a lot simpler and made more sense in my head.

I like that you’ve broken it down into those bite-sized pieces because when people say, “I’m going to write a book. I’m going to write a chapter,” or whatever, it becomes so overwhelming. You smartly said, “I’m going to break this down so it is doable.” I want to underscore what you said to anyone that does want to write that you can do it. It’s setting aside the time, the intention, putting the outline together, and just writing. It’s not just that. It does take effort and intention, but it can be done.

Ask other people what they want to hear about. Your last topic was resilience. I started asking my friend, “What would you want to know about confidence? What are your feelings about confidence? What have you seen in maybe people that you’ve helped mentor or be an ally for or a sponsor for?” It gave me ideas like, “That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that before.” It helped me understand what a reader would want to know.

Both of mine were more personal stories, but I like that you also woven other people into this. I even learned something there. You talk to other people about what they want to hear about or what they want to know about. You’re not the only person that’s coming from that vantage point. You incorporated others as you were building your outline.

One of the funny things was when I was asked to write a chapter for confidence, my own imposter syndrome pops up. I’m like, “Why me?” I asked a couple of folks that I knew really well, “If someone told you that I was writing a chapter about confidence, what would you think might be in it? Why would you think they would ask me?” I wanted to hear what they thought. They said, “Of course, why wouldn’t they ask you? You are this or that?” So many times, the reflection of ourselves in the mirror is not what other people see. It’s not what they experience.

They oftentimes speak with so much more beauty about us than we ever do about ourselves. It was a wonderful experience to ask other people because it’s like, “I didn’t know you felt that way about me.” It was a fun and beautiful way to help me frame the book or the chapter for the book because I got to see myself through other people’s lenses.

So many times, the reflection of ourselves in the mirror is not what other people see. It's not what they experience. They often speak with so much more beauty about us than we ever do about ourselves. Share on X

I like that tip. The next theme for the next book is leadership and I’m going to be writing another chapter. I got to tell you, Marilyn, do you know how the confidence one was a stumper for you? You’re like, “Should this be me?” This one, I know you’re probably like, “Come on, Jen. This is the one that’s stumping me where I’m like, ‘What am I going to write about?’” I’m going to take some of these tips into the next book.

That’s a helpful one because first of all, you’re an amazing leader. You do it all the time. You’ve taken all of these personal opportunities to create triumph for yourself and for others in your community. You are a leader every day by doing brave things like writing books and chapters, starting a podcast, and being a coach. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful opportunity to ask people that you’ve led, “How do you describe me as a leader?”

I’m going to do that.

I can’t wait to read it.

I’m excited. It gives me a whole new perspective. Thank you. I want to share a little bit if you’re okay with this. It was interesting timing. While you were writing the chapter on confidence when we first met, I don’t know if you had made the decision yet, but you had not ascended into the CEO spot. You were making the decision, and while you were doing this, then you made the decision.

I think that in and of itself, for a future book, a chapter, or whatever, the idea of what you have to go through, what are the mental or the confidence hurdles you had to go to say, “I’m going to lead a nonprofit. I’m going to be a CEO.” I wanted to ask you, what kind of confidence or mental hurdles did you face as you were making the decision to lead the nonprofit?

We had this wonderful conversation when I was standing in an airport. I was deciding whether or not I was going to apply. I’d been on this organization’s board for seven and a half years. It’s called Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. This is a beautiful and wonderful organization that’s focused 100% on building and restoring habitats in private and public lands for not just pheasants and quail but quite honestly all wild critters that live in those spaces.

It was a very important personal organization for me to be involved with. My connection to the environment, to the lands, and growing up on a farm, I felt strongly about their mission. I was helping that mission by being on the board. The CEO was retiring and I had a couple of people come up to me and say, “You should think about applying.”

I had left the organization that I was at. I was taking a bit of a break. I had also worked myself to burnout and knew I needed to take a mental break. I was trying to decide what the next version 3.0, at this point in my life, looks like. Do I do the easy thing and stay in the biopharmaceutical space? I go, “That’s easy,” but continuing that career and not doing anything different.

That was the one thing like leaving a career that I had done for 30 years. Could I do that again? I had left my original career in journalism. Could I make that shift? Again, it’s those same questions that we ask ourselves. Why would they pick me? I’m not a wildlife biologist, but neither was the last CEO. It’s an organization of 530-plus people, and 350 of them are wildlife biologists and they’re experts in their field.

 I started thinking through myself, “Am I the right person?” I had to bounce that off my left shoulder, my negative guy and say, “Listen to the person on the right that says, ‘Read that job description again. What is that job description focused on?’” It didn’t say, “The first thing you need to know is how to be a wildlife biologist.” It says you need to be passionate about conservation. You have to have an idea of the world that they work in.

Like any CEO, leader of teams, leader of departments, or leader of organizations, you need to have a strong passion for leadership, developing teams, building a sustainable organization, strategic planning, and understanding the budget process and the rigor around the budget process. That balance of high-level thinking and thinking big, but also making sure that you’re being rigorous to a budget and those kinds of very tactical things.

It also talked about political advocacy and things like developing people that I have always been completely enamored with and personally driven by. I looked at it again. I look at the data that talks about how women don’t apply for jobs until they reach 100% of the job description. I have 90% of this job description. Why am I going to pull myself out of a race that I haven’t even entered? That would be silly. Why wouldn’t I let them decide if I’m the right person?

BWW 140 | Why Not Me
Why Not Me: Women don’t apply for jobs until they reach 100% of the job description.

 

After you and I spoke, I thought, “Why not me?” I put together my submission. It was a rigorous process, which I’m glad it was. It made me grow a lot and look at what I’ve grown and developed over the years and how I’ve grown and how important that would be to the organization. I would recommend to anybody to apply for stretch opportunities because they stretch you, but it also makes you take this intense look at what you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished.

At the end of it, it was this celebration of even if they don’t pick me, it made me feel better about myself. I had to then say to myself, “What have you done?” I loved the process and maybe it was that time in my life when I needed it, but it was a good cheerleading opportunity for myself. Even if they don’t pick you, that’s okay because you’ve gone through this whole rigorous process to now think about if it’s not this role, then what am I suited for? I’m well-suited to jump into something else. Lean into that positive voice that says, “You can do this.”

It might be a stretch. Of course, it is. This is a stretch for me. I’ve never led a team this large. I’ve never reported to a board before, so this has stretched me in good ways. Am I learning every day? Absolutely. I have this little thing on my desk at home that says, “Life is learning,” and I love to learn. If I could be an independently wealthy person, I’d probably go to school all day long and write at night. I’m getting to live in this space where I’m learning a lot, but I’m also getting to add a lot and bring dimensions to the organization that hadn’t been considered before because they come from such vastly different backgrounds.

I love hearing the other side of it because we haven’t had the opportunity. I remember our conversation in the airport, you were at the beginning and now, it’s another beautiful blessing for me. You’re still in the process, but you’re in the job. Thank you for sharing that. For me, it brings it full circle because we were so focused on the book, the launch of the book, now the launch of the hardcover, and all this good stuff. Thank you for sharing that because we haven’t had the chance to say, “Where are you?” It sounds like you’re very fulfilled and this was the right choice for you.

It has been. I’m blessed that they picked me.

They’re blessed as well. I’m confident you’re bringing a lot to the table and you’re going to help them in any of their strategic initiatives. You’ve already given the tip, but I wanted to ask you. It’s so interesting. As I’m listening to you, you were a perfect person to talk about and to write about confidence because look at what you’re doing and your experiences.

You’ve taught yourself to ask even when you didn’t grow up or were raised in an environment where you were like, “I have to ask to get.” If you could share your top tip on building confidence with anyone, male or female, but we’ll have predominantly female tuning in, what would you say that tip would be if someone is like, “I’m struggling to build my confidence. How can I build my confidence?”

The most important thing that I ask myself is, “What was the one thing I’m willing to commit to doing better tomorrow than I can do today so that I’m putting myself in that learning experience?” For me, learning not only brings me joy, but it makes me feel more confident. If I’m new in a role and I’ve never done budgeting before, as I did many years ago, I took Spreadsheets or Financial Sheets for Dummies or something like that.

I had to learn it so that I could then feel confident in my ability and my decision-making. That doesn’t mean it has to be classes. It could be sitting down with somebody that’s an expert in that space. Build your skills. Never stop learning and growing because there’s always something else that can make you better in your role.

It can make you more prepared for the next role, the one you’re looking at or the one that might come to you that you didn’t even know exist. Continue to build those skills as much as you can. Hone your craft and be ready because you never know when an opportunity might come to you. If you hadn’t spent the time building yourself, you might not be ready for the role. For me, learning is key.

Build your skills. Never stop learning. Never stop growing because there's always something else that can make you better in your role and prepare you for the next. Share on X

I’m very similar. I know this is cliché, but knowledge is power. That’s a cliché for a reason, and it’s a strong one. I tell everyone, “Learn as much as you can. Don’t rely on the status quo.” You said at the beginning to be curious and ask why. All of those are great tips for building confidence. I also need to ask you this, and this might be the same. You’d be like, “Jen, repeat learning,” but I wanted to ask you, what are 1 to 2 ways that you believe women can be braver at work today?

This is a little different for me because maybe learning takes bravery, but there are some other things that take bravery. The two that come to mind for me are embracing feedback and proactively getting it, whether that’s through a formal 360 process. If it’s an informal, I’m going to commit to the next six months and I’m going to sit down and have coffee with twelve colleagues and ask them two questions. Be specific and keep it short so that they’re willing to do it and it’s not a barrage.

If I was going to ask you to tell me, “What is one thing that I am good at as an individual? What am I doing well?” and then listen. “What is the one thing that I can improve upon?” For me, it’s getting that feedback. I always ask for that kind of feedback because that version that they have a view of might completely resonate. You’d be like, “I know I might not be good at prioritizing,” but if other people say it, you’re like, “Now, they’re seeing it.”

That helps you to prioritize your own development. Sometimes it can also reveal a blind spot that you didn’t know you have. If you are a very busy active doer and you’re always multitasking on conference calls, people might say, “I feel like you’re not very engaged.” You might think, “I had no idea that I left that impression.” Those are good opportunities to grow in a very quick way.

The other thing is you should never stop building your network. It is the most important thing that you can do. People ask me about my superpower. It is connecting people to the other people that they need to know. You cannot have too large of a network. That means putting yourself on people’s calendars that may be at work they might be three levels higher than you.

They might be three levels deeper in the organization than you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow and that you’ve built a network. Later in your career, you might say, “I’d love to know how you got here. What are the things that you learned along the way that we’re talking about now that I could grow from?” Feedback is always a great opportunity to learn about yourself and a deep network is a game changer in careers.

The network is a big deal and this was a byproduct of it all. When I set out to do the show as a result of healing from burnout, what a blessing this was. I feel more connected than ever. People were shutting down and turning inwards, and I was too. However, through the podcast and through the books, and through all of these things, I’ve gotten to meet you and so many other amazing powerhouse women that are making these powerful strides and changes in the world.

That is probably my biggest gratitude in terms of building my network. I know that I could call you and be like, “What do you think about this?” I hope that you would feel the same. You could call me and I’d be like, “This is what I think about this,” and be a real ally. That has been the blessing of this show and writing the books and doing this work that I do.

One of the things that network is so beautiful is that it sounds like a work thing, but it isn’t. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. They can turn into these beautiful relationships that add so much dimension to our lives. One of the things about feedback is a lot of people are afraid to ask about one thing that they can improve on. It’s important to ask that, particularly if you’ve had a disappointment at work.

Let’s say you applied for a position or maybe you applied for a position in an outside organization, or it could even be a personal thing that isn’t going well for you. I try to encourage people to not classify them as failures. That was a long road of evolution for me trying to say, “These are growth opportunities.” I have a dear friend who said this quote to me probably fifteen years ago, and I love it. I probably should have it engraved on a piece of wood for my desk. He always says, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” It’s so good. It is such a great way to reframe what you might otherwise call a failure because nothing is a failure if you learn from it. It’s so powerful.

Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want. Nothing is a failure if you learn from it. Share on X

That’s a great way to end. Marilyn, where can women find you and connect with you online?

We’re going to come full circle on this. The best way to find me is through LinkedIn. I check that thing at least once a day. I am very engaged in that community. I love to learn from all of the leaders in that space. If you shoot me a message on LinkedIn, you’re going to find me. You will find me on Facebook and Instagram but I’m much more apt to be found on LinkedIn. Also, because I was an early adopter, you can find me under Marilyn Vetter. I’m pretty easy to find.

Can you also share your company name if anyone is interested in how they can support your organization?

It’s Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. You’ll see us on all of the platforms and you’ll see the wonderful work that these biologists and the amazing team here are doing to make our planet a better place.

Marilyn, thank you so much for being here and for participating in the Brave Women at Work: Lessons in Confidence book, and for teaching me some amazing things. I’ve got homework now to do. Thank you so much for being here. It’s been such a pleasure having you.

I thank you back, Jen. It’s been a wonderful process for me and I’ve learned a lot as well. I’ve built a great relationship with you and it’s been fun to get to know you and watch you grow professionally.

That does it for my discussion with Marilyn. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other podcast platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up, think about why not me, and be brave.

 

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About Marilyn Vetter

BWW 140 | Why Not MeMarilyn Vetter has thirty years leading and developing teams in the biopharmaceutical industry. While building expertise in government relations and providing access to therapeutics is her expertise, what makes her soul sing is mentoring women to become confident and empowered leaders. Marilyn’s passion to serve includes a lifetime of volunteering with organizations that speak to her passions which include life sciences, professional development, hunting dogs, wildlife and habitat conservation. Her professional and personal worlds collide in her newest role as the President and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, the nation’s leading organization committed to conserving upland birds and wildlife through habitat improvement. Marilyn leads the passionate 450-person team and expands awareness of their critical work. In her free time Marilyn enjoys traveling, writing, hiking, and hunting with her husband Clyde and their German shorthaired pointers.

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