What does boldness mean to you? At Pottery Barn, it means many things: Expressing personal style without inhibition, never taking shortcuts, and giving back to the community, both locally and globally.
It also means contributing to a more inclusive working world. Did you know that more than half of Pottery Barn’s executive team is comprised entirely of women? We also employ thousands of women around the world, from those in our San Francisco headquarters to the artists who craft our products overseas.
That’s why this year’s International Women’s Day campaign, #BeBoldForChange, hits so close to home. To mark this important event, we profiled six real Pottery Barn customers whose bold actions inspire us, their families, and their communities, every single day.
Why did you write this novel?
When my husband was training and then went to war, I journaled to deal with the numerous emotions and to keep myself from coming unhinged. I was also searching for a novel I could relate to about the current wars but was having trouble finding one. I was looking for the book that I ultimately ended up writing.
Tell us about a moment you felt your husband’s absence and how you pushed through it.
On the day we drove off of Fort Drumm and left him there, I knew I may never see him again. I remember our daughter, Molly, sitting in the back seat. She was waving a flag out the window and I thought to myself, “Just keep driving forward.” For many months after that, I was stagnant and mired in my own self pity. And that’s not who I am -– I’m effervescent.
But then, tragedy struck and a family friend died of a heart attack at 42. I had an epiphany and realized that I had to live for my family and friends. While it was terribly tragic, I became appreciative of that turn of events.
How else did you cope while your husband was away?
I started a book club with a group of women whose husbands were also fighting in Iraq – women who were being faced with what I was being faced with. We got to know each other and had dinners together. They showed me that I didn’t have to go it alone.
What women inspire you?
We have a good friend named Alison Lavine who has climbed Mount Everest twice. The first time she climbed it, she fell short of reaching the top by 200 feet. That experience demoralized her, and it took her eight years to try again, but she did it. She’s very humble.
I’m also inspired by women who sacrifice anything, including their families, for a cause. Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician who was exiled from her country but went back to lead a revolution.
What is your message to other women?
I want to help other women understand the strength they have, especially those going through a hard time. I want them to know that they will get through it as long as they wake up and say, “Another day is here.” We have to embrace every day.
Tells us about your work with Wings Over Wall Street, an event that funds ALS research.
It began organically when my coworker was diagnosed with ALS. He banned together with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and his amazing network on Wall Street to host the first event, which ended up becoming a tradition.
For the first two years, I chaired it with my coworker, who ended up falling victim to ALS. I ran meetings out of our office, and it was a weekly commitment. It was a lot of time and energy, and it was my first taste of service.
You’ve since moved to Puerto Rico, where you work with the Jane Stern Dorado Community Library.
Yes, it’s this wonderful group that has a library created by Jane Stern, a community activist. She said, “This town deserves a community center where children can get together – to do tutoring and stay out of trouble.” They have fundraisers, and when I moved here four years ago, I was tapped to help. It has evolved into me building a team to run the fundraiser every year.
How do you find the time to give back?
Organization. If you organize your weeks, you can find time. Somewhere, in your day or your week or your weekend, there’s a pocket of time where you can devote your skills for a cause. It’s easier to just watch TV or relax, but you can also put time aside to make a dent in something.
Imagine if everyone did that: There would be so much giving.
Why is volunteering important to you?
The thought of turning down an opportunity to help other people just isn’t an option for me. There’s a saying in the Bible that says, “Let your good deeds shine.” I believe we are given abilities not just to keep them for ourselves –- we should share them.
What women inspire you?
I find inspiration at every level. I’m inspired locally, nationally and in a wordly way, especially by women in power. I think it takes a special woman to navigate this world. You can’t just be soft, you can’t just be hard – you have to be a little bit of both. You have to have that magic touch.
Locally, I’m inspired by the women I form teams with. We pick something and then run toward our goal. Women who devote themselves to causes others than their own, and sacrifice for others, are classy.
Tell us your secret to balancing your career and family.
I just try to be gentle with myself. On the days I have to work a little bit later, I’ll make it a point to have a “Mommy and Girls” day, where I take the day off and we go to the park to run around and have a good time. It’s about making sure that when the balance does feel awry, you stop to regroup and refresh.
I also try to not look at my work emails when I get home, and if I do, I wait until after they go to sleep. I take time to read to them. Then, if I do need to get back online to knock out a few emails, I know I had that special time.
How do you communicate with your daughters, who are four and two, about your work?
I brought my kids to my work for family day in July, and they still talk about it. They now understand that Mommy goes over the bridge, but then comes home to see them and spend time with them.
Sometimes I’ll take my computer and show them something that I worked on that day, so they can make that connection. I try to show them, “Hey, this is what I do, and this is the difference that I make.” I want them to see that I’m impacting other women and that my work enriches me.
You make an impact on other women at work by mentoring them. Why is mentorship important to you?
I watched my mom mentor people and come home and tell stories about how she helped someone – that really motivated me.
As an intern, when I first started my career, I met some wonderful women who took the time to walk and talk with me. They would say, “Let’s get some coffee and talk about your career aspirations.” That really motivated me, too.
Paying it forward and seeing that light in someone’s eye is so inspiring to me, and it’s my way of giving back.
What women inspire you?
My momma. As a single mom, she had to wear a lot of hats. I’m especially inspired by the fact that while she had lovely foster parents, her mother died when she was young, and she didn’t really know how to be a mom. She did the best she could, and now that I’m older, she can talk to me woman to woman about leading a team and trying to find that balance.
Tell us about the Anne McCormick Sullivan Foundation.
My family and I started it several days after we lost my daughter. My house was filled with my entire family along with countless friends, and we felt helpless.
Because Anne died at 24, she didn’t have a chance to have children, and we wanted to do something to carry on her memory. We thought about how she would want to be remembered, and the best thing we could think of was to help other women achieve the dream Anne had of becoming a firefighter.
What has happened since?
Wonderful things. The Houston Fire Department has named their outstanding cadet award after Anne, and that will go on forever. An elementary school also just opened that was named after Anne. It has a mural painting of her, their mascot is a Dalmatian, and her gear is in an equipment case inside the school. Every child is taught Anne’s legacy.
Why is it important to you that women have more opportunities to enter firefighting?
Here in Houston, only 2.7 of firefighters are women. Nationally, it’s a bit higher. Not many women choose it as a profession, and quite frankly, it’s a very physical job. But many women are capable of it and I think many women would find it to be a very fulfilling career. I want those woman to have every chance to do it.
Tell us where you find your strength.
It’s is truly Anne’s strength and determination. When she was a child, she had a learning disability, and had to work like a dog to do well in school. She never gave up.
I also draw strength from the support of my family. They held me up; they propped me up and encouraged me to keep going.
What has this tragedy taught you about yourself?
Losing a child is the absolute worst thing that can happen to you. I have found that now, I have a fearlessness about me that I did not have before.
After Anne died, they had a public service in a football stadium for her and the other three firefighters who died. I got up and spoke on my daughter’s behalf. All I could think was, “Somebody’s got to do this, and that somebody’s got to be me.” I learned to put aside any trepidation because there was something more important than me and the way I felt.
What women inspire you?
Working women. I’m work in a school clinic and I see kids come in sick. Their moms have to leave work and come get them. They’re able to juggle it all and really need to be applauded.
Tell us why you decided to leave your corporate job.
I had a good 11 years of experience in advertising and marketing built up, and the biggest job I had was with a multinational technology company. It got to a point where I would give my 100% and I was passionate about my work, but I wasn’t building anything for myself. I was missing that heart.
So you put on an apron. What is your history in the kitchen?
My parents met in Taiwan and moved to the United States to become Americans, and they started a small restaurant. It was fantastic Chinese cooking, but there was no baking, whatsoever.
What drew you to baking?
It really started with me baking for people’s birthdays. It was a therapeutic release –- I love that there’s a beginning and an end. But I never had the confidence to make something from scratch. So when I quit my job, I spent more time focusing on baking for my own skill and enjoyment.
Tell us about how you ended up appearing on The Great American Baking Show.
I had always been a fan of the British show. I remember thinking, “These people are so good! They’re all amateurs!” When I was first introduced to it, I had been baking for two years, mostly on weekends and nights. So, I applied on the website.
What has been the hardest part about changing careers?
The part that I continue to battle is having confidence in myself. Especially on a TV show, everything was magnified and everyone was watching, judging. But people are amazing if you give them the opportunity, and I fostered this audience that really believed in me. I realized I could be a positive voice.
I don’t wake up every day thinking I can do everything — it takes a lot of support around me. And there are so many times when I’m like, “I’m gonna go back.” But it’s just one of those things. When I need help, I reach out.
What is your advice to other women who are considering taking a leap of faith?
I am a very optimistic person, and sometimes more cynical people think I’m naïve. But I believe that if you do your best, things will pay off.
I tell everyone I talk to, “Follow your dreams.” It’s the scariest thing you can do for yourself, but if you have faith, the universe will deliver.
Tell us about why you started your advocacy work.
It started when my 10-year-old daughter was born with a disability. Before that, I hadn’t had any contact with anyone with disabilities, because growing up, they were in different classrooms. So I started learning everything I could to try to help her.
I felt really passionate about having her included in regular classes at her neighborhood school. Then I started sharing her story at various conferences, and realized it was inspiring a lot of other parents. They started reaching out to me so I could help them with their own advocacy work.
What are some of the things you’ve done?
I reached out to the city and found that they lacked the infrastructure to support kids with disabilities in their regular parks and recreation programming. So I worked with them to start a program that offers inclusion for kids.
I’m also leading the charge in hosting a fashion show that will raise funds and awareness for kids with disabilities. I want to have kids on the runway with and without disabilities. Now other towns are saying, “OK, tell me more about this.”
Why is this work important to you?
I’ve realized that I can help a lot of kids in the community. I see my daughter’s peers, and they’re so comfortable with her and with other kids with disabilities in a way that I wasn’t. It helps with the bullying issues that a lot of schools are having because it’s about accepting differences.
So many parents whose kids don’t have disabilities are saying, “I’m so glad that your child is in my child’s classroom.” They’re learning empathy.
Tell me about how inclusion in a regular classroom has helped your daughter.
My daughter has a lot of sensory issues. She gets overwhelmed when there are a lot of people are around. It used to be so bad that any time we went anywhere, even to her grandma’s house, she would sit down in a corner and start screaming.
When I wanted to move her to a regular classroom, they said, “How do you expect a child who gets overwhelmed by six kids to be with 30?” That made me feel helpless.
But a month or two after she went into a regular classroom, she started to be able to be out in the community. Her body has been able to assimilate. She enjoys people now.
How has this experience changed you?
Growing up, I didn’t have many challenges –- this was my first real challenge, and there were times that it felt paralyzing. But it made me realize that turning something into a positive makes you stronger. Advocating for my daughter and others has been very empowering for me.
Learn more about International Women’s Day and get involved now.