Our invincibility is the ability to take outside influences, take the pressure and turn it into something beautiful and positive. Ann not only has come out of her trials in life with more shine, but she gives that positivity and love to others. If you’ve had a personal setback or felt like your life isn’t what you expected, Ann’s story is not only inspirational, it’s a call to action. You may not end up in the place you planned when you were younger, but only you can find joy in your life and purpose in where you are now.
Jess Foutty: Tell me a bit about you:
Ann Lawson: “I teach at Malone University. I have a dual appointment in both the Business and Communication Arts departments teaching mostly marketing and public relations courses. I have been there 17 years. It’s actually my second career. I first started off in corporate communications at Dominion, which at the time was East Ohio Gas, and I worked there for 13 years before moving into the academic world.”
Jess: How did you choose teaching as a second career?
Ann: “Before I married, I was thinking about getting into teaching someday. My thought in the back of my head was that I would be able to be a stay-at-home mom and teach night class to keep my skills sharp until the kids were in school. You need a masters to teach at the college level, so I went back and finished my masters so someday I’d be able to teach. That’s not what the Lord had planned. Turns out, I wasn’t able to have children. But years later, when I voluntarily left the gas company and I thought about what I wanted to do next, it was teaching. When I was working full time at the gas company, I would teach one night class per semester and I really enjoyed it. I thought, “I really liked that part-time teaching I was doing and I’d like to do that full-time.” So when I applied at Malone, I already had 6 years of part-time teaching experience and 13 years of corporate experience in communication. So when I applied for the job, even though I had never been a full time professor, I was well qualified to teach the classes they wanted me to teach.”
Jess: What would you consider your drivers?
Ann: “My driver is relationships. That’s what I care about. I do what I do because I love the interactions with students. I consider it to be a privilege and an honor to be a part of that student’s life for the three years that I see them (I teach mostly upperclassmen). I consider it to be a privilege to walk alongside them at this stage of their life when they’re figuring out who they are and where their skills and gifts are. I’ve kept a lot of those relationships going in facebook groups or meeting with alumni for coffee or dinners. I love seeing where they are now and keeping those relationships alive. That’s very fulfilling for me. I’d like to think this drive is part of my faith and how I was raised. I feel very loyal to Malone because of the type of students that are there and the vision. I stayed for 17 years because I felt called to be there and I still do.”
Jess: Is that type of connection able to be created in other environments? How do you create those relationships when it’s not a student-teacher, learning type environment?
Ann: “Yes, I think you can create meaningful connection in two ways:
Jess: What obstacles did you face in getting to where you are now?
Ann: “Well, I have that master’s degree, but an obstacle in the world of academia is not having a PhD. So I was able to teach all the courses I wanted to teach and serve on committees and do all of the other things a full time professor was expected to do, I was just not eligible for promotion or tenure. Just this year, my university changed some processes and I was able to go up for promotion. I waited a long time for that.”
Jess: Why didn’t you get your PhD?
Ann: “I think because it was a second career, it was never my intention when I was younger to go that far. I knew I wanted a Master’s so I could teach and that was enough to get you in the door, I didn’t care if I was tenured or not. The first year, I was on contract with the understanding that I would not be returning. They did a search to find the full time person and when they couldn’t find the right candidate, they asked me to stay. For the next 5 years, I would look at my husband and say “ok, can we afford this, or do I need to look for another corporate job?” Based on my corporate experience, I could make far more working in that sector. But every year, he would say, “We can make it, you love what you do, stick with it. We’ll figure it out.” and I’d sign the contract.
I never intended to stay this long. It was a stop gap until I got my ambition back. I had some bad experiences that had left me bruised and I wasn’t ready to go back into that fray. Teaching felt safer. So I didn’t go for the PhD because it didn’t seem like it was going to be worth my while. And then about 6 or 7 years in, I realized, “This is actually my career!” I did look at getting it, but I realized I was not making enough money to pay for it. I would have to quit my job and apply to be a grad assistant somewhere. I would have to go into enormous amounts of debt at 40 and would I make enough extra pay that the cost-benefit was there? It just didn’t seem like the break even analysis was working out. I didn’t need it for self actualization or to feel good about myself or feel respected. It would be to get paid a little more and job security and neither of those things were drivers for me.”
Jess: What caused you to lose your ambition?
Ann: “I think it was a combination of factors that sapped my energy. Partly, I was raised with that idea that you can be anything, just work hard enough. In high school and college, you worked on a 6 week or semester long schedule and then you got a grade at the end. All my life I was a good student. In the real world, you don’t get that same feedback. You get maybe an annual review from your boss. And a lot of times, they circle numbers on a scale of 1-5 but not a lot of feedback. It’s not like your boss puts a gold sticker on each project and tells you you did a good job. Without that feedback, I started second-guessing myself and I fell into this trap of comparing myself to others which caused me to start losing my self confidence and drive.
I had a former student who said the same thing, that it was hard to not get feedback in the same way. She came back to my class to speak after she graduated and she finally realized, “hey, I’m busy. But the girl in the cube next to me isn’t busy. They’re trusting me to get the job done and get more and harder tasks done. That’s the gold star. That’s how you tell you’re the A student in the workplace.
On a personal front, I was also dealing with a lot of loss and grief in that I wasn’t able to have children. That was a lot of my drive. I was getting my master’s so that I could be a stay at home mom, that was the plan. That didn’t happen and it was impossible to happen. So there was this 7-8 years through my 30s and 40s, I had this depression because my life didn’t turn out the way I planned it to. This is not what my life is supposed to be. So I just sort of gave up.”
Jess: How did you regain your positivity?
Ann: “It was a combination of friends, faith and changing my perspective. I finally got to a place where I thought, suck it up buttercup. This is your life and you can wallow or you can enjoy it.
My friend Amy once said to me, “I pray that you don’t become resigned that this is your life, but that you find joy in the life that you’ve been given.” It took me a long time to realize those words and make them come true. It took me almost 15 years to live the words she spoke to me at 35.
A few years ago, I lost my best friend Susan. She had suffered a series of strokes during surgery for a brain tumor; she wasn’t able to walk or speak. I realized, “Ann, you have legs that can walk you anywhere, you have arms that can pick up anything. You’ve been given so much and you’re just doing the bare minimum to get by instead of throwing yourself into things. Stop wallowing in what you don’t have and instead focus on what you do have.”
I also think for me it was my faith which was very important to me. I never stopped going to church and being involved. It reminded me on a weekly basis that there’s a bigger picture and a bigger plan.
Being surrounded in my workplace by a team of people who have always had my back and were kind and supportive, was also so important for me. Working with colleagues who are like that, helped reinstate my confidence. I have that where I am now which has made all the difference.”
Jess: How would you describe your mindset? Are you a glass half-full person?
Ann: “My entire life, I’ve been a glass is completely full person! It is half full of air and half full of water. I’m such an optimist. I’ve always been a complete 100% optimist. That might have been my problem because I spent 10-20 years optimistically thinking my situation would change. I was optimistic every month that I was going to have a child even though doctors were telling me that wasn’t going to happen. Which means you’re always disappointed. In some ways, that did me a disservice, because it made me live in hope and those hopes kept getting dashed. In other ways, I’m thankful that this is the way I am, because that optimism is what got me through some really dark times. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
Jess: Do you think optimism and positivity are the same thing?
Ann: “No, I think optimism is full of hope and sometimes hope is misplaced. Optimism is hopefulness that is not always warranted or based in fact. Perhaps positivity is a perspective where the good you see is rooted in reality. It’s tangible and factual. With optimism, the facts may paint a different story, but you’re still going to have hope. Because positivity is based in fact, you can do something about it, there’s an action.”
Jess: If you had one piece of advice to younger women in their careers, what would it be?
Ann: “My advice is to change our language and how we talk about our opinions in the workplace. Women tend to talk about their feelings. Women say, “I feel we should do this…” You never hear a man say that. Men would say, “I THINK this is what’s best for the company.” Talking about instincts and feelings doesn’t have the power as much as what you think and can prove. If it wouldn’t come out of a man’s mouth the way that you’re going to say it, change your language to fit the environment so you can be heard.”
Jess: What can women in business do to stay connected and supported?
Ann: “Find a mentor, be a mentor.”
**Check out our article on finding a mentor HERE!
“Women tend to be more competitive with each other and we need to be more supportive. We need to start becoming more supportive of one another. I think that stems back to women not being in the workforce as long as men. For a long time in the 70s and 80s, there was a token woman, the one woman who was on the board or the committee. There was only one woman who would get that position, so if there were multiple women interested, they had to compete. But it’s 2020, we’re far enough into the workforce now that we shouldn’t have to compete with each other. We can have a whole table of women but we’re making it competitive by the way we’re treating each other. We need to come together as women and support each other as mentors and mentees.”
When we support each other as women, we achieve success together. We find joy in our lives both personally and professionally in a way that is lasting because we connect with one another. The connection that Ann has found with students is possible across industries if we open our hearts and hands to help each other through mentoring. Let’s fill the table with women who are supportive, understanding and exceptional in their fields.
A professional, speaker, coach, leader, corporate director, wife, boxer, dancer and cat mom. I'm here to be your best friend voice with a plan, helping you achieve your goals and reach your potential.
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