DC Recap: Changemaker Chat with Portia Wu

Don’t be afraid of failure…learn from it. This month’s theme is growth, and here at Changemaker Chats DC, we had the honor of hearing from Portia Wu, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training. In a sold-out room, Portia made us laugh, think, but most importantly learn lessons on how to deal with growth and make the most of every opportunity:

Can you ask an animal how it feels to molt? 
Growing is never easy, and Portia reminded us of this with the great analogy of a molting animal. We can’t ask them how it feels, but we can guess it is pretty uncomfortable! She urged us to remember that a big part of growing is failing at times, which can be equally uncomfortable. Portia shared a story of one of her first opportunities to speak at a big national conference where she got in way over her head;  although things didn’t turn out as she hoped, she learned from that experience. The key is not to beat yourself up over failure, learn your tolerances, and push forward!

Motivating through management
Some of the best managers are those that know how to convince people of their vision and empower them to do work well. Portia shared that when she learned this key lesson her leadership style was able to grow and she was able to be a more empathetic manager because of it. Using the DISC assessment, she was able to identify what kind of manager she was…and what kind of manager she wanted to become!

Make new friends
Portia reminded us that networking isn’t always just about networking vertically, it is also about networking and getting to know our peers more closely. Especially in a town like DC, our current peers will be the people that we will be working with in the future. So go out for that drink, play that kick ball game, and build those relationships, you never know where they may lead.

Full-time career + full-time mom
Portia shared that after having twins (in her 30s), she thought she wanted more work-life balance, so she took a less demanding job. However she found that she didn’t want to forego some key opportunities and for her, it was actually more manageable to take those opportunities with young children than it might be with older children.  Because she had a supportive spouse, she was able to switch gears and shortly after went to work in the White House (which was demanding to say the least). The key lesson is that your work-life balance needs to be all about compromise. She also shared that she missed a pivotal challenge in her career—handling the Committee markup of the Affordable Care Act—because she was on maternity leave. In the end, you have to know what is important to you, whatever that may be, and make sure to prioritize time for that.

Portia, thank you for being the ultimate Changemaker and for sharing your stories with us! Through your words of wisdom, we are encouraged to continue to push ourselves to grow, even though at times it may feel uncomfortable.