What Success Looks Like: Lynette Watts, “Persistent”
Lynnette and I met in her office at the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. Downtown is an extremely confusing place (in my opinion) and let’s just say I came across a few bumps along the way. But, finally, I found the right building and things only went up from there.
Lynnette described her childhood as “pretty much like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show.” Her dad was a farmer, so she spent a lot of time running out and around the farm. She told me that the city was so small that all the children would ride their bikes to each other’s houses and play around all day until supper — if only childhood were that simple and innocent still today.
Lynette had what she called a city grandmother and a country grandmother. Her city grandmother taught her about culture, which utensil goes on each side of the plate, literature, and music, while her country grandmother taught her how to garden, the importance of hard work, and, most importantly, how to cook. She fondly remembers her grandma hoisting her up onto the kitchen counter and showing her the ropes.
She developed her love for nature by helping her dad on the farm growing up. Lynnette didn’t have it all figured out when she went to college—in fact, she didn’t have anything figured out really. “You know,” she told me, “maybe I had my head in the clouds. I just loved life and never really thought about a profession.”
“My Career Chose Me”
All through college, Lynnette worked in a plant nursery and studied art. It wasn’t until she was married and travelling with her military husband and children that she really found her “calling.” They were stationed in Upstate New York and had never actually lived on base until then. They were 40 miles from the post, and because most of the men took the one family car during the day, their wives were basically stuck on base.
A big group of the wives walked every morning and Lynnette decided that she would join to make friends. She said they were constantly complaining about not being able to get the grocery store, church, the commissary, or their children’s schools. One day, Lynnette said to a woman that was complaining, “Why don’t you do something about this?” Lynette said the woman “stopped dead in her tracks and said, ‘Why don’t you?’”
For the first time, Lynnette realized that some people have more sway and power than others. Because her husband was an officer, she had access to people and things that the other women didn’t — so from that moment on she set out to help their base. She was told that to do anything she would have to run for mayor, so she did — and won!
Lynnette headed programs that brought services and food to the camp as well as transportation that would take the women to town so that they could see their children’s schools and get other things they needed. She called it her “one defining leap into a leadership role.” The most valuable lesson she learned from that experience was that, “a lot of times as women we find ourselves in a position to actually do some good but we back off from it. If we just step into the opportunity — we don’t have to know everything — and figure things out as we go, we can achieve great things.”
There are a few pieces of advice that Lynnette’s parents gave to her when she was younger that she still applies to both her personal and professional life. Her mother always told her that if she started something she had to finish it; there was no room for quitters. Her father always said that anything worth doing was worth doing well, so you may have to redo something over and over again to get it right.
Professionally, Lynnette has had a lot of great mentors along the way to show her the ins and outs of the nonprofit world. Her close friend has been very successful, and when talking about what it takes to get and keep power she told her, “Always keep your eyes looking ahead because if you’re looking ahead you’ll keep doing good work. You have to do your best work regardless of what’s swirling around in your head.”
Lynnette’s also had a lot of older women who have shared their insight with her — having older mentors is so so important. She said they collectively taught her to have an open mind and kind heart.
What I Learned From Lynette
I really learned the biggest lesson from Lynnette when I was reading back over our interview a year later. What I didn’t catch before was that her life was guided by two things: Hard work and blind faith. She was confident in her abilities (or at least made it seem that way) and in return she succeeded.
In wrapping up our conversation she said something that really impacted my way of thinking: “I tell myself that I know my abilities, I know what I’m capable of doing, and I can get through whatever comes my way with these set of skills.” This stuck out to me because in my world I’m constantly surrounded by people who look better, are smarter, have more money, etc.—but with Lynnette’s advice I know that if I just stay true to myself and my skills I can make it through any obstacle.
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