It’s been almost a year since I started with WNY, and I find myself reflecting on how it all began. It tickles me to think about the reason behind how I even got this job. After being a stay-at-home mom for almost two decades with no consistent “work” outside of the home, the thought of going back into the workforce was very daunting. I LOVED my time at home with the kids, but when my oldest was away in college, my youngest was heading to high school, and I found myself being able to watch EVERY top series on EVERY streaming service, I knew it was probably time to get back to work. As much as I didn’t want to let go of my daytime freedom, I wanted to work and contribute to our finances. Truthfully, college expenses were a lot for us, and we needed additional financial support. It was time. But, with whom and where? I’d been out of the work force almost 20 years!

Prior to being a full-time mother, I worked at a busy marketing company for a handful of years where I gained valuable work experience. But, having not being in that element or practicing those skills for so long did a number on my confidence about getting back into it. Every possible job opportunity that I came across or thought about applying to, I found a long list of reasons of why I wasn’t qualified or good enough for that role. Then out of the blue, I received a message from Stefanie Adams, asking if I would be interested in a role at her company, WNY People Development. I met Stefanie through neighbors years ago and became friendly acquaintances. Through social media, I’d kept up with her work and was somewhat familiar with the positive shifts she was focused on bringing to businesses. We had a brief discussion about the role, and it sounded like a great fit for me. It was the first time I was excited about a job opportunity.

We met at a local coffee shop for my interview. It was more formal than I was expecting. She had a long list of “Human Resource-y” questions for which I wasn’t quite prepared. I’d assumed it would be a more informal chit chat considering we had somewhat of a relationship. Instead, I proceeded to answer the, “What do you feel are your strengths?”, and “What are your life goals?”, type questions in the best way I could without blurting out what was actually going through my head, like–Does rockstar laundry folder and being first in the school carpool line count as a strength? I began second-guessing if I was even the right person for this position. Then she shared the reason for why she chose me for the role….

You see, Stefanie served on our local School Board during a time when it seemed like the perfect storm of crisis after crisis, and the Board had to make impossible decisions due to covid, bound to leave one side disappointed.

And guess who was one of the disappointed? ME!

When I learned my son’s graduating high school class wasn’t going to be given a traditional ceremony, I was so fired up. I emailed each board member with a long list of reasons why I thought their decision was wrong. And yep, Stefanie Adams (aka, my future boss) got one too! Though I didn’t agree with her decision, I recognized how difficult and stressful it must have been to make those tough calls. So, I sent her a message that said something like, “I may not agree with you, but I respect you. How I see you as a person hasn’t changed; I know it’s been hard, and I appreciate you.”

What I didn’t know was, at that time, Stefanie was receiving hundreds of messages, many unkind. Some, from people she liked and admired…those were the hardest to process, she later confessed. When my name showed up in her inbox, she’d assumed it was another angry message from someone she considered a friend, so she avoided reading it for days. When Stefanie finally had the courage to read it, the unexpected words of support brought her to tears. I imagine she was grateful to be seen as a person and not just a board member who made decisions people didn’t like. Little did I know this small act would plant a seed in Stef’s mind to want to hire me one day…

This new bit of info not only gave me a sense of relief that I wasn’t necessarily hired because of my awesome Excel skills (rather, lack of… Phew, thank goodness!), but it helped me see disagreements in a different light. I’ll be the first one to confess that I tend to be more reactor than responder—just ask my husband and kids! One of my strengths is that I firmly believe what I believe. One of my weaknesses is that I firmly believe what I believe. In times that I am challenged, it’s easy to be laser focused on my beliefs and feelings instead of looking at the whole. As much as I try to remember, “We never know what the other person is going through,” “Everyone has a story,” or “We don’t know their past…,” it doesn’t always come naturally, and my tendency is to protect my heart (aka, be defensive). My encounter with Stefaine was a reminder that it’s okay to disagree. It’s how we respond to disagreements that really matters. We never know what kind of impact it might have, not only in our own lives, but on others too.

I’m not here to preach about the dos and don’ts of responding to a difficult situation. I’m far from the person to be giving advice on this topic (again, my family can attest to this). I share my story because moments like what happened with Stefanie and me are a good reminder of how interconnected we all are, and the simplest act can make a big impact that oftentimes, we can’t foresee. When I sent that message years ago, I had no idea Stefanie’s reaction after reading it would be, “This is the kind of person I want to be working with one day.” Of course, when she first shared this with me, I felt good about myself; like it was a testament to my character.

It wasn’t.

Really, it was a reminder and a nudge from The Universe to keep making those choices that stem from a place of compassion. Because, frankly, I’m not so great at it. I’m workin’ on it. And that’s okay. It’s reminders like this that teach me how to move forward in life with more love and compassion—of which we can never have too much.

So, the next time you are in a disagreement with a co-worker, a client, or partner, remember that you never know what kind of ripple effect you’re creating. Let’s try our best to continue to make those “bigger” choices that involve “us”, rather than, just “me.” You never know where that action may lead you.

Anna French is a mom, wife, and yogi who recently stepped back into the workforce after being a full-time mother to her four children. During those precious years, she mastered the art of multi-tasking, problem-solving and organizational skills and had part-time positions as a production coordinator for Kiwi Magazine, a yoga teacher and volunteer at her children’s school. She joined WNY People Development in July 2022 to help with their events and stepped into the role as Operations Coordinator in January 2023. Anna graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Communications and worked as a production manager for a marketing company before becoming a full-time mom. Originally from New Jersey, Anna and her family have been living in Wilmington, NC since 2013 where her daughters attend high school—her boys are, at NC State University. Traveling is a must for Anna. Getaways with her family is what she lives for, along with eating her way through all the local eateries! When Anna isn’t working or traveling, she works on her writing—stories, lessons and gained wisdom from her life experiences that she plans to share with her children one day.