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Mentor Interview: Cheryl Fambles

Cheryl Fambles, Upnotch Mentor, is Chief Executive Officer at Pacific Mountain Workforce.

Recently awarded WWA’s 2020 Righteous Leader Award, Cheryl is a committed and thoughtful mentor who comes from a self-confessed underprivileged background -one that lacked access to many people of color leaders. She wants to work with people who believe that anything is possible when you prepare yourself, take some chances and connect to the right people.

What is your superpower & why?

Being able to see people. I can see people, what they need and why, and how they feel.

Who are your mentors and what topics do you like to discuss with them?

I spent time with them tapping their insights. “What do you think? What do you think about this situation?”. They were people who were closely aligned with my own values. They were just brilliant and I wanted some of that, some of their insights, and some of that brilliance.

When was a time a mentor has helped you accomplish a specific goal?

When I was a young professional, one of my mentors helped me understand that just because I was upset about something, I couldn't send that energy into the arena. I needed to control my feelings instead of letting my feelings control me.

Can you describe a time where a mentor pushed you further than you thought was possible or accelerated your career?

My mentor pushed me to try and analyze people's interests, where those interests were coming from, and why. He helped me think about what's important to them so I could get to that “Yes moment” or “Consensus moment”. Finding that clarity was incredibly useful.

Any advice your mentor has given you that has really stuck with you?

A mentor once told me, “Just say Yes, and then figure out how to do it”. I have used that a lot. I have a visual in my head; my legs just continue to move even if I see a wall in front of me, my legs are moving. It helps me see that maybe I can jump over the wall, or maybe I can use tools to smack the wall. It’s a way to never give up. Saying yes, I'll do it and then figuring it out has served me really well.

What makes a great mentee in your opinion?

Curiosity and openness. Genuinely wanting to share - because the mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street. I get really enriched by the conversations and I want them to be willing to share.

Why do you mentor?

I mentor because lived experiences are really undervalued. When I'm mentoring, I'm connecting to an individual who has had a life experience. That's a really precious moment.

What topics do you like to mentor on?

I'm interested in how it is that people are interpreting their situations. When a mentee comes to me and says I'm really puzzled about what's going on here... I love those moments of being able to dissect and think together about what's happening to them in this particular moment.

Tell us about a time when you helped a mentee solve a challenge?

I helped a mentee distinguish the what and the how of the work. It’s very common to agree on the “what”, but it’s harder to agree on the “how to get through a problem”. In this case, there was no disagreement about what they needed to do, where they needed to end up, but they could not figure out how to get to the same place. It was clear to me it was because everybody had the same destination in mind, but nobody believed they could get on the same route as the others. So that "aha!" moment for her was huge. I've seen her since she left my organization a few years ago, and I've seen her use what I taught her and explain it to others.

What does success mean to you?

Being able to be in a position where I can enact my values, and where I can team up with others to get done what I think needs to get done for our most vulnerable populations. That has been an absolute joy. So my ability to drive my organization to go after these kinds of dollars to serve these populations, and then to be able to stand up in front of whomever I'm speaking to, or to be able to layout in an annual report that this is the work that my agency has done. There's no greater sense of success than when you can do that.

When did you know you achieved your career success?

I constantly got feedback from folks that said, “You're doing it, you're enacting your values, you're achieving success!” So it wasn't just in my own head, I got validation. And then at some point, I didn't care about the validation anymore, because I knew that I was doing the right thing.

What is the secret behind your success?

I believe that the secret to my success is a deep and undying belief in the arc of justice. And believing that the universe is designed to achieve goods and rights for all people. I just am trying to be an agent of that and that has allowed me to survive as an executive and a woman of color.

Could you describe a time when you've had a setback or a failure or a breakdown that led to a success or a breakthrough?

Early in my professional career, I received some nasty criticism. That was completely racist, misogynistic and power brokered. I was devastated and it made me cry. In that moment, I held it together and marched down the hall to the person who was my immediate supervisor and had that breakdown moment. I've had plenty of those insults since and they still hurt, but they don't devastate me to the point that I was sobbing in the corner and couldn't function. I feel like I got it out of my system the first time.


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