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Mentor Interview: Shellie Willis

Shellie Willis, Upnotch Mentor, is the Senior Director of WorkForce Systems Alignment, a Veteran Advocate, and a TEDx Speaker. She started her journey by serving for over 24 years in the U.S. Army, followed by 8 years with a focus on systems alignment and Military Initiatives.

What is your superpower & why?

My superpower is redefining my future. Because I had to learn that I was not meant to be in a box. I was taught that I could be more than I could have ever imagined. I have the power to change my trajectory in any way that I want to or desire to. I just have to have the direction, motivation, and discipline to get there.

Have you ever had a mentor?

Yes, I have had several mentors in my life so far and I have to say that all of my mentors have been women who paved the way before me.

Tell me a little bit about your mentors - who they are or what topics do you like to cover with them?

When I was serving in the army I had mentors. They helped me with leadership and with my own personal growth. They were teaching me how to plan for the future in a way that would bring me wholeness.

Tell me about a time a mentor has helped you accomplish a specific goal.

I'll go back to my time in the military. It was 25 years of my adult life, so the majority of my growth experiences and development happened at that time. My mentor helped me grow as a leader, achieve goals and set a goal to get promoted. They sat down with me and helped me write down all the things that I needed to do in order to reach the next level.

Any advice that your mentor has given you that you would like to share with us today?

Learn to manage your expectations.

What is the weirdest, funniest, strangest thing you have ever asked your mentor?

I said, “I'm gonna take your job!” And the reaction was, “I hope so. If not, then I'm not doing my job.”

What would you tell your mentors, if they were listening to you right now?

Your investment in me was not in vain. Because of you, I've continued to invest in others.

What makes a great mentee in your opinion?

Someone who is willing to be vulnerable and is held accountable, and understands that there is a process and time for everything to happen.

Why do you mentor?

Because a mantra that I live off of is growing people. My story is to be shared and the best way that I know to do that is to invest in others and show them that they're not alone in their journey.

As a mentor, what topics do you like to mentor on?

Accountability. That's the biggest topic.

What would a mentee praise you for?

I think they would say that I genuinely care about their success.

Tell me about a time when you helped a mentee solve a big challenge.

Ok, let's talk about the failure to launch. A lot of people don't do things out of fear. And in multiple cases, the fear is of starting a business. My role is to listen and synthesize the information so that I can give them a starting point and then we work from that small starting point. It's not about doing all the big picture things. Sometimes it's about just doing one thing, and being okay with working on that thing while you build up to the others.

What does success mean to you?

Finish whatever it was that I didn't finish or complete the day before.

When did you know you achieved career success?

I'm not there yet. I'm still climbing. Each time I was promoted, I felt I had reached a level of success but I don't think that you should ever get to this place where you're satisfied. I still have a lot more to do but I feel like I've been successful in multiple ways.

What's the secret behind your success?

Focusing on me, knowing that I'm my only competition each and every day. I always ask myself, “What is it that I need to do today that I didn't do yesterday?” I see myself being a better version of myself tomorrow.

Describe a time when you had a breakdown that led to a success or a breakthrough.

After the military, transitioning to my new civilian career was challenging. But I realized that I was not by myself. I used that to create a space for other women veterans so that they would also know that they were not alone.

I've used that as a way to mentor and grow other women veterans - to let them know that this is a part of the process of the road to transition and that it is very important that you embrace this journey. It has allowed me to be present for others in multiple ways.

Any embarrassing moments early in your career when you were thinking, “Oh, no! this might be it.”?

Calling someone by the wrong name or not getting their position right... It has happened to me a few times.

How do you deal with stress or being overwhelmed?

I really take some time to just breathe. Take deep breaths. Ground myself. I really try to create some time to meditate, reset myself, and recharge.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?

I would have gotten a therapist and a life coach a lot sooner! Transitioning out of the military, nobody talked to us about how it would be. So I've been able to talk more and more about the personal growth and development that is needed after service.


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