Q & A With Marie Potter: Camp Counselor Of The Corporate World

Dena Ogden
Oct 13, 2017 · 10 min read

I’ve known Marie — or, perhaps I should say I’ve known of Marie — since I was 13, when she was a counselor at the summer camp I attended. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to work and volunteer with her in a variety of settings. The level of depth and thoughtfulness she brings to her answers here is the tip of the iceberg for how much she gives of herself to others and to organizations she believes in, and she was a natural choice for a profile about leadership and volunteering. I’m a big fan of her IRL, and I expect it’ll be clear why to those who read about her today. -Dena

PS — A side note, more of Marie’s insights will be included in our next newsletter! Sign up here.

Name: Marie Potter

Where did you grow up?: Tacoma

Where do you live now?: Lynnwood

Favorite thing about the PNW?: With my commute to work I’m constantly reminded of my love for the Puget Sound and the beauty I see each day in the water, mountains, and trees.

Favorite season in the PNW?: Long bouts of daylight mean I can squeeze more activity into my day, so I love the summer. Just like me, the sun rises early and sets late, and I can fill my day with meaningful work, adventures with family and friends, long walks, meals prepared over the grill, and ice cream in the evening.

Tell us about your career path: I joke that I’m a camp counselor of the corporate world. The themes of teamwork, leadership, growth and learning are threads in the tapestry of my career. In high school, I worked summers at the YMCA and volunteered during the school year as a camp counselor. I loved camp so much that I took a gap year between high school and college and worked full time for an outdoor education camp. College was rich with leadership opportunities and a summer volunteering in South Africa. I then spent the next 15 years of my professional career working at the University of Washington (my alma mater), first as an admissions counselor, then as an academic advisor as well as assistant director for student services. Recently I took a big leap and changed industries — I’m now a Talent and Leadership Development Manager at Getty Images. Oh, and I still volunteer one week a year at summer camp.

What other passions do you have?: I love photography — so it’s quite inspiring to work for the top creative/media organization whose mission is to move the world with images. Long walks, time with friends, fantastic food, and good movies are also at the top of my list.

Where can others find you/your work online?: www.gettyimages.com

How do you take your coffee (or other preferred morning beverage)?: No coffee for me! In fact, the main caffeine I consume is in the form of chocolate. I like to tell people that my energy is all natural…and that if I ever drank coffee I’d probably make the Energizer Bunny look insanely slow (it would be scary). On the cooler days I opt for a London Fog, Pike Place Market tea, or rooibos and honey.

When you’re out, how do you protect yourself from the rain?: I am of the firm belief that a native PNW girl wears a raincoat. Umbrellas are for tourists.

What is a “normal” day like for you (if such a thing exists!): Let’s preface this with the fact that my natural rhythm would be to go to bed late and wake up late. But necessity trumps nature, and I’m up at 5:30 am during the work week. I love my commute — a relaxing, 30 minute train ride along the coast line of the Puget Sound. When I remember to look up from my smartphone, I revel in the beautiful sites of the water and the Olympic Mountains. I’m in the office just after 7 am and by choice — I work with a global team and savor the time we get together before the Seattle office is up and running. I love every minute of it — interacting with smart and hard-working people, diving into projects and design work, enjoying lunch in the city, and being a part of a remarkable company. Once the work day is over I’m back on the train and that’s when the transition happens. Just like Clark Kent, who enters the phone booth only to come out as Superman, I enter the train as a career woman and then mom emerges, sans cape. I fly home and shuffle kids to taekwondo or soccer practice, make dinner, spend time with my husband and kids, attend our weekly life group (Bible study), and squeeze in evenings with friends whenever I can.

I saw that you started at Getty and took a break from camp about a year apart from one another. How did you decide to make these changes?: I recently went through some pretty big life changes in the span of a year, starting mid- 2016. Prior to this my life was filled to the brim. I worked full time, sat on the exec board of a professional association, and volunteered in a half a dozen areas including summer camp and in MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) leadership. All this plus being a wife, mom and friend. I was actually doing quite fine — the work got done, I don’t think anyone else suffered, and as I looked at each activity individually it all felt very honorable and worthy of my time. I naturally thrived on being busy and, in all honesty, found rest kind of boring. Then over time — not with a bang, but a whimper — my mindset started to change. I didn’t have to do it all. I didn’t have to say yes to everything. And though I thrived in the busy, I didn’t have to stay busy to thrive. So I started to step away from my obligations, bit by bit. And when my margins started to increase I realized that one of the most time consuming things — my job — had to change. It was stagnant and when I thought about my next steps as a higher education professional, I wasn’t inspired.

That’s when I knew it was time to pursue something I wondered about my entire professional career — could I succeed in the corporate world? Could I keep up with the pace and pressures? Fortunately, my wonder and curiosity aligned with an opening at Getty Images, and I decided to seek answers to these questions about my career. I landed in a new job with excitement and growth opportunities, and am invigorated and inspired on a daily basis. Because I’m pulling from a familiar skill set I’m able to face new opportunities in a new professional landscape with confidence. As I look back I consider this the year where I quit most everything to figure out what I really wanted. And I’m so glad I did. I’ve slowly started to put some things back on my plate — I’m returning to summer camp after taking some time off, and my family and friends have always been there. But I’m taking some more time for me — getting to bed earlier, reading, and appreciating rest more than I ever did before

How do you manage the personal/professional aspects of the roles you’ve had, especially when so much of leading and advising includes connecting with others and developing relationships?: The personal is often intertwined with the professional in my experiences as a leader. I think a good leader or advisor gets to know others’ stories, because how can you guide someone on where to go without first knowing where they’ve been? Upon meeting someone I often ask, “What’s your story? Who are you and how did you get to where you are?” I take the time to listen, ask questions, and learn more about the person. Sometimes it takes just a minute and sometimes it takes longer. The better I know what defines them, the better we can develop a relationship built on trust and respect, and the faster we can reach our goals. If I were to ever write a book it would be on the importance of these two things: knowing who you are and knowing how to articulate that to others. I passionately believe that these two things are what drives people to be confident, successful, and find purpose in what they do. And I think that the most impactful leaders should know this about themselves as well as about those they serve.

How has the PNW and the culture here influenced you and your career and volunteer path?: In the PNW I see strong themes of impact and care in much of the culture. People are passionate and diverse in their beliefs and relentless in their spirit. And I love the variety of examples that come to mind. We are wooed by the outdoors — people climb Mount Rainer, bike the Burke Gilman Trail, marvel at the Leavenworth scenery, or kayak the Little Spokane River. And it doesn’t matter that it rains 9 months out of the year — we still go outside. We vastly range in political and social constructs, and whether or not people pray varies too. We recycle and compost. We love our art and music and opportunities for expression. You can drive from one side of the state to the next and experience vastly different and spectacularly stunning landscapes that are just as diverse and as beautiful as our people. I’ve spent most of my life in the thick of it all, and have been greatly influenced by the notions of appreciating the outdoors, respecting others, caring for our community, and being passionate about what you believe. The themes of impact and care parallel my everyday work as much as my volunteer work.

How did you get to where you are in life? Personally, professionally?: Sometimes I feel like I’m a walking juxtaposition. I love to plan ahead and I embrace details, context, clarity, and security. But there have been times in my life where I’ve jumped into the unknown, taking risks that defied my natural order. I’ve fallen flat and fallen hard — one of the roughest seasons of life was a failed business that sunk my husband and I financially. But I’ve also learned some amazing life lessons and had great success. Sometimes I credit myself with being resilient, resourceful, and a hard worker. But where the true credit lies is within my faith. I believe in a God who believes in me. I’m constantly being taught about hope, perseverance, humility, fearlessness, and peace. One of the many verses that often sticks with me is from James 1:2–3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” My faith gives me the courage to face the unknown, and that’s amazingly empowering. I never tire to do good.

Any big wish list or bucket list items that you’re focused on/looking forward to accomplishing?: I just recently fulfilled something on my list — this past August I saw Hamilton in the Richard Rodgers Theatre in NYC. It was absolutely amazing! I’m a big fan of creatively interpreted historical rap musicals. My answer to the classic “who would you invite to a dinner party” question? It would be Lin-Manuel Miranda, our generation’s Shakespeare.

What brings you joy?: Relationships are very important to me and my life feels more complete when I have a diverse array of people around me. I love the different titles placed upon me by others: coworker, camp counselor, teammate, church friend, school friend, daughter, sister, and most importantly wife and mama. I value relationships that are solely mine and those enjoyed by my entire family or communal group. I cast my net very wide and very deep. I surround myself with people who both lift me up and challenge me, and find it way more interesting to have conversations with those who help me think than those only of one mind. I consider myself lucky that even in the midst of a large circle I can still hold close and sacred small pockets of life-breathing friendships — the kind where sanity begins and conversation never ends. And then there are those three rambunctious, affectionate, and beautiful men in my life — my husband and two young sons. They are the greatest joys of them all.

What are the most cherished parts of your day? Your morning, your evening?: I’m a hugger, so the most cherished part of my day is whenever I get a hug. Sweet hugs from my kids, comforting and affirming hugs from my husband, big bear hugs from friends, and even the tentative hugs from someone I just met who is a hugger and curious if I am too. Bring it on.

What advice would you give yourself when previously pursuing a new career/career change?: Don’t let anyone — even yourself — talk you out of trying something new, different, scary, or hard. I stayed at my last job much longer than I should have because it was comfortable — but I wasn’t continuously challenged nor growing. The energy and opportunities I now have in my new job were so worth that scary risk of the unknown. Take that leap of faith and embrace the promise of hope and a future.

Reminder: find more from Marie in our next newsletter!

The Woodsy

Profiles from The Woodsy’s original run, 2016–2018

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