Now I See What Can Be

by Ali Stieglbauer

A warm Arizona breeze hits my face as we step out of the Uber and I am confronted with beaming bright sunlight, so much brighter than the current gray Minnesota weather I’m used to. I reach for my sunglasses and clumsily rush to grab my luggage, clearly not an experienced traveler yet. As we walk into the hotel I’m astounded by its beauty; this is nothing like the Radissons that I picture when I think of a hotel. We have officially arrived at our Phoenix destination, the Biltmore Hotel for the WPO 2015 Annual conference. This is the start of my realization that I enjoy this work-hard, play-hard lifestyle, one that will be reinforced throughout the weekend. Once again I squeal in excitement to Sue, my stepmom and boss who has generously brought me along to the conference. I’ve spent days (and a fair amount of stress) prepping outfits and two pairs of new shoes are carefully packed into my suitcase. I’m armed with ample business cards as well, and am so proud of them that when they first arrived I brought one home and stuck it right on my fridge. As a WPO chapter chair, Sue has been here many years and told me countless stories from the conference. I’ve brushed up on my talking points for speaking about our business, and even tried to take some of that twenty-two-year-old eagerness out of my voice to seem more professional. I am so excited, but even with all these preparations I’m still not sure what I’m really getting into.

It turns out that this experience, similar to other experiences that are really meaningful, was something I never could have expected. I couldn’t have prepared for it more than I did or have known how much it would influence me. It turns out that 800 smart, strong women in a room together can be pretty inspirational. Let me stop here and interject that until Sue came into our life (mine, my father’s and sister’s) five years ago, I had never closely known a working woman, let alone a woman business owner! That’s not to say I didn’t have role models, I did, but I did not grow up seeing a woman in the business world. For almost my entire education I dreamt of being an author, of reading fine literature and putting pretty words on the page. I had preconceived notions of what business looked like, mostly made up from movies and the “social justice” classes that stirred my soul but made me feel bad for wanting to make money. Safe to say, I was poorly misinformed on all angles.

And so the fact that I now want to make a career in business comes as a surprise to me more than anyone else. But it makes sense when I really think about it. All of the skills that I admire in others and hope to cultivate within myself (communication skills, social skills, work ethic, and leadership) are ones that businesswomen embody. The WPO Conference, of course, had 800 of these women. I was surrounded with examples of what I’d like to be someday, examples of who I’d like to be someday. They say that “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and that’s how I feel about my experience at the WPO Conference. Because I didn’t grow up around strong female business owners, I never considered that as an option for myself. I only wish that I had seen this possibility sooner. While I thoroughly enjoyed the schooling that led to my B.A. in English, if I could go back I would have taken some business classes and done more internships as well. I know that I cannot be alone in this, and am inspired to think what would happen if more young women had the opportunity to meet women business owners like those in WPO. How many new businesses would be created? How many more jobs created and families helped as a result? If you start to think about it, the effects would be pretty amazing.

Really all that I can say is “thank you.” Thank you to Sue, the best mom, mentor and boss that I could ask for. Because of you, I’ve seen a new side of myself that I am excited to build. Someday I hope we can be at the conference together with me as a member, and maybe even my own daughter in tow. Thank you to all the WPO women that I met and encouraged me; simply speaking with me was more meaningful than you probably realized. To be fresh out college with no experience, being made to feel that I have insight to share was such a confidence builder. And of course, thank you to our home chapters, Minneapolis 3, 4 and 6, who I get to communicate with as an admin and are always kind and welcoming. I enjoy dressing extra nice on WPO days in case I have to drop something off in the meeting, and when you all say hello to me by name it makes me feel like I’m doing something right. My ideas of what business and businesswomen are like have been fully reformed, and I am now excited and inspired to work hard and someday become part of this amazing group. Thank you for helping me see what can be.

Ali StieglbauerNow I See What Can Be