I caught up with fellow SF IABC member, Courtney Sims, to unpack her experience as a breakout session speaker at the IABC 2019 connect2comms conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

Courtney is a director of special programs for SF IABC and an internal communications specialist for AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah. At the conference, she presented The Culture I Take Home with Me, where she examined how corporate culture becomes one’s very own.

Hi, Courtney! How was the conference?

Going to the conference gave me the opportunity to meet so many people who are working in the same industry as me. Lots of conversations and comradery. It was fantastic. I laughed so hard. I had a really great time!

 What insights did you gain from the conference?

I learned about daring to be deliberate. In everything you do, be deliberate. Be deliberate about your network. Be deliberate about how you communicate. I try to do this in my work, with volunteering and even in my personal life, specifically with my parenting.

Also, I was impressed by the amount of support those in attendance got. They recognized people in IABC doing phenomenal work. The energy in the room was so positive.

Yes, you presented! How did your session go?

In my session, I didn’t want to be just a talking head. I wanted to make sure people had the opportunity to share their own experiences, too. We talked a lot about culture and how it unconsciously becomes a guest in our home. I wanted to stress the importance of why it’s imperative to choose an organization with a culture that aligns with your personal beliefs, ideologies, principles and values. I’ve found that that’s how to seek true professional happiness.

I wanted to tell that story. And I hoped it would resonate, I hoped someone would see similarities in my experience. Because now I’m really happy and I want to share that with other people. I’m not experiencing burnout culture or startup culture; those don’t align with my personal values. Yeah, I feel like I’m thriving. It feels good.

How did you get involved with the conference?

I knew that they were calling for speakers so I had a conversation with Kamna Narain, past president for SF IABC, and shared with her what I was thinking and what I might want to say. I submitted my admission. It was a really good experience. Joining the board not only grows your network in a professional way, it’s also a tight-knit group of inspiring and supportive folks. That’s what I like about SF IABC. We’re all communication professionals trying to better the industry.  

There are a lot of things you could be focusing on. How did you choose culture?

You know, I don’t pretend to be an expert in all things communications or in culture, but I know that my own experience has really shaped how I see the field and how I envision it to be. Experiencing imposter syndrome was tough.

I knew that I have the ability to become a leader, but was unsure about how to get from point A to B. Once I realized how the culture at work affected my life at home, I decided: (1) I wanted to take the necessary steps to be a leader (although I didn’t know what that looked like or felt like); and (2) the culture at AAA allowed me to do that. I never experienced a place where I could show up, be authentic without fear of consequence and ask questions.

When I found a culture that reflected who I am and who I want to be, that showed up in my daughter’s life, too. She recently ran for school president as a fourth-grader. She wants to implement the AAA safety patrol school program and loves volunteering.

I can really relate to your desire to grow your confidence, and I admire how well you seem to know yourself. How do you grow and nurture your confidence?

It’s definitely a process. It’s been a humbling experience for sure. When I realized that I can help others through my work, I changed the way I saw the field and ultimately myself. I can’t just ignore the things that are important to me. Now I try to go into every situation being mindful, aware and honest. Before, I didn’t think work was a place to say you didn’t know things. But now I know it’s okay to be yourself. Once I realized that, things started falling into place.

How about putting self-awareness into action?

I read. My mentor once told me, “leaders are readers,” and I felt that. So I started picking up books left and right. I’m currently reading “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday, I hope it helps me become more self-aware. I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Also, finding people and things that make me feel good about the world. For example, SF IABC has been so supportive, including folks like Maureen, Jennel, Kamna, Sarah and yourself, who help create spaces that enable connections and professional friendships. I really do feel like SF IABC has created a space that empowers its members to follow their hearts and their dreams. I wouldn’t have been able to speak at the conference without this great group of folks supporting me.

Celeste Chang is a technical writer at Acumen, LLC, where she translates complex concepts into easy-to-understand content. She likes figuring things out. Celeste wants to hear your story — contact her at SFIABCchat@gmail.com.