An Interview with Celeste O’Brien

In Beauty, Inspiring Women, Leadership by Erin Cartaya0 Comments

Our StitchCharities’ Empowerment Workshops continue to make a difference, and it’s all thanks to you and to our amazing facilitators and dynamic women leaders in the St. Louis community. These women make a huge impact in our community, and embody everything we stand for: EYOB!

No doubt you’ve read the interviews we’ve already done with our inspiring workshop leaders. In the following interview with Celeste O’Brien, we dive further into how these influencers are making a difference and what motivates them to be the empowering women they are!

Celeste O’Brien

After growing up and attending college in Virginia, Celeste made the move to St. Louis to be a Teach For America Corps Member. She spent the next 4 years as a middle school math teacher in St. Louis, after which she made a career track switch to Matter Family Office and started as an administrative assistant. As a newcomer to the family office industry, she concentrated on increasing her depth of understanding of the business, the industry, and the families served. After navigating a steep learning curve, she found that the perspective she gained had paved the way to enter an evolved role within the firm. In her current role as Manager of People and Communications, she supports projects related to organizational culture, recruiting and hiring, and internal and external communications.

Thank you for your time, Celeste. What made you decide to be a part of this project?

I think it’s really important for everyone to discover for themselves and live out their purpose in life. Anything I can do to further that exploration, especially for young women, is interesting to me. When Claire recommended me, my first thought was why me? But I have to trust that if someone sees something in me, I should try to believe them (especially if I have something to share that others might benefit from hearing).

What message do you want girls to take away from the EYOB (Embrace Your Own Beauty) workshops?

I want them to see their value, and use their wonderful energy to focus on learning how to walk in their purpose. Everything else falls into place.

Here at StitchCharities, we’re all about empowering women. We start by teaching our girls how to embrace their own beauty. What advice do you have as they journey through this process?

I think it’s important to understand that no one will ever see you the same way you see you, physically. That can be a positive or a negative. Also there are many things about physical appearance that you can’t control. If you look around the world at beauty norms, and you do some research about what people have considered beautiful or desirable historically, you will see that beauty is a made up construct. It’s just not important to focus on.

Workout Friends

If you represent a beauty norm that is currently popular where you live, that is certainly an advantage and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But if you don’t, you just can’t spend time worrying about it. You have something really valuable to offer the world and it most likely has nothing at all to do with your looks.

So you have to focus on building your strengths and building confidence. It comes through in the way you present yourself to people. Once people get to know you, looks often become immaterial. But the way you interact with people and make an impact on the world is always, always important.

Another piece of advice I have is to engage in experiences that force you to rethink your beliefs about yourself. In college, I took a small seminar with three other women (led by a woman professor) which culminated in an 8-day hike through the Maine wilderness. During that time, I challenged myself not to look in a mirror because I was facing some negative thoughts about myself and my appearance. It forced me to respect my body for what it could accomplish – a rigorous hike through over 40 miles of wilderness – rather than what it looked like. That’s just one example of a transformational  experience. It will look different for everyone.

We understand no one is 100% confident all the time, how do you handle self-doubt and uncertainty?

I often remind myself that very little in life (arguably nothing) is truly uncharted territory. Whatever doubt and uncertainty I am facing, whatever challenge I’m up against, other people have faced it and excelled. So if they can do it, I can do it.

If I can’t reassure myself fully, I lean on other people in my life to help me get back on track. They will either tell me it’s not worth worrying over, or that maybe I’m going down a path that’s not right for me. Either way the outcome is positive.

Celeste All Dressed Up

Why do you think it’s important for young girls to have self-love?

Believing in yourself is the cornerstone of success in life – relationships, family, job – everything is based on it. If you don’t love and respect yourself, you can’t interact with the world in a healthy way. In a perfect world, girls would be constantly oscillating between a little bit of self-doubt and a little bit of narcissism – constant movement to keep propelling you forward and keep you thinking.

What motivated you to choose the career path you are currently on?

I was a teacher for 4 years and I was really unhappy for a number of reasons. I spent a lot of time reflecting on why that was and, in the end, decided to leave the profession and move into business. I felt I had a number of skills that would translate, but I didn’t know where that would lead me. I think I was lucky to land in a company where I was able to explore my potential and where leadership worked with me to continue to move me toward a position I was passionate about and could benefit the company greatly. That journey is still in progress. But I believe it’s talent management – something I currently spend about 20% of my time on but would one day like to spend 100%.

If you could only use one word to describe what you want to represent in your chosen career field, what would that word be? And explain …

Scout. I did a purpose survey a few years ago that categorized me as a “Scout,” meaning someone who enjoys finding opportunities for people and recognizing and nurturing their potential. My role is evolving, but I believe I will remain in the talent management space because helping people recognize and nurture their strengths is what I love to do not only at work, but throughout my life.

What were the biggest hurdles that you faced as a female in the workforce?

I have been fortunate not to face any major hurdles as a female in the workplace yet.

Confidence is Beauty

Many say the glass ceiling is tough to break through for a woman in the workforce. Do you agree? If so, why do you think this is the case?

I can’t speak to what happens at the higher levels of major companies. In my company, I have seen women in top leadership positions since day one and I haven’t experienced limitations. I also have yet to navigate the challenges of being a professional woman and Mom, which is a stage in life where I think many women fall off the ladder or hit the ceiling. So I may have a different answer in a few years! I think some companies have internal policies and practices that have bias built in. When you add to that the behavior of leaders who (to their detriment) fail to consider the advantages various candidates bring to top leadership positions, I think the glass ceiling is definitely present in those companies. I just read Harvard Business Review’s 2017 list of top CEOs and there are hardly any women in it. But I think in the next 10 years we will see a radical change. I’m looking forward to it.

Who is your role model? And why?

I think the closest thing to a role model in my life is a classmate from college. Even at an age when most of us were not concerned about what was truly important in life, she somehow already knew how to listen to herself and spend her time doing work, studying, and hobbies that were truly meaningful to her. She always seemed very content and calm, yet she was highly successful. Now she is getting her MBA so she is still getting after it, obviously. I try to follow her example by putting my time and passion into things that excite and energize me. I try to eliminate activities in my life that aren’t important or meaningful when I can.

What is your favorite food? And why?

I love pasta. Why? No idea. I don’t have a great answer for this question!

Who is your favorite music artist? And why?

Rockstar by Night

I think Carole King is amazing. When I was younger, I played piano for many years and eventually started writing songs but worried I wasn’t vocally talented enough to sing them. I also thought you had to play guitar to write music, for some reason. When I learned that Carole King decided at one point in her career to create an album of herself singing her own songs (after years of successfully writing songs for other popular artists), it really inspired me. I started singing my own songs and I thought I was great. I have come a long way since then but none of this would have happened if I hadn’t finally gotten the confidence to start. Carole King was a trailblazer for many reasons I didn’t even know when I first found out about her, but I have only come to respect her and her career more and more over the years.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids in Egypt.

Paint us a picture, what was high school like for you?

I had a lot of fun and was highly successful. I was obsessed with being great in every arena – even systematic about it – but also spent a lot of time worrying about how I was perceived by others. If I hadn’t wasted time worrying about that, it would have been perfect because it turned out no one was judging me anyway (and if they were, it was not important).

What do you wish you knew back then?

I wish I knew how not to take things personally or worry about what others might think of me. It was a totally useless energy expenditure!!

Any advice for teen girls interested in starting their own business/entering the career field you are currently in?

Entrepreneurship takes a really special person – I wouldn’t be able to do it! I revere those who have “it.” It’s the height of self confidence in my opinion. I’m not a natural risk taker. So if a teen girl even has the smallest desire to start their own business, I would say identify a few mentors and go for it. That is a unique trait and you should capitalize on it, but you should always trust and rely on your network to help you make good decisions about it, even if you’re a visionary.

As far as getting into the field I’m in, that’s a tough one. I arrived here in such a roundabout way! I think it’s hard to know what you want to do when you’re in college, let alone in high school. Some people do, of course. But if you don’t, I think you have to learn to really tune in to yourself and learn about your strengths and weaknesses. That way you’re armed with information to help you make decisions along the way. You don’t have to know your end goal to end up in a career you love. At my firm, we do a whole workshop on it for 20-30 year olds. It’s all about doing something you love, something that challenges and energizes you, doing it really well, then figuring out how to leverage that later to get to your next step.

Thanks, Celeste, for these wonderful words of wisdom!

To find out how to be a part of StitchCharities EYOB Empowerment Workshops click here.

The workshops are held at the Microsoft Store located in the St. Louis Galleria Mall.

If you’d like to find out more about theStitch click here.

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