Recently, I joined several hundred women from all walks of life who were enlightened and entertained by Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the White House, from 2011 to 2014. She spoke at the 2014 Barbara K. Fergus Women in Leadership Lecture hosted by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. In a blog about leaving the White House, Alyssa writes: No advanced degree or job experience truly prepares you for the tidal wave of responsibility and the sheer gravity of history that beckons each day. The Arab Spring. Newtown. Hurricane Sandy. The Affordable Care Act. It is one of those jobs that never really leaves you.
In her feisty, warm, candid discussion of her career journey, Alyssa shared lessons learned along the way that helped shape her success. Her love of language prompted her to major in French and Japanese at the University of Vermont. As a student, she learned the importance of connecting with people who share her personal interests – such as a passion for The Grateful Dead and Pilates. Later in her career, this insight enabled her to develop enduring relationships. “It’s important to create a bond beyond the work relationship so that when things go wrong you have something deeper to fall back on,” she noted.
Alyssa is grateful that her parents allowed her to make her own choices in college and career. “You’ll never really succeed if you are coddled. You must give people the room to succeed or fail on their own,” she said. “It’s best to live on high wire every day. When making judgments, trust your gut and have confidence in your decisions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Her advice to women of all ages is simple and direct: “Work hard. Be kind. Own your own failures so you can own your own successes. Always maintain your integrity. Never pretend to be anything you are not. Be yourself to succeed – this creates confidence in all aspects of work. It’s OK to ask questions of experts. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Help others. Pass it on.”
Great advice from someone who made The New Republic’s list of Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.
Her career journey is remarkable. A campaign internship for then-Representative Bernie Sanders ignited her love of politics and taught her how to effectively manage chaos, resources and people. A brief stint as a paralegal in New York after graduating with a BA in Political Science, taught her how to work in a professional environment as part of a team. These skills saw her through a multi-faceted political career that included work on Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and as Press Secretary for Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia before joining then-Senator Barack Obama’s team as Director of Scheduling in 2005. Six years, a winning election and several positions later she was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the White House.
When asked what’s next in her career, Alyssa said, “You don’t have to be scared. Ask yourself: What do I like to do? What am I good at? Who do I like to work with? Look for an adventure and an opportunity to be engaged and have influence.” On Monday, Vice Media, a news and entertainment group, announced that it has hired Alyssa as its chief operating officer.