Reflections from a WLI Scholarship Winner
March 1, 2016
by Robyn Eason, Group Manager of the certification team within the U.S. Green Building Council
In 2013, I received the opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to attend the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago as a WLI Fall Meeting Scholarship recipient. In my several years as a working professional in the real estate and urban development industry, I have never imagined or experienced being repeatedly surrounded and supported by such a varied and accomplished group of female professionals. Never has this been more relevant than now, at a time in my career upon which I am faced with decisions about taking on leadership roles, staying professionally relevant within such a diverse industry, and maximizing my potential and that of those around me.
My WLI ULI Fall Meeting experience exposed me to emerging trends in real estate – both local to Chicago and national trends, allowed me to actively partake in Product Council Day discussions, introduced me to a network of real estate professionals from several market sectors, provided me with a well-rounded perspective of how to navigate my career, exposed me to the activities of WLI chapters across the country, and paired me with a talented executive mentor to help seamlessly stitch all of these experiences together. While all aspects of the Fall Meeting were relevant, I found the WLI Steering Committee meeting particularly useful in understanding the then (2014) initiatives of WLI and the priorities of its various geographical groups. In addition, the two sessions about careers: Building a Great Career in Real Estate and A View from the Top helped to validate the value of actions I have performed over time (such as building a vast network of reliable colleagues) and provided great insights on what it takes to remain competitive as well as the benefit of moving out of one’s comfort zone. Little did I know that the incredible “life nuggets” from these WLI career sessions would ring so very true and inform my future life choices.
As the year 2014 began and the winter months set in with brutal subzero temperatures, I found myself at a pivotal point in my career and life. At the time, I had lived in Washington, DC for more than a decade and had been at my job for five fun, fast-paced years. The economy was still sluggish, but it was finally showing more promising signs of imminent recovery. My organization was in the midst of an ever-evolving leadership landscape. Long-time friends were moving out of the area seemingly every year. The culmination of these events prompted daily reflection about the path of my professional and personal future. Admittedly needing an escape, I decided to join my father on a work trip to Southern California in hopes that the warm sunshine and sandy beaches would be just the remedy I needed to pull myself together. It certainly was, and during my stay, I took the initiative to meet with sustainable development professionals in the Los Angeles area and other colleagues performing a variety of work in real estate, economic development, and architecture. I was incredibly surprised to learn about rebirth of Downtown Los Angeles as an attractive destination, the investments in public transit to extend existing lines all over the city, the impressive diversity of LA neighborhoods, and the amazing growth and momentum of the entire region. Indeed, WLI life nugget #1: “be relentlessly curious” by meeting with local colleagues and professionals to learn about the burgeoning LA real estate submarkets proved very significant for what would be ultimately be a huge life decision.
Upon returning to Washington, DC, I was more certain than ever that a new city with new issues and a new development landscape was just the professional & personal stimulus I needed. With me having an existing social network in the Los Angeles region, this cross-country transition felt like destiny and I subsequently came back across WLI life nuggets #2 & 3: “treat myself like a project” and “be deliberate about my life goals and choices.” Taking this to heart, I devised a 6-month project plan to be in residence in Los Angeles by Fall of 2014, hung it on my home-office wall, and checked items off with each passing week and month with determination as well as mixed emotion of leaving a place I had called home for so long.
My arrival in Los Angeles in October 2014 came with an exceptional feeling of accomplishment, intrigue, fear, and excitement. I was determined to soak up a fresh (to me) real estate market and engage with the local ULI Los Angeles chapter and WLI-Los Angeles and continue feeding that curiosity with 30-minute one-on-ones with local industry professionals—something my ULI WLI mentor encouraged me to do regularly.
Fast forward to present-day and I have not regretted the decision I made 18 months ago to take a calculated leap of faith and go after a life I wanted. I have been able to quickly build a vast and diverse professional network, due in large part to ULI and WLI’s extensive membership. I have been able to rapidly learn the dynamics of local submarkets, the real estate development tenets of the West, and the focus of local university real estate programs. I have been able to advance the mission of my organization in a variety of ways and take on several leadership opportunities within the region. Thus, I have a sense of renewed professional focus and clarity, aligning with WLI life nugget #4: “know what you want.”
In sum, I could not have been given a better opportunity for continuing education, professional development, and life lessons than the one I received as a 2013 ULI WLI Fall Meeting Scholarship recipient. I am and will be forever grateful to the WLI Steering Committee for their generosity and commitment to the advancement of women leaders.