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Celebrating International Women’s Day: My Favorite Words of Wisdom

Camellias bloom outside the Pavilion of Portland Japanese Garden. Photo by William Sutton.

A note from Lisa Christy, Executive Director of Portland Japanese Garden

In January, I became Executive Director of Portland Japanese Garden. As I’ve taken on this role, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons throughout my life that have – I believe – contributed to my success. On this special day, International Women’s Day (IWD), I thought it only appropriate to share some of those lessons since, fittingly, they came from three influential women in my life.  

Be Generous

My first job, straight out of graduate school, was at an advertising agency in Kansas City. There, I was lucky enough to work with a sunnily dispositioned director named Lisa Nestler. I was very junior—working in the background of larger projects, far away from clients and executives. I might have otherwise felt no more than a cog in the machine were it not for her thoughtful approach to leadership.

When I was given a new project, Lisa always took the time to explain the bigger picture: the background of our client, what our goals were, why we were doing the project and how it contributed to the overall team.  Nearly a half hour would go by before we got to the nuts and bolts of the work that would be my responsibility. All that context put me in a better position to succeed.

Lisa regularly answered questions, offered updates, and took the time to make sure I stayed informed. Her generosity made me, all of 25 and without much in the way of experience, feel like a colleague, not a means to an end.

Embrace Who You Are

Ten years ago, I left advertising behind to join Portland Japanese Garden as its Director of Marketing and Communications. I was lucky to join at a time where there was no shortage of mentors to learn from: our CEO Steve Bloom, CFO Diane Freeman, then-Culture, Arts, and Education Curator Diane Durston, and, Cynthia Haruyama, the Garden’s recently retired Deputy Director.

I have already shared how much I admire Cynthia— her balance of strength and softness, and an astute approach to solving problems always underlined with thoughtfulness.

This idea of embracing who you are can be antithetical to the advice women are often given about being what others want you to be. Cynthia was clear-eyed about what it meant to be a professional woman. She was the first colleague I heard talk about being a “female leader” versus a “leader.” She acknowledged, out loud:

  • The differences that women bring
  • The dearth of women in leadership positions
  • The traps women can fall into being modest or risk-averse or deferential

But more than that, Cynthia and I talked about knowing our own superpowers; to be accepting of who we actually are, not who we think we are supposed to be. Being honest with yourself and knowing your own strengths as well as your weaknesses allows you to unlock your best…and work around your worst. Armed with this knowledge, we can pursue the work life that is most satisfying to us. More practically speaking, it also allows us to take pride in what we do well and stop feeling like a failure because of the things we don’t.

We All Learn Our Own Way

My greatest model, teacher, and mentor has always been my mom. As a single parent in the 80’s with no family nearby, she showed how strength, resilience, creativity and a tenacious can-do spirit can accomplish great things.

From my front row seat, I watched my mom take on projects and grow each one into something remarkable.  At first glance, she seemed to effortlessly sail into positions of admiration and leadership. Her secret, however, was based on her own understanding and acceptance of people. My front row seat become a daily master class as my mother talked through each step of her own journey with me.

Dr. Kay Byers pursued her Ph.D. in Education Administration while her career progressed from teacher to administrator to director. Along the way we talked about whatever methods curricula, learning theory, or behavioral psychology she was studying at the moment. As a public school teacher, she used her own education to test how better to connect and engage with students – and she discussed those experiences with me as well.

As a result, one of the strongest lessons I learned is that each person processes information in their own, unique way. The conversations we had instilled in me a profound respect for the reality that the same information is perceived and understood much differently depending on the person. My mom, the greatest teacher I know, taught me that with no judgment, the best road to helping someone understand information is in fact, not just one road but many. By respecting the individual and their truth, we can accomplish more because we’re working together.

Inspire Inclusion

I’m told that the theme for IWD in 2024 is “Inspire Inclusion,” which I love because it embodies what smart women have taught me throughout my life.

The worst kept secret in the world is that no adult truly feels like an adult—we all want to be able to turn to our Lisa Nestlers, our Cynthia Haruyamas, our moms – the people who bring us along to benefit from their life lessons. Throughout my life and even more consciously now, I’ve strived to also be that kind of mother, woman, and leader—not just for my female colleagues, but those of all genders. Now, in this position of Executive Director, the time has come to no longer bank the wisdom I’ve been given, but to spend it as much as I can on whomever will accept it, in the hopes that they’ll know they are valued, they are needed; that they’ll feel included.

A photo of Lisa Christy, Executive Director of Portland Japanese Garden

Lisa Christy is a specialist in understanding audiences and how best to communicate with them. Christy, who ascended to the role of Executive Director of Portland Japanese Garden in 2024, previously served as the Chief External Affairs Office at Portland Japanese Garden, overseeing Membership, Marketing, Communications, and Community Relations. She has been with the organization for 10 years. To learn more about Lisa Christy, click here.

Photo by Nina Johnson.