Susan Patten Shares Her Unconventional Career Path and Finding Happiness in an "Entreprenurial Chapter"

This blog has been an amazing avenue for me to make new relationships and to share the same goal of advancing the role of women in Texas policy and politics - even with partners I admittedly don't know very well.  Susan Patten and I were introduced via LinkedIn since starting le blog, and I immediately knew she had an amazing perspective to share with a career spanning the spaces of both journalism and politics.  

Susan hasn’t followed a typical path to, around or (not quite) out of the Texas Capitol. As she puts it, she’s composing a life that lets her dabble, not drown, in politics (love it!). Lessons learned in decades at the Capitol are serving her well in what she calls her "entrepreneurial chapter." 

Although she doesn't walk the halls of the Capitol every day now, she's engaged, educated and a wealth of information on how to do it right. Plus, she isn't afraid to dive into a new adventure, completely unrelated to politics which she shares a little about in her interview. I think we can all relate to a non-political hustle to keep us sane. Thanks for your words of wisdom Susan!

Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?

After nearly two decades as Vice President of Government Relations for Time Warner Cable, last September I set out on a new path that lets me dabble in politics instead of drowning in them. During my cable stint I did federal, state and local lobbying, community relations and media. I currently have four professional roles:

...your credibility is all you’ve got. When it’s gone, you can’t get it back.

·       I still actively advocate for policies I’m passionate about, like heart health and water safety.

·       I provide freelance writing and editing services to lobbyists, legislators and authors.

·       I am a Certified Birkman Professional, offering data-driven personality assessments that help individuals and teams understand how their interests, needs, actions and stressors impact their work relationships. The Birkman tool is great for young professionals embarking on their first real roles after college as well as pros wondering “is this all there is?” It’s a great team-building tool as well, lending itself to fun workshops and retreats with small and mid-size work groups.

·       I am property manager (aka Lodge Fairy) at Valentine Lakeside on Lake LBJ. Our 1950’s-vibe property has 19 vacation rental units sleeping 2 to 14 people, plus an RV campground. We’re your affordable getaway for casual off-site meetings, retreats, reunions, fishing outings, girls’ weekends or family escapes.

A lodge fairy? That sounds very different from lobbying. How did you get there?

My career path has been unconventional, at best. But there’s a common thread in all the roles I’ve had: connecting people to each other and to the resources they need to achieve their goals. Valentine Lakeside isn’t about heads in beds (although those pay the bills). It’s about the people who gather here to make memories and make motion in their lives.

Where are you from?

I grew up on the South side of San Antonio and am a fifth-generation Texan.

What did you study in college and where did you attend school?

I studied journalism and urban studies at TCU in Fort Worth, with a heavy dose of political science courses and extracurricular activities. As editor of the student newspaper I interviewed Congressman Jim Wright, who later became Speaker of the U.S. House. That’s how I got bit by the political bug.

Political party affiliation?

I was an accidental lobbyist, one of only a handful I’ve known who didn’t start inside the building. Being on staff or being elected to office is a definite advantage.

I lean left, but like most Americans am frustrated by the increasingly rare display of leadership and statesmanship.

How did you get your start? Describe your career path.

I was an accidental lobbyist, one of only a handful I’ve known who didn’t start inside the building. Being on staff or being elected to office is a definite advantage.

I knew in junior high I wanted to be a journalist specializing in covering government, and I kept on that path for more than a decade. I left newspapers to work at the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. Chamber work was a crash course in advocacy and civic engagement, leading to my work in communications, community relations and government relations for cable.

When I started in cable, the industry had no presence at the state level. We were locally regulated, and my job was negotiating franchise agreements with individual cities. When cable had its first big fight at the Texas Capitol, we were massively outgunned by Southwestern Bell. I remember asking my lobby mentor in the shark pit how I knew who worked for SBC. Her answer: If they weren’t in our lobby team meeting this morning, they worked for SBC. We all learned a lot, and it was great exposure to how the capitol operates.

As they say, failure is the greatest teacher.

I’ve had great mentors in business and politics and have tried to pay it forward by making time for coffee or conversation when asked to be a mentor. You don’t need official mentors. Just pay attention and ask questions of people higher up the food chain.

You don’t need official mentors. Just pay attention and ask questions of people higher up the food chain.

Best professional advice you’ve ever received?

If you haven’t read Bonnie Bruce’s excellent 12 pieces of advice, go do that. Now.

She touched on this too, but I think most important is this: your credibility is all you’ve got. When it’s gone, you can’t get it back.

Advice you wish you could give your younger self?

Listen to your gut, speak up, and slow down to enjoy the moments. It’s not that life is too short, it’s that life is too LONG to be focused just on career or to be intimidated or to be miserable.

What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

I loved my work in media, at the chamber and in cable. Those jobs all led me to my current entrepreneurial chapter. I like applying my skills and relationships to new projects and passions. In the end, we’re all just people making our way in the world.

You could never do your job without __________.

People. Technology can’t replace relationships.

Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?

One of my early bosses taught me the difference between the trivial many and critical few things on our lists. You have to start with the critical few and accept that the trivial many will never all get done.

Something that is often misunderstood about your job?

Lobbyists do way more than wine and dine, and there are hundreds of people working at the    Capitol who don’t aspire to be kings or kingmakers. There is plenty of room for those of us who just want to help real people engage in the process of petitioning their government. Naïve? OK.

Last time you were the only woman in the room during an important meeting.

Sadly, that was the norm throughout my career. I think it’s getting worse, not better, especially in politics. I have been active in women’s organizations and am a big believer in empowerment and personal development for women. Ultimately, though, we need men at the table instead of preaching to each other.

What’s always in your bag during work/session/meetings?

Larabars and Justin’s almond butter squeeze packets. Breath mints. And a phone charger.

Favorite place for a business lunch?

I tend to drive east on Manor, Cesar Chavez, 12th, 11th or 7th see what strikes me.

Favorite place to get your news?

KUT (NPR), Texas Tribune and Texas Observer (Guess that makes me old school, huh?)

Favorite social media apps?

I have love/hate relationships with Facebook and Instagram. Love Marco Polo with my grandkids

Last book you read?

Shoot Like a Girl, by U.S. Air Force pilot and congressional candidate MJ Hegar.

If you weren’t in your current role you’d be?

A personal organizer or interior decorator.

Any final thoughts?

When you look at Christine’s List (and you should, it’s The Best), think about your career over the long haul. Be a collector of skills and experiences, a giver of services and labor. I could never have predicted my career path, and even a year ago I didn’t know I’d be overseeing a lodge and building an RV campground. But this role is not about the lodge, it’s about the people whose paths lead them to our place on the water. Find your common thread – your true north – and then be open to jobs that teach you something new along that path.

Connect to Susan via LinkedIn here or find her online here.

Do you have a unique perspective to share?  Know someone who does? Send me a note today!

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