May 2012 – Laurie Peterson

Everyone falls sometimes, and there is beauty in the breakdown.  It’s painful, and I think that’s what most people fear, but it’s such a necessary part of growth.  As someone once so eloquently said, “The easiest way around something is right through it.” This is what Laurie Peterson says.  She is the Pink Ladders Woman of Focus for May 2012.

Laurie is the owner and coach of New Horizon Strategies LLC.  She also works for the NASA Johnson Space Center as the Sustainability Champion.  New Horizon Strategies offers professional coaching, consulting, and facilitation to entities and individuals experiencing transition, investigating discrete improvement, and holistically addressing strategic planning.

Life should be a constant growth period.  Once we’ve stopped growing, what are we doing with our lives?  Of course, walking life on the edge of growth does mean that you’ll sometimes fall.

“I landed my dream job working on bio-regenerative life support systems for NASA at the Johnson Space Center.  We were building a human-rate test facility to experiment with how to close the loop, and ultimately ‘put the Earth in box so we could take it somewhere else’.  Projects start and stop relatively quickly in the political environment of the government, and since I started with NASA, I’ve worked with all of the US human space-flight programs (Shuttle, International Space Station, and the future Multi-Purpose Crewed Vehicle). I had the opportunity to work with international partners in Japan, Russia, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands while supporting the International Space Station.  It was an awesome, eye-opening experience.”

I don’t want a job that I have to do for ‘the rest of my life’.  I want to create an environment where the person, team, and organization are sustainable without me.  My vision is to be the champion inspiring sustainable change in the professional world to really make people come alive!

Although Laurie relished her job, she felt dissatisfaction after working 13 years at the Johnson Space Center.  Here she was working with a stellar team of people on the life support system for the new NASA human-rated space vehicle.  Yet she randomly began crying on her way to work.  A colleague of hers pointed out this may be due to a fork in the road – this is when choices are made incrementally and at some point you wonder how you arrived where you are.  This is the fork of passion verses promotion.

Laurie had been a contractor with Lockheed Martin, and was strongly considering leaving to work with the Peace Corps when she was offered a job at the Johnson Space Center.  “I still loved what I was doing, and who I was doing it with, but felt an edge of stress, frustration, and dysfunction in my work life.”

Then, I lost my only sibling to suicide.  My world crumbled.  It took me nine months following her death just to get out of ‘numb’ and into ‘healing’, though I would have told you the whole time I was healing really well.

Then Laurie’s job slowed down.  “It was like a tsunami hit me.  I did a lot of different things to try and recover, and cocooning was one of them.  I took some time off from work.  During that time I attended a growth and transition workshop based on Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ work.  She’s the world-renowned grief therapist who wrote the book (literally) on Death and Dying.”

Laurie was grieving the vision she had of NASA, while grieving the loss of her sister.  “The NASA I put up on that pedestal was a place where you can work on cutting-edge technology, be a part of first-time, amazing accomplishments, inspires the world, and really, really make a difference.  But, that wasn’t the place I felt like I’d been working at in a while.  Ultimately, I hadn’t felt like I was making a difference in a long time.  People told me I was, but something wasn’t making a difference to me.”

With courage, she made the decision to take time off from work.  Then she tried an executive coaching program.  “The coaching program really helped me to see how perfectionism had made me a difficult person to work with (with other difficult people as well as amazing people).

I needed to let go of this idea that I had to have the answers all the time, had to have it all figured out all the time, had to be on top of things all the time.  That’s exhausting, and unrealistic.

“I always knew that doing a good job at the things that mattered to me was important, but the fear of criticism if I didn’t have every step laid out in a plan, if I didn’t anticipate every possible outcome, if I didn’t have the answer to every question before I asked it, if I didn’t know exactly what everyone was talking about all the time, if I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life (but knew that I wasn’t doing it), became daunting,” says Laurie.

When I figure out what I really want to do with my life, it doesn’t have to be all planned out.  And, I can change my mind if it’s not what I thought.  I have the freedom to not be right all the time!

Laurie’s attributes her successes to passion, grace, drive and curiosity.  This involves education, support system, goal setting, networking, and a strong work ethic as key components.

“My parents were extremely supportive of me during high school, college, and my first ‘real world’ job.  They expressed genuine excitement about my opportunities and visited me often to show me their love.  They even gave me my first car when I graduated from college.”

Laurie liked school, and always saw college as the next step.  Her parents both hold master’s degrees in teaching, and were junior high teachers at the school she attended. Science was her favorite subject in school, along with math, art, and wood/metal shops being close seconds.

College is all about the entire experience for us, not just the academic learning.  I learned perseverance, dedication, and the effects of making choices related to what I just ‘felt like’ the right thing to do was.

After taking advantage of college resources to hone her interest in engineering, Laurie chose BioProcess Engineering.  This is a combination of Biological and Agricultural as well as Chemical/Process Engineering.  “I like to describe it now as Chemical Engineering of living systems…I really enjoyed engineering, but wanted something more holistically related to humans and our earth.”

I used to get really down on myself, thinking I wasn’t studying hard enough to get good grades, and ultimately be successful, says Laurie.  I see now, it was because of the social things I experienced (organizing teams, figuring out how to work with many different types of people, and learning how to have fun while doing it all) that opened up opportunities for management and integration so quickly in my career.

Goal setting has been huge.  Otherwise, we’re just taking the ‘shot-gun’ approach in our lives.  Hit as many targets as you can and hope one of them is the ‘kill shot’.

“Our goal setting is like choosing the highway we’re going to drive on in life.  Of course, you have to make the decision to actually drive your car, versus sit in a parking lot with the engine running waiting for someone to come and drive you somewhere.  So, assuming you are driving your life, and you’ve picked your highway, allowing opportunities to tickle our interest is simply paying attention to the billboards along the way,” says Laurie.

I told my mom once when I was little, “if I could meet everyone in the world, I would have it all figured out.”

“I absolutely love networking.  I find meeting new people to be exhilarating and refreshing. Everyone has such a wonderful perspective to offer.  Face-to-face networking and social media networking are quite different, and accomplish different levels of support, but they’re still both vital networking tools,” says Laurie.

Completely instrumental to her success was joining a Women’s Leadership Advisory Board. This involves working hand-in-hand with wonderful, professional ladies, receiving monthly coaching, and master mind sessions, as well as strategic planning support and educational classes.

After networking and applying for several opportunities in Houston, it was brought to Laurie’s attention that the Johnson Space Center has a sustainability/green team.  Since investigating this area, Laurie been given an opportunity in the position of Sustainability Champion to learn more and assist the center in accomplishing the mandates of the agency to reduce our energy and water usage; increase our energy sustainability; and improve our physical sustainability using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) construction standards.

Grace is also essential to success. This is when you’re in thick traffic, and you certainly can’t see an opening, and suddenly all the vehicles ahead of you merge into different lanes so you’re free to accelerate.  You can’t plan times like that, but we’ve all experienced them. 

“We sometimes feel grace or circumstances get in the way,” says Laurie.  “I used to think the ‘ball-bearing’ recipe of success was organize-plan-control-reassess-replan-control-etc.  I can see now after the years of learning (or perhaps remembering) the beauty of grace in my life that that ball bearing has finally cracked into the ‘at least’ two halves that it’s genuinely comprised of: the organize-plan-control piece which is critical, but also the organic, natural element of grace that happens in all our lives.”

We must do good work.  We must be kind.  We must care.  If we don’t care, are mean, or fail to perform at our jobs, why would anyone give us more?  Keep that in mind.

After graduating from college, Laurie received a job offer from Lockheed Martin where she was a contractor for the first six years she worked at the Johnson Space Center.  The salary was somewhat low.  “Many people, including my department head, encouraged me to ask for more money.  I was scared.  What if they said no, and since you asked we won’t give you the job anyway?  I was talking to my dad about it, and I said, ‘this is my dream job.  I would do it for free if they asked!’  To which he quickly replied, ‘Don’t tell them that!’  He went on to say, ‘Money is kind of like sex; it’s how we all got here, but nobody wants to talk about it.’  We all need money to survive, but why are we so afraid to ask for what we’re worth?”  Just ask for it but we must do good work.

Laurie integrates meditation, relaxation and affirmations in her life.  She recites a mantra every morning to help keep her grounded: “I have all that I need to do everything I’m doing right now.  I am okay.  All is as it should be.  I am at peace.  I choose to be fully engaged today.  I choose to be present.”

She also writes down her gratitudes along with affirmations each day.  “So I’m aware of the wonderful things I already have in my life, which permits more of that to come to me.  We don’t get more if we aren’t grateful for what we already have.”

One of the two people who inspire Laurie is the Dalai Lama for inspiring a world of peace, meditation, and renewal;   and the second is Jodie Foster’s character in ‘Contact’ because she was so focused, passionate, and ultimately open to profound discoveries in her own life, and for humanity.

We’re all really searching for the same things: appreciation, respect, purpose, acceptance, and joy.

“I’m enjoying building my skills as a professional coach, helping people realize their full potential, as I have been helped along my own path. I am also learning what it means to live sustainably on this earth, and recognizing that I am certainly not alone in finding intrinsic motivation to achieve net zero living,” says Laurie.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs — ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive. ~  Harold Thurman Whitman, Philosopher.


3 Comments

  1. Jennifer Weide

    Great article, Laurie!

  2. What a blessing to hear your story. Thanks for all you have done to help other experience grace.

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