by Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
I had the pleasure of participating in Government 2.0 Boot Camp at my old Alma Mater Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. I hadn’t been there since that glorious day 32 years ago where I graduated as an 18-year-old French Horn player.
I called the panel moderator that morning to get my marching orders for the day. I chuckled to myself as the instructions sounded a little like a treasure hunt or adventure game.
Come in the front door you’ll see a round table with a bunch of “stuff” on it. Take a pen pick up a badge and put your name on it along with your Twitter “handle”. Look around and you’ll see a wall with some 4x6 index cards that have sessions and locations written on them. Find ours and meet me at our venue.
Now, as a young French Horn player and newly minted driver, I had no problem getting to the Washington, DC neighborhood of Georgetown from anywhere in the city … navigating circles, cross streets, Rock Creek Park, Whitehurst Freeway, and occasional alleys. But, as a grown-up CIO, I needed my Navigation System. Humm, how weird.
As we approached the familiar stately white building, I had an obsessive and familiar urge and said to my husband “Quick, grab that parking place before someone else gets it!” As we crossed the mall in front of the school, I reflected on the last time I was there – my graduation day – 141 talented artists about to start the rest of their lives. I remembered nearly getting into a fight with a classmate who grabbed my cap after I tossed it in the air – by the way, a CIO skill that I honed during budget negotiations.
Climbed familiar steps and entered an unfamiliar foyer with an inspiring art gallery and a welcoming entrance into the renovated theater. Gee, I’ve never seen this place before. Anyway, found the table, found the index cards – we’re backstage. Oh, oh. The last time I was back there, I ran off the stage crying. I hope I don’t do that again. Today, as a CIO, I have managed to wait until I get home to cry. Lots of progress there, I tell you.
I sort of knew where it was, but didn’t really want to remember. Down the hall on the right and turn left. Ok. Oh, my old locker was here. Hardly kept anything of value there … just staff paper and tennis shoes. Anything of value stayed with me or in the car. Come to think of it, I still do that, much to the dismay of my husband who complains about all my briefing papers in the backseat of my car. He also notes that his wife is a bag lady with about a dozen briefcases full of valuable CIO stuff littering the mudroom.
Here we go about to break the plane that marks the territory of drama and dance students --- a place where music students, denizens of the pit, do not cross. Through the dance studio – that mirror is still broken – there it is … backstage. A Mozart French Horn Concerto. Good embouchure, good intonation, a missed note, a traumatized teen-aged girl. The head of the music department dried my tears and told me I had to play again next week. So, I sucked it up and played. Good embouchure, good intonation, didn’t miss the note, poor phrasing from nearly hyperventilating. I decided that this was much too stressful to pursue as a career and chose … to be a … wha?! CIO. Oh, the folly of youth.
I realized later, that I learned a lot about leadership that day as I ran off the stage crying. Thirty-two years later, yesterday’s lessons are today’s critical skills:
- How to play through the tears;
- How to be resilient;
- How to muster courage; and
- The importance of taking deep breaths.
I never dreamed that I would be back on that stage again not as a French Horn player, but as one of the CIOs at our nation’s space agency. Many seasons have passed. I don’t think so much about scales, transposing, valve oil; I think about skills, transformation, and mission value. I did learn a lot about being a CIO that day.