Courage, Commitment and Character: Choosing a Warrior Mentality and the Will to Win
It is not the obstacles we face that define us, it is the way in which we approach life’s challenges that shapes our legacy.
In this podcast episode of Dare to Interrupt, Anne Hamilton, Vice President of Global Travel and Expense Management at The Walt Disney Company, shares her incredible story and explains how determination, courage and paying it forward creates the foundation for success, impact and legacy. Listen now to experience the full episode!
Read on for a few of my favorite parts of our conversation:
What was it like having to balance furthering your professional development and education, climbing the ladder to be in the place that you are right now, and raising a child as a single mother?
It was difficult. When I speak to women who ask me that question, I say, “You know what, there are very tough decisions you have to make on time and place.”
And I worked really hard to try to be at the most significant moments in my son’s life, that he would remember that his mom was there. I may not have made every soccer game or every golf tournament, but I absolutely made the most I could, and let’s say the ones that really counted.
It goes back to the leaders. There were some leaders, quite frankly, that I chose not to work for because that wasn’t—again, I’m going back a long time—but still, being a woman and being a single parent, I was not a person they actually wanted to hire, because they did not think they could get the most out of me and I could meet the job expectations.
So, I didn’t have to set myself up, so I had the daycare and individuals that could watch my son so that I could continue my career and further my career. But I also sought out to work for leaders who would be empathetic but also invest in me and see that if you help me continue to be the best mom I can be—which is important to me—I will give you 150% back in my job.
I was fortunate enough, and I sought out those types of leaders. And I believe I am where I am today because those leaders that I had were tremendous. And they’re tremendously successful in their own right. But they had that vision, and they saw the skills and my wanting to learn.
I went back at the age of 50 and got my MBA, because at that time the industry was going into a recession. And I just looked, and I said, I have to learn to think differently. I want to keep myself relevant, and I want to perform my role and I want to excel in it.
So, that was unusual for, again, someone to go back and get their MBA at 50, the oldest person in the class, but it was a game changer again at that stage in my life. Making the financial investment to get my MBA and be supported by my company, those are, again, the type of decisions that one has to make to continue to move forward. It just doesn’t come handed to you. You really have to plan, think about where you want to go, what you want to do, and what you are willing to give up to get there and to get in return. Because it does go both ways.
For the women who are in situations like this where maybe they have just had a child or they’re thinking about it, or they’re struggling with that balance, how would you encourage women to have that conversation with potential leaders? What are the questions they should ask? And how can they convey that they’re there to give 150% if they’re chosen to be that person the company invests in?
I chose to be completely transparent and honest. I think because I had already worked and had a good reputation. In my career, when I first started, I was in the food and beverage side of the business, which was very hard. Probably longer than 12- and 14-hour days, and opened several hotels. I started to create that reputation.
And then at the point where I’m going to have a child and talking about how does this change your view of me? And how can I convince you that I don’t want to change my career path and I want to succeed; however, I don’t want to be relocated two and three times. Just kind of talk through—I can accept relocation, let’s say over the next seven years twice, and after that, I want to find a home base.
I was very transparent upfront and because I believe that I was a good successful leader that I, again, found the right people that believed in me and said, ‘Okay. I’m going to work with you.’ And I appreciate that they appreciated the honesty, and then they knew exactly what my commitment was.
And commitment and courage—two very important words that I believe are traits that every person, man or woman—should have wherever you work and not just in our industry. One, you have to have the courage to believe in yourself and to believe in what you’re doing, and two, where do you want to go and be able to articulate that.
That, to me, is just a very important trait. And commitment—if you make a commitment, you honor that commitment and you see it through. Companies appreciate that and they appreciate people that have commitment and courage.
Were any times in your life where you feel like you had to work a little bit harder at finding that courage that you believe is so important?
I do. And I’m going to try not to be emotional about this, but I am a cancer survivor now twice. I’m happy to say that I got a clean PET scan and that my cancer—I am in remission and it is gone for the second time.
And when the cancer came back three years ago, I was giving up and I went to my leader and I just said, “I don’t think I can do this all again. I just don’t think I can.” And he was just so incredibly wonderful and caring and supportive and said, “You know what? You make the decision. If you want to fight this, we’re going to fight it with you. I’m going to be there and continue to support you.”
It was a new role for me at Disney and I love it. And when I went in last week, I said to him, “Okay. I beat it. I beat it again, as luck would have it.” And I said, “You had a lot to do with it because you kept inspiring me and supporting me, good days and bad days. And that makes such a difference.” And I had a lot of people—a lot of people—supporting me, praying for me and just kind of giving me those calls of support.
But you know, that was a moment, a moment to say, can I do this again? How many things in my life am I always battling? Is there ever not going to be a battle? So, but now I’m excited. I’m thrilled. I feel like I’m rejuvenated again, ready to take on more things. And so, that just makes it just that much more exciting when you actually don’t think you can do something. You turn around and people around you will say, “Yes you can.” And then you can.
So, that’s my recent example. There’s a lot of people out there that have an illness, and they may think that’s going to change let’s say themselves, their perception, their support, what can they do? But it’s that drive.
To your point, the courage and the drive to say, ‘I can beat this. I can accomplish this. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I see the top of the hill,’ and just motivating yourself every day. And that’s how if you live your life that way, I think when you can see good, the good and bad don’t matter anymore. It's just every day is a great day, and every day I can make a difference. And that’s just how I live my life.
I’m really curious how being diagnosed with cancer and beating it the first time… and then having it happen all over again, how that changed you?
When I was told my cancer had come back, I had already talked myself into, ‘I’m just going to let it go.’ I mean, this is a hereditary type of cancer and I just lost my brother, who’s a year younger than me. And I just said, it’s inevitable. So, why just prolong and go through the whole—I guess everything from the medication to the side effects to the drug effects that there’s so much involved in anyone that has cancer, there’s much more to the story than ‘I’m being treated.’ There’s a lot of emotion and physicality challenges that you’re not the same person when you’re going through the process.
And here were so many people around me that said, ‘You beat it once, you can beat it again. This is nothing. You’ve been through this before. You’re gonna even be better at it.’ And again, Disney was incredible. They helped me get some really great doctors, and I was commuting to New York and getting my treatments, and it’s an experimental drug, an immunology drug.
So, okay. I looked at it to say, “Okay, my family has a history. If I can make a difference for them...” And then I looked at it and said I can make a difference for all other people. And if it doesn’t work, I tried. If it works, and I’m successful, that means that’s another way I can change people’s lives.
So, you know what? I can’t sit back and kind of feel sorry for myself. I have an opportunity here to pay forward this so that this time around was not even close to the experience I had the first time. It was so much better.
And that brings me incredible joy that the whole medical industry is moving forward with these new drugs that are easier on your body, easier to continue to be able to do just normal things like even keep a job and work. And that gave me the energy that I’m sure you hear my voice and the excitement to say, I’m making a difference. I’m going to help people’s lives, not just my family, but I’m going to help anyone that has my type of cancer, and that brings me joy.
If you could give people any sort of advice for how to leave a legacy that really matters, what would you say?
When someone asked me, “What do you want your legacy to be?” And I said, “I just want people to say, ‘she gave it her all, she had a great time, but she touched so many lives, and she made other people’s lives better.’” That would be great because I just want to pay forward what I've had from my family and my support group and my company, to which I want to make people live better. And that’s it. It’s simple. And it sounds trite, but it’s not what people do every day.
I mean, I will say, in our technological world that we all live in, you can become very solo and isolated in a very small group of communities. But there are things that we can do that can make a difference in many lives, and maybe people we’ll never meet, such as the cancer experiment program that I’m in. But there’s also the mentoring.
I’ve shared with you before, Courtney; mentoring helped me so much in my career. I do mentor and spend the time that if someone reaches out to me, I really try to help them and guide them and give them direction that they may not have been given or have or another outlook on the way to look for a job or their career or balance in what they want to achieve.
So, we all can do that. If we all just have one or two people a year that we help that way, can you imagine the difference in this industry that we could make in I would say, the young people coming up that might need that guidance and support?
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