Life: A Balancing Act
Diane Paddison (Chi chapter, Oregon State University) begins every morning with an invigorating workout. To many, that alone is an amazing accomplishment!
A deeper look into her life reveals an amazing career at the top of her profession; a marriage that works remarkably well; four children who will forever carry memories of her “being there” for the important moments in their lives; a successful book published to rave reviews; an organization founded to fill a void in the lives of young women everywhere; a Harvard degree; a blog with thousands of followers; speaking engagements; volunteer service on committees and boards—both locally and nationally; a university trustee; and an unwavering faith at the foundation of it all.
Exhausted? It’s enough to make a person want to crawl under the covers and take a nap.
It also sounds like the idealistic life of someone who was raised with plenty of wealth and privilege; someone who’s had opportunities land in her lap at every corner; someone who doesn’t know what it means to struggle and question and make mistakes along the way. It’s not.
Instead, it is the story of a strong woman whose work ethic was instilled out of necessity at the very young age of five when she began work on her family farm. It is the story of a grounded woman who realized that opportunities to grow present themselves in every life situation, both the good and not-so-good. It is the story of an authentic woman, one who wants to share the lessons she’s learned along her life’s path to encourage and inspire today’s young women trying to balance relationships, career and faith.
A Google search for “living a balanced life” will yield nearly 14 million results. Everyone seems to be searching for the secret, and many are claiming to have the answers. So, what makes Diane Paddison special? Let’s start at the beginning.
The Road to Success
The second of four siblings and oldest daughter of a farming family in rural Oregon, Diane developed a head for business when she began helping her father at the age of five. In the most literal sense, she began climbing ladders early, as she often found herself picking fruit from trees to sell in the family roadside market. As she grew, so did her responsibilities. In high school, she often supervised classmates who earned extra money by helping on the farm. Perhaps learning to assert her authority while still maintaining friendships was an early lesson in diplomacy. It was certainly a lesson to fall back on as president of her Alpha Chi Omega chapter at Oregon State University.
When it came time to leave home for college, Diane decided on a career in fashion merchandising. “Growing up in a rural area, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to all of the opportunities out there,” she said. “Through 4-H I was involved in things like sewing and cooking. Because of the sewing experience, along with the environment of a family-run business, I thought fashion merchandising was a good option.” But after an internship in the field, she knew this was not what she wanted her life’s work to be. As she struggled to find the answer that was right for her, it was a couple of close friends who suggested she apply to Harvard Business School.
Feeling less than confident about her chances of being accepted into the program, coupled with the lack of funds to pay for more schooling, she learned a lesson in the value of both friendships and getting involved. Those friends, acting as if it was no big deal, convinced her she needed to try, so she did.
As Diane filled out her application, she highlighted her leadership activities outside of the classroom while at Oregon State: she was an active Alpha Chi Omega, served as head of special events for the Memorial Union Programs Council (in charge of campus-wide events such as homecoming) and participated in the Blue Key Honor Society. “Being the president of a sorority when you have 120 members and 60 women living in a house together taught me so much about managing a group of people, especially when these are your college peers,” she stated. “You had to do it in a way so they understood there were rules and guidelines, but you also want to be their friend. I made that a major emphasis on my application to Harvard Business School.”
To help financially, she opted to apply for a deferred enrollment program, which gave her two years between her undergraduate and graduate course work to earn some money. Diane subsequently faced the challenge of finding an employer who would understand her two-year availability. She felt fortunate to speak with representatives from IBM at a job fair who supported her drive to continue with her education and, in fact, offered her a position within the company on the East Coast, near Harvard.
After two years at IBM, with some money in her pocket and invaluable business experience on which to build, she began her Harvard journey. Reminiscent of her initial impression, she said, “When I first arrived, I thought I was an admissions mistake! I was blown away by my classmates. Harvard was very challenging, super rewarding and an unbelievable opportunity.”
Climbing the Ladder
Upon graduation, her struggles to find balance in her life would take center stage. Having met her future husband during a trip to Oklahoma City with her sister just before leaving home for good to start her job at IBM, she maintained a long-distance relationship throughout the two years it took to earn her MBA. While her peers were excited to be recruited to positions with major companies in major cities, she knew her journey would take her to Tulsa where she wanted to build a life and start a family with the man she loved.
While at Harvard, she turned down an offer with Trammell Crow Company, one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the country. Although they had an office in Tulsa, she didn’t believe she was cut out for the commercial real estate industry. And although she landed a position at a consulting firm, she continued to be frustrated by her efforts to find a professional opportunity she felt was a good fit for her, allowing her to define her life in terms of all of the elements she considered important. She eventually accepted a position with Trammell Crow and began to climb the ladder that would ultimately lead to serving on the executive team of three global Fortune 500 companies—where she was the only woman all three times.
Shortly after she began her job at Trammell Crow, Diane discovered she was pregnant. With her career set, her family life was headed in the right direction. She was fortunate her employer supported her desire to set boundaries that allowed her energy to be focused on her family as needed.
With a successful balance between work and family, and as a young professional Christian woman, Diane felt there was room to grow in her ability to focus on her faith and ensure this all-too-easy-to-ignore aspect of life remained an integral part of her present and future.
Walking a Tightrope
Just a few years later, with two children and a thriving career, her marriage began to unravel. She was dealing with what she terms “unexpected brokenness.” More recently, she lost both of her parents in a 16-month timeframe, her daughter became sick in June of 2012 and her son went through and triumphed over a time of personal struggle. She never expected to encounter such personal anguish. Yet, in both phases of her life, she was facing these circumstances just the same. After her divorce, she knew she had to pick herself up and create a learning opportunity that would help to further define the person she wanted to be. “We all have stuff that happens. It’s easy to appreciate the great stuff, but it’s what you do with what happens that isn’t great that makes the biggest difference,” she stated.
She had accepted a national position with Trammell Crow in 1996, and shortly after her divorce in 1997, she moved to Dallas. Upon searching for a church community that offered avenues to celebrate her faith as she desired, she recognized a need for opportunities for professional women to become involved in their church.
While the roles women held in business, the family and the community continued to evolve, it was still difficult to find a church community that acknowledged these changing times and offered support and faith-based guidance to young professional women. Diane exemplifies this evolution in her accomplishments, determination and strength. She says, “I had always been the primary breadwinner until the last few years. In fact, in 40 percent of families today, the wife is the primary breadwinner. And, over 50 percent of advanced degrees are going to women. This trend is not going to change. But, we are different than men. We need role models.”
Striking a Balance
In the ensuing years, she has become the very role model that was missing in her life. She has become an inspiration to many who are searching for a balance that includes not only their career and family but their faith as well. She met Chris, her current husband of 12 years, with whom she shares a blended family, doubling the number of children from two to four. She enjoys a strong and healthy marriage based on open, honest communication. She took her career to a new level as the chief strategy officer for Cassidy Turley, staying within the commercial real estate industry but decreasing the number of hours she works in a week to devote time to other passions.
One of those passions is community service. “We’re called to give back,” she says. “I have been so blessed in my life, and I have a real passion for helping professional women with practical life advice.” Her many service projects include terms on the National Advisory Board for The Salvation Army, serving as a board member for the Harvard Business School Christian Fellowship Alumni Association and as a foundation trustee for Oregon State University.
Diane’s opportunity to inspire and motivate young professional Christian women is embodied in 4word, an organization she founded that has grown tremendously since the website (4wordwomen.org) was launched in the fall of 2011. “I felt a passion once I ended my 24/7 career in the real estate industry. I wanted to evaluate what my gifts were and what I really enjoyed and use that to give back.” The website has a highly engaged and growing digital community with over 500,000 digital impressions each month, and returning visitors spending an average of 3.3 minutes and viewing at least three pages on the website. Readers find blogs, inspirational articles, interviews, recommendations and general information about living in a way that encompasses the three vital elements of a balanced life—work, faith and relationships. She has, in fact, been the motivation behind local chapters of 4word, in several communities, gathering to discuss the issues she addresses.
At the same time the 4word website launched, Diane published her life’s story in a book met with rave reviews titled Work, Love, Pray. She is a Christian woman, aiming to help young professional Christian women find the motivation to succeed in living their best life in balance. Her faith is at the core of her values and strength. She was insistent the cover of her book indicate the target audience as Christian women. “I didn’t want anyone to feel they were misled,” she says. “This book is written from my perspective. I am a Christian and feel it is important that readers understand that going in. That being said, I have received feedback from women of other faiths that my message can easily be applied to whatever faith exists in the lives of young women everywhere.”
In fact, the subtitle of the newest edition (a reprint was published in October of this year) indicates that the content provides “practical wisdom for professional Christian women and those who want to understand them.” The change was made after receiving feedback from many outside of her target audience of “young, professional Christian women.” Older women, perhaps purchasing her book as a gift to their granddaughters, often share how much this book would have helped them as they began their careers. Men have written to convey a greater understanding of the women in their lives after reading the book. One email from a woman of Hindu faith indicated how relevant Diane’s message was to her simply by applying the principles to her own belief system.
So, let’s recap. Diane Paddison has reached the pinnacle of her career. She reaps the rewards of a marriage built on values and open, honest communication. She has managed to raise her children to become productive, grounded adults with shared values – a feat not without its challenges. She volunteers her time to her communities. She stays active in her church. And, let’s not forget she works out every morning!
So how does she do it all and what makes her special? The secret is that she doesn’t do it all, not all at once. She does those things most important to her at any given time in her life. “We have a lot of time in our lives to do so many things, but precious little time to raise our children,” she warns. “From 1985 to 2007, I really focused on my family and my work. You can’t get that time back. Now that our youngest is off to college, I devote more time to other areas of my life. If I’m not working on a board or with Cassidy Turley, I’m working on 4word.”
“We are real women. Facing real issues. In the real world. On the one hand, inspiring. In turn, being inspired. Together, creating a more positive reality, for ourselves and others. We are strong women. Strong in the courage of our convictions, the confidence in our actions and the purpose in our hearts. To know us will be to experience a voice that is respectful, genuine, open, empathetic and honest. Real.” These words are from Alpha Chi Omega’s Declaration of Our Shared Commitment, but could just as easily be written about Diane Paddison. She is your sister. She is a real, strong woman.