Take 5 with Jennifer Richwine

Jennifer Richwine

Executive Director, Wake Washington Center, in Washington, DC

1. How do you define success for yourself? What has helped you to be successful?

Jennifer Richwine photo
Jennifer Richwine

Success to me boils down to the answers to a few quick questions: (1) Am I making my corner of the world just a little bit better? (2) Am I being stretched and challenged in ways that makes me better at what I do? (3) Am I having fun? When I can answer YES to all of these, I call that success.

Earlier in my career I focused a lot more on goals and deadlines and titles and what I thought everyone else’s definition of success was. Over time, I realized how much more I have to offer the world when I focus on those three questions, always striving to be in a position to say yes to all three.

2. Think of a time that you faced a challenge, obstacle, or roadblock. How did you get through that and what did you learn?

The best challenges are those that forced me to reach out to other people for advice, guidance, wisdom or counsel. Trying to tackle obstacles on my own is rarely productive. People love being asked to be a thinking partner, and I’ve learned to reach outside my immediate circle and ask for advice from those who think and work differently than I do and even do so in very different environments and industries. And often those thinking partners see things through a totally different lens than I ever could and that perspective can change my entire view of the situation.

3. Who are your people (either by name or role) who help you to be successful/confident/intentional/reflective/any other descriptor you want to use? And how have they helped you?

Sandra Boyette was my first VP at Wake Forest and the very best at championing and mentoring her team, but especially young women. She saw our success as her success and she gave us opportunities to stretch and shine. She continues to mentor me now twenty years later. I am also fortunate to have friends and colleagues I consider my “gut check” people … those people I can always go to when I need an honest and impartial outlook, even if it’s the answer I didn’t want to hear. I need those people who can widen the lens for me and remind me of the bigger picture when I get too bogged down in the details and minutiae.

4. How did you find your people?

I’ve found my people along the way by first being vulnerable. When you are willing to open up and admit you don’t have the answers or need help, people step in to fill that gap. I look for people who are authentic and are willing to be vulnerable with me as well. Finding your people is never about transactions, it’s really about trust and vulnerability and honestly checking your ego at the door.

5. What advice would you give to Wake Forest students as they look for their people?

Don’t worry about what someone can do for you, or who they can connect you with, or how they can champion you or your cause. Don’t make everything about you and what you need/want. Concentrate on relationships and really getting to know people and learning what they love and what makes them tick … and then narrowing in on those who build you up, but are also willing to hit you with the hard stuff. Find the people who think you are great but also know you can be better. Look for those who make you want to be better. It also helps if they make you laugh when you feel like crying.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

When in doubt …. check your ego at the door. It’s a liability in almost every situation.