Hillary St. John, GSNETX Staff
I wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up. If you asked me three years ago if I was interested in building my career at the Girl Scouts, I would have shrugged you off. I thought that it was just a club for rich, white women that liked scrapbooking and glamping. Sure, I loved their cookies (who doesn’t?) but I’d just as soon purchase the knock-off brands from the grocery store.
Then in October 2015, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to work for her on a couple Saturdays when I wasn’t too busy with school. She told me I’d be facilitating Girl Scout programming, and I thought it seemed like a decent enough way to earn a little spending money. I didn’t realize it would ignite a passion inside of me, and that it could help me find a sense of purpose and belonging.
I’ve always been inclined to try new things. Putting myself in a new situation, and breaking the mold didn’t scare me. I tried out for all the sports teams, tried out all the clubs, I even went to one Brownie meeting (after which I told my mother definitively that it was not for me). I’ve been described as confident, adventurous, and open-minded on more than one occasion. You could certainly call me a risk-taker. But I was never really inclined to stick with things long-term. I found activities that I enjoyed, but I didn’t commit to any of them long enough to consider them a passion.
One of the reasons I always had a difficult time with commitment, was my lack of confidence. So many things came so easily to me growing up that when something became a challenge I shied away, not wanting to admit that the challenge intimidated me. I constantly suffered from imposter syndrome, believing that praise for a job well done was undeserved and I would never be able to excel at anything. The idea of settling for mediocrity fueled my anxiety and depression, which could have easily led to a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. In school I always did enough for people to recognize that I was smart, but outside of school I was lost. It was serendipity that my friend offered me the temp position with Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas (GSNETX) as I was approaching graduation, terrified of an uncertain future, with no clear career path ahead of me.
When I started working at GSNETX I didn’t think about the possibility of a career there. I had no particular affinity for Girl Scouting, and it never occurred to me that it could be anything more than a temporary gig. But the more I worked there, the more I learned about the amazing work this organization does - from Community Programs to the STEM Center of Excellence - I was not only impressed by the service they provide for the community, I also realized what my own childhood had been lacking. I knew that if I wanted girls to grow up with more confidence than I did that this was the right place to pour out all of my energy and passion. Further still, the more I worked with the people at GSNETX, the more I felt myself growing as an individual. Now, instead of seeing obstacles, I see challenges. And instead of feeling like I can’t overcome these challenges, I know that with this team behind me - I can do anything. My passion for this organization, and its capacity to make a positive impact in the lives of girls has made me a go-getter.
I also know that facing these challenges is not always going to be easy. But I have gained a new sense of confidence as I experiment, learn from failure, and try again. I have experienced more creative freedom in this position than most other places. I’m surrounded by co-workers who are equally enthusiastic about the mission and values of Girl Scouting, and who encourage me to try new ways of reaching more girls. Having so many supportive folks embracing me so completely gave me a sense of freedom to stretch my imagination and dream of endless possibilities, and then to reel it back in and figure out what we can effectively accomplish. I certainly wasn’t a program coordinator when I came into this position, but I did bring a fresh perspective to the table, a newly established respect for the organization, and immense passion for the mission. With this creative passion and the support of my team, I tried new things and experienced both successes and failures. I feel a new sense of pride in my ability to be innovative because even within the failures there is accomplishment. And within those successes, we feel empowered to change the world.
I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place, but I never felt like I knew how. I always had compassion for humanity, and was confident in my understanding of right and wrong. But there was always something missing, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Working at GSNETX opened my eyes. In all my previous experience I fell for the idea that there was only enough room for a few women at the top, and we had to compete against one another to get there. Growing up I was taught the value of being tough, and cool. I was taught that guys are naturally better than girls, and if I wanted to excel in life, I should reject the feminine, and strive to be an exceptional cool girl.
AT GSNETX, I see rooms filled with successful women. More importantly, I see a diverse room of successful women. From hyper-feminine to masculine women; black women, Latina women, Asian, and white women; I finally see that women are most successful when we put aside our differences and work together. Working in this environment has not only opened my eyes, but it has changed me. After seeing so much personal growth as a result of working in this environment, even for a relatively short period of time, I feel like I have gained something truly special.
That’s perhaps one of the most important differences that Girl Scouts has made. For the first time in my life, I feel like I understand the importance of prioritizing female friendships, and supporting the advancement of all women. I actively work at being a better source of support to my friends in whatever it is they are doing. I want to create the same supportive environment for my friends that GSNETX has provided for me. I actively try to recruit all of my friends to come work for GSNETX, but that’s not for everyone, and I support my friends in their professional development, and their emotional health. I understand now that I need that from them too. Because we are better leaders when we work together.
Hillary St. John has been with Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas since 2015 where she specializes in programming for Juniors and Cadettes, and oversees programming for special interest groups including STREAM Team, the G.I.R.L. Media Team, the Destinations program, and a host of others.