Woman of Influence: Bree Gillespie
A brief interview with Central Penn Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award Winner and coLAB’s very own Director of Special Projects
What does it mean to be a community influencer, in your own words?
It’s an honor to be selected. I’m happy and humbled. For my children and family, I want this award to demonstrate my definition of motherhood by being someone that gives back to their community through time and service. I do this work for them, and it’s important to me that they see me through this lens, in addition to my “mom” and “coach” responsibilities that they see more frequently.
I especially want my daughter to believe in her own girl power! Above all, I am so thankful for the people that have made this happen and support me every day.
Tell us about a particularly defining moment in your career.
I’m proud of the opportunity to join the coLAB team and work with mission driven companies. I’ve been very fortunate to have many opportunities and work with wonderful people throughout my career, and to be surrounded by people so passionate about helping community-focused organizations in my most recent years is very rewarding.
One of the opportunities and challenges that goes along with this is managing the balance of being a working mom—caring and giving wholeheartedly to my family, and giving my best in the community. It’s all important. Learning how to do that in a way that is sustainable is like a new career altogether! I don’t see my community work separate from my work as a mom, they’re not silo-d. This is holistically all my passion and work; there is no separation, and doing well in one area only enhances the successes in the others.
You’re a mentor in many capacities. How did you hone this unique skillset?
Back when I played field hockey in college, my nickname was “Bree Mom.” My personality is one that feeds off connection, it gives me energy and makes me happy. I live for the ability to really understand and connect with people and enjoy them.
I take a lot of pride in the past few years of coaching and mentoring young women, helping them grow both in sport and in community. To me, sport has always been a tool to support strong leadership in the community, and I hope my career and this award demonstrate how that can really come to life.
Who is your role model and why?
At the moment one is my husband! He’s my best friend, mentor and rock; he’s a driven professional and compassionate father, and I’ve learned a lot from him over the last 16 years from him.
Another one would have to be Michelle Obama; she’s bold. She is so passionate about the work she does, and she’s not afraid to share that. She’s a strong woman who used her spotlight for good. She’s mission driven as a person, making an impact on people’s lives in such a positive way, and I really try to emulate that in my day to day.
What would you say to other women also working to balance a successful career and community leadership?
It’s okay to fail sometimes. We set ourselves up to be always “on” or always perfect. And yes, you want to do that, and sometimes you have to give yourself a break. You’re always your own hardest, toughest critic; it’s okay to let a ball drop and not beat yourself up too much about it.
Also, I’d say dive into the things that you love and that are important for you; stay on your path, and let the non-essential things drop away. Define your path and Roll with it. If there are extraneous things, you have to let them go.
What would you put on a billboard?
“The world belongs to the bold.”
My dad used to say this to me all the time. You have to take chances, push the edge of what you’re doing and what feels right, and you have to stand up for your ability to do that. This has been a guiding principle for a very long time for me; in my mind, it’s about encouraging girls and women to do what’s important to them and stand up and be bold—just like Michelle Obama.
What’s your super power or spirit animal?
I think of myself as a big mama polar bear, sometimes. She’s fierce in how she protects her cubs, keeping them afloat. I see myself as this guider, offering gentle nudges in the right direction and bringing food into the fort, making sure everyone (in my life and community) is nourished and protected.
As for a super power… I’m not sure. I have a lot of energy to champion what I believe in. Standing strong in this power, in this concept of balance and care for the wellbeing of others, that’s my life’s work. If that’s a superpower, then there you have it!