We at Pro to Pro were so inspired by Deb Bulken's OWA One-Minute Inspiration - 9/1/2023 Mentorship Matters, that we wanted to share, and we hope it inspires others to join the OWA and benefit from the mentoring and support that this group of amazing women offers!

By Deb Bulken

It's Sunday night, and I've been looking forward to this moment of reflection for several months now. My first-ever connection with the OWA was the One-Minute Mentor, as it was known back in the day: a short article written by some fabulous woman willing to share her story and bare her soul for the single purpose of lifting just one other woman up. It is with that spirit I share with you my story, my mental battle of risk and reward.

It's quiet now, other than the whir of the dishwasher, after my two children, their deserving partners, and four grandchildren left my house following another wonderful Sunday night dinner (trust me when I say, it's not about the food!). My daughter Erika is pregnant with her third baby, and I am in constant awe of how they all manage very meaningful careers while raising their children to be such great humans.

As my time as President of the OWA comes to a close, I think back to the moment I was asked to be a director on the OWA board. At the time, I truly didn't understand the value I might be able to provide, but the board saw something in me and I was voted in. I was asked to chair the Membership Committee, and it was so rewarding to connect with women in every corner of the industry, sharing the benefits and gifts of membership. I am proud to say our committee doubled OWA's membership in two years!

Then one Sunday afternoon, I got a call from my mentor, Maureen Cavanagh, asking if I was interested in becoming the next Secretary/Treasurer on the Executive Committee. At a minimum, it was going to be an additional two-year commitment; at a maximum, an eight-year commitment. Once again I had a moment of self-doubt. I shared with Maureen all the potential reasons as to why I would not be the right candidate. If I was going to commit, I had to know I'd be able to give it my "all". Maureen was calming, and assured me that, no matter what life circumstances came along, she would support me . She promised to continue to mentor me (did I mention I had never served on a board before?). In that moment of self-doubt, I leaned into my mentor, trusting her to help me see what was possible, and thus began my journey on the Executive Committee in September, 2017.

And then:

  • My daughter married, 10/18.
  • I moved in with my daughter and her husband to start a new life in Maryland, 3/19.
  • I contracted to have a house built so my parents could move in with me, 5/19.
  • My mom passed away, 6/19.
  • We moved my Dad back to upstate NY from Virginia, 7/19.
  • My son married, 11/19.
  • Grandbaby #1 came along 2/15/20. (I got to be in the delivery room!)
  • COVID happened, 3/20.
  • Grandbaby #2 came along, 5/20/20. (I got to watch the dogs at home).
  • Grandbaby number #3 came along, 7/15/21 (My dad's birthday!)
  • My dad passed away, 9/21.
  • Grandbaby #4 came along, 2/21/22.

All of the reasons I told Maureen I was reluctant to take on the responsibilities of board leadership HAPPENED!

If I had allowed those future life events to deter me from getting involved more deeply in the OWA, I would have missed out on a lot of personal and professional development, and most importantly, the making of lifelong friends. There is no way to express the honor I have felt mentoring many aspiring women seeking connection and looking for support on their journey.

As President, I collaborated with another mentor of mine, Holly Rush, who supported me in creating a program called "Full Circle Impact", an opportunity for the leaders of the OWA to refine their mentorship and coaching skill sets, ensuring that we deliver on the OWA promise of developing future leaders of the optical industry. I've met some of the most talented women in our industry serving as presidents, editors, CEOs, and consultants, but let me tell you this: there aren't not enough of them!

And the extraordinary men who are leaders in their respective companies, showing their support through sponsorship of the OWA, have further inspired me — we are absolutely on the right track! Female leaders in this industry are much needed, and we have accomplished a lot toward increasing their numbers in the six years I've served on the Executive Committee.

I hope you will join us at our inaugural town hall meeting on September 20th, 4 p.m. EST, to see just how far we've come and to learn how your own time and talents can impact the future of all women in the optical industry. Thank you for the opportunity to share my gratitude with you all. My life has been enhanced greatly over the past ten years and it is due in large part to my fellow board members, active committee members, and Carol, our Executive Director.

On behalf of our incoming President, Dr. Lorie Lippiatt, Vice President Megan Molony, and Janna Neal as Secretary/Treasurer: We See You! Do something for yourself — mentor or be mentored. You've earned it!

My best always to you, even if there is a lot going on: Grandbaby #5 is due 11/23, but will likely arrive 10/23 — that's the way we roll!

Deb Bulken is Vice President of Sales, Eastern Region, for EssilorLuxottica and President of the Optical Women's Association. She can be reached at [email protected].

Inspirational Quote

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

—Mahatma Ghandi


For past One Minute Inspiration features and a variety of other great resources, be sure to check out the OWA Member Benefits

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