STAND AND DELIVER: CHOOSE TO LIVE WITH OPTIMISM AND RESILIENCE WITH JULIANN EDWARDS
by Lisa Gable · 11 Sep 2022 · 12 min read
My Stand and Deliver series highlights women who lead through inspiration and aspiration. Today’s article advocates choosing to live with optimism and resilience.
I chose to interview Juliann Edwards because she is a woman known for meeting her career goals with commitment and kindness and meeting life’s challenges with fortitude and patience. Juliann Edwards is a vice president at TC Energy and will join the board of Bruce Power starting in 2023. She is also the incoming chair of the nonprofit Women in Nuclear, a disability advocate, and a member of the Chief leadership network.
Juliann is also the mother of a daughter with Rett syndrome, a rare neurological and developmental disorder. I was struck by one of Juliann’s Facebook posts: “Most people don’t get the chance to meet their hero. Well, I gave birth to mine! Every day I will fight to release her from the terrible disorder that has imprisoned her… People wonder if I’m afraid of her dying too soon but the truth is I’m actually afraid she will live in her prison too long.”
Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your career and what excites you about your current stage of life.
First, I have to say I am so thankful to be a part of your mission, Lisa, and humbled that you have chosen to shed light on my journey both personally and professionally. Simply put, I am one lucky woman. I have my health, a wonderful partner in life (my husband, Andrew), a beautiful and joyful daughter, and finally a career that I truly love.
I was born and raised in central Florida by two loving, hardworking parents who did everything to ensure me and my three younger brothers would be afforded endless opportunities. Perhaps an interesting fact about me is that I learned at a very early age that health is something to never take for granted. Surrounded and exposed myself to cancer and life-threatening conditions. Perhaps that is why I have the outlook that I do?
When you encounter the death of a loved one at a young age, or the threat of an abridged life with your own child, I believe there is an innate seed planted in our DNA that tells you your time on earth is limited so don’t walk…RUN! So that is what I have done, nearly my whole life. But to be clear, I am not an actual runner. I’m horrible at it!
It is no secret I was eager to run from my hometown. Opportunities were somewhat limited, and I desperately wanted the challenge of the overwhelming nature of a big city, new faces, and opportunities beyond my reach. So, I took my financial and marketing degree from University of South Florida and leaped into commodity energy sales. Learned the interworking of what powers our nation…renewable, coal, gas, nuclear generating power plants. Early on, I began an infatuation with nuclear. I made it my life mission in my first three years of my career to embed myself in this form of energy.
What excites me currently is the Energy Transition. Finally, industry, regulation, and investors are coming together to reduce greenhouse emissions by penetrating more renewables and nuclear on the grid. Such an exciting time to be in energy!
Tell us about a major transition period in your life and what prompted the change.
Funny you ask this, as I am in the middle of a major transition in life now (move, career, and family). For whatever reason, my life tends to present these transitions in bulk. Perhaps it is God’s way of breaking me down and building me up? Or perhaps I am not the impressive planner I think I am? Either way, I have to say the largest transition I have faced was in 2017. In an eighteen-month period, I had received the diagnosis of Rett syndrome for our only child, underwent a double mastectomy, transitioned careers from the once booming natural gas renaissance to the unfortunate rise of nuclear decommissioning…oh and moved cross country. The starting point for this paradigm shift in life was our daughter. She was twenty-three months old when we received the call that she tested positive for Rett syndrome. A rare genetic disorder affecting brain development which leads to symptoms mirroring cyberpal palsy, epilepsy, autism, scoliosis, and so much more.
Our family, alongside those families impacted by Rett, fight to reverse Rett and know in our heart that Lily will be cured and her symptoms one day reversed.
A lot of emotions and passion came from that day on February 13, but one thing I learned about myself (personally) was that I was never going to let it defeat me (or my family). We left the hospital that day and before we could leave the parking lot, I picked up the phone and booked an appointment with the top doctors in Rett for the following month (at Texas Children’s). Following that day accelerated a series of events: meeting RSRT and their founder, Monica Coenraads, launching a crowdfunding page to raise awareness and share the story ofour family, which was fortunate to receive local headlines and promptly community support beyond our dreams. Probably the first time I became a believer that empathy and compassion will lead all things I do moving forward (personally and professionally).
What are the three top tips you have for woman trying to assert her influence and ideas?
Love this question.
How do you help unleash leadership at all levels?
The important element of that question is, “at all levels.” You know one of my favorite historians is Doris Goodwin, who speaks of the emotional intelligence (EI) of our past presidents. EI, as we know, is the ability to be self-reflective, to have self-discipline, to read the opinions of others, which allow you to interact well with others (at all levels). Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was one she idolized and who was known to have “first rate intellect, second rate temperament.”
I draw attention to this trait as it has become the foundation of my leadership style. My EI has made me aware and accept that the obstacles I have encountered in my personal life have shaped the events of my professional life. And in turn, they have molded my behaviors, communication style and temperament.
Everyone is broken by life in some way and some people are stronger in those broken places. Everyone, from the intern to the CEO, have been impaired by either divorce, substance abuse, medical challenges, or even a financial crisis.
How we choose (yes, it is a choice) to respond in those moments, or how deep we allow that crack to penetrate, will form our EI. Become aware of your own obstacles. Accept it as an opportunity for growth. I promise you will find that process to be liberating, as it increases your self-awareness and shapes a more positive outlook (personally and professionally).
Tell our readers about a passion project of yours, why it’s unique or special, and what attracted you to it.
I only get to speak about one passion project?! Just kidding. It goes without saying that I am beyond energized about Cure 360. Cure 360 is a program developed by Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT) that aims eradicate Rett forever.
In 2017 RSRT (Rett Syndrome Research Trust), launched a three-year research plan, Roadmap to a cure, for which our family helped raise both awareness and funding. At that point in time, there were zero MECP2 therapeutic programs (which is the target for our cure), and today there are seven! I will be sure to not lose the readers in the science, however, when you know your target, you pivot from finding the problem to generating a solution. This is not the case for other neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and autism, so the Rett community is fortunate to have identified our target gene.
Being a part of a program like Cure 360, diving into philanthropy, and spending time with others that are medically fragile will bring a sense of purpose to life. Waking up every day with that purpose and then putting my education, network, and energy to use for these silent angels is…for lack of a better word…fulfilling.
Who inspires you today and why?
Those women who chose to take on first of kind leadership roles, in male dominated fields. In March of this year, I was fortunate to be a part of a campaign that gave recognition to women who were “first” in a variety of areas of nuclear energy. Women who were the first to take on the roles of Senior Reactor Operator, Chief Nuclear Officer and even President of University. Diving into the history of these women, the challenges they overcame, and how they persevered is not only inspiring, but we cannot let it be wasted. These women paved the way, took on visible positions and leadership roles so that other women know it is possible.
My aspiration, well it is more of a list of aspirations. Aside from hoping to one day become an inspiring female leader who achieves a “first” of my own, I hope…
That every CEO, board member, officer of a company, and politician takes the time to make leadership roles accessible to all. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a useless platitude unless we allow access.
Accessibility is something I am focused on every day. With a special needs daughter, I often must map out the process from Point A to Point B ensuring there are ramps, elevators, or the physical steps I will have to take by lifting her when none is available.
This mental checklist of accessibility should not just be applied to those that are nonmobile, like Lily. That mental checklist should also apply in business.
The social model of disability explains that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or their difference. The barriers I just spoke of are physical in nature (for Lily), however, what about those barriers that are not physical: culture, communication styles, attitude? If you are reading this and are a leader in your organization and have set DEI / ESG goals but are not seeing the results, ask yourself, is my leadership team accessible? Do I have physical and cultural barriers? Do I make assumptions by my staff without their input, precluding them from advancement? Don’t stop there, be compelled to make a change and get ready to issue an all-access pass to your organization.
My key takeaways:
What strikes me the most about Juliann’s interview is her resiliency, empathy, and compassion—character traits that permeate every touch point in her life.
I was introduced earlier this year to Juliann through the Chief network. I was engaged with an investment fund focused on climate change. Juliann immediately responded to my post on the Chief platform asking for help from female industry leaders engaged in technology fields that could positively impact climate.
When we first spoke, I was struck by her outward beauty and her inner peace. Although we were discussing a business issue, I intuited that there was something else in her life that was a driving force behind the person she was. I would later learn about her daughter and what it was like to live a life with Rett’s syndrome.
Because of this, my favorite Juliann comments are:
“Everyone is broken by life in some way and some people are stronger in those broken places… How we choose (yes, it is a choice) to respond in those moments, or how deep we allow that crack to penetrate, will form our EI [emotional intelligence].”
In each answer, Juliann expresses her humanity in a tangible way while never wavering from her goals, whether she is searching for energy industry solutions to positively affect climate change or channeling a mother’s indomitable willpower to find a cure for her daughter.
In my book, Turnaround, I reference a letter my father wrote to me when I was facing a rough time. The letter continues to be my inspiration and reflects Juliann’s life lessons as well:
“Remember to look beyond what is currently in your life and try to visualize what is unseen. Count your blessings and it will also help you challenge the crisis you are experiencing...Some of the greatest stumbling blocks I have ever faced have also resulted in being my greatest stepping stones.”
What lessons did you learn from Juliann’s interview? Let me know what inspired you by connecting with me on Instagram or LinkedIn. You can also sign up for my newsletter and buy my book, Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, at www.lisagable.com.