Start the New Year With Balance, Gratitude, and a Growth Mindset

Dorene Matheis, Chief Learning Officer at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, loves her life. She is the leader of a high-performing team, the mother of two adult sons who make her very proud, one-half of a dynamic Army veteran couple, an effective goal-setter, and an eternal optimist. She has experienced career highs that many of us only dream about, yet she coaches and mentors others, empowering them to embrace their own dreams. How does she manage the workload, expectations, and her own well-being? Let’s start the New Year taking a page from Dorene’s playbook, as we learn more about this trailblazing leader.

Dorene is a patriot in every sense of the word. She finds joy in watching the New England Patriots win games. When she’s not engrossed in football, you might find her hiking, reading, riding her motorcycle, playing trivia games, knitting, or traveling. On the one hand, she knows how to have a great time. On the other hand, she is serious about getting work done.

Dorene’s seriousness was evident when she recruited herself into the United States Army. She resolved to become a legal specialist and calculated the entrance exam score needed to achieve that goal. She studied hard for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. In her own words, “I was a recruiter’s dream!”. She prepared for the exam, shared her plan with the recruiter, aced the test, and signed the necessary paperwork. Dorene’s efficiency in action continued to be an asset as she joined the military and eventually landed in federal civilian work.

Having a spouse who was also active in the military was challenging for Dorene and Bryant, yet they carved out time for each other and their two sons. This required constant sacrifice, reconfiguring plans, and being stretched to their limits, but they worked together to make it happen. Because they had been married for six years prior to Dorene’s decision to enlist, they had time to plan together, manage expectations, and move forward in sync with each other’s goals. Dorene admits it took years to mature in achieving balance, but she shares the wisdom she has learned along the way.

I am committed to being fully present for whatever I’m doing either at work or in my home life. I believe we earn our time off (e.g. leave time) so we should be able to enjoy that time without distraction. For me, scheduling everything and getting it on the calendar is key to feeling like it’s on track so I’m not continuing to think about it. Balance for me also means empowering and trusting others to do their work or to back me up when I’m not there.

While sometimes feeling stretched to capacity at home and work, Dorene’s optimism shines. With empathy and gratitude, she has created a work culture that breeds passion, enthusiasm, precision, and excellence. Team meetings provide the weekly platform for colleagues to thank each other, offering kudos and praise, and creating an overall sense of unity in their collective mission. The meetings only get better when there is a holiday to celebrate or a vacation story (complete with photos) for the team to enjoy. As a leader, if your only achievement is having your team love the time they spend together, you have accomplished quite a feat. Dorene has done this and more. She set a standard of instituting and abiding by Team Norms while establishing and growing the USPTO Leadership Academy. Her dedicated team of learning professionals have collaborated to transition their interactive and engaging training approach to the virtual environment, carefully maintaining a high-level of camaraderie and caring for one another as they work.

Of course, things do not always go as planned. Having a willingness to accept responsibility and demonstrate grace during disappointing times are qualities of an ideal leader. At the time when she retired from the military, Dorene had reached the positions of Chief Warrant Officer Four and Chief, Administrative Division in the Office of the Judge Advocate General and US Army Legal Services Agency. Prior to that, however, she found herself in a situation that forced her to reevaluate her steps and shift gears.

There was a time when I was passed over for a position that I thought I’d been prepared for by my leadership and my mentors and I thought it was a given. But it wasn’t, and a colleague was offered the position instead. Suddenly, it seemed like my entire career path had been wiped away and I didn’t know what was next for me. It was hard to resist feelings of betrayal and a loss of trust in others. I shared my disappointment with those I did trust, I reflected on what was most important to me, and I established new goals for myself and for my career. Looking back, it worked out so very well for me and was a big lesson in not getting too comfortable in a fixed mindset. It forced a growth mindset in me and was a perfect example of the adage, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Dorene attributes her successful agility to developing a growth mindset and being open to change. To her fellow FEW members and colleagues, she passes along this career guidance:

1. When opportunities present themselves, sincerely consider walking through those doors. Many of her career decisions were introduced by others who saw her potential and challenged her to do something different. Be grateful for being seen and given the opportunity!

2. Likewise, when you recognize potential in others, encourage them to take bigger strides toward career-building activities like seeking a detail or doing an unusual assignment that broadens their skills, experience, and network.

3. Know your worth and be confident in it when making career decisions.

Starting the New Year with a growth mindset will allow us to move forward more strategically in our careers. Nothing (and no one) will be able to bring us down, despite circumstances that sometimes play out differently than we hoped. We may not share Dorene’s experiences, but we can take away quite a bit from her story. Perhaps we can even sing along to her favorite empowerment song, “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway musical Wicked. “I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change but ’til I try, I’ll never know…”

Like Dorene, let balance, gratitude, and a growth mindset ground you as you rise, leveling up for success in 2023.