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.

Leading with an Indomitable Heart

Lauren Aggen is an Equal Employment Manager with the Defense Finance Accounting Service. As an advocate and a person with a disability, she is grateful for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Lauren has worked hard to broaden others’ understanding about topics such as Schedule A (a special hiring authority for individuals with an intellectual disability, a severe physical disability, or a psychiatric disability), work-life balance for employees with disabilities, reasonable accommodations, the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), and the benefits of employee resource groups. While she knows there is more work to be done in providing opportunities for people who are differently abled, she leads a pursuit for equity with compassion, understanding, and the heart of a boy from Austin, Texas.

One of the greatest gifts Lauren ever received was her donated heart. Eight days after she was born, she underwent a life-saving surgery where doctors transplanted the new heart. This was a dramatic rescue story complete with a series of miraculous events and a selfless doctor who braved a snowstorm to deliver the donated heart before it became unusable. “Baby Lauren” went from having three days left to live to making a full recovery. The heart transplant operation was made possible through the sacrifice of a nameless donor family who lost their infant son to sudden infant death syndrome. Lauren feels the weight and responsibility of knowing her life was saved at the expense of another family’s tragic loss. She and her family are eternally grateful for this priceless gift of life. While Lauren was only a baby and does not remember the events as they unfolded, this experience shaped every facet of her life and how she chooses to pay it forward at home, at work, and in the community.

Lauren attributes her strength of character to a loving family: two parents who handled multiple medical conditions and her life-threatening circumstances with unbelievable faith and a fun yet protective older brother who took her under his wing as they grew up. She also speaks of an incredible “village” of people in the community that has been a source of support throughout the years. Despite growing up with the limitation of hearing loss and with many restrictions such as not socializing with other children who had chickenpox, taking multiple medications every day, and enduring various kinds of medical tests and procedures, Lauren is a confident, “glass half-full” kind of woman. She chooses to find the bright sight of every situation. She is full of energy and humor, enjoying visiting farmers’ markets and dressing up to attend theatrical performances. As a teenager, she became deathly ill and began writing her personal story. When Make A Wish Foundation decided to grant her a wish, instead of asking to visit Disneyworld or meet a famous person, Lauren requested to publish her autobiography. She authored the book, Austin’s Gift: The Life of a Grateful Organ Recipient, prior to making another amazing recovery.

Lauren attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Ever an advocate, she was a Student Ambassador in the Admissions Office. She was also a speaker before eight different Congressional offices in Washington D.C., where she briefed the committee representatives about her successful experiences at (NTID/RIT) and her passion for organ donation. Later, Lauren was offered an internship at the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office. As a Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) student in the EEO Office, Lauren developed an informational newsletter for the Headquarters Army Sustainment Command. The publication covered topics such as the Mother’s Nursing Program, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, differences between Military and Civilian culture, and women’s equality. Since her time working in federal service began, Lauren has been honored with the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service, an Achievement Medal for Civilian Service, the Assistant Secretary of the Army coin, an Outstanding WRP Recruiter Award, Two Star General Notes, and the privilege of enjoying a luncheon with a four-star general.

Lauren continues to lead as she looks for ways to improve life for people with disabilities. Her “Bucket List” of equity improvements in the Government and the community include the following:

  • Create a system where people with disabilities may apply and undertake detail opportunities to other offices and be directly promoted under Schedule A hiring authority so they can achieve their maximum potential
  • Create a marketing campaign for the Department of Defense (and perhaps one day for all of the Government) to educate students at colleges and universities about federal civilian positions
  • To see all individuals with disabilities given needed accommodation so they can thrive in the workforce
  • To encourage continued improvements in technology to advance software for better office interactions between those with disabilities and their colleagues
  • To raise awareness that new inventions are needed to accommodate new disabilities as they arise
  • Outside of the Government: for all movie theaters to provide closed captioning on the screen

For anyone with a disability searching for federal employment opportunities, Lauren offers the following advice:

“No one can take away your education. Get an education. Seek a mentor, update your resume, network, don’t give up applying for positions, seek programs within the Government such as WRP, and SMILE!”

For more information on Schedule A hiring authority, visit:

Learn more about organ donation here:

Find Lauren’s autobiography here:

Join FEW in celebrating NDEAM 2022

Each of us knows someone who inspires us by overcoming obstacles we may question whether we ourselves would have the strength to overcome. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and FEW celebrates our members and colleagues in the government workforce who contribute so much to this great country by overcoming some challenge, seen or unseen. The 2022 theme – Disability: Part of the Equity Equation – speaks to FEW’s Diversity Focus.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month calls attention to the issues people with disabilities face, particularly in employment. The month is sponsored by President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Congress passed Resolution No. 176 in 1945, designating the first week in October of each year as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, a change in terminology replaced “handicap” with “disability” and “physically” was removed from the name to
recognize the employment needs of all persons with disabilities. In 1988 Congress expanded the week to a month and changed its name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
In his Presidential Proclamation recognizing NDEAM 2022, President Biden noted this: This month, let us acknowledge workers with disabilities who make our communities, our economy, and our Nation stronger. Let us continue the legacy of generations of disability rights activists who have
fought for equal employment opportunities, integrated workplaces, and equal pay for equal work. Let us deliver the promise of America to all Americans.
I encourage each of you to Level Up your support and engagement with our colleagues that NDEAM was established to recognize and to join FEW in celebrating their contributions and accomplishments.

How Leadership Excellence Helped Carla Hamilton Swiftly Climb the Ladder

Carla Hamilton believes in Federally Employed Women (FEW).

In fact, she uses the association every day to build her career and do her part to diversify the upper ranks in government.

Thanks to her contributions, Hamilton recently won FEW’s prestigious Allie Latimer Award. This overall achievement award recognizes an extraordinary grassroots effort working to achieve FEW’s mission. Latimer was the first woman and the first African American to serve as general counsel of a major U.S. federal agency. To bring federal government into compliance with the Civil Rights Act, she founded FEW.

Since joining FEW and leveraging its training, mentoring and networking opportunities, Hamilton has been promoted through three transitions at the federal level, going from a GS-4 to the equivalent of a GS-14/15. “By participating with FEW,” she says, “you can translate the knowledge, skills and abilities into career assets.”

So, how did FEW help her climb the ladder?

Well, FEW gave her leadership opportunities to grow professionally and personally.

For starters, she served as the Chapter President for the North Alabama Chapter from 2019-2022. At least 25% of her chapter members have received promotions or firm job offers under Hamilton’s leadership excellence.

Hamilton piloted the revitalization of the 50-year-old chapter during a national pandemic by nearly doubling its membership significantly in size and retention rate of 100%. She used grassroots organization skills during one of America’s most challenging times in history to create a chapter brochure, which received approval from FEW’s National Publications Committee and National President, to engage with prospective new members about the benefits of joining FEW. She also and motivated her Chapter to host a virtual membership drive called “How FEW Can Help You Pace Through a Pandemic!”

In 2021, Hamilton added another title to her resume: Assistant Regional Manager for FEW’s Southeast Region. She quickly established a quarterly initiative where regional Chapter Presidents could pair with other Chapter Presidents to support and learn from each other. This effort also enhanced the networking and relationships between the Chapters. Ultimately, this led to more Chapter Presidents attending the Southeast Region activities and more members within the region seeking training and learning opportunities. 

Hamilton said servant leadership, which is a big part of her leadership style, helped her win team members and achieve impressive accomplishments. “Servant leadership is being right there with members, letting them know you have their back,” she says. “I believe in being in the trenches with your members.”

Hamilton’s strategic leadership spearheaded a recruitment competition on the regional level called “The FEW Pursuit!” The goal was to create some fun and friendly recruitment competition during the month of April, which is FEW Membership Month The winning chapter received two free 2021 Southeast RTP registrations.

In her training and mentoring work, Hamilton relies heavily on the Time Management Matrix (Covey, Merrill, and Merrill, 1994), which sorts activities into four quadrants: urgent, not urgent, important and not important. In fact, she prints out the spreadsheet and puts it on her desk so she can prioritize her day and week. “This is probably how I was able to do so much for the last two years,” she says. “Also don’t forget to manage timewasters and set boundaries for digital wellness.”

She believes her biggest accomplishment to date, however, was playing an integral role with launching a very successful inaugural FEW Mentoring Program. The program is a 12-month training opportunity for members who aspire to become effective leaders within FEW and to build their network in the government. Hamilton started as a committee member but stepped up and became the key leader of  FEW’s Mentoring Program when the Special Assistant to the President for Mentoring gave notice due to an unexpected circumstance. Within the final three months, several practice sessions had to occur in preparation for cohort #1’s graduation and final presentations had to be delivered to the FEW National Board of Directors.

Hamilton also believes in the power of mentoring. When she recruits mentors, she asks for 30-60 minutes of their time. Then, she prepares for their sessions  well in advance to send the message that they won’t be wasting their time. “Mentors don’t have a lot of time,” she says. “I let them know that this person is serious.”

Like any serious person looking to move forward, she also has an elevator pitch to encourage other federally employed women to advance their careers.

“If your future is not becoming,” Hamilton says, “you should be coming to FEW!”

Level Up for Good Health

Did you know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. There are different kinds of breast cancer and it is important to be proactive about your health.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. FEW reminds everyone to use self-examination to fight against breast cancer and we support a healthy schedule of mammograms with your health care provider based on your family history and risk factors. Every person should know the symptoms and signs of breast cancer, and any time an abnormality is discovered, it should be investigated by a healthcare professional.

By performing monthly breast self-exams, you will be able to more easily identify any changes in your breast.  Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you notice anything unusual.

Talking confidently about breast health can be an important – though sometimes awkward— step in supporting breast cancer awareness. FEW wants to make sure you are aware of what breast cancer is and that you know your body and check often for changes.  We also want you to know that you can control some factors and we highly encourage you to do the following:

Maintain a healthy weight

Stay physically active

Eat fruits and vegetables

Do not smoke

Limit alcohol consumption

Most people who have breast cancer signs and symptoms will only notice one or two initially, and the presence of these symptoms and signs do not automatically mean that you have breast cancer. The key is prevention and FEW encourages you to Level Up your prevention game. You’ll find even more information at