• JoAnne M. Ryan

Grateful Reflections of a 35th Annual ATHENA International Award Finalist


There is a well-known phrase: “it is better to give than to receive”. The origin of this phrase, perhaps unknown to some, is the Bible, Acts 20:35 (King James). The phrase has a straightforward literal meaning which needs no further explanation, and we utilize it to reinforce that the unselfish act of giving is a virtue. While this is true in almost every circumstance, there is an especially unique opportunity when the act of giving exponentially yields a greater gift: receiving. This simultaneous phenomenon occurs when mentoring another. I know this to be true because I have witnessed this countless times and personally experienced this blessing.

Recently I was honored by the Greater Rochester Chamber and Women’s Council as a finalist for the 35th ATHENA International Award. It is a tremendous honor, an honor from which I am both humbled and incredibly grateful. To be recognized as a finalist and honored with nine other leaders in our community whose contributions have been significant, is both personally and professionally rewarding. This has been an amazing experience, starting with the robust nomination process, chronicling my professional journey, including accomplishments, community contributions, and character attributes. Throughout the hours of interviews regaling professional positions held, achievements, community impact, and personal values as part of my professional journey, there was a powerful opportunity for personal reflection and collective recognition of the strong women who have shaped and mentored me throughout my life, which has inspired this blog.


Many of my colleagues and friends, of which I hold in high regard, have been honored as finalists as well as recipients of this prestigious award. I was extremely humbled to have four of them recognize me last September and complete the application process for the nomination. Their collective view of my professional contributions created an opportunity to weave together a nomination that resulted in this great honor of being selected as a finalist.


The most profound and common thread for me during the weaving of the nomination information for was the power of mentoring, both of me and by me. This gift of service began informally long before my professional career launched. It was the women in my family, especially my mother and sisters, that taught me, by their examples, the importance of sharing what you have through selfless acts of service. They demonstrated that gifts and talents are meant to be shared with those around you and especially those in need. They reinforced that even as a young girl, I could make a difference. I was fortunate to have such strong female role models in my life that helped me to understand that whatever I chose to do in life or whichever path I took, service to others was a responsibility.


As a young nurse, I was surrounded by wisdom and experience from colleagues who were in various levels of leadership. Their investment in me shaped me and advanced my skill set in foundational ways that opened future doors and opportunities that I could not have possibly imagined in those early years.


Additionally, my professional path has been blessed by the assistance of colleagues and friends, who acted as professional guides and mentors and demonstrated for me different styles of leadership and professionalism that impacted and influenced my leadership style in immeasurable ways. In turn, motivated by a significant level of gratitude and the desire to pay it forward, I acquired a deep respect and passion for mentoring others and seeking opportunities to work with emerging leaders, especially women. I have found great joy through the empowerment and encouragement of emerging leaders and when possible, helping to clear the path or open a door through a formal or informal introduction.


I have had the privilege of sharing in their joy and pride as they have stepped forward into their true light or helping them to recognize the power of their unique contributions and value, sometimes before they were even able to see them in themselves. I quickly found that during each of these mentoring experiences, I received so much more than I could possibly have ever given: a profound awareness that it was in this act of giving that I also received. I find tremendous satisfaction in watching someone move forward in their career or be brave enough to take an entirely different path. I also believe it is a true privilege and honor to help someone work through professional disappointments and setbacks and to help them use a different lens from which to view the situations as perfectly timed opportunities to embrace a new direction and celebrate their strength and resilience by overcoming adversity. I have often shared this quote by Maya Angelou:


“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”.

This period of reflection has reaffirmed my tremendous gratitude. I realize I have been blessed with a cherished gift in the many women who have touched my life as role models and mentors, both formally and informally. Family, friends, and colleagues that have been exemplary examples of courage, strength, spirituality, and determination complemented by a commitment to serve others, share gifts and talents freely without expectation of return. During their mentoring, they demonstrated the importance of looking outside of one’s own ambitions and goals and the importance of the selfless act of giving back, paying it forward, and truly celebrating together each other’s successes.


Giving to our community means so much more than making a charitable contribution, certainly an important part of service, but the giving of ourselves through mentoring, in my opinion, is the most important and impactful form of service. The women in my life offered me an opportunity to fully explore my value and embrace each professional path on my journey with confidence and courage. Recently, providing the encouragement to try an entirely new direction as an entrepreneur in the world of technology.


It was their gift to me, sharing their time, their wisdom, their successes, and equally as important, sharing how they navigated through their professional disappointments and sometimes failures. It has been a circle of trust and lifting each other with the realization that we can make a profound impact by simply paying it forward. The beauty is that these life and professional lessons came from women of all ranks, colors, ages, beliefs, orientations, and professions. Willing to share their gifts and talents with me, through mentorship, including my amazing daughters.


It is truly an honor to have been recognized as a finalist for the 2021 35th ATHENA International Award and I am incredibly humbled and grateful to my colleagues who nominated me. To the ATHENA Selection committee, I am grateful to have been included as a finalist with such an esteemed group of women leaders. But it is the amazing women in my life for which I am most thankful. This period of reflection has allowed me to formally recognize and celebrate each one. Your selfless acts of giving by mentoring me touched my life, inspired my passion, and taught me the power of paying it forward, and I am immensely grateful and celebrate this recognition with each of you.