Meeting Opportunity Head On – Christina Crowley Arklie on learning, leadership and new challenges

As well as being Press Secretary to the Ontario Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal, Christina is a also a member of the AWN leadership team. You can contact her on twitter @CCrowleyArklie and you can also follow her blog The Passionate Voice

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I have had the privilege of working for organizations and people I’m extremely proud to have worked for and represent. What has been most surprising is the career trajectory I am on which is a lesson in itself – always be open to opportunities and don’t necessarily put yourself in your own ‘career box’ of where you think you need to go or should go. You never know what opportunities may come your way if you’re open to them! Its why the saying “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” is one of my favourite quotes.

Being raised on my family’s fourth generation dairy farm in Hastings, Ontario in Peterborough County, my parent’s passion for agriculture and farming is something that resonated with my three siblings and I as we all ended up in agriculture and farming.

I always knew I wanted to attend the University of Guelph which is where I received my Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Agricultural Business with a Certificate in Leadership. Right out of University, I went to work for a Director at ServiceOntario in downtown Toronto, who was my employer each summer during University. A few years later, the opportunity came up to work at Holstein Canada, which is a company my family is proud to be a member of as dairy farmers. I worked as Editor of their magazine ‘Info Holstein,’ shortly thereafter becoming their Communications Coordinator, introducing the company to social media and helping to relaunch their corporate brand and website before being promoted to Manager of Strategic Communications and managing a team of four staff.

While not expecting to leave this position, I had the rare opportunity to pursue a job in politics and now currently work for Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal as his Press Secretary and Senior Communicators Advisor, a position I am grateful to hold and a Minister I am extremely honoured to work for.

Tell us about your role and what your "typical day" looks like.

In my current role, what I’ve learned is that there is no ‘typical day’ - which is something that has taken time to adjust to, considering I’m a person who likes schedule and routine. Depending on the media cycle and what issues or news stories are at play, each day is different and can change in an instant.

Typically, though, each day, I always do a media/social media scan with a fresh cup of coffee in hand when I first sit down at my desk to get a grasp of what could potentially be newsworthy for the day. I then settle in on reading materials for meetings and read personal development blogs and articles before I start a variety of meetings, touring, media interviews, speech writing and emails/calls. I typically spend my evenings working on my side business, The Passionate Voice. On a more personal note, I made the commitment in 2017 to try and start each day with a morning walk which I have proudly stuck too (small win to start off 2017!). I’ve also tried to make time each day to do something for me – whether it is blogging, getting outside, going to the gym, meal prepping, volunteering or reading.

How do you define personal success? What steps do you take to get there?

Personal success to me is finding my own version of “balance” and using my talents to make a greater impact, whether that be in agriculture, on the boards/committees I volunteer on, in my job, with my side business, or in my personal life. Living a self-fulfilling personal and professional life is something I strive for each day – if you can wake up happy and go to bed pleased with what you’ve done in a day, then it’s been a good day.

If there is something I’ve learned recently, it’s that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to personal success. What one person may think is successful to them, others may think is unrealistic – stick true to what YOU want to feel, think, set as goals to achieve, and how you want to live. The only person you have to go to bed happy with every day is yourself.

What’s the biggest professional and/or personal challenge you’ve had to face? And what did you learn from that experience?

Learning to put on a ‘brave face’ in times of personal struggle or challenges is real and I think something we all experience as women day-to-day. My family has experienced personal health challenges and I’ve had to show up to meetings or events and wear that ‘brave face’ for the sake of my career. This and learning to ‘saying no’ have been such valuable life lessons I’ve learned that I try and keep top of mind.

Who is your biggest influencer or mentor? What have you learned from them?

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful leaders, influencers and mentors. I’ve had the chance to work for many strong women in business that live and work with such integrity and each who I admired for different qualities.

Women leaders like Jennifer Barton who I previously worked for at ServiceOntario; Ann Louise Carson, CEO of Holstein Canada and Judith Humphrey, founder of The Humphrey Group, Betty-Ann Heggie, business owner and former executive with Potash Corporation have all had a profound impact on me, not to mention my current boss, Minister Jeff Leal. Of course, my mom and dad have been role models to me along with my family and my husband Andrew, who have all helped to teach me so much about myself that has benefited me personally and professionally.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

Years ago, I was really enjoying blogging (under a different blog name that actually started as a University class project). Right at the height of when I was enjoying blogging, I was told by a personal family friend at the time that they thought I shouldn’t put myself out there as much and share as many ‘views’ with the world. I decided shortly after to stop blogging which is something I fully regretted until I started up ‘The Passionate Voice” a few years later. I guess at the time, I was younger and more easily influenced or swayed by others’ opinions but it’s something to this day, I wish I had kept doing because I loved it and am now, back doing it!

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

How to balance my career with becoming a mom this coming May! Obviously, becoming a mom has always been a dream and something my husband Andrew and I are so excited for. But considering I value my career and where I am at with my career, I am interested to see how I define a new personal version of ‘balance’ with this new role as a mom with my career. I realized the struggles that exist for women who want to continue to pursue their careers and work in business while they raise a family. I’ve been trying to keep in mind that while motherhood is life-changing, it is personal to everyone and each woman handles motherhood differently. I am so excited to embrace motherhood but I won’t let it define everything I do and who I am – it will just be the most ‘important’ hat I wear.

As one of the AWN leadership team, tell us a bit about what encouraged you to participate in the network?

I have always taken a profound interest in leadership and personal development. I ‘ve always wanted to get better, be better, help others be better and do more, not just for myself but for the industry I am so passionate about. When a few of us sat down together officially that first night a few years ago, after so many conversations about wanting to do something, there was a certain ‘magic in the room’ that encouraged me to want to help in whatever way possible to make what is now known as Ag Women’s Network, a reality!

What is your vision for the future of AWN?

To continually expand, grow and build on our mission to “empower women in agriculture.” There are many ideas we have as a leadership team and with our amazing volunteers, we can do so much. We’re already starting to see it, but as more women who are involved in AWN are taking on leadership roles, getting involved on boards, etc to me, that shows that AWN is working. We need to continue to promote and create an inclusive, open and positive learning space for more women in agriculture to get involved, which will benefit our entire industry.

What professional development resources have you found most helpful?

Some helpful resources I use daily that help with my professional development include subscribing to a morning newsletter called ‘The Bullet;’ using Feedly to keep track of all the blogs I follow; using social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram to stay informed and to follow thought leaders; and attending professional development events through AWN, Lean in Canada and Women of Influence in Toronto.

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