Invisible Mentor: Rebecca Penna, Director
Company Name: Refervescence Training, Development & Events
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Rebecca Penna: I am English born and bred. I was born in Birmingham in the UK in 1970 and I grew up in the UK in the South and Southwest. I went to school and university where I studied French and Linguistics. Over that period from adolescent on I spent a lot of time in France, and after many years traveling backwards and forwards I eventually ended up living and here in France, and I have been here for over 20 years.
Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?
Rebecca Penna: There is no typical day. If it’s an office day then I’ll take my son to school into the local village then go into the office and either be doing admin, or preparatory work, or research work in my job. If I’m on the road and traveling I might begin my day from a hotel room, then into a training room where I’ll be training 15 to 20 people. Each day is so totally different depending on the people I meet and what I’m doing. It varies from day-to-day but those are the two typical days that I would have.
Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Rebecca Penna: Motivating myself often means going down a negative spiral when I actually look at myself in the mirror and say, “You can do better than that,” and kicking myself up the backside from time-to-time. But my main motivation is seeing the work that I do and feeling satisfied that I’ve been able to help people achieve something that they might have not been able to achieve in their personal and professional development without me.
Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Rebecca Penna: I’m in a professional mindset and it’s interesting because I often think about this question in the job I’m doing today. I wished I had concentrated my studies more on psychology and the sociology side of things rather than the typical French and literature which is the way I went because what I’m interested in are people – how they think and how they live. That is one of the things I’d do over from scratch.
Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Rebecca Penna: I think the most significant think I’ve noticed is the pattern of relationships I’ve had with a typical personality type within both my personal and professional life. Seeing these patterns repeating themselves and realizing suddenly that I’m falling into the same kinds of behaviours and relationship patterns and it’s not doing me any good. I’ve started to learn how to recognize the people I seem to be drawn towards and I have to be more careful how I go towards relationships as well as managing them, I’m more assertive than I used to be.
Avil Beckford: What are the two threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
- Solitude: I need people to be able to function properly. Working independently is very difficult trying to organize myself, and there are days when I find it difficult, and that’s where the self-motivation comes in.
- Another basic threat is that if something happens to me and I cannot work. I sell myself and if I’m not out there doing my work then I’m actually not earning a living.
Avil Beckford: What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Rebecca Penna: I bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to training especially with a French public. Traditionally in France, training and learning is quite a passive activity, and with an Anglo-Saxon approach, as well as my personality and enthusiasm I bring the energy so that people want to learn. That combined with what I pass on as knowledge is unique. This makes me different from a lot of people here.
Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it. What kind of lessons did you learn in the process?
Rebecca Penna: I’ve had so many challenges in my life I wouldn’t know which one to start with. When I was 14, I changed schools and I changed towns. The school my parents chose, though it seemed perfectly fine when we visited it, when I went there the level of learning was not the same as my previous school and I was very frustrated and didn’t get on very well there. I ended up being very unhappy and my friendships didn’t evolve. I was so unhappy that my parents tried to find another school for me to go to and they sorted it all out. One night they said, “How would you like to change schools tomorrow?” It was such a wonderful opportunity, but I thought I couldn’t, what would others think about me? What would they say? How am I going to do this? And my parents said, “It’s all sorted, you can just do this. There is nothing stopping you, turn the page and move on, it’s possible.” What I learned from that was on the one hand it was fortunate that someone sorted out my problem for me, but I also have to go out and sort out my problems for myself. On the positive side it taught me something important that even if it looks impossible it is possible if you believe you can do it. It’s one of those ‘Yes we can!’ approach but it was so real for me because I was only 14, and that has carried all the way through my life, through adulthood as well.
Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
Rebecca Penna: My big break in terms of my potential was from someone who I consider to be a mentor. I used to work for the British Embassy in the South of France. I was based at the British Consulate. The Consul General at the time really believed in me and my potential. He taught me a lot about work and life that I didn’t actually learn from others. He didn’t give me a break in the sense that he put in a position that I obviously got an opportunity from, but he opened up a new door, a new vision of work that I hadn’t envisioned before. So it was a big break in terms of what I was capable of professionally.
Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Rebecca Penna: When I was working for the British Embassy, I was promoted after a number of years and became the Vice Consul Commercial, which was running my department in Marseilles where I live, and working directly with the rest of the team throughout the network in France. I consider what my failure was, was not being able to continue the job that I had been asked to do because I didn’t feel that I had the resources to do it. And rather than getting on with it, and playing the political arena within the organization, I resisted and was trying to generate more resources, and I came across a lot of resistance from top management. My failure in that sense was not working with top management, the people above me in authority. What did I learn from it? I learned to play the political arena a lot more carefully – integrity is all very well, but it doesn’t always lead you to success.
How did it contribute to a greater success? I’m a lot more careful about what I say and who I say it to these days. I measure more carefully what I’m to achieve and who are the people that can help me achieve my goals.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Rebecca Penna: The toughest decision was leaving my job at the British Consulate. It wasn’t a decision that I actively made because there was a round of economic redundancies. But in my mind I was ready to move on. But what it also meant for me was leaving a comfortable job with a good salary to enter the unknown and living professional independence. It impacted my life – new adventures. I felt like I found myself again in terms of who I was and what I was trying to achieve in my life.
Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
Rebecca Penna: These are all negative events. I don’t want to sound negative but it’s going through the tough times that shaped the way I see the world.
- Death of my grandmother who was a Francophile who left behind the passion of her mother country and the culture. I was at an age where I was influenced by it that I subconsciously picked that up after she died when I was 12 years old.
- My husband was ill three years ago and that helped both of us to think about what we wanted to achieve in life. We sat down and had an evening where we both independently and together and looked at what were our values, hopes and desires for the next 20 years. I think that illness and death sometimes make you put things back into perspective.
Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Rebecca Penna: Personally, my son – being able to have a child is a huge give and he everything I dreamed of.
Avil Beckford: How did mentors influence your life?
Rebecca Penna: I mentioned one of my mentors earlier who used to be my boss when I worked at the British Consulate. He influenced my life and he influenced the energy that I have for work and the go-out-and-get-it attitude that has definitely been a huge influence on me. I have a very close friend who has been a mentor to me in terms of morally and ethically how I want to live my life – somebody who has strong moral values, who I really respect. I think she influenced who I am as a human being and as a part of society.
Avil Beckford: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Rebecca Penna: Go out and get it. The other one is the huge amount of respect you should have for other people and that when things are not going how you want them to go in your relationships you have to get up and speak and say what you think.
Avil Beckford: An invisible mentor is a unique leader you can learn things from by observing them from afar, in the capacity of an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Rebecca Penna: We take on different roles in our life, and in a professional role I think that some times I’ve taken it a lot more seriously than I needed to. By creating a distance between my personality and who I am, and what I don’t necessarily want everyone I come across to see about me is creating sufficient distance between the people you are dealing with professionally to be able to be professional but still be able to keep a part of yourself to yourself. I’ve tended to wear my heart on my sleeve a lot and that has got me into a lot of trouble. I think that a minimum amount of distance helps in terms of making sure that I can be consistent in my professional relationships while still being myself and not totally opening up to the emotional side of my character. So distancing is the advice that I would give.
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