DeNora Getachew – Fellow 2011

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this area?

I am an attorney by profession and, since graduating from Fordham Law School six years ago, I have focused my work in the areas of policy and politics, both in government – at the New York City Council and for NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio – and the nonprofit sector – at Citizens Union/Citizens Union Foundation and the New York State Trial Lawyers.  I recently resigned from my most recent position as Policy Director for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to raise my newborn daughter.  I am reflecting on what I have learned thus far and searching for the next opportunity that will enable me to continue to grow professionally, while working on a diverse portfolio of policy issues and initiatives.

What is your strongest characteristic and how has it assisted you in your career?

I believe that my sense of hard work and tenacity has proven to be my strongest characteristic and can be credited for most of my career successes.  Once I establish a priority, I commit myself to achieving it regardless of how arduous the road to success may be.  This may be in part due to my perfectionist streak, but I will not accept personal failure in any endeavor in which I engage.

Describe three lessons you have learned during your career?

Narrowing my career lessons to just three is quite hard, given how much I have learned about politics and government over the last six years.

First and most importantly I have learned to be patient: This is a lesson for life overall, but one that is especially necessary when working in or around government.  But specifically as it relates to my career, I have learned that everything happens in its own time.  I thrive in fast-paced environments and do not feel fulfilled unless I am simultaneously juggling multiple tasks, but I had to learn once I began working in government that regardless of how hard you work, you may not see the fruits of your hard work for some time.  That said, achieving my goals, even when it does not happen as quickly as I would like, is always fulfilling.

Networking is the key to success: Being extroverted has served me well in my career.  I am very thankful that I have an outgoing personality because meeting people has opened many doors for me with respect to my career (and personal life too I might add).  That said, it is not always easy to walk in to an event and strike up a conversation, so I always have to psyche myself up for the task, which keeps paying dividends.

Career opportunities should play to your strengths as well as leave room for growth: For me, a great career opportunity includes elements that are both within my bailiwick and expand my knowledge and experience levels.  The key is finding a job with the right balance so that you feel like you can do the job, but also have room for growth.  I have felt most fulfilled in my career when I was on the edge of my comfort zone and in trying to find my next career opportunity, I am looking for a position that fits this criteria.

What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

By far my biggest accomplishment to date has been overcoming all of the obstacles associated with having a child while I was only a senior in high school, and still going on to graduate on time (with honors), put myself though college and law school and build a successful career, all while raising a young child.  This experience has taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance.  I am confident that I can accomplish my goals if I apply myself with the same fortitude that I have applied to reach my current personal and professional status.

What have you learned about politics and civic life through the fellows program?

I am excited and honored to be a fellow because the CUP sessions we have had thus far have been well-timed for my current professional journey and I am sure will continue to be useful for many years to come.  Most importantly, the program has both validated my career decisions and professional development to date and shown me where I have room to grow, especially in the area of effective communication.  While I always feel compelled to volunteer and help with respect to as many civic causes as possible, the fellows program has taught me that the most important civic commitments are those that are personal and unique to my individual skills and objectives.

What advice would you give someone running for office for the first time?

Based on my exposure to politics and government, I would start by advising the candidate about a rather obvious point - being a leader is an important and serious responsibility which should be treated as such.  Further, running a campaign is not the same as governing and, while both are useful, governing is not a perpetual campaign.  Finally, good policy is good politics, so make sure to understand the substantive issues that are important to you and the constituents you wish to serve and develop policy positions designed to address those issues.

What do you do in your free time?

In my limited free time, as I am a wife and mother of two (a fourteen year old son and six month old daughter), I enjoy experimenting with new recipes, spending time with family, travelling, reading, swimming and volunteering my time to activities and organizations about which I am passionate.