We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandy Russell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sandy, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
It has been said that “life is all about taking risks. If you never take a risk, you will never achieve your dreams.” anonymous. A risk can be scary but at the same time it can give you an adrenaline rush of the unknown approaching. To take a risk is to make a change in your life. To take a risk is to make an impact on others. To take a risk is to challenge yourself to reach limits that are unimaginable to you. To take a risk is to believe, have faith and trust. My life journey has been filled with taking a risk, because taking a risk involves making choices. The greatest risks I have taken that changed my course in life include getting married at 19, getting a divorce, getting out of abusive relationships, taking mission trips, moving overseas, purchasing/selling my home, standing up for what you believe in and the risk of being your authentic self-amongst others. Although, all have played a significant role in who I am today, my greatest risk that has changed me is living abroad. I had always dreamed of “seeing” the other side of the world. I would never have imagined that around this time four years ago I would be embarking on such a life changing event. To pack up your belongings in two suitcases and start a life and career abroad alone one would think I was “crazy,” so I chose to keep it a secret until it was finalized. It was when I boarded the plane that I thought, “oh my goodness this is real”! When I landed and could not speak the language, I realized I must rely on my survival skills. I walked in confidence and was determined to get to my destinations. The risk I took was a form of validation that If I could do it…. then anyone could do it. Regarding my career. took a huge risk in what I was familiar with and took that opportunity to share my experiences with others. The risk of survival is what I took. To live abroad alone I felt empowered, acknowledged, privileged, honored, and valued. I was still me, but I came back with a sense of confidence knowing that whatever struggle came my way that I would be able to conquer it because if I could survive and make a life for myself overseas then there is not anything that I could not handle. Taking the risks and not letting opportunities pass me by has played a significant role in who I am today because the strength that I have gained is what I want to be able to pass along to others. Each risk taken is progress. It is instilling a bit of empowerment for others.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
As an educator and nonprofit leader, I feel that both worlds can intertwine. It is said that you do not need a title to be a leader and I hold that to be true. As an educator I teach that being a leader is to have integrity, be loyal, be action driven and listen. I instill these values in my students, colleagues, and mentees. In the nonprofit world it does not differ. To be a leader you need to have the same qualities and through your actions you show who you really are. My work as an educator has been one that has taken several roles in the last 21 years and with each setting and circumstance, I have taken the opportunity to gain experience from it. The biggest challenge has been this year where the demands were high, and the bandwidth was low amongst many educators. It has not been an easy role and the biggest challenge coming back from a world of isolation, hybrid to full “normalcy” was not what any educator can ever imagine. I learned that creating a support system would alleviate the feeling of aloneness. We had to learn that taking each day one day at a time would help along with celebrating milestones. In addition, we knew we had to listen to seek understanding. Overall, surrounding yourself with those positive people will boost your morale. I make it a practice to end each day with a grateful heart and put things into perspective and know that the next day is never guaranteed. I overcame this challenging year by evaluating what really matters.
As it relates to the nonprofit world many of the lessons relate since my two worlds can go hand in hand. What I would like the world to know about me is that although my two worlds may have variables the constant is those that you surround yourself with in your circle are the ones that can make you or break you. My advice would be to surround yourself with those that you will lift up and those that will do the same for you. I want the readers to know that challenges will be there, but it is how you react that determines whether you can move forward. I want readers to know that you create your own legacy through your actions and each one of us has a different story to share. What I believe sets me apart is my grit and refusal to give up. What I am most proud of is that I continue to be a lifelong learner and I can be taught. I want to instill in others the love of learning. A mentor told me to learn what you can and then pass it along and empower and mentor others through your actions. If I have accomplished that with those around me then I have done my job as an educator and leader.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The fabulous Fort Worth is filled with many places to visit. The first place I would take my best friend is back in time to experience the stockyards and have a day to see the cattle drive, shop, see a rodeo, and walk around the area. My itinerary would include going to the Fort Worth zoo that is considered one of the best where there are a variety of animals that includes sixty-eight that are endangered and threatened. Across the zoo are the Japanese and Botanical Gardens where you can have a picnic and just enjoy nature. In this weeklong trip my best friend will get to see the Water Gardens that are filled with fountains that are refreshing especially if the best friend is visiting during the summer. Next on the agenda would include the museum district that includes the Modern, Kimbell, Amon Carter, Science and History, to continue with the museums you do not want to miss the Sid Richardson, National Cowgirl Museum, Aviation Museum, National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum, The Lenora Rolla Museum, and the only Latino Cultural Museum Artes De La Rosa. Fort Worth is filled with many outstanding museums across the city, and each has a story to tell. The log cabin, and Fort Worth nature center would be next. Before the week ends, I would make sure we visit inspiration alley that is filled with murals, and then off to Clearfork where there is a selection of food and stores to visit. The Grand Plaza and Juanito’s tacos are necessary on the agenda because the tacos are the best and at the Grand Plaza you can find imported goods from Latin countries. Finally, the Texas Motor Speedway to see a car race. Fort Worth has so much to offer from one spectrum to the other, depending on whether you want to wear your boots or your nice clothes there is something for each mood you are in. Fort Worth is the best and you do not want to miss what all is available.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout goes to the small circle of trusted friends that have been my support system. To the ones that have been loyal, caring, loving, and encouraged me in my tough times. I dedicate this shoutout to my small circle of support that have been there on my hard days when I have cried, my happy days when we have celebrated, to my friends that have been my listening ears that have had to hear me whine, or the voice of reason to guide me. Overall, my shoutout goes to my small circle of friends that have prayed with and over me and encouraged me to be me. The small circle of friends are the ones close to my heart and not only believe in me but push me to be a better version of myself on a daily basis.