Military Speaker Series Follow Up

SINK OR SWIM: LIFE AS A WOMAN IN THE MILITARY

Summary and Reflection on the Words of Jenny DuFresne- By Victoria Iyamba

Having the opportunity to listen to Jenny DuFresne speak allowed me to hear a message I did not realize I needed to hear. DuFresne’s words echoed of perseverance, taking chances, and breaking barriers. DuFresne began her story by asking the audience if we are willing to step outside of own comfort zone. By asking this question, DuFresne is challenging us to be reflective on how far we are willing to push to achieve our dreams and full potential. It is a reminder that along the road to success, there will be difficulties we will without a doubt have to face and overcome.


DuFresne shared her own example of stepping outside her comfort zone. She shared how during Marine Corps boot camp the swim qualification was a test that needed to be passed in order to earn the title of “Marine.” DuFresne described how the test included jumping into a 16 feet deep pool in full cammies (heavy trousers, heavy blouse/jacket, t-shirt, web belt) from eight feet above the water, floating for two minutes, and then swimming to the other side of the pool. DuFresne recounted feelings of fear vibrating through every part of her body as she looked down before jumping into the deep dark pool. Looking back on this event DuFresne understood this test was the beginning of the separate standards for women Marines versus men Marines.


DuFresne described her experience as being treated like a third class citizen in a first class organization. From the beginning of her Marine experience at the recruiter’s office where she scored the highest in mechanical aptitude, but that was a man’s world so she was told she would do better suited in an administration role. She remembers getting fitted for her uniform in boot-camp, a proud moment for every Marine, where she was unable to life her arms above her shoulders. “You won’t need to lift your arms above your head recruit! A man could grab any boxes you need from above your head.” Words told to her from a female drill instructor. It was then that DuFresne understood that her opportunities, talents, and strengths were being diminished.


These experiences taught DuFresne that women must be aware and should not contribute to spreading the ideas of women as weak and incapable. Again DuFresne challenged the audience, especially those in leadership roles to be self-reflective and ask what type of environment is being cultivated for women in your workplace? Do they lead by example? Do you promote women for visible and impactful leadership opportunities? Are you part of the solution to ensure women veterans and active serving are fully visible in society? These questions allows us to think about what we are doing, and what we can be doing better for the advancement for women not only in the workplace, though society as well.


There are social constructs that impact how many women view themselves and their capabilities. DuFresne discussed how women often times underestimate their power and strength, which impacts our confidence and can create anxiety as we enter foreign situations or hurdles. DuFresne once again provides a thought provoking question: what limitations have you taken on that no longer serves you? Our mindsets about ourselves ultimately limits our capabilities and is a very destructive force. Negative mindsets prevents us from dreaming the big dream, and doing what’s in our power to achieve it.


DuFresne left with the audience five key life lessons she has learned in order to create a positive mindset and not succumb to social constructs.


  • The first lesson is that our greatest personal growths can be shaped from foreign environments. When we take those risks and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, we are able to learn our true capacity and what we can handle in life.
  • Lesson two is about having the power to choose. We can choose how we will break down our own barriers in our lives. We can choose how we want to be excellent in our endeavors.
  • Lesson three is to not let the fear of failure prevent us from engaging in new endeavors. The unknown can be scary, though it is important not to be influenced by naysayer who do not believe in you.
  • The fourth lesson is to “push barriers, limitations, and limiting beliefs out of your way.” If we engage in limiting self-talk, we automatically limit how far we are able to achieve. DuFresne believes “our capacity for greatness is greater than our imagined limitations.” We are our greatest obstacles and we need to step out of our own way.
  • The fifth and last lesson is life does not consist of a straight line. There will be challenges, highs and lows, the important thing to remember is that we choose keep moving forward.


DuFresne closed her remarks by challenging the audience to search for answers to these questions:

· Who do you need to become to let your voice be heard?

· Who will you choose to be to birth new solutions to pressing societal problems?

· What will define you?

· How will you tackle other’s limiting beliefs so you can live fully in your leadership gifts and talents?


During the Q&A segment a woman inquired how does one even begin to start this process towards change? DuFresne response I felt was powerful and simple. Take a step. We need to be willing to take the step towards greatness. We need to be aware of systemic beliefs that can prevent women from making strides and continue to step forward. We as women need to create and be the change we want in the world. We as women need to be there for each other in order to lift and amplify our power.

About Jenny DuFresne

Jenny DuFresne enlisted in the Marines at a time when few opportunities existed for women in the Marine Corps. Serving for 10 years (1986 – 1996), Jenny served in the administrative field later transitioning into logistics/embarkation. Jenny left the Marine Corps at the highly respected rank of Gunnery Sergeant (E-7). Since her time in service, Jenny successfully navigated from a life in a military uniform to that of a civilian, becoming a transformational leader, speaker, and entrepreneur. As such Jenny holds degrees from Harvard University and George Mason University, is recognized for founding and leading the only all-male public charter elementary school in Washington, DC, and the only all-male early childhood program in the nation. Jenny writes about the impact of this extraordinary leadership experience in her bestselling book, From Empty to Overflow: 5 Radical Actions Women Leaders Use to Rejuvenate, Grow Profits, and Inspire People, where she highlights five radical actions women leaders can use to create happy, harmonious, joyful lives. Now the CEO of the DuFresne Solutions Group, a leadership development and training company, Jenny and her team develop tailored solutions for pressing leadership and followership challenges.


Jenny shared her personal journey in navigating success, the role the military has played in her leadership style, and the monumental shifts she’s seen for women in uniform. Jenny uses her service as a Marine as a powerful compass for women leaders to push past artificial boundaries and limitations.