Megan: You guys I am so happy that you are joining us today for She Boss. We have a very special guest, Ambrosia Patterson and fun fact, this is probably the most nervous I’ve been for any She Boss interview.
Megan: Seriously, I don’t know it’s because you are amazing. I was trying to tell my husband last night and he’s like, “Well what’s the big deal with Ambrosia?” I’m like, “I don’t know, she’s just a big deal.” I think if you’re a woman who aspires and just looks to admirable women for motivation, you are definitely one of those.
Ambrosia: Well, thank you
Megan: And you know a lot of the women that we feature in She Boss are that way but I’d love the chance to get to see these different sides of you in a different environment.
Ambrosia: You are making me cry already. We haven’t even started.
Megan: We haven’t even started yet.
Ambrosia: I know
Megan: But it’s been really interesting watching your story sort of impress upon different environments and groups of women since you’ve been here in Huntsville. And my exposure to you has been very minimal yet it’s already been so impactful. So, thank you for all you do.
Ambrosia: Thank you
Megan: This is Ambrosia already crying within 30 seconds. We’re so thankful for carving out some time today. So, we are sitting at the FBI facility which is amazing.
Ambrosia: Thank you
Megan: I’m on Redstone Arsenal. We’re going to get to all the amazing things about you and your background and all of that but just share with us a little bit about what your role is with the FBI, because you’ve had a little handle in making some things happen over the past couple of years. So, tell us a bit about that.
Ambrosia: So, my official title is Change and Transition Program Manager for FBI Redstone. I like to refer to myself as the Kool Aid man or the Kool Aid woman, I guess. And really, it’s kind of a twofold thing. I’m serving both the people within the FBI and the people outside of the FBI who are looking in at any capacity. So, for the people within, maybe they’re up in the National Capital Region, maybe they’re here and they’re trying to understand what exactly it is we’re doing here. So, I help them see the vision, learn about the mission, learn about the strategy and where they can fit into it. And then for people on the outside, this is a huge move for us. We are currently at 1800 people here and we’re going to take it up to just under 4000. So, you can imagine, that’s a big move. And not everybody in the National Capital Region who is being asked to move here is probably going to come. Some of them have really legitimate reasons not to come so some of it is just facing outwards to people who might want to apply to help us fill the gap as we make this become part of the FBI family but just pouring Kool Aid all around for everyone, but in a respectful way.
Megan: And the fact that you have sort of change agent, you know what I mean, in your title with that you’re already walking into potentially a difficult role because you’re having to convince a lot of people to uproot their lives that they know it and move down to the city that, fortunately unfortunately, no matter how you look at it, not a lot of people are familiar with Huntsville or the vibe here. So, how has that been to try to influence folks to come down to a market that they’re not familiar with? Which oh, by the way, and I’d love for you to talk a little bit about I mean, FBI in Huntsville are now sort of number two, right? I mean, this is like the number two headquarters for the FBI outside of Quantico, which is huge. My family that does not live in the southeast are like, “Uh, that just doesn’t match up.” So, talk a little bit about that.
Ambrosia: Yes, I mean, so my journey here starts way back early in my career. I’ve been in the FBI since October 2004. And I like to think that I would have ended up in Huntsville, no matter what. I only got two phone calls when I was applying for jobs. One was from the FBI and one was from NASA. So, I think both of the jobs were in DC but I feel like this was just meant to be in a weird way. I’m embracing it now but when I first got the call from the FBI telling me that I needed to move here. It wasn’t something I was super excited about, to say the least.
Megan: When you applied in the FBI, did you know what the potential could be?
Ambrosia: Absolutely not
Megan: They are like, ‘We’ll save that for later.’
Ambrosia: I started in DC and was there until 2019 and it was probably in the 2005 timeframe that I became aware that this was the place. I made my first trip here but I grew up most of my time in the FBI working in the budget realm. So, dealing with all of the money for the organization, and there’s a lot of resources that have been born poured into this place.
Megan: I read it’s the single largest investment in the FBI, this move to Huntsville.
Ambrosia: I’ve been saying that and I feel like I have-
Megan: Is it two and a half billion or something?
Ambrosia: It’s $3 billion.
Megan: That’s a huge investment.
Ambrosia: Probably that article was before we got our most recent appropriations. So, formerly being the budget officer for the FBI, the SES in charge of all of our money, I have a pretty good handle on how we spend all of our money and hands down minus what we paid our people, the resources that we have to build this campus, thanks to Senator Shelby, they blown anything else out of the water.
Megan: That’s pretty awesome.
Ambrosia: My journey here started really full on in 2019, I got a phone call during the government shutdown from my bosses basically saying, ‘move or find a new job’. They said it in a nicer way than that and that was really hard for me. We were redoing our kitchen and our house in Springfield, Virginia. I tell the story all the time, but I can just still remember that day getting a phone call and my husband works here as well. He got a similar phone call at the time. So, that was really where my change and transition journey started. I always knew I wanted to do something in that realm, had the budget job, it was amazing, but talk about opportunities to be a change agent. What we’re building here, it blows any other opportunity out of the water. So, in my role now trying to pour that Kool Aid for other people, I’ve received the Kool Aid myself and I’m being honest, I wasn’t sold initially this was definitely a big discussion point for us. I think, the whole last name of Alabama honestly is a difficult thing to work through with our people. But we really find that once we can get them here, once they can come see the art of the possible; and we put a lot of resources and time and energy into that usually and see people flip on it and they actually end up really loving it and then all of their family follows them here and they just have amazing lives.
Megan: Was there anything for you that really sold you on Huntsville?
Ambrosia: So, I think of life in pictures right and I was actually thinking about this this weekend because it was Memorial Day so when we did our house hunting trip I wasn’t even really sold when we said that we would come that this was going to be the best idea for us because it wasn’t just moving me and my family. It was moving my entire section here. I was one of the first leaders to move to not only myself but my entire team. I tell people this all the time we had 36 people only four of us came down here including myself so full-on tear down rebuild. That was very difficult to do and I really owned passing that message along to the workforce but back to my moment, so I will never forget this. It was Memorial Day weekend in 2019 we’d come on our house signing trip, and I wasn’t sure about coming into the trip. And during the trip we found this amazing house and we were down at Yellow Hammer, the grass between Yellow Hammer and Straight to Ale and we saw a realtor there with her husband and we’re just kind of hanging around with the kids and she walks up to us and just picturing this in my mind. She looks so chic. She’s wearing this really cute romper and I’ve got on a cute little dress and everybody’s just out and about being cute and having fun and I look over to the mountains where there are houses and I’m like, “I wish that I lived here right now. I wish we didn’t have to leave and go back to Virginia.” That for me was the moment of ‘this feels like home’.
Megan: I love that. When you have a mixture of people that you know, environments that are new, your kids, they’re you know what I mean, all of these different elements kind of blending together which I think depicts a beautiful life and a city.
Megan: I love how you look at things visually. I’m a very visual person too. I’m like, ‘if you can just get inside my brain for a second, it will all makes sense’, from the outside looking in though, maybe not so much.
Ambrosia: Yes, I feel that.
Megan: So, flash forward, that was in 2019 that got you here, just out of curiosity, did you end up finding your home on Memorial Day weekend?
Ambrosia: We did.
Megan: Is that the one you’re still in now?
Ambrosia: Yes, my husband did a lot of Zillow research ahead of time. He picked out six houses that he thought would be good for us to look at. And the house we ended up buying was one of the six. It wasn’t the house that I thought we would go with but I know in my heart I’m probably not going to live here for the rest of my life. I’ve got other bigger plans to take my adventures forward but this will always be the home of my heart here, hands down it is a beautiful place, we can see the Arsenal, we can see the mountains. I love it.
Megan: How was the move on your kids?
Ambrosia: So, my son was going into kindergarten that fall when we moved so it was a good time for him because he really wasn’t settled in anywhere. He was five when we came here and my daughter had just turned one when we got here so it really wasn’t a big deal for them. I mean my kids; anybody’s kids are their heart right and I’m no exception to that. For my son specifically, this move I really believe saved his life in a lot of ways. He was only five years old but he has had a lot of academic difficulties. He’s on an IEP now at Jones Valley Elementary. If anybody from Jones Valley is watching this, you guys are freaking amazing, just the best, best school Mrs. Boykin, I don’t know. He was so young that he didn’t really know the difference but had we stayed in Northern Virginia, I think he would have gotten lost in the system up there and the amount of support that we have received and that he has specifically received from Jones Valley to Silver Linings. He was at Montessori School of Huntsville for a while. It’s just been remarkable to watch him learn and grow and my daughter as well, she’s not going to have some of the same challenges as he does. She’s already trying to teach him how to read and she’s just five years old. She’s a pistol.
Megan: Wow, I wonder who she gets that from. It’s amazing to hear from another mom, kids face a lot of challenging things. In the past couple of years, especially with COVID and you hear a lot about the education gap and all of that, I mean, that’s a challenge just from an academic perspective. I mean, I don’t know about you, but we have three kids that were in school at the same time. At the time, I think we had eighth grade, fifth grade, and then like first grade or something like that. For my youngest, that was really hard and having the available resources here, both from an academic and also a mental health perspective is huge because those two things often get overlooked when we’re dealing with just one or the other. I’m saying, especially with kids, I mean, that can’t be an area that goes missed, it’s important to pinpoint some of those things. Silver Linings is a great organization.
Ambrosia: Yes, they are awesome.
Megan: They’re amazing. So, talk to us a little bit about working with the FBI for as long as you have. I would imagine that you’re a bit of a minority being a woman in this role. I may be wrong with that but I am curious, I would love for you to talk more about that. You also mentioned too that here at this campus with this facility, a whole lot of women in leadership as well.
Ambrosia: We do
Megan: Which is amazing to hear. So, I’d love to just hear a little bit about that and a little bit about your journey sort of working up the ranks with the FBI and some of the challenges that you face throughout that.
Ambrosia: Sure, definitely, we met one of our construction amazing ladies out in the hallway before we got started here. The construction of this campus is led by an all-female team. There are males on the team as well but all of the leadership is female, which is really awesome. So, my journey as a woman in the FBI, I think you heard me talk at WEDC. So, the whole theme there was working in a male dominated place and I truthfully can say that I have not felt dominated by males since I’ve been here. And I don’t know what weird set of circumstances put me in that position, but I truly have not had difficulties here with that. I’ve had personal problems with people, men and women, but I think anybody faces that in any workplace, but I truly have not had the squash that some women feel of male domination and from the beginning of my career I mean, starting off as GS7 Budget Analyst right out of college, I was given crazy access to stuff immediately. I think a lot of it had to do with the role I was in so I was working with oversight to bring money into the FBI that’s really high-profile. But we would have meetings with the director all the time. I can remember being like 24 years old sitting in the back of the directors’ conference room and just being like, ‘how did a girl from a small town, Ohio, West Virginia get here to be able to do this’.
So, I think I had some really incredible bosses and they were just super supportive to not only me, but everybody else on our team and really just, they never thought of it as like a male versus female or even many of us were very young at the time. It was really just about us and what our minds and hearts could bring to this organization and I think that’s a big part of my success and how I was able to reach the heights that I have been able to.
Megan: So, tell me a little bit about that path that you took in school, because I mean, this being your first job out of college. I don’t want to say that the planets just aligned.
Ambrosia: They aligned.
Megan: I mean, there’s a lot of behind the scenes guiding and putting some of those pieces at least in the same lane, right. Well just talk a little bit about that. What were you like in college?
Ambrosia: I feel like I’ve just stumbled into things, super small town, dirt road. People drove their horses and tractors to high school, no joke, I did not do that but other people did. I think it was senior skip day. My dad, I asked him if I could take senior skip day and he’s like, “Yeah, if you apply to some colleges, you can take senior skip day”. So, I applied to some colleges, got into Case Western Reserve, which is an amazing school in Cleveland and just kind of I don’t want to say I floated along there but I also had a lot of difficulties when I was in college, my grandmother who I was super close to passed away. I think it was during my sophomore year, my dad presented with brain cancer, which was super difficult to deal with while I was away from home so, I never had any internships or anything like that. The most I did in college was work at our country club swimming pool back home, I managed the concession stand at the swimming pool. So, when the FBI called, this was another similar moment like with my dad, my parents bought me a car, my senior year of college, it always comes into senior year. And my dad was like, “I’m not going to pay for this for you forever, you need to find a job.” So, I gave my friend my resume and she sent it out to some people. I never applied for jobs. I just gave Heather my resume and got the two phone calls, like I said from NASA and the FBI. The FBI called first.
Megan: Who does Heather know to get you two calls from NASA and FBI?
Ambrosia: Heather is an amazing woman. She has been one of my best friends forever. She’s an attorney up in DC but we’re still really close. She just farmed it out to some people she knew and I just fell into the FBI. So, I really like- my archetype is a human, this is probably not something you’re going to hear from a lot of FBI people but I love tarot cards and the archetype of the full tarot card just kind of going off the cliff, that’s really how I view life, just take a step off and see what happens and if you crash, pick yourself up and dust yourself off.
Megan: That’s a great mantra to live by. Can you tell me about a time that has backfired not to jump immediately, but I’m curious?
Ambrosia: I think my answer to that would be that I don’t think there’s ever a time or something where that philosophy backfires, because you’re going to fall into a mess that maybe you needed to learn your lesson from, that’s my take on it.
Megan: It’s funny that you said that. I was just going to say it’s not a mistake. You fall forward, but in that environment, you learn so much and you’re going into it with a very vulnerable mindset and a mindset where you’re a constant learner, so then you’re in a safe space when you’re able to do that. I think that is pretty awesome. What’s been the scariest leap that you’ve ever taken with that mindset?
Ambrosia: I think probably the move here, because it was in the middle of the government shutdown in 2019 that we found out about this. And I had my daughter in October of 2018 or I’m sorry, in May of 2018. I applied for my SES job and got it in October of 2018. I was only in that job for a few months before they started to talk to me about Huntsville. So, taking that much change on house renovation, new baby, new job, leading all of the money for the whole FBI, $10 billion plus with this really amazing staff, then getting the word that I needed to move all of them and myself and all of these super critical functions to this new place. I like the chaos; I really do but I think and I’m never going to mind being in chaos as a human being. I think the thing that made it the scariest for me was that I had to feed that chaos to other people and bring other people into it who don’t have probably as high of a tolerance as I do for craziness. That was very hard.
Megan: You probably put a lot of trust in the unknown, when there was a lot of trust, and I would imagine there’s some hopeful trust, right? We hope things are going to work out and we hope you’re going to love it but you don’t really know how everybody’s going to react to that, which I would imagine, that has got to be a very heavy thing to carry.
Ambrosia: It definitely was and again, carrying it during the shutdown when we were 30 plus days of not being paid. We came back from the shutdown. I’ll never forget this. My mother-in-law made a bunch of food that I literally wheeled around in a car around the building to feed the people, like “Hey, welcome back from the shutdown”, but I’m carrying this information with me and I think we’re back for two or three days I gathered them all into a conference room. Usually with big moves like this, I think the rumor mill is rampant, like, are we on the list? Are we off the list? My people had no idea because I had said to them before, ‘I don’t think we’re ever going to move. There’s no way they’re going to move us. We work too much with the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and Budget. We can literally walk across the street to go talk to them. There’s no way we’re going to leave the National Capital Region’. And they take us out so giving that to people was extremely difficult and I think for me, the big lesson was realizing that not everybody has high tolerance for that kind of chaos as I do, don’t get me wrong, I’m dramatic and I love to complain and I get all spun up about stuff, but I think ultimately, I handled it really well. It was a really difficult thing for all of us to go through that.
Megan: Have you learned anything looking back, going through all that? Is there one thing that sort of sticks with you, that you constantly remind yourself, anything that just comes to surface when you think about that change?
Ambrosia: So, I think again, it’s a visual, it’s looking in people’s eyes. I told each one of them that they were going and we had individual conversations, I had individual conversations with each one. I will never forget the looks in some of their eyes and I’m not going to name them because I want to call them out on this podcast, but some of those memories I will carry in my heart forever. And when I feel like I need a boost or a reminder of why I’m here and what we’re doing, a lot of those looks in their eyes are things that I go back to, don’t screw this up.
Megan: That’s the driving force for you.
Ambrosia: You brought other people on this journey. The FBI brought all of us on this journey.
Megan: Well, not that you don’t already have this, but if that isn’t your daily motivation to succeed, you know what I mean and do things that potentially- you just got to do whether you like it or not to help the others. You sort of sold this on the Kool Aid, if you will.
Ambrosia: Yes, I talked about the Kool Aid, but just like the vision that our leadership all the way up to the director, as for this campus; tech analytics, advanced and specialized training. I mean, it is just mind blowing, thinking about the things that we’re putting here and the way that we’ve done it, I think that would have been really easy to just throw all of the underperformers onto the Alabama train and summon them down to Alabama and that is not at all what we did. We have such an amazing method to the madness that of course, I can’t get into right with you here but just the strategy behind it and when we present that to people, I talked about the looks in my employees’ eyes. The other thing that I think about is the looks in the prospective transferees’ eyes when we walk them through the strategy. We do that in this room all the time, and just watching them flip on, ‘Oh, oh-
Megan: That’s what you’re doing.
Ambrosia: ‘That’s what I’m doing. This makes sense, maybe I can, maybe I can jump on board.’
Megan: It’s very exciting. I mean, and Alicia was helping us a little bit, all the way over here just to visualize what was being built at once here and I personally had had a little chance to get behind the gates in people leadership and stuff like that, but that is merely scratching the surface and all the ways that are happening here. And to think not a lot of people realize that this is the number two home for the FBI. And there are a lot of amazing things happening here that they just have no idea. We’re going to talk a bit more about your personal journey too but if you can just share, what are a couple of the two or three things that people are most surprised to learn about what’s happening here from behind the gates of the FBI?
Ambrosia: Sure, and one quick thing to correct, you mentioned Quantico before. So, our number one will always be everything that’s in the National Capital Region, not counting Quantico so right in downtown DC., J. Edgar Hoover Building is the building and home up there, Quantico and we have had a fingerprint and biometrics facility in West Virginia for a long time. They were both in that number two spot but FBI Redstone once all is said and done is going to overtake us, those two. So, never fully overtake what’s in DC but yes, we’ll be the second. Sorry, what was your question?
Megan: That’s amazing. So, I was curious to know things about the cyber training facility here, it’s just so endless. I think this is the place where most people come for testing right and for explosive testing, maybe not necessarily with the FBI. I don’t know if there’s a role there that the FBI plays but there is just so much cool stuff happening here. I know the FBI has got a huge handle on a lot of that.
Ambrosia: I can’t pick a favorite. It’s like picking a favorite child. So where all state, local and federal bomb techs train that’s been there since 1971. That’s a huge piece for us. Our ballistics research facilities here. So, another place that’s really providing amazing ballistics research not only to partners around the country, but really around the world. They have a beautiful purpose filled facility here on the campus, all of our explosive devices and analytical center or TIDAK, resources are here so folks doing research on IEDs and pretty much anything and the FBI, you name it. It’s located here. Which is something that I really love to tell people no matter what you want to do, this place presents a really great opportunity for you to find that thing and to advance in your careers. You’re not going to come here and be stuck in a job. There are lots of other opportunities that you can circulate into so I mean, you name it, it’s your counterterrorism, intelligence work being done, analytics were tech work. A lot of our engineers and other technicians from our operational technology group are coming down.
Megan: And I love that. You and Alicia were so sweet to have spent some time with my daughter who’s trying to figure out what she wanted to do. Not a lot of people realize that anybody can go into, well not anybody but you can go into the FBI based on whatever undergrad you have, you do not have to specialize in something.
Ambrosia: No, not at all.
Megan: We do have a lot of college students who are looking to get internships or work in this field. What would be your advice for someone who maybe has an interest in the FBI, sometime in their career, any advice for someone.
Ambrosia: So, number one, don’t do drugs. And number two, don’t lie about anything. If you’ve done anything, just tell them and just be honest. On the whole degree piece, I like to hire people who have a wide variety of academic training perspectives, life experiences. The guy who brought me into the FBI was a physics major and he ended up being a budget analyst. How that translates, I’m not really sure but I think it’s not just the educational background but also the life perspective that you bring in. That’s a big priority for us here. We are dealing with some of the most difficult situations in life, you think about the areas that the FBI works in and things that we ask our people to do. I think for us, it’s not about the education, we really pay attention to the human experience and you are bringing those human elements into your job whether you’re working investigations, casework, you’re working with victims, you’re doing back of the house jobs, like my job and Alicia’s job; we really look for that combination of both.
Megan: The combination of hard and soft skills and all that. That’s exciting. So, let’s kind of switch gears a little bit and talk a little about your personal journey. So, one of the things that I’ve been fortunate enough to see again, barely scratching the surface is this creative side of you, so you like to draw, you like to do graffiti, notebook graffiti.
Ambrosia: I like to write my notebook graffiti.
Megan: So, Ambrosia and I are both members of the WEDC, which is the Women’s Economic Development Council. And you spoke a couple of weeks ago talking about creating your ethos, which I loved so much and I’ve shared that with the team and they’ve seen what that looks like. There was something that really stuck with me because I don’t think that we as individuals, and specifically, we as women really think about that on a regular basis. I think this kind of dovetails nicely into, you run on the Sundial Writer Corner, not that long ago, and you talked about how we create our own ceilings which I love. Just talk a little bit about that aspect and what you mean by that and how that mindset and understanding has driven you and fueled you in your career.
Ambrosia: This is funny, so yesterday with the lead into that question, it makes me think about my yesterday. So, I love to clean. That’s when I do my best thinking about writing and graffitiing when I am cleaning toilets in my house or wherever.
Megan: Has it always been that way for you, cleaning equals thinking?
Ambrosia: I think it does because you’re physically moving and then thoughts are just flowing into your head. So, I’m cleaning yesterday and my husband who never helps me clean started to help me clean yesterday and I was like, ‘Dude, you’re in my space, you’re not folding the towels, right, whatever.’ So, cleaning is definitely the time that I do all of that creative thinking. Say your question again, now I am going off.
Megan: Yes, well, you about how we create our own ceilings and we’re the ones sort of putting barriers to develop them for growth. I’m just curious a little bit about when you think about your ethos and you think about your creativity and your outlet, how does that help you combat some of those ceilings or face some of those challenges that maybe you put on yourself? Where is the driver for having an ethos really come from for you? Why do you have that to begin with? Did you really find yourself there?
Ambrosia: I give my dad a lot of credit for that. He was a writer as well, and I think just having those mind-expanding moments. So, I am not just here to clean the toilets in my house. I feel like we’re here as humans to help one another along and help ourselves grow and advance as much as we can. And the growth and advancement doesn’t have to be loud all the time. So, I think that’s what I really liked to write and graffiti because it is an inwardly focused thing that maybe just helps me become a better human, less all of the negative things that humans can be, jealous and possessive. I am a Scorpio so I have some of those tendencies sometimes.
Megan: Just doing that just sort of lets some of that out?
Ambrosia: I think it does. It gives me an outlet, because this job that I have here and the jobs that I have in my personal life, raising my children and being a good wife and being a good friend, all of that requires just pushing energy out into the world. I think sometimes, the writing and the graffitiing kind of helped me channel some of that energy so that I can give my best to other people so it doesn’t come out as a complete psycho stream of madness.
Megan: What does that just look like? Is it a daily practice?
Ambrosia: It is, my planner is off screen here but I’m a big fan of Savor Beauty Planners. Anybody who’s seen me usually sees that I have a book with me. If Angela J. Kim would like to partner with me and let me design a planner, I would not mind but that planner has really helped me. For me, I’m kind of a weird mix of wanting to put things into boxes but also just blowing up the box and letting everything fly everywhere. So, I think doing block scheduling has really helped with that and actually blocking in time to be creative, which sounds kind of like anti what creativity is; you just let creativity flow in but I think for me, finding a specific time to do it has been really helpful and has helped me come up with some of my better work, I guess.
Megan: That’s interesting. So, if you can talk a bit more about that. What does your creative time typically look like?
Ambrosia: Usually in the morning, I like to get up at five in the morning and I’ll do a weird mix of work email, personal email stuff and then having some time to write. I think something that I really just realized probably within the past week, it all doesn’t have to happen at one time, even if you just do 10 minutes of something creative in a day, you’ve blocked it in and you’ve planted the seeds for more creativity to come. So, try not to put so much pressure on myself and that’s important both in personal life and in a job like this. I mean, when we’re trying to move these many people and these many functions, it’s not all going to happen in one day. So, I think that’s really something that my current work in the FBI has helped me realize in my personal life too, even if it’s just five or 10 minutes of creative writing block time and I get nothing more than one sentence that could be the seed for something amazing.
Megan: Do you use any sort of prompts or anything like that? It’s just not a plan to exercise.
Ambrosia: Sometimes, I do, sometimes I get inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram getting little journal prompts there, but I will often record my own prompts as they come to me. So, I have a portion in my notebook that’s writing ideas and then I’ll return to them later. I just put up a seven foot plus whiteboard in my office at home so some of it goes up there as well. So, I think for me again, it’s like that typically. I have put the idea away in the drawer that it goes in and when I’m ready to take it out and use it I know.
Megan: I love that. This may sound weird but can you give me an example of one of those thoughts that come to mind?
Ambrosia: So, yesterday, I wrote a poem about, and I’m loosely using the term poem, I don’t think I’ve ever written a poem before and I’m not a poet, but it was all about thinking about the value proposition that you provide as a human and how to overcome if somebody doesn’t want to buy what you’re selling is sort of the way I put it in. So, I had this idea based on something that happened last week and then bucketed the idea and then yesterday I got a big five like I always do, I do that on the weekends too and just kind of started to noodle on it and write. I do a lot better writing when I’m working with my hands, I don’t know if this is something for the other writers out there. I would love to know how people do this. But for a while I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the computer out and start typing immediately and I think that was just something visceral for me that was missing, so I had my pen and my paper and before I knew it…
Megan: Interesting, I love it. At night, you reflect on those things often, go back and then maybe just let them take you somewhere else?
Ambrosia: But usually it’s quick little phrases, that’s how it did the Ceilings piece; somebody said something to me that we create our own ceilings. So, that was from somebody that I know and I wrote that down and then went back to it later before I knew it, I had some stuff.
Megan: One of the things that you mentioned during that segment, if you will, I’m not sure what we’ll call it, but you talked about being a conqueror. I love that word. When I think of what it means to be a conqueror. There are a lot of visions that come to mind with that, but share with us what that means to you.
Ambrosia: That’s funny. That’s been a bit of a divisive word. One of my best friends, when he read it, he was like, “Oh, conqueror? That’s got such a negative connotation. That’s terrible.”
Megan: That’s the opposite.
Ambrosia: I’m going to go with it. I think it’s good, but I’m really into fashion and I’m always on these weird kicks. So, we’re talking about right now how I’m obsessed with Alabama sorority culture. One of my other obsessions right now is the military. Reading a lot about the army feels like I’m going to take a vacation to Fort Bragg. I don’t know if people really do that.
Megan: I don’t think people are going to do that.
Ambrosia: Maybe I will. But I think when I think about conqueror, a lot of it gets back to that militaristic, the fashion that they wear, if you can call it fashion in the military, but just the pomp and circumstance, that visual that gets put on it. I think it lends some weight and some respect to things when we put that whole idea of what people are wearing. When I pictured conquer, maybe there was a helmet, or there are metals and sashes and that’s what that means to me. And for me, conquering isn’t what my friend thought, we’re going to mow down all the trees and whatever it really means, you’re coming into a place and you’re integrating with the culture that’s there, but you’re also building up something new and better. Which again, back to the FBI, that’s really part of what we’re doing right now. We’re integrating into this wonderful, amazing ecosystem that still is and adding elements to the ecosystem.
Megan: And overcoming little challenges along the way not necessarily ploughing through them but facing them by addressing them and working through them.
Ambrosia: Exactly, The Peaceful Conqueror.
Megan: Yes, there you go. You can tell your friend, The Peaceful Conqueror. I get that though, it does have a negative connotation or it can, to some, which is interesting. That leads me to my next little segue. The team has heard me talk about prospective, you’ve got a lot of unique perspective that you bring to this particular role not only as a mom, as a female who had worked her way up but it sounds like maybe not having the set agenda but I think when you look at the younger creatives, they have this path like, ‘I’m gonna take this path, I’m gonna go on this’. You don’t seem to really have that.
Ambrosia: Yes, I have no plan. The plan is no plan. The only plan that I ever had was wanting to do something with humans who were going through times of change in transition. I’m here now. I didn’t know how that was going to happen. I didn’t know that a move to Huntsville, Alabama was going to bring it. I talk about this all the time with people, I had reached the apex of my career arguably in that SES role, the Senior Executive Services, very young woman with young children doing that job and the whole pivot out to do change and transition was completely led by me and people thought I was crazy to do it, but that is the only real plan that I’ve ever had. I knew I wanted to do something like that, that just involves interfacing humans and helping them figure out difficult things.
Megan: And that’s sort of your mantra for the rest of your life. I mean, just sort of keep an open mind and focus on bringing solutions to challenges and working with people in the midst of that.
Ambrosia: For sure.
Megan: So, the perspective that you’ve had throughout your career has come in a variety of different environments, whether it was good experiences, bad experiences, challenging things with change. You’ve openly talked about some of those personal challenges that you face and I would love to talk about them if you’re okay with that.
Megan: But one of the very first times that I had a chance to listen to you speak was at Freedom Leaderships Huntsville Flagship retreat, which was amazing and just set the tone a little bit and I would imagine a lot of people who go through leadership maybe feel this way but I legitimately walked into that room of 53 other people and I asked myself like, I do not belong here. I did not belong there at all and I just thought I was in the wrong room. I thought maybe I was in the wrong group. I just did not feel like I fit in any capacity, looking around at these people. And so of course, it’s just massive intimidation, to no end. And then we have our series of speakers who, to me, are even more elevated and intimidating like, holy cow. Well, if this kind of person can be speaking to all of these people who I personally was intimidated by; the intimidation factor just continues to compound and one of the speaker’s was you and you talked about your career and your background, a little bit of personal things about you, but you talked about openly having an eating disorder in your career, or as part of your career. And to me, as a woman sitting in the back of the room, I was at the farthest table away because again, the intimidation factor didn’t really make me feel like I belonged there. To me, that was one of the most inspiring moments. Again, I think a lot of people look at someone like yourself and holy cow, you are in this prestigious role, where you are overseeing and managing billions of dollars in funding and working with all these people. And of course, I guess you maybe have this mindset of what that journey looks like that got you to that point.
And it’s not necessarily peppered with emotional, raw, challenging experiences that a lot of people face on a daily basis. So, I think number one, my takeaway from that was you are a conqueror, and you are someone who is able to sort of carry that light in a way that impresses upon people something that just forever changes their path. If I’m being honest, I’m not trying to be cheesy here. But being able to speak in a vulnerable sense that inspires others is something is just an amazing trait to have. And so, I would love if you could maybe just talk about that a little bit because you are very open about some of those personal struggles and I personally believe that when you’re able to open that gateway with other people, you’re able to connect at a deeper level and you’re able to create relationships that are just so much more robust and meaningful. I think then you can’t otherwise. And you talking about that really opened up just the opportunity to say, ‘You know what, we struggle with things. We all do.’ That immediately broke down that barrier of being able to connect with you, I guess and being able to understand how you got to where you got to and also making it a little bit more relative and relevant. I think that people can connect with. Without doing that, you are just this person who’s achieved all these things, there’s not a direct connection there. So, I’d love to just, if you’re comfortable with it, talk a little bit about that and your career and what you’ve learned from that and as a mom, as a woman, as a friend, as a leader, how that impacted you and just go from there.
Ambrosia: So, we all have our stuff, right? And anybody who says they don’t have their stuff-
Megan: Got a big ol’ bag of it.
Ambrosia: We all have our stuff and going into giving that speech, I think I gave it twice to leadership. I was like, I don’t know if they’re going like this, but I’m going to do what I think is right as a human being. You want to hear a leadership speech, I’m going to give you the good, the bad and the ugly of being a human being who happens to be a leader because all of those experiences pave the way for us to get where we are. So, the specific part that I talked about in that speech was being at the Grand Canyon when I was at the height of all of this just madness in my brain that manifests itself in an eating disorder and being so worried when I was at the freaking Grand Canyon about whether or not I looked fat in my outfit that I had on and just how much I missed because I was so obsessed with this idea in my head. And for me, if you ever want to do a podcast on eating disorders, I would love to be a part of that because we could go really deep. I think for me, it was always about kind of this classic thing right like control and sort of putting stuff into a box. I think that’s a big part of why my experience manifested the way that it did. But I think back on that now and what I talked about in the speech is just how I can be in this place that is absolutely amazing. I love the Southwest and that’s where I want to go after I leave Huntsville. I love Huntsville but I’m also just very attracted to the energy of the West. Being at the Grand Canyon in this amazing place and being worried about such a silly thing but it was just all consuming in my mind.
Megan: Were with your family at this time?
Ambrosia: I was with the family of a terrible ex-boyfriend at this time, which was part of the problem. Being consumed by that and I think none of it, no challenge ever really goes away. You’re not done until we’re dead is one thing that I really like to say. We are not done until we are dead and we’ve got to relive and rebuild through these changes every day. So, that isn’t something that I’m actually doing at this point. Being in an eating disorder mode I guess, but every single day, I have something that comes up that just puts me back in that mindset. I have a nine-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter, there is no way that I’m going to continue any of that with those kids. I’m not sure I’ll do stuff to screw them up but they’ll probably [unintelligible 00:44:34]. That’s one thing and I’ve read a lot about this and I’m certainly not an expert on it but a lot of that is just repeated in a cycle and I think about them every single day, how I am not going to do that with my kids because it’s not just about your body image but where you are at mentally as well and building up your children, trying to be the best that you can. You are probably going to screw them up in 26 different ways anyways. That’s kind of tough love.
Megan: All those mistakes with parenting too, also shows character. I mean there are flaws in everybody. Kids need to see that there is no version of perfect that we want them to live up to but we want them just to be themselves.
Ambrosia: And I think forgiving what got me to that point too and for any of us, we all have our stuff in life. So, trying to show some grace and forgiveness for what got you to that point is really important.
Megan: Yes, that is important. How has that helped you as a leader? How has that helped you to change you as a leader?
Ambrosia: I think again, it’s giving grace to people, not everybody is going to be perfect every single day. I mean, that’s the whole big part of what eating disorders are based on, the idea of perfection or the ideal of perfection that is completely unachievable, which is why I got into that cycle. So, giving other people grace and realizing like, ‘Hey, they’re not perfect, they’ll screw stuff up. Maybe we can just give me a break a little bit.’We’re doing the low bar lifestyle today like the Home Edit ladies will say.
Megan: I love the Home Edit. I keep seeing their stuff all over the place.
Ambrosia: And they live in Nashville. They are close.
Megan: Would that ever be something you’d entertain for them to come in and redo your closets or your pantry?
Ambrosia: I’m good. I think I have all of their books and I’ve embraced them.
Megan: They’re pretty amazing too. They’re a lot of fun. So, tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing when you’re not helping to build what the FBI is going to be here in North Alabama? Where can you typically be found now that you’re a new resident in North Alabama or we are hopefully past tornado season? What do you and your family typically do out and about Huntsville?
Ambrosia: So, we love to spend time together as a family. My son is really into video games so we like to do all of that Main Event and all that sort of stuff. Big Spring Park is huge for us; pretty much anything that’s happening down there. Panoply, the Lantern festival My husband is an artist on the side. So, we went to Michael’s on Saturday and had a big art thing in our house. I hope he’ll exhibit someplace. He did that in DC and he saw a bunch of stuff up there.
Megan: Does he paint or draw?
Ambrosia: He mostly paints but yes, drawing as well and our kids are showing some interest in that too. So, just really anything that we can do together as a family hanging out, reading, hanging out on our porch. We love to go swimming, so my kids are really excited for it to get warm.
Megan: That’s good.
Ambrosia: Yes, just as much time as possible with my family because it’s so fleeting and we’ve talked. They’ll be gone and out of the house like your daughter moving to college before you know it.
Megan: Yes, I know. It’s gonna be here before you know it.
Ambrosia: Yes, but it’s just so much fun stuff to do in Huntsville like Yellow Hammer and Straight to Ale, I mentioned that before. I like to go shopping in the little boutiques around town.
Megan: It’s a great area. Do you have any family that has moved down here in addition to your immediate family?
Ambrosia: Yes, so we’re definitely living the classic Huntsville story of, one person moves and other people follow. My mom followed us here and she’s really happy. So, let’s welcome her to Huntsville. I know, it’s a great place to be. Ambrosia, we’re so happy that you were able to carve out time today and chat with us. Anything else that you want to bring up at all about you or the FBI or anything?
Megan: It’s awesome. We’re building something that is going to change the world here. It’s already changing the world. This is the highlight of my life truly minus being married to my husband and raising my children. Being part of this is just beyond anything. And we’re hopefully going to get some footage of the facility here but we pulled these chairs in because walking into this campus is not anything- and I hope I can speak on behalf of the team here, we were not expecting this to look like this. There are all these pops of colour and neon and you have the collision room and all that kind of stuff, very cool space. So, we’re very excited and very fortunate that you guys were able to carve out time for us and thank you so much for being here.
Ambrosia: Thank you for asking me to do this. It was such a privilege.
Megan: You rock
Ambrosia: Thank you
Megan: Thank you guys so much.