We had the good fortune of connecting with Susanna Fontenot and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Susanna, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I came across a quote recently that resonates with me: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Though often attributed to Mark Twain, the origin of the quote is complex. To me it represents the desire I have to take risks in my life and career.
Risk and failure are close friends, but so are risk and success. Most major milestones in my life and career involved taking a risk – and the positive outcomes led to achievements while the negative ones led to important lessons learned.
The professional growth I’ve accomplished so far required risk from day one. Joining a national service corps right out of college. Leaving one familiar job to take on the learning curve of a different one. Attending graduate school while working full-time.
Risk taking requires sacrifice. When I’ve chosen to sacrifice comfort and complacency, or safety or security, it’s always been worth it.
In my personal life, I think risk taking is synonymous with decision making. With every decision comes risk. Choices I make are risks I take. Traveling to a new place: there are risks. Investing in my future: there are risks. Starting a family: there are risks. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to make those decisions for myself over the last 20+ years.
I think risk taking is a requirement for failure and success, and in many ways, for happiness. One big professional risk I recently took was leaving a full-time job without having another job lined up to take its place. I resigned from an organization that had been my professional home for a third of my career. I took the risk so I could reflect on my priorities before moving into another role and to find a fulfilling job where I can bring my very best self to the work I do on a daily basis. I acknowledge the privilege I have that made this risk possible, and I’m always reflecting on what role I can play in dismantling systems that mean other folks do not have the same opportunities. This decision to leave my job means sacrificing an annual salary for some time off to reassess my goals, but it also means I gain extra time with my twin toddlers over the summer. It’s too early to tell exactly where this bend in the road of my journey will take me, but I am proud of myself for taking the risk. I’m grateful to my family and community for supporting me through the transition.
There’s a line in a Clem Snide song that I love, which says, “I love the unknown.” I always think of that song and that line when I think about risks and rewards, because I believe the best kind of risk taking has unknown consequences that result in something we love on the other side.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
For almost 15 years I’ve held a variety of roles from classroom teacher to instructional coach to nonprofit professional. I’m driven to do work that connects with a mission and aligns with my own values. I love teaching and the field of education because everyday looks different with new challenges and opportunities for growth. Education is the key to opportunity, and I believe all kids deserve access to a quality education.
Though I’ve experienced obstacles along the way, like red tape bureaucracy and dysfunction in the workplace, my journey has mostly been smooth with a few bends in the road. More than anything I’ve learned that everyone’s individual lived experience matters and relationships are key. No matter the position I hold, I have an obligation to ask whose voices are being heard and ensure everyone has a seat at the table.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’d grab my best friend from the airport and say, “Welcome to Houston!” On the way in from the airport, we’d stop by True Anomaly Brewing near downtown for local beer and then walk to catch an Astros or Dynamo game. Over the next few days, we would pack in a visit to the Houston Arboretum, and meander through the Museum of Fine Arts before grabbing picnic treats and catching a hillside concert at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Along the way during their visit we’d get brunch at Backstreet Cafe, experience dim sum in Chinatown, bar hop and people watch in Montrose, and have happy hour in the Heights. I’d be sure to show off the Theater District with a show at the Alley following dinner and drinks at Hearsay downtown. The next day, we’d make the quick drive to Galveston Bay for a day of sailing and fishing fun on the water before stopping in to grab fresh seafood for dinner. We’d spend the final day together playing at Discovery Green in the morning, sneaking in a polo match at that hidden gem near Memorial Park, and wrapping up with dinner at Spanish Flowers on Main and Airline. Our goal for the week: eat yummy food, drink delicious beverages, and enjoy the nature and diversity that make Houston beautiful.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My incredible support system: my partner, my twin sister, my parents and family, my friends (near and far!), my professional network, and my Houston community.