Person: Rita Meyer—Wyoming State Auditor and Gubernatorial Candidate
drink: grande brewed coffee from Starbucks
Every year during the last full week in July, I head to Cheyenne Frontier Days (the “Daddy of ‘Em All” in outdoor rodeos) in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It is a full week of western adventure and a destination point for me and a handful of my high school friends to reconnect after a semester away at various colleges. Cheyenne is also where my grandmother and a few aunts and uncles live and I look forward to visiting each summer.
Shortly before leaving for Cheyenne, I enlisted the help of my Aunt Peg to help me find someone to share a cup of coffee. She knew the perfect person—Rita Meyer, a former Colonel in the Wyoming Air National Guard, current State Auditor and gubernatorial candidate attempting to become the first elected female governor of Wyoming. The campaign trail has been keeping Rita busy, but Peg encouraged me to give her a call and she happened to have a little free time on Saturday. Her warmth radiated through the phone line and I was looking forward to the meeting as soon as I hung up the call.
I arrived at Starbucks early on Saturday and made small talk with an old cowboy who had plenty of amusing rodeo stories to share. When Rita walked in, she greeted me with a big smile, shook my hand and introduced herself. It is evident Rita has a busy schedule; she gets right to the point. We ordered coffee, found a table out on the patio, and started talking. It didn’t take me long to ask the question that had been foremost on my mind: where did she gain the confidence to run for Governor?
Her answer was much simpler than I expected:
She took life one step at a time, building on her successes along the way. Rita said very openly that 10 years ago she didn’t have the confidence to campaign. She needed a career full of large (and small) successes to give her the experience and confidence that led her to the place she is now. But it wasn’t just the success that helped her. There were failures along the way that were beneficial too. As she always says, “You have to fall down and scrape your knees, just hope you don’t break a femur.” It’s about learning from mistakes and moving forward.
When you read those words on paper, it seems like obvious advice—and really, it is—but it is something I won’t soon forget. It is one thing to hear those words, but to meet someone who so wonderfully illustrates what happens when you heed such advice is something else. Rita’s biography lists one achievement or honor after another—it’s intimidating—and if Rita wasn’t so warm and authentically genuine, she would be intimidating too.
But she hasn’t always been so esteemed. The woman that has two undergraduate degrees and an MBA in International Business, has received numerous awards for excellence in leadership during her active duty in the Air National Guard, and won the 2006 campaign for State Auditor, was once too shy to talk to people and too poor to take the entrance exams for college. Rita grew up in a small Wyoming town and had to work incredibly hard to become the person she is today; she had to overcome the many obstacles that stood in her way.
Her incredible resume is not something she built overnight; it was a process, a journey. At one point, Rita told me that women need more role models, and I believe her. In under an hour Rita made me realize that who I am today is vastly different from the person I can be in 30 years, but the change will be the result of small steps. Her advice was that if I work hard, value education, hold onto personal integrity, meet new people, travel, take risks, stretch myself, dig deep when things get hard, and surround myself with the right people, life will only get better. That’s reassuring advice to hear. Before I left Starbucks, Rita told me that one of two outcomes will occur in her race for Governor. She will win or she will lose. If she wins, she will have the opportunity to work hard for the people of Wyoming. If she loses, she will take the experiences from the campaign and move forward. She doesn’t know if she’ll win the race, but she does know that if she didn’t run, she could never win—it takes risk to get the reward.
The campaign trail is tough. Rita parades, meet and greets, drives long hours on the Wyoming roads, makes speeches, answers tough questions, and continues to fulfill her duties as the current state auditor of Wyoming. Amongst all her activity she took an hour out of her Saturday to sit down with me over a cup of coffee and talk. I’m grateful that she did, I’ll came away with advice I’ll carry with me for a long time.