This is part two of our series, “Belonging Spotlight.” Each volume features a member of our Planet community and is a valuable opportunity to get to know the person, the whole person, and understand what belonging really means to them.
I had the great privilege to sit down and connect with Patrice Johnson to get to know more about her journey. Let’s get started!
Patrice Johnson (she/her) Product Subject Matter Expert, Washington, DC
Tell us a little about yourself and some of the things you are currently working on at Planet.
Sure! I’m originally from the South suburbs of Chicago. I came to Washington, DC for undergrad and never returned home. While in my senior year of undergrad, I was recruited to work for the United States Department of State, where I was a career diplomat for 15 years. In January 2021, I joined Planet as a Product Subject Matter Expert for Government. I focus specifically on international government as well as the external facing U.S. agencies, such as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. In my role, I will advocate for the remote sensing products governments need to address enduring and global emerging challenges. I’m really excited about this new role. Currently, I’m working to understand which government ministries worldwide can use Planet’s products to meet their needs.
It’s been exciting to explore this work with the Product team to really codify what success in this market looks like, and how we reach governments globally. And now with the focus on protecting our planet and climate change, these being topics that affect all governments, remote sensing data is at the forefront of being a tool to help address these issues.
So how did you find out about Planet? What convinced you to take the leap of faith?
I earned my executive MBA in December 2018 from INSEAD, a business school in Fontainebleau, France. A part of the program is designed to have you go through leadership courses to find yourself – find your passion, your career and your focus. I have always had this secret obsession with space, but what that meant exactly, I didn’t know. I just really appreciated the value that if you can learn what’s going on in space, you can learn more about yourself, and you can learn more about our own planet. I started doing some digging on companies and I found Planet.
I decided to take a sabbatical from the State Department the following year. While on sabbatical, I gave myself a considerable amount of time to self-reflect. And once again, that small idea, that silent idea… space, reemerged! I magically said to myself one day, I’m going to follow my intuition. So I decided to pursue space as an industry and see how I can apply my skill set in international relations to a startup company. I found this position at Planet, that I’m in now, and felt like it aligned to my background so well. Planet was the number one company to work for because to me it is carving its legacy to be a defender and influencer in protecting our planet and equipping global decision makers to clearly see trends faster, power research sooner, and take collective action quicker. I want to enable both.
What’s the one thing that you can’t do right now because of the pandemic that you’re hoping to do as soon as things open up?
Initially, I thought I would jump on a plane and travel because I have been traveling around the world since I was 16. The first country I went to was Australia and then to New Zealand as a student ambassador where I spent my summer, their winter, there. This experience fueled my wanderlust. Last year, I thought the moment things open up, I’m going somewhere where I can enjoy being engulfed in someone else’s culture. But now, I can’t wait to do the basic stuff, like people watch. I miss paying attention to what attracts people and what excites them in the moment. Also, I can’t wait to go to an in-person comedy show. I need to laugh out loud with a bunch of strangers.
Switching gears a little bit. I am curious, what was a really good piece of advice that one of your mentors gave you that has made an indelible impact on your career.
I went to a self-sabotage seminar a few months before I started my sabbatical. After one of the sessions, I introduced myself to the host. She asked, “Why are you here?” I told her, “I am really trying to find what I am thinking subconsciously that hasn’t allowed me to make those big leaps to where I expected to see myself in my career.” She said the most gut punching thing to me. It was so simple, but it immediately made me weep. She said, “What got you to this place today in your career, won’t get you to where you want to be at the height of your career.”
Somehow, I knew immediately that I had to stop fighting. As a Black person you are taught to fight and work two to three times harder just to get half of what is available in society. And, I did just that, fought for everything I achieved. I left the seminar grieving the loss of what I learned as a child and reflecting on how I needed to show up in life from that moment forward. It took me some months to figure out the latter. And I did, by practicing meditation. I discovered that I have to show up to be the person that I don’t even know who I am yet. My future self who is at the height of her career and absolutely in love with herself. Who is she? What are her dominant characteristics? What does she think? Does she think the same way as me? Does she dress the same way as me? Does she show up with her friends in a different way? What are her spiritual views?
Because I took the time to really think about her, I started showing up in a completely different way. It was not overnight. It was gradual to the point where people who worked with me for four years in my same office knew I had changed. I began to lead lightly. Express my views from a position of calm authority. My perspective on success changed. It went from earning accolades to simply knowing and remembering who I really am. Knowing that I am more than enough. My ideas, thoughts and opinions are more than enough. Remembering that I am capable and competent. I have the confidence to trust myself and my intuition. Now, I let my intuition guide me. Now, I don’t suppress myself to feel little or unseen in a room. I don’t wear a mask to hide myself. This was the biggest awakening for me. In order to live and thrive in life, I cannot hide. My future self walks boldly in the authority of how she sees herself. Because I see me, I’ve made significant progress in my career and in my esteem.
In our work with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, our ultimate North Star is belonging. That everyone at Planet has the opportunity to feel like they belong, knowing that it can’t always be the same. So what does it mean to feel like you belong for you?
I think belonging is: That my story, and everyone else’s story is the same. And that story is, I became who I wanted to be regardless of who I am. Since we are all from different walks of life, we have different stories. But, just because your story is different, and your person is different, doesn’t mean that you can’t become what you want to be, regardless of who you are. And that’s what belonging means to me.
If I were somebody that was really early in my journey, wanting to understand more about the Black experience, or Black history, do you have any kind of recommendations of places for people to start?
Yes, there is this one book that really chronicles the Black experience from slavery to Jim Crow to current systemic structures. It’s called Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson goes into granular detail of what it means to be oppressed and how oppression has evolved to be an invisible active force. She argues that the structure of American society is built just like a caste system in which the poorest and uneducated white person is believed to be better than any Black person, regardless of their socioeconomic status. She describes how Black oppression in America is still very prevalent since the first group of Africans came to Jamestown, Virginia in chains in 1619. Because of laws and norms, primacy and inequity over the past 400 years have cemented themselves into current systems and structures that are difficult to eliminate. There’s so much information in this book. At times, it’s hard to read, but it can be a life changing narrative to the reader.
Wow Patrice. I really do appreciate your time. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you and I know our readers are going to be so appreciative of your perspectives on belonging and on understanding history.
Patrice’s spotlight is a part of Planet’s efforts to highlight Planet’s Wonder Women during Women’s History Month. Here are other ways we’re educating and engaging!