Story by Ed Shannon on 08/08/2018Iris Seals discovered a secret many years ago. The key to career longevity is to "make sure you love what you do."
Seals, one of the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act program managers for the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, said her career, spanning across six decades, has been filled with amazing opportunities and interesting challenges that she appreciates each day.
But well before Seals found the secret, she wondered if she would even make it through the first day on the job, Oct. 21, 1965. Seals walked through the headquarters building at Brooks AFB, Texas, turned a corner, and bumped directly into the commander a two-star general.
"I was absolutely terrified," said Seals, then a young GS-03 clerk/typist.
"I knew I was going to be fired and worried about it all day long."
But she wasn't fired that day. In the more than 19,240 days since including 13 leap years - she persevered, excelled, and achieved with a positive attitude and willingness to take on any assignment or challenge presented her way. She attributes her success to confidence gained from overcoming challenges she's faced and mentors who believed in her when she may not have always believed in herself.
Seals' self-confidence helped tackle many duties and responsibilities, especially those that required speaking in front of large groups. While preparation helped her conquer those opportunities, she encountered a different, unanticipated challenge during her first assignment. She experienced extreme intimidation from a colonel assigned to the base.
"He kept putting me down, making me feel inferior," she said. "I felt like I couldn't do anything right and wondered if this was the place for me."
One day Seals' supervisor asked her to deliver a response to a "hot suspense" at the headquarters building next door where the colonel worked. She delayed delivery out of fear of encountering the colonel again. Noticing her hesitation, her boss asked if there was an issue. That's when she decided to tell him about the harassment.
"My boss supported me and said, harassment isn't going to be permitted here. I'll go over with you,'" she said. "You know at the time, I did not realize there was such a thing as sexual harassment. It wasn't until many years later that I looked back and realized that's exactly what it was."
The experience pushed her to the verge of quitting, but support from her supervisor and other leaders in the organization became one of many turning points in her career.
One of those leaders was Betty Jean Evans, the Brooks Science and Technology Information (STINFO) chief and one of the few higher-graded female civilians. Evans served as a mentor to Seals during a time when women's jobs were generally under the radar and few served in supervisory positions. Seals noticed Evans always prepared for every meeting and remained isolated outside of the meetings on purpose to not call unnecessary attention to herself.
"You must understand the kind of meeting you're attending," Evans told her, "and the level of the meeting, who's attending, and what is being discussed."
In those days, women couldn't wear pants or pantsuits, Seals said, but the dress code changed a few years later, allowing pantsuits if the pants and jacket matched.
She said women have emerged as a definite asset in the workplace and are recognized much more and appreciated. She attributes the increased recognition for women in part to the Federally Employed Women, a private organization established in 1978 and to which she is a lifetime member.
Other leaders paved ways for her to advance in her career. Ampy Diaz, the Equal Opportunity officer at Brooks, encouraged her to apply for an Equal Employment Opportunity positon. Seals immediately applied and she soon became the first civilian at Brooks to be selected to attend mediation training with the Justice Center of Atlanta. This training and her experience as a mediator eventually led to her serving as an Adjunct Instructor for the Air Force Basic Mediation Course at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.
While no longer an EO counselor, she maintains her certifications to mediate EEO complaints and administrative and negotiated grievances through the Alamo Federal Executive Board.
"Becoming an EO counselor was another turning point in my life," she said. "I gained the opportunity to help people who had issues to resolve, and I drew from my own experiences to help them."
But as an EO counselor at Brooks, Seals faced another crossroad her position was abolished.
"I wasn't ready to retire, but there was going to be no other choice," she said.
She dropped to her knees and prayed. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, another employee in the same organization wanted to retire, and leadership already made plans to place Seals in that vacancy, naming her the first chief of administration and communication at Brooks. She excelled there until the position was cut when the Air Force missions moved away in 2011.
Later, while facing another position cut and not ready to retire, Seals hoped for an offer she couldn't refuse. She received an offer for a position within the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, and in her mid-60s, moved across town to start a new job.
"My age wasn't a negative factor for consideration for the job," she explained, "because my performance and reputation made an impact."
After a few years at AFCEC, Seals received a promotion and moved to her current position in AFIMSC May 2016.
Seals has no retirement plans and has not heard a voice' telling her it's time. So for now, she approaches each day employing the secret she discovered over the past 52 years - make sure you love what you do.'