Everybody learns differently, and sometimes you can learn the most from someone outside your chosen field, says Meryl Levitz, president & CEO, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and Pennsylvania Conference for Women advisory council member. Click the link below to listen to the full interview.
Q: How did you begin your professional career, and how did you end up where you are today?
A: Well, I did not have a five-year plan. My initial professional career was really as a teacher, and that was something that my father suggested that I do so that I would never be dependent on a man. And I loved teaching, even as a kid. I am the oldest of five, so that came very naturally. I started out in Illinois as a teacher, when we moved to Pennsylvania I continued teaching, when my kids were little I continued teaching. I taught everything from nursery school to teachers, and I feel I am teaching today in terms of teaching people to feel differently about Philadelphia and the countryside and about the place where they live, work and visit. So, while I never envisioned that as a child, in a way, it all hangs together to me.
Q: Is there any one best piece of career advice that you’ve been offered that you could share?
A: I’ve always felt that the best advice that I ever got was to look at the person, not at the title or the discipline, and I’ve had the good fortune to come across so many interesting, accomplished, productive people in my life that I’ve always thought, okay, I might not be interested in Greek mythology but I’ve heard that this professor is really good at that so I took Greek mythology. Everybody learns differently, and I have found that I learn best through people who are doing the do, and so that’s been a consistent choice pattern in my professional life.
Q: What was a hard transition you’ve been through, and what did you learn as a result of that experience?
A: I grew up in Chicago, where we’re all born with the sense that we are the luckiest people in the world to be born in such a great city. One of the strangest things that I had to adjust to when we moved to Philadelphia was that people here in Philly did not seem to have that feeling about Philadelphia, present or future. So, when Pew Charitable Trusts in the city and the state came up with this idea about how we could really make Philadelphia a great destination and get the residents themselves to love it, to my surprise the hardest part of the job was the residents themselves.
Q: What’s been one turning point with regard to turning the locals around?
A: I think it became old hat to talk about the city in the same old way, and people saw younger, fresher people moving into the city; the chefs who were starting restaurants here, the cultural leaders who were bringing new forms of art and music and entertainment here, the people who risked their own blood, sweat and tears to open a business here. Seeing more people out on the streets, seeing more people coming from New York and deciding to move here; being on the road for business or pleasure and seeing our ads out there in other places touting Philadelphia. I think over a period of time that peer pressure just swayed them. I think the people out in the suburbs seeing their kids want to come into the city and wanting to go to school in the city and now, of course, people in the workforce are telling their bosses “we want to be in the city, we don’t want to be out in an industrial park somewhere;” so I think there has been just this sheer weight of experiences that has nudged, in a nice way, this turn of thought.
Q: What it is that you make time for in your daily life that helps keep you refreshed and positive?
A: To me it’s being outside. I know in many ways I may be an indoor girl, but I have to be outside. And if I don’t leave the office a couple of times a day and walk around, whether it’s to Rittenhouse Square or just down the street. I need air, I need sunlight, I need trees, I need flowers, I need to see other people, I need to feel close to the earth. I feel grateful several times a day through basic things like breezes and clouds. It doesn’t take that much time to do it, but it’s refreshing, it’s invigorating and I think feeling grateful for these things during the day just keeps me going, and my days are long! I don’t care if it’s raining, I don’t care if it’s cold. I don’t like humidity, but I’ll do it even if it’s sticky out and that’s what I do.
Interview by Laurie Dalton White