• Sarah O'Brien

Short and sweet doesn't work for us...

Updated: Mar 28

I have been procrastinating updating my Linkedin profile for over a month. I recently sat on the #strugglebus when trying to come up with an elevator speech about myself for a friend and colleague. Why? Because I am a generalist who does a whole lot of things pretty well. Yet I wouldn't classify myself as an expert on much, event though I have been dubbed one by other people. Summarizing myself, or what I do, doesn't ever come easy to me. In fact its something I absolutely loathe.


Alas the other day another friend and colleague and I discussed the ever present professional mantra to keep things simple and short. Success lies in simplicity they say. Don't over complicate things. You should be able to provide clear and concise talking points. Who you are or what your purpose is, whether it be individually or as an organization must be communicated in a few sentences so that it can be easily understood. Strangely enough that day we both came to the conclusion that not everything is best served simply. In fact I am going to go as far and say that I think simple is bullshit. Really meaningful things, places, and people are complicated. By attempting to use simplicity to explain purpose or intent you fall flat on your face. Meaning gets lost and doesn't reach the intended audience. Short certainly doesn't always garner the impact you intend or need to portray. Real change, difficult challenges, impactful organizations, and visionary leadership principles are complicated. And the real people driving the train are almost always as complex as the work they do.


Earlier this week I read a story about pitfalls for leaders who sell themselves short. It spoke about why one needs to be clear and direct when relaying their talents, accomplishments, and successes. Thank you internet of things. You know what? I don't have a good elevator speech, nor am I going to worry about creating. I am complicated. I am not simple. And most days I am certainly not sweet. My passion can't and shouldn't be articulated in summary form. Nor does what I do fit into a 3 minute elevator ride in most of the downtown buildings I frequent. Finally, I don't like the shortened version of my newly updated linked in bio because without a shadow of a doubt it sells me short.


I have been called an expert. I have been called courageous. I have inspired and rallied impactful change in communities and organizations across the State of Texas. So frankly I don't give a damn if anyone thinks that who I am professionally should be summarized into a few sentences (counted by an unknown algorithm and illogical definition of "characters"). So I am posting the full version of my new linkedin profile below because I can, and I should. And I am committed to not to sell myself short ever again.


And for the record I loathe people's grammar preferences. There is no consistency. We are set up to fail. It is 2019 and oh so relative these days depending on your audience and topic. So if someone could please get all of these bots everywhere to agree on the proper grammatical use of things such as place-making and mission centric? It is clear they don't have a collective definition of success. Nor are they measuring their impact. If they had a defined vision and collaborated together perhaps consistency amongst industry professionals could be obtained.


Without further ado.

Passionate public service vet. Known for collaboration, inspiration, cultivation, and engagement.

Sarah is a keen reader of people, places, and the culture of organizations. She thrives in dynamic and challenging environments and can take the "dys" out of dysfunction. A pragmatist who can do imaginary back-bends between the tactical and strategic, Sarah is always ON and always ALL IN. She takes ownership, delivers results, and looks for innovative strategies that align with whatever mission she is on or goal she has set for herself. She believes in the critical importance of empowerment and inspiration at all levels and conditions. Adverse to claiming most visionary tendencies because Sarah can empower those around her to pick up their own paintbrushes and join in on painting the collective vision. A community, downtown, destination and storytelling champion and expert. She can wrangle and harness the creativity and lead them to victory.


A lover of authenticity, experiences, and placemaking, she is also a catalyst for change. She knows when to retreat from battle and when to lead a revolution. Sarah firmly believes that local government must focus on being inclusive, transparent, diverse, and fiscally sustainability,. And that public sector data and technology have caused the greatest need for government reform. In order to not only stay relevant and viable we have to admit, understanding, and commit to drastically changing the way we operate in order to move past the peril we are facing at all levels.

Most recently Sarah served the City of Bastrop as their Hospitality & Downtown Director and Public Information Officer overseeing a 3.5-million-dollar budget and team of 11. Her team was comprised of amazingly unique and diverse individuals who collectively worked seamlessly to provide the "kitchen sinks" list of services to our customers. She was charged with cultivating strategic community partnerships, enhancing media and intergovernmental relationships, enhancing the return on the tax payer’s investment, forming coalitions and creating capacity, crisis communications, unifying and spotlighting diverse and authentic cultural resources, promoting sustainable and fiscally responsible development, and spearheading countless memorable moments. She has also served the Texas communities of Nacogdoches, Cleburne, and Marshall in various tourism, chamber, main street, development and communication roles. She has created lifelong friendships from countless relationships with colleagues. She is blessed beyond measure with a cast full of characters she's collected from the public service sector. A two-time past president of the Texas Downtown Association, Sarah regularly gives back to her field. She enjoys serving on downtown assessment and Main Street resource teams as well as offering advice or a helping hand to communities that ask. The Edna Tea Garden Award for outstanding leadership in Hospitality Administration was given to her by her Alma mater, Stephen F. Austin State University for showing a commitment to her profession and nurturing the next generation of leaders. She has proudly watched tables turn as several of her interns have developed into professional industry veterans that she calls on regularly. She loves public speaking and regularly presents at the state and national level on a multitude of topics without reading from a single powerpoint slide. A firm belief that spiders are far more frightening than public speaking she prides herself on sharing stories and ideas that can help others. For the first time in her career she she resided in a neighboring community and has been able to serve on the City of Smithville's Historic Design Standards Committee since 2017. She is helping to launch their first historic district guidelines. Her proudest professional recognition to date is the sandwich named in her honor at Dolli's Dinner on the square in downtown Nacogdoches, the Nutty O'Brien. Dolli's Diner is located in the Hoya Building. The street adjacent to the property was once recommended to be closed due to the structural integrity. After grants, policy implementation, engineering, preservation accommodations, and targeted development recruitment efforts, Dolli was able to open her second location in the transformed building. Sarah is bursting with pride now that the small business owner recently opened a third restaurant, Cowboy Jack's Saloon in downtown Nacogdoches. She has been called courageous and inspirational. Until recently she didn't understand her impact and influence on those around her. Since January of 2019 Sarah is enjoying her newest journey, destination unknown. She is researching nonstop about collective impact, legendary Texan’s, unreasonable legislation, and urban excellence through collaboration. She is also writing articles, attempting to understand why preservation keeps failing communities, strategizing changing the face of government on war boards, and taking everything one day at a time.


If she could have a dinner party this week with anyone she chooses, she would host a Jeffersonian themed party at her historic house in Smithville with Anice Read, Rudy Brunner, Jane Jacobs, and the staff of the Unreasonable Group, including their dingo dog, Kaya. After dinner everyone would sit on the front porch and plan how they can change the world.

Sarah O'Brien lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.

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