I’ve had the pleasure to meet and get to know Tamara Edwards over the last few months. Believe it or not, we met through Instagram – funny how things work out like that! When she and I met in person, we both immediately began brainstorming on how we could work together and lo and behold, the Making Your Mark event was born! In working and becoming friends with Tamara, I’ve come to know how ambitious, smart, and connected she is. She is full of ideas and strategies that have ultimately led her to start her own company.
Tamara is the Principal of Tamara Edwards & Co., which is dedicated to empowering national leaders to tell their stories, sharpen their voices, elevate their profiles, and earn the trust of their immediate communities. Before moving home to Chicago in November 2017, Tamara directed operations and played a key role on the Communications team for a high-profile Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time on Capitol Hill, Tamara was recognized as one of the top ten schedulers in Congress and was also selected as a featured speaker at TEDx Congress. Tamara has served as a liaison to various local, State, Congressional, and Presidential candidates on the ground in Illinois. Prior to working in Congress, Tamara served as the Director of Operations for Polaris Consulting, one of Washington D.C.’s top consulting firms.
Not only does she run her own business, but Tamara is also a board member of the Illinois State Society Foundation, an echelon board member of the Salvation Army, Public Relations lead for the Elite 6, and a Founding Member of the Chicago Young Professionals in support of the Navy SEAL Foundation. Tamara holds a BA in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Illinois Chicago. When she’s not politicking or working, you can find her among friends or lost somewhere in Chicago’s restaurant scene.
Check out our interview below and find out how absolutely fascinating of a woman she is!
Tamara, I am so excited to share your story! Can you shed light into how you got to be where you are today with your business?
I didn’t know it until recently, but one of the leading characteristics my friends and family include when describing me to others is “driven.”
My dad was the one who brought this to my attention. I was flattered —”driven? Dad, you think I’m driven??” Sure, Dad’s say nice things, but he went on to remind me of my seventh grade self making the executive decision that I would become a basketball star. The first step in becoming a basketball protege was to sign up and play. So, I signed up and I realized that I wasn’t very good at any aspect of the game of basketball, at all, especially in contrast to the other girls my age who had been playing for years and were practically walking onto the WNBA court compared to me. It was bad. I was bad.
Fast forward, three years later and countless hours of playing pick-up with the boys, scouring out technique camps, asking my parents to drive me to play in tournaments, and convincing my friends to rebound for me so I get a few more shots in, I finally made it onto our High School Varsity basketball team. Our season was underway and there I was, in uniform, ready to play, and GOOSE EGG. No minutes. Next game, no minutes. When I finally got my chance, I drained 3 three’s in a few minutes and proved to my coaches and to myself that I had arrived. Although, to no one’s surprise, I didn’t go onto play basketball professionally. But as my dad reminded me, it was my drive which brought me success in the sport. My drive has since never gone unchecked.
In college, I got a job serving at one of Chicago’s trendiest breakfast spots was promoted to manager in a just few short months. There, I rose. After graduating from college, I accepted a job as the Director of Operations for a big time D.C. lobbying firm (whose clients were among the U.S.’ top energy, financial, and telecommunications companies) and worked sunup to sundown, just to get the job done and get it done right. There, I rose.
The pivotal moment for my career would come after landing the role as an Executive Assistant for a sitting U.S. Congressman. I’ll never forget my first day of work. I walked into my very own office on Capitol Hill and found an empty desk, empty computer, and very little processes in place. I knew that my reaction had to be to learn, build, and create systems to streamline and sharpen internal processes, and make decisions around how our team of 18 would work together to keep the Congressman in the best possible place to serve his constituency. There I rose, and I rose high. I would begin to receive calls from the White House, the Administration, and the Pentagon, who were interested in having me join their teams. That was when I decided to hang up my heels in D.C. It was time to move back home to Chicago.
I realized that I wanted more control over how high I would rise. In basketball, it was the coach who decided my minutes. In an office, it was the layers of leadership above me that would decide my income, my job title, my north star. Now, as the Principal of my own company, I am the only variable between success and failure and there is nowhere to go but up.
Even just in the short time I’ve known you, I’d 100% agree how driven you are! With your own company now, what would you say is unique about the service that you provide?
I take everything I’ve learned from working on the communications side of a Congressional office and on local, state, and national political campaigns and apply the same principals towards my clients’ personal and professional objectives. A very encouraging client who works in the financial planning space recently said to me “I’ve been really impressed with how you can draw out a brand that’s been covered in too much detail or noise.” Together and in full collaboration with my clients, we define their short and long term goals, and put forth a robust Communications plan that become the turnkey to new opportunities and new forms of success.
It’s so inspiring how you’ve been able to start your own business. What’s a typical day like for you?
From 6:30am-2:00pm, I am heads down, working. Depending on my workload that day or week, I power through, or make sure to build time in for personal and professional development. When I do schedule in-person meetings, go on coffee-dates, and attend industry events, I like to stack them so I have set days of being away from my desk and not having to worry about a long day of logistics and being away from incoming emails.
Dan Peña, a multi-billionaire businessman, and one of my favorite thought leaders on productivity, hounds his listeners to “create a schedule” and to “keep to a consistent routine” so, I map out my client priorities and tasks, and place them on my google calendar to remain focused and reduce overwhelm. We’ve all been there: busy, stressed, and a zillion tabs open. I’m actively working against that.
Amen to that! I can’t count how many times I’ve had so many tabs open! So, tell me, what excites and challenges you about your business?
Learning to trust myself. That’s honestly the most exciting part and the challenging part. To my surprise, the biggest emotional roller coaster in going into business for myself — more than financial uncertainty and client satisfaction — is the process of learning to truly trust my own judgement.
What has been the biggest test or failure with your business or in your life? How have you pushed through it?
Setting boundaries has been my biggest test. Most of the truly successful people I’ve come to know are really, really good at setting boundaries in their personal and professional lives. I, however, am not — was not. Let me just say, for me, it’s a work in progress and an uphill battle.
Until recently, I have operated from an intentional place of blurring these boundaries. I did so with the mindset that I want to become friends with my colleagues and bosses; I want to go out of my way for my friends and family, do favors for them, and show up for everyone in my life. At some point, giving becomes overextending and personal development is something that should remain among trusted friends. It’s important to set boundaries.
And what would you say has been your best decision in life to date?
Accepting the job in U.S. Congress — for two reasons.
One, it put me in an environment among high-performers who are passionate about their work. These are the people that would become my closest colleagues and friends (Emily! Maura!), and are now in the top of their fields across industries. Two, my former boss. His military background gave him insight into leadership that I think served me well. I sort of grew up — personally and professionally — under his watch. I’m positive that I wouldn’t be as confident of a professional or as disciplined of a worker without him. It was also a lifetime reminder that there are good people looking out.
Speaking of those type of good people, who has inspired you over the years?
My parents. I am fully aware at all times that I am one of the lucky ones in this lifetime solely because of their series of choices my parents made that gave me the opportunity to live out my dreams. I grew up in a house with toys, family vacations, birthday celebrations, and endless love. My parents never wavered from showing up for my brother and sisters.
What would you credit your success to?
Grit, hard work, and the fear of not being good enough.
How do you balance life and business responsibilities?
My superpower is my built-in body clock for prioritization. I rarely miss deadlines or lose track of next steps on a project. I also don’t mind working long hours and prefer to work on larger projects in big blocks of time, so I can stay focused and get to that stopping point where I feel good. If I have to check out of my social life in order to get my work done, it’s perfectly ok. It actually makes time spent with friends and family extra special.
I am the exact same way, girl! Getting to know you over these last few months, I’ve come to know you have a large network of people you know and work with. What would you say to those women out there asking about how they should network?
This one is a two-fer!! First, it’s about people. Nurture every one of your friendships and relationships. I mail out about 10 thank you cards a week, send “check in” emails and texts on a regular basis. I also ask my friends for personal and professional advice all day long.
Second, kick up the dust. Let your work speak for itself, and people will keep you top of mind.
If you had one general piece of advice for women, what would it be?
Know what to do with the drop in a glass before even contemplating if it’s half full.
Any parting thoughts or advice?
Be nice to the janitor, the intern, the barista. It matters.