Megan Cooley, The Arthritis Foundation

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Megan Cooley, executive director, State of Wisconsin, The Arthritis Foundation.

1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

The good aspects of my job far outweigh the challenges, which is why I consider myself very lucky to do what I do. The most rewarding aspect of my job is, of course, the people — not just the people who I am able to help, but also their families, friends, and the local business community. Those living with a chronic disease KNOW what they are up against and what it’s like to live with. It’s when you have that “ah-ha” moment with someone that really makes the impact. My staff are also a very rewarding part of my job; to watch them grow early in their careers and see their passion — that is what every manager hopes for their team.

On the flip side there are, of course, challenges, one being the fact that you simply cannot help everyone. There are many days when you go home and ask yourself, “Did I do enough?” Finding that balance can be difficult. I have a career that has significant impact on people’s lives and that is challenging in its own right. There are never enough hours in the day to give to everyone or make everyone’s dream a reality, but you get up every day, think of another idea or creative solution, and keep going!

2. Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

There are so many talented people in my field and community. I admire different people for their different talents. I admire people who play by their own rules but still seek to help people. I admire people who stand up for what they believe in and give those without a voice an opportunity to be heard. Mainly, I admire people who are real and passionate. One job I could never do — and give so much credit toward — are teachers and daycare providers. Their patience makes these people saints! If I had to name one person, I would say my husband, who is a stay-at-home parent to our two children. He is all of the things above, yet is never recognized for what he does.

3. What has been the high point of your career so far?

I believe I am living my high point, honestly. I have this amazing team with me and we are on track for a $100,000+ year-over-year increase for 2015! One part that stands out to me was last year I was able to work with the Badgers Give Back program and provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a young boy living with arthritis. He had been in and out of the hospital dealing with this disease and really not having the summer a 10-year-old should have, so this was something I really wanted to make happen for him. He is a huge football enthusiast and the Badgers gave him the ultimate experience. He was invited to meet the team and coaching staff during a walk-through and then attend a game, where he was able to run onto the field through the tunnel with his parents and enjoy the game from the sidelines. To see his face (even though he was trying to be cool) was priceless and made it all so worth it! I am blessed to have two healthy children so part of what I do here is all about giving the kids living with this disease as much of a normal life as possible.

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4. Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

My 21-year-old self was still living in LaCrosse and president of her sorority (Alpha Phi) and I would tell her to do exactly what she is doing! I learned so much about myself and finding tools for success as a member. I would also remind myself that you don’t have to have it all figured out right now, just enjoy the ride. I am a type A person … well, really Triple A (if I am being honest), and I was always so eager to get things going and have everything planned out. The truth is, I had no plan on being in nonprofit work — it completely found me! Now, looking back to my 21-year-old self I can say I enjoyed life, and made some good and not so good choices, but in the end it got me to where I am today and that’s a good thing.

5. What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

Madison has it all — seriously, who wouldn’t want to live here?! I have lived all over (Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis) and Madison is the perfect combination of city and small town charm. We are huge Badger fans in my house, so being able to attend games and be a part of that experience is the major draw. Working here is all about relationships and networking. My advice for anyone looking to relocate to Madison is to get out and meet people. This city has hidden gems when it comes to career potential — you just have to ask.

6. Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I don’t know if it’s a secret, but I have a good sense when it comes to event planning and home design. I can generally walk into a space and see potential that others cannot always see. If I were courageous I would make a complete change and go into real estate and house flipping! I love the idea of demolishing a space and completely making it something new again. HGTV, if you are reading this, I am waiting for your call!

7. What are your guilty pleasures?

A guilty pleasure at this point in my life would be sleep. I have two kids under 5, a full-time job, and I am working on my masters. I would give just about anything for more sleep these days! Otherwise I am a lover of those trashy celebrity magazines (In Touch and Life & Style, specifically) and Instagram. I just can’t help it — I am addicted to the train wreck!

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