We had the good fortune of connecting with Janessa Goldbeck and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Janessa, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’m comfortable taking risks because I know that the worst thing that can happen is that I might fail. From personal experience, I know that failure, even when it is painful, is a fantastic teacher. The first time I tried to join the Marine Corps, I made it through nine out of ten weeks of a training course. Just a few days before graduation, I was dropped from the course because I could not pass a portion of an obstacle course that involved climbing up a rope. It seemed like such a small, simple thing in the course of all my other training, but it was enough to get me sent home.
I had never failed at anything really meaningful in my life up until that point and it hurt me tremendously. I was embarrassed and disappointed. But I knew I wanted to be a Marine Officer, and that I wanted to go back and try again. I had to wait over a year to do so, and while I was waiting, I decided to ride a bicycle across America by myself. It was a way of proving to myself that I was strong and that I could achieve what I set my mind on. So, I got a job at a bike shop and learned everything I needed to know about bike maintenance. I built my bike completely from scratch and set off on a 3 month, 4,000+ mile trip, starting in San Francisco and camping all along the way. A few weeks after I bicycled into Washington, DC, I got another shot at becoming a Marine Officer. I ended up graduating in the top of my class and went on to spend seven awesome years as a Combat Engineer Officer. That initial failure gave me an opportunity to have the adventure of a lifetime and learn the depths of my own resilience. I think that experience made me a better Marine Officer, and it gave me the courage to take on other risks.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am privileged to have a job that feels more like a passion project. I am the Chief Executive Officer of Vet Voice Foundation, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with over 1.5 million members. VV Foundation mobilizes veterans and military families to have a voice in our democracy by providing them with the support, training, and tools to shape policy and impact outcomes in their communities.
Since its founding in 2009, VV Foundation has elevated the voices of veterans of all ranks, from the enlisted soldier who served on the front lines, to the former top brass at the Pentagon. The voices of our veterans and military family members have been key to building momentum around ending the “forever wars” in the Middle East, supporting a diplomacy-first, diplomacy-heavy foreign policy, and strengthening democratic systems here at home.
Before I served in the Marines, I worked as a human rights advocate in Washington, DC, where I built political will for legislative and diplomatic efforts to protect civilians in conflict zones. It taught me a lot about how much can get done when everyday people band together to fight for a cause. Too many Americans sit on the sidelines of our political process because they feel overwhelmed or don’t really know how to engage effectively. What I love about the role that I’m in now is that it marries two of my passions – getting people more involved in our democracy, and fighting for a more just and equitable world.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If a friend is in town, obviously we are going to the beach, but I’d take it a step further and get them under the sea! We have some of the coolest diving in the world right here in San Diego at La Jolla Cove. Swimming out with the seals and diving amongst the kelp forests with the Garibaldi and lobsters is a must. If diving isn’t their thing, we are at least snorkeling with the leopard sharks! Other favorite spots are the tide pools on the west side of Cabrillo National Monument, popping in and out of museums at Balboa Park, and exploring the Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens.
Although Ponce’s in Kensington is now a family favorite, I grew up in Encinitas, so for Mexican food, my loyalties lie with Rico’s Taco Shop and Juanita’s, There’s nothing better than grabbing a burrito to go and eating it at the top of Stone Steps, looking out over the Pacific. For drinks, if we are feeling fancy we are headed to the rooftop bar of Born and Raised – otherwise you’ll find us at Aero Club or Gossip Grill, one of the last (and best!) women’s bars in America.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mom deserves a huge shout-out. I knew she worked hard when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized just how hard she worked to give me a such a great childhood here in San Diego. Not only was she a public school teacher, but she also ran her own custom furniture business, to help make ends meet. She did all that while making sure that we ate dinner as a family every night and that I felt supported and loved in everything that I did. As an adult without kids, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with everything that’s on my plate – I can’t imagine how my mom did it all. Later in her life, she got pretty sick – she has severe MS. That really changed both of our lives, but my mom’s incredible optimism and sense of determination continue to inspire me to this day. Her amazingly positive attitude, despite how hard she has it, really puts things in perspective.