It was a pair of tan Guess cowboy boots started Libby MontesNation on her career journey. Libby used her first paycheck as a cashier to buy those boots. The boots are no more, but the time management skills she learned from juggling her job with school, work, and sports is a skill Libby uses today.
From the cashier job, Libby moved on to film school in Los Angeles, then took a few years off before returning to earn a BA in psychology with a minor in criminal science. She found that criminal life was a puzzle; what life experiences led people down the path of criminal action?
A mentor warned her that following a criminal science career path is all encompassing and would leave little time for a family. Libby, as a mom of four, knew she needed to keep room for her family. Her husband, who had been in the Coast Guard for 16 years, suggested her educational and leadership background would be a good fit for the Coast Guard. So she applied and entered officer candidate school.
As the wife of an active duty “Coastie” Libby knew there would be logistical challenges building a career and also tending to a young family. The toughest was in 2010 when Libby’s husband was deployed in Kuwait and Libby was assigned to work on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for several months. The Deepwater Horizon was an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana that exploded, creating the largest marine oil spill in history. With four children under 10, the plan enlisted grandparents and other family members to take care of the children. During that assignment Libby worked with local boat owners to remove oil from the coastal waters so the local fishing industry could resume operations.
“Start on a path. Be willing to take detours. You don’t have to know the destination, just get on a path.“
– Libby MontesNation
How many different jobs have you had in your career journey, and which one was the most rewarding?
I’m in my fourth career. I started in film and entertainment, then coached soccer, the Coast Guard, and now, emergency management. The most rewarding so far has been coaching because I have influenced the lives of young girls. Now that they are older, I get to see their results and life paths. I love influencing someone’s life.
Who was your most influential mentor – formal or informal – and how did they shape your career path?
My husband, like my dad, has been my biggest cheerleader. They consistently told me I was capable of doing anything. I’m part of what I call the Title IX generation. I played baseball with the boys growing up and coached soccer at all levels for 25 years. But being in my 30s with four kids, the Coast Guard was a major career change.
I’m currently in a graduate program through the Naval War College and am a lieutenant commander and the senior reserve officer for Base Boston.
What career setback or mistake has helped you to succeed and grow?
My worst experience led me indirectly to the Lab. In the Coast Guard, I had an enforcement command that presented challenges. The equipment I was issued made it difficult for me to do my job, and I thought of leaving the Coast Guard. I had just completed my Deepwater Horizon assignment, where I met Gus Bannan, who now works at the Lab in Emergency Management. He invited me to work on his team in emergency management. I was on that team for several years, and then after the Coast Guard, I worked for the West Contra Costa School District, and now the Lab in emergency management. What I thought was a setback was a change in my career path.
What is the most important career advice you have received?
All my experiences have led me to where I am today. I constantly draw on my experiences in coaching, psychology, and leadership. I see young adults struggling with career choices and I advise them to get on a path. Don’t worry about the destination because that will change throughout your life. See where the path leads you and be willing to take detours.
A career at Berkeley Lab offers a range of opportunities supported by training, mentorship, and career development programs. Whether you choose to build a career at the Lab or take your skills to other organizations, a career path to and at the Lab sets you up for success.