“I want my co-workers to excel. I love to coach and mentor, but it is important for the person receiving to take it and run,” said Mariah Cary, human resources manager at the Lowe’s store in Clarksville, Tennessee. As a former Miss Iowa, Cary knows a lot about coaching and mentoring after a dozen years on the pageant circuit where both are a staple.
Cary was a reluctant pageant participant at first. She was 8 years old and recently diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, but her grandparents encouraged her and she discovered that she loved the stage. For the next 8 years, Cary competed and won many times over. The experiences taught her about more than pretty outfits and trophies. “You are required to perform community service and are often asked to speak at public events,” Cary recalled. “I fell in love with that portion of the experience.”
At 16, she turned her focus from pageants to volleyball and proceeded to excel on that court. She went to Southeastern Community College on a full scholarship for volleyball. It was during her third year that she realized she missed the opportunities that pageant life brought. So after 4 years off the stage, she found a local pageant, won and within 5 months was on stage competing for Miss Iowa.
This was a turning point for Cary. “I had not publicly talked about my Tourette’s before the Miss Iowa competition. But my coaches encouraged me, and I realized I could change lives,” Cary said. “It changed me, too. I became more confident and learned that I could empower others. After winning, I was able to partner with the National Tourette Syndrome Association and create support groups to help further education on Tourette’s syndrome.”
During her year as Miss Iowa, Cary took a leave of absence from school and traveled the state, speaking and working in the community. Cary credits that time as the most valuable experience of her life. “I learned more about communications and working with people than I ever could have at school that year,” she said.
“Once I graduated and relocated to Tennessee, I applied as the human resources manager for Lowe’s. I knew I didn’t have a traditional resume, but my area HR manager assured me that my education and the skills I gained from my past experiences were very transferrable and that she was willing to coach me,” Cary said. “It is my dream job and I was so excited that Lowe’s wanted to invest in me.”
All of Cary’s years of public speaking and working with diverse groups of people prepared her to help co-workers as they face their daily celebrations and challenges.
“I want to be an advocate for my employees. I work to build relationships with them so that they can trust me and know that I will be here to listen,” she said.
Cary readily admits that every day is a new adventure but enjoys the opportunity to represent her store in the community and build partnerships that bring Lowe’s closer to its neighbors.
She recently had an opportunity to bring her Miss Iowa experiences to Lowe’s in a more unusual way. Cary was selected as a winner in an employee talent contest to perform at the company’s National Sales Meeting. “It was so unexpected to be able to combine two of my passions – performing on stage, and working at Lowe’s. I was proud to represent my store, and have my market and region teams there cheering me on,” Cary said.
Back in the Clarksville store, she is in the middle of spring hiring and working with employees and community partnerships. “If I can play even a small part in helping our employees perform at their best for our customers, I know I’m where I belong,” she said.
P.S. Mariah noted that, despite popular opinion, her parents did not name her after the famous singer. It was “just a coincidence,” she said.
To read another story about an inspiring Lowe’s employee bringing his talents to the job, check out John Cunningham’s story.