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A Conversation with Emma

Emma Johnson is a Vice President, a Type A organizer, and a creative soul at heart committed to her personal and professional growth. 

Emma’s career success at Untappd, a fast growing technology company may be on the fast track, but she is definitely not an overnight success. She worked in the service industry and as an intern for years before landing her VP role, experiencing first hand the difficulties of disgruntled customers and thankless jobs. 

As a young leader at a thriving company, Emma is committed to honing her leadership skills and building her team on trust. A firm believer in positive self talk, Emma shared some excellent advice with us on how she shifts the inner voice in her head from negative to positive, and how to give your everyday vocabulary an empowerment upgrade. 

We know you will love how applicable the tips and techniques Emma shares are...Plus we guarantee you’ll be inspired by her reading challenge this year! Go Emma!

What is your favorite part about your work:

I’ve been with Untappd since we had less than ten employees, and now we’re getting close to the one hundred mark! I’ve been able to grow with this company – I started out as a part-time intern, gained a full time position, became a manager, became a director and then finally became a Vice President in three years. It’s definitely an opportunity that comes with a fast growing company, and I don’t think I could have achieved this anywhere else. There is so much freedom to try things, fail, learn and grow. It’s been such a privilege to be a part of building something from the ground up and seeing it succeed! 

What did you go to school for? How have things changed for you since then? 

I definitely didn’t expect to be doing what I’m doing now. I went to school and got a degree in Film & Television. I scored a great internship right after I graduated and moved to Wilmington with big dreams of working at Screen Gems. Things were looking pretty great for me…or so I thought. 

The internship turned out to be a total scam. The production company had hired a bunch of unpaid interns to save themselves money. The work we were doing had nothing to do with the industry; we were selling old film equipment on eBay and cleaning bathrooms. I had just moved across the country from Colorado to Wilmington for this opportunity! I knew it wasn’t going to be the experience I expected, and since unfortunately I am not independently wealthy, I needed a paying gig. 

I got a job as a server at a restaurant in town. It was one of the worst experiences of my career thus far. Horror story highlights: I once had a wealthy older man stand up and yell in my face because his steak wasn’t cooked to his liking. My boss liked to play a fun game where he dumped the entire contents of a trash can from on the floor to see if anyone had accidentally thrown away any silverware and then made us clean it up. I got in a car accident on my way in to work - I was unharmed, but my car was totaled. My boss told me I couldn’t take the day off because we were short staffed, and if I didn’t show up I’d be fired. I ended up spending more on the Uber to work than I actually made in tips that day. But like all difficult things in life, it absolutely prepared me to work in Customer Support and do what I do now.  

 There’s no denying the demoralizing nature of the service and support industry.  When people are angry they act irrationally, especially from behind the safety of a computer screen. 

But it is rewarding to take a person from furious to a brand advocate. It takes emotional intelligence and humility to make a personal connection without taking things personally.

Everyone is human, so there is an emotional core where someone’s anger is really stemming from. Maybe the man who yelled at me about his steak was out for his anniversary, and wanted the night out with his wife to be perfect. Perhaps the restaurant was losing a few hundred dollars a month replacing cutlery, and my boss would need to make schedule cuts if the issue wasn’t resolved. The boss who made me come in to work after a car accident – well, pretty sure he was just a jerk. 

 I did learn what kind of leader I didn’t want to be from my experience in the service industry. When the company and people you work with are supportive, it’s so much easier to brush off tough conversations. When you’re not taken advantage of as an employee, and when you feel appreciated, that’s meaningful.

I try to treat my team with the level of trust and respect I wish I’d gotten in my prior jobs. I know there is a lot of controversy around the “entitled” nature of Millennials in the workforce, but I think that’s crazy. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work, no matter what you do.

What is the way that you make your life more manageable?

I’m totally Type A, so I love organization and documentation. I use a planner to set monthly focuses. July is “Eliminate Waste.” I record a daily to-do list, work schedule, calories, exercise, and social events.  It helps me to visualize my schedule for the day, week and month and reflect back. 

To manage stress, I keep a journal of impactful and meaningful things people have said to me and personal affirmations. (Can you tell Words of Affirmation is my Love Language?) If I’m suffering from low self-esteem or having a bad day, I look through it. It’s easy to dwell on negative interactions, especially working in customer support. This technique gives me much needed perspective. 

What is most meaningful thing in your life right now?

Time with people I love. My family lives across the country so whenever I get to see them it’s always special. I’ve been in Wilmington for six years now, which is actually the longest I’ve ever stayed in once place. I’ve got a good group of friends, and I try to get together for dinner with them once a week.  

What makes your eyes light up?

Kittens! Puppies! Women succeeding in male oriented industries! Not necessarily in that order!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Speaking up will get you everywhere. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. What you have to say is validSurround yourself with people who you admire, and don’t waste time on people who treat you poorly Sometimes you need to stop overthinking and just start

Favorite way to recharge:

I can’t pick just one!

Reading. I’m doing a reading challenge this year – 52 books in 52 weeks! Last year, I read a ton of business/self-development books, so this year I’m trying to work in some fiction.

Recommend your favorites! 

Running. It’s my form of meditation. My mind goes clear and I’m forced to focus fully on my body and my breathing. I have definitely gotten in so in the zone I’ve gotten lost. (More than once.)

Playing Games. One of my resolutions this year is to play more. I love board games! My favorite is Settlers of Catan, and I’m currently playing a year-long game called Pandemic Legacy with a few of my friends. Incredibly nerdy, I know.

Also – if I’m truly burnt out or overwhelmed – a glass of champagne. It’s very effective. 

What woman do you most admire?

Hermione Granger.  I know she’s fictional, but she’s smart, brave and steadfast.  In real life, Tina Fey is the woman I admire most. She built a career in a male dominated industry and is thriving. I feel like she has been a huge part of the uptick in female representation in the media. She recognizes and builds talent, and has given a ton of now successful celebrities their start. She wrote for SNL, made and starred in a TV show, wrote a book, produced two more TV shows and wrote a Broadway musical while simultaneously having a family - a husband and two kids. She can do it all!  

What is the best advice you've been given? 

Self talk matters. This advice came from my therapist who is an amazing and wonderful human. This idea comes up over and over again in my professional and personal life. It can be a struggle to control my mindset. Imposter Syndrome is very real!

I’m relatively new to my career, and it’s hard for me not to feel insecure and question my leadership role when unfamiliar conflict or difficulty arises. I have to flip my inner monologue on its head – instead of saying “I’m not good at this” I tell myself “If I practice this, I’ll improve.” 

This is so much easier said than done, but I try to identify when I begin to start the “you’re not good enough” narrative and squash it before it does any damage.

I also was informed of this amazing Google Chrome extension to check myself– it’s called “Just Not Sorry.” It highlights the diminishing and belittling words women frequently use in their emails. “Hey, sorry – just wanted to see if you were still on for our meeting today? If not that’s okay.” Becomes – “See you at 3:00 for our meeting. If you need to reschedule, please let me sometimes that would work better for you.” 

I highly recommend for both work life and real life! It’s wild to see how confidence levels can affect speech patterns. It’s a very enlightening. 

Emma, you inspire us! 

Thank you for sharing your story with our community!

Do you know a woman who has overcome obstacles and shined through adversity?  We would love to know them, too. Email us at


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