This is My Story
Often we struggle because we are unsure of whether we have what it takes. I know I did....
It took me years to finally stand up to my full height, all five feet one inch (rounding up of course) of it. I am now doing what I’m meant to do and, more importantly, being who I am meant to be. And it feels… good, at last.
I’ve figured it out and I want to help you figure it out too. I help women exactly like you get the clarity, courage and confidence to do what you are meant to do!
When I was 39 years old, I was in a marriage that was not working. I felt like I was disappearing. The me I loved, and loved being, was slowly being chipped away by this bad relationship. I knew I had to get out before I became a shadow of my former self. Here I was, the woman, the wife, the mother of two young children, breaking up the family: Can I really do this? What are people going to say?
And yet, I knew I had to escape: This is going to be hard. But you know what, I’m going to be fine. Because I have Debbie.
My sister, Debbie. I loved my sister. She was my protector, my counsellor, my cheerleader. I knew I could do it because she would be there to help me.
Less than 6 months later, Debbie discovered a lump. We got the diagnosis and it wasn’t good. I was in the room with her when the doctor said, “Debbie is not going to live to be an old lady.” Within a year, she was gone. In those last days in the hospital, Debbie said to me, “You know, Karen, you’re really smart. You need to do big things”.
I always thought life wasn’t about anything more than dealing with what’s in front of you, the day-to-day grind. What do you mean I’m meant to do big things? Isn’t it enough that I’m holding down a full-time job and raising two kids and exhausted all the time?
But then I started to look at all the interesting things that had happened to me. Things that just don’t happen to other people. And I thought, “You’re right. There’s something bigger I’m meant to do”.
What happened next? Well, life happened, I got buried in the minutiae of the job and the kids. I was trying to make ends meet. Sometimes Debbie’s words would come to me, telling me to do something bigger. “Okay, but not right now because I have to get through this. I’ll do it. But not just yet”, I’d say. But when we’re not doing what we said we would do, we always get a reminder. Mine was a burst appendix. I didn’t know it was a burst appendix at the time. But when I finally got the correct diagnosis, my doctor said: “I can’t believe you’re still alive”. A burst appendix can be fatal if left untreated, and I’d had it in my body for 10 days.
In fact, there was one night when I thought, “I’m not going to live to the morning”.
I was alone in bed. The kids were staying with their father and I thought, “I gotta write them a letter. There are things I gotta tell them. Directions I gotta give them. I gotta write them a letter”.
I couldn’t even get out of bed to do that. “What’s going to happen? My sister’s not even here to tell them the things that she’d know I would want them to know”, I thought.
I remember lying there thinking, “Oh God, you can’t take me now. My family can’t lose my sister and then me in the space of two years. Nope. This can’t be the time. I am meant to do something bigger, and this is not my time”. I knew I just had to survive. This is not how it’s going to end.
I survived the night. I got better. And it kind of brought me to the thing I had been putting off.
“Alright, I need to go and search for what’s the ONE thing for me”, I told myself. I started on a new path towards learning and development which is what I’m doing today. I love what I do, I get to impact people’s lives in a really big way.
There are still times when I get scared, thinking maybe I don’t need to step up. When I’m fearful, when I’m doubting what I should do, I remember what I promised to Debbie and the belief she had in me. Sometimes I just need to borrow from that.
Feel Fear. Ask Anyway. - My Career Story
I was in learning and development and we were rolling out a company-wide leadership program. It was a huge rollout, 250 people in a ballroom over two days kind of thing. We were going to take the program to all 8,000 leaders across the world. I got assigned to the biggest business group in our company.
My job at the event was to be at the back of the room; making sure we’ve got butts in seats, the coffee’s hot and the ice-cream’s cold. We had hired an external facilitator who was emceeing the event. He got paid $10,000 for a gig. “That’s the job I want, that’s the job I should have”, I thought to myself.
Several months in I got my chance. We were bringing the event to Canada over the US Thanksgiving. Of course, none of the Americans wanted to miss their biggest holiday and come up to Canada to emcee the event. So I got my opportunity to be at the front of the room. It was a huge success. We had 350 people in the room. We scored 97% satisfaction on it. It was great. “Hey, maybe they will consider me now”, I mused.
The next city we went to was Sacramento. There I learned that we were no longer going to use the external facilitator. This was going to be the last job they did. I happened to be in the same working room as the two leaders when they were talking about who should take over. I was at the other end of the room, minding my own business as they started listing people who could do the job; my name wasn’t mentioned.
“Should I say something?”, I wondered.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say anything, they’re not considering me. I should stay quiet”, I thought.
“But why aren’t they considering me? I can do the job, I just did a successful event. They should know I can do this. What am I? Invisible? I’m not even on the list”, I reasoned.
“What if I don’t say anything? They are not even thinking about me. I think I need to say something”, I convinced myself. So I screwed up my courage and said out loud “Umm… I’ll do it”.
They turned and looked at me blankly. And then they turned back and went on with their conversation.
“Oh my gosh, did I just make a huge mistake? Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything”, I shuddered.
I drove home with my colleague after the event. “Do you think that was a career-limiting move? Maybe they are mad at me for listening in to their conversation. Obviously they weren’t considering me. Why did I say something? That was dumb!” I brooded.
About 5 days later, I received an email: “Karen, can you do the event for us in Fort Collins?”
“Yes, absolutely. Sure, I can do it”, I replied.
The email came back: “Can you do the one in Atlanta?” And more emails came after that: Can you do the one in Miami? What about Boston? Can you do another one in Houston?
I kinda got the job. They didn’t quite say it explicitly, but I knew, if they were giving me a shot at this, I’d take it. Who cared that I only held the microphone once before in my life. I was taking it.
And the thing is, this became a career-maker for me. I became the worldwide leader for the project and ended up leading 30 events. I did all the financial tracking, so everyone got to know me for that. I got to know people from all over the world. The project led to all kinds of senior leadership experiences further down the road. I got to build my brand from that. I’m standing here today from doing that ONE thing. I stepped up, I spoke up, and started up.
What I want you to know is that sometimes you get that little feeling, “I should do something, I’m being called to step up, but I’m afraid”. You have to do it anyway. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. Even if it looks like the odds are stacked against you. Or if they look at you blankly like you have two heads, not saying anything. If it’s your moment, you have to seize it. And see what happens. For me, everything is built from that.
What My Clients Say
Chitra, Technology Sector
Fortune 100 Company, Bangalore
I am so grateful to Karen to have spent time with us and making it an exalting experience for each one of us in that room. I have attended quite a few inspirational talks... but this was the best one!