Staying Fierce.

Keeping Current

Career Moves with Kat Robinson of Microsoft

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Fierce Lab this past Saturday in Dallas, Texas. Fierce Lab is an event series for the millennial woman, the brainchild of Tara Wilson from Tara Wilson Agency. It’s a space to focus on our whole selves - from mental health, to career development, to financial intelligence. To be fierce is to be confident, capable, and strong - and I was honored to be part of this event. For me personally, fierce is fortitude.

I was invited to speak on Career Moves: to offer insight into my own career journey and share some lessons I've learned along the way. Now that I'm back, I want to share my perspectives with you all. Feel free to skim, read, and share with me your thoughts below.

Q: You’ve carved out a successful career that merges passion - what you love - and vision - setting lofty goals. Tell us a little bit about what it took to get to your current position? How have you balanced passion and vision in your career?
So, a part of my passion – what I love to do, what I find energizing – is tackling messy, complex problems that limit our ability to connect with each other. For me, that’s what marketing is – removing barriers to connect with your audience in a very purposeful way. Over the years, I’ve learned that I do my best work when I find untapped opportunities I can unpack and build into something new and highly successfully – learning along the way.

I first noticed this right out of high school. I didn’t have the money to attend college right away so I got a job at a call center for ATV and go-kart warranties. I didn’t know anything about the mechanics of these machines, but I was good with people and could tolerate a lot of emotion in diplomatic way at a young age.

I instinctively took on the most difficult customer service cases and became so good at resolving escalated calls with minimal impact to the business that I trained others on my approach. Looking back, I can see my passion beginning to naturally come out in the work I found rewarding and I followed that instinctual draw.

I eventually made it to community college, taking one or two classes per semester as I could afford, working during the day and attending college at night. I then went onto undergraduate and graduate school, thanks to the generosity of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

For me, I took the time over the years to truly uncover what I need to feel fulfilled in my work and where I feel compelled to spend my time – outside of a particular role, discipline, or industry. Working with friends, coaches, trusted colleagues, I've been able to piece together and articulate the different facets of my passion. Each professional opportunity I undertake, and every failure and ever reflection point, helps me understand my passion in a deeper way. My intellectual curiosity is part of my larger purpose and helps provide the structure to where I see myself in over the next 10 years.

The balance aspect comes from me being purposeful in the opportunities I decide to take on and the areas I decide to go learn about – whatever I’m doing across my professional life, and in the personal growth I do outside of work – it needs to align with my values, long term learning goals, and provide a connective thread to the highest ambitions I have for myself. I need to have a line of sight between what I am doing today with how it helps me get to goals for this year and more beyond.

Q: What advice do you have for young women in the corporate world today?
Yes, this is great question. I think it’s a really interesting time to be in the corporate world today, many organizations are in the midst of profound change and transformation, across their business models and their organizational culture. There is this wave of energy building in many companies to do things differently, which creates new and greater opportunities for us.

For women just starting out in their careers, here are 3 principles that have really helped me grow and advance:

1. Embrace who you are. Own your strengths.

You have unique strengths that make a difference in your organization. Always value them and bring them to the table. Spend time, lots of time, figuring out what those specific strengths are and then look for opportunities to leverage them. Often in corporate culture there is pressure to conform – resist this pressure (and it’s challenging) – but don’t lose yourself.

2. Explore and be curious about different parts of the business

You absolutely need to know and understand how the business makes money. And you need to understand the thread, that line of sight, between what you do and how it contributes to the broader business strategies at play. Be genuinely curious about the other departments and functions and always seek to learn how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. It can be overwhelming, complex, and confusing. But take it in pieces -- work backwards from your daily work and role to what your manager does, to the leader of your department or division, all the way up the CEO's vision for the company.

The more you know about how what you do fits within the larger business direction, at all levels, then the more information you have to come up with new ideas and make decisions that deliver outcomes the business values.

3. Ask for help, often

We don’t succeed on our own. It takes a village of our professional network, friends, mentors, coaches, therapists, and our families. Lean into those people and seek diverse perspectives. Find those people you can trust – to both affirm your value and provide honest feedback – and invest in those relationships. Guidance and counsel from different individuals can help us uncover our own blind spots or angles of a situation we inadvertently overlook because of our naturally limited view.

Q: What is the best piece of career advice you received?
Humans of New York asked former President Obama about a time he felt most broken. He responded with a reflection on a Congressional race he lost in 1999. “The thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I've felt stuck, is to remind myself that it's about the work. Because if you're worrying about yourself—if you're thinking: 'Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?' — then you're going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you'll always have a path. There's always something to be done.”

It’s often tempting for me to worry about my success, the questions asked above are ones I’ve asked myself countless times. But I’ve found that when we focus on ourselves, and give into our egos, we risk losing sight of the passion and commitment we have to the ideals and dreams we hold for our lives. And so this advice – to focus on the work in order to move forward – continually grounds me in my purpose and refocuses my energy to the tangible actions I can take today to make progress.

Q. We all know the old saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Is there truth to this?
I think this saying defines and refers to work in a very specific way, where work isn’t additive to our lives outside of financial gain.

If you do what you love, you will work hard. What you love drives your purpose and you’re continuously progressing and expanding your potential, meeting the challenge of new opportunities. You will give your work an intense amount of focus and drive – it’s a hustle for a reason.

Do what you love and don’t be afraid of the work. The payoff matters because it's hard work, not despite it.

Shoutout to my fellow inspiring Career Moves panelists:

Claire Wasserman, Founder of Ladies Get Paid

Cassi Oesterling, Founder of Her_HQ

Kadie Smith, Founder of Drop Cap Design