Interview with Work Stew

Here's a fun interview I did with the talented Kate Gace Walton, curator of the website called Work Stew.

Q1. You're an Executive Coach and you like to work with people in transition. How did you find your way to that role?

It has been quite a journey to where I am now! I’ve had a variety of different work experiences: during high school/college summers, I dabbled in the fast food world, ice cream scooper at Baskin-Robbins and drive through queen at Burger King (these were incredibly great early experiences, learning how to wowcustomers, problem solve and be pleasant and friendly at the same time!). Since those days, I worked for 10 years in the retail industry (people manager, buyer, product developer), spent another 7 years as a VP of People and Operations at Backroads, the world’s #1 active travel company, and another few years as the Director of Alumni Relations at the Haas School at UC Berkeley. For the last 10 years, I’ve focused on executive and career transition coaching- helping clients define themselves, their brands and and transition them toward professional AND personal growth, impactand success. Mine is a crooked path, to say the least! But there’s a unifying thread: all the work I’ve done has been in ultimate service to helping people get or do what they desire. I like to say that I see people so that they can see themselves—and I’m honored to do it!

Q2. If you could go back in time and counsel your younger self at various junctures (maybe graduating from college or when you were poised to make a change), what would you advise?

This is what I’d say. “Relax. Clear away the critical voices of your parents or society or the “shoulds” and just listen to what comes up for you. Trust yourself. Congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished thus far. Look inside—what do you care about, what are you uniquely good at and what do you excited doing? Then move toward those things.”

Here’s the truth: we show the world who we are and what we care about at a pretty young age. A few years back, I was going through old journals from my kid life through my 20’s—I talked a lot about what I thought I might be interested in and how I might want my career to look. Sure enough, I saw words that describe the elements of just what I’m doing now!

Q3. Is there any one thing that you find yourself saying to almost all your clients, i.e. is there some "nugget" you've hit upon that seems to help in almost every instance?

The question many of my clients have—no matter who they are or how much experience they have is: how do I know what I really want? One way I guide them toward the answer is to ask them to identify moments in their past personal or professional lives when they were feeling really on their game- when they were energized, and felt proud or accomplished by what they did (this could be anything from “planned out and tiled my bathroom shower” to “project managed a gnarly job to an on-time, on-budget conclusion” to “wrote my best-selling novel”).

Now, let’s shoot back to 4th grade math- remember factoring? When you took 24 and broke it down so that it represented first as 6X4 (or 8X3), then as 2X3X2X2? In order to really hit on what you want (and have to offer!), you gotta break it down. So you liked the way you managed that tough assignment—but let’s look deeper. How did you handle, motivate, manage and communicate with that team? How did you juggle the timeline? Troubleshoot the bundle of problems along the way? Were there stakeholders you reported progress to? Did you run numbers or complete a budget? After these details are unearthed, examine each piece of the work you did, what parts you loved, you liked (or hated), what parts came to you easily and which were like slogging through mud. It’s this process: examining the “factors” of experiences that create clarity and pave the way to fulfilling work!

And the second nugget? To some it’s obvious, to others less so- I tell clients to sniff out the work that sits in the place where their talents AND passions intersect with an external need. It’s the sweet spot, and once you’re there, it feels really good.

Q4. Can you describe a moment in your coaching work that served to reinforce your sense that career development is the right fit for you?

I guess I’d say that moment happens every time I see a light go on in a client’s eyes when the something we work on resonates- it sends a chill right up my spine. Having been completely lost myself in terms of my own passion and direction at different times in my career used to make me feel like I’d be the absolute WRONG person to be doing what I do. Now I feel that that it makes me the best person! 

Q5. If you weren't focused on career development, what would you be doing? Is there any other path that you could envision for yourself?

Professional Interviewer. I am crazy about asking questions, poking around in someone’s head to find out what makes them tick or think or act the way they do, or to find out why they feel the way they feel. (Luckily, asking questions and listening to answers is a huge part of what I do!)

Otherwise, I’d run a bakery/coffee spot in a small town. Next door would be a small but extremely well-curated bookstore—that would be my husband’s domain.