Think Adventure & Career Growth Are Mutually Exclusive? Then, Meet Kerry

Ever feel like adventure and career growth are mutually exclusive? That you can play or you can get serious and work?

Kerry DrakeToday I want to share with you Kerry Drake, a former student of mine’s story. Kerry set off for a big adventure not long after taking my workshop, and what Kerry found was that this big, bold move was not just a side road on her career path, but a big career-boosting move. Kerry’s story illustrates that career growth is not just about the next predictable rung on the ladder, it can be creative, tailored to what you love and bold.


Where were you when you took the workshop?
About two years ago, when I took the workshop, I identified a list of 16 goals and dreams that I would like to achieve if I wasn’t afraid. Everyone has fears related to their careers: concerns about making mistakes, worrying about finding the right path, sacrificing personal health or family time, trying to balance work and life, and so on. .. but putting that list on paper helped me deal with them head on. My list included career goal and personal goals, such as negotiating my salary, working for an NGO, making use of Spanish, and purchasing a house.

As my career has grown over the years, I have tended to wait for promotions and raises, rather than ask for them. I am sure many women can identify. When I finally made an attempt at increasing my salary, it was not successful. This is the kind of confidence setback that made the Guatemala decision more concerning; would volunteering put my career on hold, or worse – would it put it a step backward? But I found the opposite to be true.

In the fall of 2016, my partner and I were offered the opportunity to serve as fellows with Engineers without Borders in rural Guatemala. We talked about it for some time, concerned about the career and life logistics (breaking the lease, taking a leave of absence from employment, potential health issues and other physical dangers, etc.). However we realized this was a rare opportunity to do something big and bold.

So we took the leap and broke our lease, put everything in storage, and spent six months in the highlands of Guatemala. I managed the construction of a high school, the first public high school in their town. My partner was working on hydroelectric dam renovation in the same town, so we lived together in a small house, and we really got to know a lot of the local workers there. Work was conducted in completely Spanish, so the Spanish I had studied in school came in handy, if a little rusty. It is truly a humbling experience when people would approach you in tears because they were so happy that you are there building a school for them.

In Guatemala, I took on a great deal of responsibility, and this gave a new sense of confidence. When I came back, I saw myself in a new way, and my coworkers did too. That new sense of potential, combined with getting my license, helped me successfully negotiate for salary when I asked again.

I hadn’t kept track of the list of things I’d do if I wasn’t afraid, but I returned to this list after returning from Guatemala, and to my surprise, I had accomplished four of the goals (negotiating salary, working for an NGO, making use of Spanish, and purchasing a house)! The single action of volunteering in Guatemala allowed me to accomplish multiple life goals.

What advice would you offer on what to take from your story?
Don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Go out there and get it. As I mentioned earlier, last year I attended the Build Yourself workshop. There we discussed the “Tiara Syndrome” where people, particularly women, tend to wait for rewards or recognition to be bestowed upon them, rather than taking the initiative to go and get what they want.

It can seem paradoxical that growing in your career might mean taking six months ‘off’ in another part of the world, but going out there and getting it doesn’t just mean going from step to step in a linear way, it means doing it in the ways that are right for you.

What’s the next level for you? How are you going to take this advice forward?
Like I said, I came back to my firm with a new sense of potential, and others see more potential in me. That might mean growing into greater leadership within the planning practice in my firm—but doing it in my own way—I’m a design-driven planner, which is not your typical approach. So this might mean getting clearer on what that means and how I might approach things differently than they have been done before. I’m initiating more conversations about what this might mean for the firm.

As I do that, I’m also finding that my leadership style is curious, exploratory and introverted. While I am initiating conversations increasingly, I don’t want to mimic someone else’s style, which might be bolder and louder, I want to grow into the approach that is right for me. I’m planning on reading a book that Miasuggested to me called Quiet, which is about introverted leadership styles, and I look forward to defining what leadership looks like for me from a place of confidence.

So what can you take from Kerry’s story? What unlikely big bold move might you consider making that ties together your interests, and pushes your goals forward?

What do you want to set in motion today, that you can look back on at this time next year thinking, ‘that’s when it all started’?