A crash course in resilience: how In HER Element helped Katie Nelson find her way to a new future.
Failure can sting, especially when we are following our dreams.
The year is 2008. A sports-loving high achiever, Katie Nelson had pinned her hopes on a career in the medical field and was excited to take the next step with a graduate degree.
Then: bam! A waitlist note from her chosen graduate school arrived. End of the dream: no graduate degree? A catalyst to potentially change career choices.
Fast forward 13 years and Katie is living a new type of dream – a thriving career as a sales leader with a deep sense of purpose.
In those years, Katie has learned the power of resilience, adaptability and, as a graduate of the 2019 In HER Element program, has discovered that she can shape how her unique talents become “success.”
We caught up with Katie to see how she is living In HER Element.
Tell us about your graduate school waitlist experience.
I came from a small town with a nurturing environment, was a good student, played all the sports, and most everything came easy to me at that point in my life. When I went to college, almost nothing went to plan so I began to understand what it meant to face adversity for the first time with no real tools for overcoming them. I graduated from college with a degree in Psychology and minors in Biology, Chemistry and Physics and wanted to pursue a career in the medical field.
But then I got waitlisted from graduate school in a recession year where jobs were limited. With my career goals on hold, I needed to figure out a new path.
That must have felt like quite a hit. What did you do about it?
I had to get a crash course in resiliency. I was the typical kid who never really experienced failure, so when it happened, I didn’t know how to recover. It was a hard thing for me to overcome and at the time, I didn’t have the tools to figure out my next step.
I knew I needed a job, so I worked a few jobs right out of college at a restaurant, dental office, and retail store. I knew none of these were my chosen path but I was doing what a lot of people were doing in 2008 - putting my dreams on hold and finding a way to pay the bills.
One day, as I was at an airport while traveling, I randomly met a consultant who worked for Concord. They were hiring for a Resource Manager role and suggested I apply. I knew nothing about the business world, nothing about tech, and had never entertained that I would be in the business world; however, I was considering graduate school again and thought the interview experience would be beneficial.
By that point, everything I had planned in my life hadn’t worked out. I had learned that instead of making plans I just needed to plan to be surprised and walk through the open door.
How did you find In HER Element?
My boss connected me to the program. He knew Laura Woodward and Paula Winkler (of The Disruptive Element) and asked me if I was interested in getting involved in a leadership development program. It was in that moment that I realized that through all the changes I had gone through, I hadn’t been intentional about personal or professional development - ever. I had spent 8 years with Concord, heads down, focused on everyone else’s needs except my own. I wanted to be better both personally and professionally.
You had never met the other women in your In HER Element cohort before. How did you approach that experience?
I like to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone at times but this felt like a huge leap since I had no idea what to expect. Because I had never participated in any program like this and knew I needed a change, I decided to go “all in” with an open mind. I was completely vulnerable about where I was personally and professionally even though I was really uncomfortable. I knew I was going to be intimidated by a group full of women of high caliber who I didn’t feel like I fit in with.
When I think back to walking into that room on the first day, I was really apprehensive. Laura and Paula do a great job of creating a space where you can just be you. We quickly all became friends and nobody’s title mattered anymore. We were all there for self-improvement and realized we were all dealing with the same challenges, which was a great equalizer to me and frankly, gave me the confidence to pursue a different career path.
You’re now a sales leader – that’s quite different from medicine! How did In HER Element help you shape that part of your journey?
In HER Element happened, for me, at the perfect intersection of personal and professional change.
I had fairly recently recovered from my own battle with cancer, was in the midst of shepherding my mom through her cancer journey and I was at a very polarizing point in my life where I realized I needed to start focusing on me, my health, my family and transition out of a management role.
I was craving connection – although I had a good network, I hadn’t gone outside of my Concord bubble in years. At Concord, I have performed a variety of roles. I started as a Resource Manager/Practice Manager, did some recruiting, dabbled in account management, was the Chief Resource Officer and before sales, was the Chief of Staff for two of our practice areas.
As I completed the In HER Element program, I started to understand why I felt like I needed a professional change. I loved helping, connecting, and problem solving and while I loved my job, I felt like there was more I could do. So, I got the courage to sit down with my boss and tell him that I wanted to transition into a sales role. My career transition was a direct result of my experience with the program and I’m thankful my leadership has been supportive of my desire to switch my career path.
Why do you think women’s programs such as In HER Element are important?
I believe that while women might have a different set of challenges, I don’t view that as a disadvantage. We, as women, also have different talents and abilities that we can uniquely bring to the table. So, I wanted to find a solutions-based program that helped me understand what I can control, how I can make myself better, and how to overcome barriers rather than one that focused on challenges. IHE is a results-focused program and the brain-based approach really resonated with me.
What did In HER Element change for you?
The program reconnects you to the things you care about and helps you figure out how to apply that to different areas of your life. It is intensely pragmatic and designed that way to give you time to try different things in real life and decide what works best for you.
I realized that in a world where things are happening to you, you get to take back some of that control. You can change your habits, you can change your vision, you can change your goals, you don’t have to be a bystander. You can retrain your brain. You can really do whatever you want to do. You can learn behaviors and you can un-learn behaviors.
Fast forward to 2021, I just beat cancer again, my mom succumbed to cancer early in 2020, and I’ve watched many others face challenges throughout the last year. Throughout all of these challenges, I’ve been asked several times how I stay so positive and resilient and while I can give credit to a lot of different driving forces in my life, I credit this program with teaching me how to be in the driver’s seat and choose how I want to live. The program gives you life skills that you don’t just apply at work, but they influence your life – that’s been the biggest gift of this program.
About the In HER Element program:
The In HER Element Program is a transformative leadership development cohort program for women that combines mindfulness and neuroscience with one-on-one coaching and community. Our goal for this program to build upon women’s leadership skills and empower them to be their best self. Click here to learn more.