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How it All Started...

My need to please developed early in life, by loving, well-intended parents who wanted me to be the best version of myself.  As a result, my achievements were often met with praise followed by immediate suggestions about what I could have done better.  

I subconsciously concluded the only way to be “good enough” was to seek perfection in everything I pursued. (This also prevented me from trying if I assessed that perfection was not possible.)


In my mind, my value always equaled my achievements.  


I was an overachiever, because I didn’t want anyone to see that I was HUMAN.  I sought approval from others to validate my worth. 


This attitude landed me my first regional sales manager job at 27 without a clue of how to lead people and zero training.  I was the dog who caught the pickup truck.


I moved up the ladder with more and more responsibility culminating in the role of CEO.


One of the toughest lessons I learned about what it meant to lead, was how to let go and to trust my team.  I was caught between my instinctive “knowing” about how things ‘should be done’ and my fear of letting the plane fall from the sky. 


You know, the one I was building while I was flying!  

The full weight of responsibility for the success of the entire organization rested on my shoulders.  I had employees and their families depending on me.  Largely, I was successful because I refused to let this plane crash. 


But at what cost?

Keeping The Plane in the Sky

Eventually, I hit the tipping point.


I noticed that my listening was tainted with my own perception of why things were or were not moving forward at the pace or standard that I expected.  My joy, my passion and my creativity were feeling forced or crammed in between phone calls.


Not to mention my family was tired of taking a backseat while I took care of “just one more thing” …24/7. 


It dawned on me that I had put my ‘real life’ on hold while I fully committed to the mission and purpose of the organization.


As the new CEO of a large non-profit, with 60 employees and 7 locations, I unknowingly walked into a financial turnaround.  I quickly discovered the board of directors hadn’t seen current financial reports in 5 years!  The previous executive director had walked off the job with no notice.  On my first day the CFO resigned and 2 weeks later the Development Director resigned, with the largest fundraiser of the year set for less than 90 days later.  


The plane was on fire!


I was doing everything I could to keep the doors open.  Not just because it would be a terrible loss for the employees but because this charity served people in need who counted on our services for their existence.


In my mind, failing meant that those in need of emergency services, food and clothing would not get the support they needed!


But do you know the even deeper reason I was willing to put everything on hold for this?


The overachiever in me needed the rush of wildly exceeding expectations. 


I thought, “if I can right this ship, I am good enough.”  I needed the “you’re amazing” comments to keep me going.  I thrived off of the affirmation of going above and beyond in an impossible scenario.


So as the years went on, I kept my head down and my eyes focused on perfection until the day that the organization was fully on track. 


There were no more hills to climb, or extreme rescues. The plane was flying smoothly: financials were current, the agency was working at a greater capacity than ever with fully transparent accountability at all levels.  


My work was done (or the challenge was over) and the time was right for a change.  


A new conquest began.  I was hired by a local community bank to develop a new source of non-interest income.  When I was brought on board, the bank president said, “Catherine, I am going to hire you, hand you a pad of paper and send you into the desert to start a department…all by yourself.” 


I started as an Assistant Vice President with the target of profitability within 3 years.  I made it in 18 months and was rewarded with a new title, Vice President.  I was loving it as I grew the net income from $400 to the bank the first month to $50,000 per month in year seven.  


Again, the reward I craved was affirmation that I was good enough, that I was worthy.  My personal self-worth assessment always fell short in my mind.  I instantly saw all my flaws as if in a magnifying mirror.  Receiving criticism was painful because to me it was a reflection of my value.  


My only option was to keep collecting praise and assurance that I was good enough or worthy because I did not believe it for myself. To be self-confident or self-assured seemed contrary to the humility I was conditioned to believe was the correct way to approach the world. I considered having a healthy self-esteem to be arrogant, and conceited.  


As a result I led with a false sense of humility to cover the deep well of insecurity I lived with every day.  


As you can imagine this mindset had a ripple effect in my life, both personally and professionally.  

But this was just the tip of the iceberg…I had no clue what was coming for me.

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Life is Not without Irony

It happened slowly and then suddenly… 


My biggest AH-HA moment, the passage of time in the lives of my three sons. 


  • The day my last son entered kindergarten 

  • The day he graduated from high school

  • The day my oldest son graduated from college


All of a sudden, I was an empty nester.  


There were no more waterpolo games to miss for work that just needed to get done.


I could no longer say, “I’ll catch the next one.”  


There were no more next games. 

As I looked back on all the little decisions that put my career at the top of my priorities in those moments, all the while telling myself it was necessary to provide for them.  I realize in the rear view, I had cheated myself of the joy of those moments because I was afraid to let anything fall through the cracks at work. I had to live up to my standards. 


I was afraid to trust my team.  


I was afraid of failing. 


Driven by my own personal perfection barometer.  


An incredibly insightful coach came into my life and one day in a conversation I allowed myself to see what I had been missing.  It was an epiphany that struck me like a bolt of lightning. 


I had been serving from an empty cup my entire life. 


In that conversation, I was able to see with the eyes of compassion, the child who sought to please in order to feel whole.  For the first time instead of seeing myself in the mirror that magnified my flaws, I saw myself without judgment. This clarity allowed me to recognize that I was relying on others to fill my cup instead of filling my own.  


It was clear, this is not a dress rehearsal.  There are no do-overs here.  There are only opportunities to adjust my trajectory and change my destination..


The mindset shift that changed my life happened when I connected the dots between my father’s well-intended constructive criticism after every childhood achievement and my need to flawlessly overachieve just to be “good enough”.   


I thought about how I would do ANYTHING to avoid my father’s “that was good, but…” feedback.  

It dawned on me,  I was unconsciously giving my team that same message every time I swooped in to make sure it all turned out perfectly for the client. 


My own version of “that was good, but…” prevented them from learning on their own journey.   

It hit home in a big way. My mistakes were my best teachers yet here I was running out in front of my team trying to prevent any mis-steps…


Not only was this impossible, it certainly was not the way to develop my team’s problem-solving skills.


Looking back I realized that I was holding them to an impossible standard just as I was holding myself to an equally impossible standard. .


A standard that pushed me to believe my value and self worth were steeped in avoiding mistakes.


A standard that had cost me dearly.


It was then that I stepped back from my position as a bank vice president, recognizing I couldn’t get the years of waterpolo games and scout ceremonies back but I could move forward with a new sense of my own worth, and with purposeful direction for the next chapter.


After all, I encouraged my sons to swing for the fences in their lives…but, honestly, was I walking the talk?


I took some time to dig in and explore the path and orientation of my life, the history of my career and the choices I made around my family life.  I pondered, “Am I living my best life with intentionality and awareness? OR am I serving from an empty cup?”


The answer came echoing back very clearly.     


It is with complete acknowledgement of the deep ironies in my next statement.  I saw the gift I could bring to others as the hard-earned lessons from my mistakes.  


I can help other leaders recognize, before it’s too late, that having a vision for your business is great, but having a vision for how your business serves your life is critical.  Once you create the vision for your life…the rest of the decisions are simple.  


If I could share what had happened to me and have it resonate with someone else before their kids are grown or before their business has eaten their life by helping them to develop a life plan that is fuller, richer, more intentional, and driven by their dreams - that is pure joy for me.


"And then there is the most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later."

Randy Komisar

Brass Tacks with Heart

Today, I am passionate about the team experience and even more about the joys and rewards my clients discover in becoming the ‘developer of doers’ rather than the pilot, mechanic, ground crew, baggage handlers and flight stewards all in one.


How do you make the shift from taking a break from work to squeeze in a slice of “real life” to having your business serve your “real life”? 


How do you create space between you and your brand? 


How can you trust your team to carry your brand standards with the same dedication and accountability that you have?  


How do you activate, cultivate and nurture leaders who “get it”?  


These are the questions we grapple with and solve together.  It’s what I am committed to delivering to my clients.  


I’m excited by the personal and professional empowerment that happens when team members realize how their actions impact the company financials; when their perspectives and voices are valued and validated; and when they truly understand what makes a winning decision.


I love witnessing the impact of this transformation as it strengthens profitability and fosters an unstoppable culture that fuels them to new heights.


I call this Brass Tacks with Heart.


"I've never had a conversation with Catherine in which I didn't learn something."

Catherine’s approach to coaching is as pragmatic as it is professional. Encompassing everything from business financials to family realities, she helps her clients articulate their visions for the lives they want to live.


As a result, Catherine’s clients no longer allow their businesses to run their lives. Rather, they live fulfilling lives that include their businesses.


I’ve never had a conversation with Catherine in which I didn’t learn something. And I’m continually impressed with her wisdom and her ability to combine professional concern with personal caring.

Mark O'Brien
Founder of O'Brien Communications Group

Let's Build Together...

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Why not take the next step? Let’s have a conversation.

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