The world is your oyster. Go harvest your pearl.
– Advice from Katie Mehnert’s father
One of the best things about MomCom Life is the women you get to meet, whether it’s in person, online, or on the phone.
And that was especially true when I got to chat recently with runner, mom, networker and Director of Safety and Operational Risk at British Petroleum, Katie Mehnert.
I was a little nervous going into the conversation. After all, her website Pace 2 Finish features a smartly dressed Mehnert wearing (gasp!) high heels! I’m not even sure I could find my heels in my closet most days.
But I was excited, too. I wanted to find out how she has time to work as a corporate director, find her high heels, and still find the time (and energy!) to be a wife, marathon runner and mom to a three-year old daughter.
So I dove right in….
Katie, I am impressed (and just a little intimidated) looking at all the things you’re juggling. Can you let us in on your secret?
Oh, no! I hate hearing that! The last thing I want to do is intimidate other women. What I want to do is to encourage women.
My secret? I think it all comes down to the idea of pacing, like in a marathon. A marathon isn’t a race for speed. It’s not a competition against other people. And it doesn’t all have to happen right now. It’s about doing my own personal best.
That’s why I like using marathons as a metaphor for life. When you run a marathon, you have to pace yourself, so you have enough energy to reach the finish line. You can’t run for speed, or you’ll hit a wall. You have to focus. It’s the same in life. You need to focus and pace yourself.
A lot of women think success is all about doing things fast, doing it all now. But I’ve learned it’s really about making choices, and letting some things go when you have to. It’s about mastering the power of “no”, and using it. We women can get too caught up in the idea of perfection. But in the real world, letting go of that need to always get an A+ will actually get you further. Doing something at 80% or even 50% is probably better than trying to go for perfection…because perfection doesn’t exist.
We also need to take care of ourselves first (which women don’t do!) [An aside…why are we so bad at this?]
People are surprised to find out that I don’t believe in multitasking. But you don’t run a marathon and do something else at the same time. You just run. It’s the same at work or with your kids or your husband. One thing at a time.
And what about the other people in your life?
We have to make sure the circle of people around us are the right people to support us. I did a post on the five people who are closest to you, and how important it is to have standards when you decide who’s in the inner circle. Many people don’t get that.
To me, picking your spouse is probably the most important decision you can make in life. And I have to say, my husband is amazing. He’s an attorney, so he has his own career goals but he’s always there for me and our daughter. Choosing him has made a huge difference in my life. He and my close friends and mentors, my “Personal Board of Directors,” make it possible for me to do what I do.
You work in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether women need to “lean in” to fit into the male model of business, or the model needs to change to incorporate women’s leadership styles. Which do you see as most critical right now?
Let me first say that I love Sheryl Sandberg . But I learned from a mentor of mine that women need to “lean out” as much as they need to “lean in.” Otherwise, it can quickly get overwhelming. I used to try to keep up, to compete with other people, but that didn’t work out. I hit a wall, and had to learn to pick and choose and say no when priorities clashed.
The first thing we need to do now is to stop whining. It’s time to stop over-analyzing what doesn’t work. And what’s been done wrong. The fact is, we have defined the problem to death.
The problem is not that women don’t know how to lead. Or that women are powerless. Women DO know how to lead! Moms know how to lead…they have to take care of their family and their household, and that requires all kinds of leadership skills. But we have dozens of books out there telling women they don’t know how to lead, or that they don’t have enough personal power. We need to stop that.
That’s one of the reasons for my blog. I am here to say “I am doing it, and damn it, you can do it too! ”
So what do we need?
What we all need are good male and female role models to pull other women up. We need to stop being women who compete instead of women who complete. The power is here! We women have no idea how much power we have. We get hung up over battling each other, and forget that the power of two is better than one!!
You need to build your tribe, and forget the games that too many women play. It doesn’t work, but it does give men the ammunition to label us and dismiss us instead of bringing us into the game.
I also think we need to understand that women can’t move forward without men…they got there first, let’s face it! We need them on our side if we’re going to change things. We can’t rush in and demand it. It won’t work.
I’m lucky that I have a boss who has created space for me to be a great career woman and a great mom. He’s one of those men who support bringing strong women up through the ranks. And I was lucky to have a strong female role model who pulled me up, too. That kind of support makes all the difference. We need to pick bosses and mentors who can do those things for us. And yes, we can make that choice.
I was intrigued by your post that advised women to “connect, create, share and show up.” Can you tell me how you came up with that combination?
Women and men….we’re living in a flatter world. Competition is isn’t the main thing. Now it’s about connecting, and trusting people to share. And sharing ourselves…getting vulnerable. Create something original. Let people see that you can offer something rare. Then show up and do something.
Your bio says that at age 5, you wanted to be President. If your daughter asked why there haven’t been any women Presidents, what would you tell her?
I would tell her that they were waiting for her. for her generation. I think it will happen in her generation, maybe sooner. We women bring different traits to the political table that are needed. I don’t have any interest in getting involved in anything in Washington now — I feel too disenfranchised in too many ways.
But I think it can be changed. It might take my daughter’s generation to do it. That kind of change used to be called war…it took that kind of action to change a government. But I think that with women in power, it can be more of a transformation. Look at the women who were there in the recent budget crisis in Washington. They were the ones there in the last hours, working to make it happen. We bring a collaborative approach, and that’s what’s needed now to bring the changes the government needs.
What one tool, device or lifehack is absolutely indispensable to you?
My personal board of directors. I don’t know all the answers. The knowledge is in the room, in a trusted group of people. I couldn’t do it without them.
What is your favorite way to de-stress?
The spa or a good run…one where I can think . It can be the slowest run or walk ever. It’s not about the speed. It never is.
What one piece of advice would you give to a young woman just starting her career?
Find your space. You got this, baby. Don’t question it.
Katie also told me how much she’s looking forward to MomCom 2014. “We need one of these in every city in the country!” We couldn’t agree more! Thank you, Katie Mehnert. I can’t wait to meet you at MomCom 2014 next month!
Katie Mehnert lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, three-year old daughter and a large labrodoodle. You can reach her on Twitter at @katiemehnert .