The Happy Engineer Podcast

005: Find Perfect Fit with Kate Terrell

In this episode, face fear, overcome imposter syndrome and find your perfect career fit with Kate Terrell. Her life was changed by “9/11” (September 11, 2001 being in Manhattan). Since then, her success and resume in developing talent is too long to outline.

Currently, Kate is the Chief People Officer at rapidly growing startup, Aktana. She is the former SVP & CHRO at Driscoll’s. And before that, where we first met, she was VP of HR for the Global Products Organization at Whirlpool Corporation.

But it’s not her stratospheric accomplishments that will draw you into this conversation. Kate is an engineer’s executive. She looked at the worst case scenario, faced her fears, and took action.


The Happy Engineer Podcast




Listen on Apple Podcasts // Spotify // Android // iHeartRadio



Knowledge is not power. Only knowledge that you use in your life is power. So, listening to this conversation with Kate has no meaning, no purpose, no value in your life, if you do not take action and create change as a result. First off, have you had a moment to fully step back and reflect on your career path recently? Kate recommends it at least every year.

When was the last time you paused and took intentional time to reflect on the fit between yourself and your work? I love what Kate shared in this conversation. Pay attention. It wasn’t about your income, your title, or prestige. There are three things to look at:

  1. Is the work interesting and engaging?
  2. Are you getting opportunities for growth?
  3. Are you making an impact?

Ask yourself those questions, then dig beyond the “yes” or “no.” We want to assess if the work that you’re doing, and the company that you work for, still a FIT? 

Now imagine you are looking for a change. Or maybe a big promotion or new opportunity comes your way. Do you have the courage and confidence to go for it? I talk to engineering leaders every week who are trying to figure out the right answer between this job or that one, this company or that one. You are going to love how Kate describes her own emotional journey with making tough calls. Her response to the self-doubt and wondering, “Do I have what it takes?Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

The cognitive negativity bias is so strong, and engineers have it worse than anyone, because we have been TRAINED to find every problem! So we see ourselves in the worst possible light.

And I want you to know that you are capable of more than you think. I believe in you. I know that you can do more than you think you can. I say that with 100% confidence as a coach, as an engineer and as someone who has worked with all kinds of people. And if you need help unlocking that, then schedule a FREE call, and let’s figure out the next step for you.

So many engineers are desperately seeking work-life balance. In this conversation with Kate, we also talked about being fully present in work-life integration. How do I integrate career fit in a way that’s going to be fulfilling, and really creates the happiness in my life that I desire? Let’s start with your relationship to time. If you’re fully present in the moment, it directly relates to the quality of how you experience life. Versus if you are constantly distracted, constantly pulled between 5, 6 or 7 demands and different inputs from the moment you wake up until you set your head back down on the pillow, you’ll be scrolling and working until your eyes glaze over. And that leaves you feeling empty.

You must carve time out for yourself for activities that are single tasked and fully present. Listen, notice things, observe, get curious and cut out all the distractions. Even if you’re only able to do that for 15 minutes a day, start somewhere. If you can make it an hour or 90 minutes, great. I want you to start carving out that time for intentional, fully present time starting now. It is such a simple, but powerful practice to begin experiencing a higher quality of life and the happiness that you’re looking for.

Listen all the way to end of this conversation, because I love Kate’s final question for you. What do you value most? Do you REALLY know the answer? I know that most of my Clients, leaders who have been in their careers for decades and done dozens of conferences and corporate trainings… most of them have never gone deep enough to fully discover the answer for their own life. If you want to go deeper, let’s chat. Don’t be a lone wolf. There’s a community of engineers and coaches out there who are going to support you, but you have to take the first step.





As Chief People Officer, Kate is responsible creating and aligning Aktana’s people strategy to better enable our business to achieve key results. Throughout an employee’s lifecycle, Kate and her team provide the frameworks to ensure we have the right leadership and talent and an engaged organization, enabled to perform. Kate is a purpose-driven, results-oriented professional, with experience in large-, mid-, and small-market companies, both privately and publicly held.

Prior to Aktana, Kate was the CHRO for Driscoll’s, the world’s berry company. She also held several leadership roles at Whirlpool, including the people strategy and execution for their global product development organization. Kate has a unique background that spans over 20 years across a variety of Human Resource, Talent, Learning, Change Management, and Consulting experiences. Her resume includes other companies such as Accenture, Limited Brands, and Eagle Family Foods (a GE Capital/Warburg Pincus Joint Venture).

In addition to her professional work, for more than 15 years, Kate has been affiliated with LeaderShape Inc, a non-profit, leadership development organization whose focus is to help young adults learn to live and lead with integrity. She joined their Board of Trustees in 2011 and became board chair in 2017.





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

Zach White: [00:00:00] Welcome back engineers. It’s awesome to be with you again. I am here today with a friend of mine who goes way back to my Whirlpool days, Kate Terrell. And Kate is the Chief People Officer at Aktana. And I’d love that it’s Chief People Officer, we’re going to talk more about that, but Kate has been in roles at the VP and Chief level with companies like Driscoll’s with Whirlpool Corporation, she has had some amazing experiences on both the

[00:00:36] Big side of business and in the startup side of business, and also has sat on the Board for an amazing organization called LeaderShape. If you’re not familiar with them, check them out. Since 2012, she served at LeaderShape, which is a nonprofit that provides incredible leadership training to college students and young professionals.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:55] I got a chance to be a part of that many years ago. It’s an incredible place. And Kate, thank you so much for making time to be with us today.

[00:01:03] Kate Terrel: [00:01:03] Yeah, Zach, I’m really happy to be here. It’s a lot of fun.

[00:01:07] Zach White: [00:01:07] This is amazing. So, Kate, you come from the HR and people side of the world and for the engineer listening, some of our, you know, experiences with HR are great.

[00:01:15] Some aren’t so great and like, Hey, what’s going on here? Why should we listen to this person? And what I love about your background is you’ve led the people function of the business from the highest level. On both the fortune 500 and big giant organization side of the coin, but also now as the chief people officer and , uh, a really agile, small startup environment, and you’ve seen both sides and feel free to take this whatever direction it triggers for you, Kate, but w what have you learned from being on both extreme.

[00:01:51] About people. Yeah.

[00:01:54] Kate Terrel: [00:01:54] You know, there are really interesting things about both of those extremes. And if I, if I think about , um, my large company experience, It really taught me. What, what does it mean to have phenomenal leaders in an organization to really help people activate their careers and there’s structure and all of those things around that to help people progress.

[00:02:21] When I look at , um, a small startup organization, it looks different, but employees. The same thing. They want interesting and challenging work. They want to be able to grow and they want to be in an environment where they feel like they can make a difference and they can make an impact. And, you know, it’s been interesting for me as I’ve, I’ve stepped back and I’ve thought about it.

[00:02:46] I think it all comes down to , um, for individuals and people it’s about fit.. Am I in the right organization for me to be able to thrive and to make an impact , um, thinking about those things. There are great and amazing things about really large companies. And there are great and amazing things about really small companies.

[00:03:09] And sometimes we go into one type or the other type, because we think we should, or that’s what’s there. And then what we discover is as companies grow and change, particularly in a startup environment, right? Because what you need at the beginning of a startup environment versus what you need as you start to grow in scale is different.

[00:03:29] That fit may also change. And so I think that’s really important for individuals is, are they thinking about what are their career needs? What are their development areas? What stage is the company in? And is that a match for their passions, their interests, all of those things.

[00:03:48] Zach White: [00:03:48] This is interesting. So I, you know, I coach engineers from all over the world and all different career stages and a lot of them.

[00:03:54] Have this belief that, oh, if I only worked in a startup, then I would be happier with my career or, oh, I need to get out of this small company and get a job at apple or Google or one of these big tech companies. And that’s what will make me happy in my career. You just said, what people want in both environments is, is the same work that you can get really excited about opportunities for growth.

[00:04:22] And impact in the organization, a sense of purpose, which of those three would you say is the place where people get disconnected the most? Like what’s the hardest one when you talk about fit from your experience? Yeah,

[00:04:37] Kate Terrel: [00:04:37] I think , um, some of it can be, is there the right type of work? Right? So is this the work that gets you excited?

[00:04:49] Yeah. And energized to come in. And part of it is in, and the needs of the company. Right. Are those, are those the match? Certainly you have to feel connected to the purpose, to the impact that you’re able to make. But I think that again, different companies need different things at different stages. And so sometimes yeah.

[00:05:12] What a company needs and what you want are different. And so you have to ask like, oh, is this the right fit? And sometimes what you need and what the company needs are a phenomenal match. And that’s where you get the energy and the excitement and the, oh my God, I wake up and I can’t wait to start to dive into some of these, these challenges.

[00:05:33] And so I think when you’re evaluating those things, and again, it’s. It’s not what people tell you, you should want. It’s really about like what makes, what makes you tick and what is the business need? Because you can’t look at those separately,

[00:05:46] Zach White: [00:05:46] then here’s what I’m curious about.  I love what you say there. Kate, tell me, where do we get stuck then? Like there’s. Oftentimes a sense of that energy and that fit when we start, we get to a new place and we’re excited and you know, that work is engaging and interesting, et cetera. And then a lot of people hit a plateau or they feel stuck or burned out with what’s missing.

[00:06:09] What is it that leads to people going from great fit to totally frustrated?

[00:06:16] Kate Terrel: [00:06:16] Yeah, I think sometimes it has to do with, are you , um, Are you stepping back to reflect and I think we can get so caught up in the day-to-day and the commotion, and I’ve got to do this, and I’ve got to do that, that we don’t step back and reflect.

[00:06:36] And I think further, we also , um, can tell stories in our, in our head, right. And all of a sudden we have these beliefs and those may hold us back. Those may hold us back from. Reaching out to do a special project that you think is going to be really cool and exciting. It may hold us back from going, gosh, it’s time to make a change.

[00:06:59]Um, I think all of those things come together and if you don’t have that regular time to stop and reflect it, it can be like all of a sudden you wake up and you’re like, oh, wow. This isn’t coming together the way I thought it would be. And being able to have that open dialogue as well as like, this is, this is what my aspirations are.

[00:07:20] This is what gets me really excited. How do I continue to evolve? And, and quite frankly, really focusing on what you can do, because even in your current role, you may just need to go, wow. I need to approach this in a completely different way. And if I do that, It is going to be additive. And oftentimes we, we don’t just stop and challenge ourselves a bit.

[00:07:44] Zach White: [00:07:44] How often is this happening? I mean, the engineer listening, you know, they’ve got their notepad out and they’re like, Hey, Kate said, stop and reflect. Like, is this a daily thing? Is this a monthly thing? Like for you, what would you recommend to someone? How often should you ask these kinds of career fit questions?

[00:07:57] Kate Terrel: [00:07:57] I think you need to do it probably every six months to a year.

[00:08:02] And there are some people who may want to do it monthly, and there’s some people who may want to do it weekly. Like, I don’t know that there’s a one prescription that’s everybody, but I think at least once a year, you’re stepping back and you’re saying, okay, here’s where I am. Here’s what is really, really exciting.

[00:08:18] Here’s where I need to shift. Here’s maybe where I need help in shifting, because oftentimes, you know, our paradigms can be so strong, like breaking that paradigm can be difficult. And so, you know, do you have your. Board of directors, so to speak, who can help you challenge those paradigms? Do you have a mentor at work or your, your manager at work who can help you with some of those things?

[00:08:44] I think those are great conversations and, you know, oftentimes we get so caught up that we forget to take, take time to reflect.

[00:08:54]Zach White: [00:08:54] What, what type of people sit on? Kate’s personal board of directors. I mean, you, you’re a, you are the board of directors for most of us, right? You’re at the role that everybody dreams to get to being at that chief level.

[00:09:05] And so, so in your life who sits on that, that board, or what, what advice would you give to somebody who says I don’t really have that. I need to create that.

[00:09:14] Kate Terrel: [00:09:14] You know, for me, it is , um, some people who have been instrumental in giving me opportunities earlier in my career and have had really honest conversations.

[00:09:28] It is also , um, one of the things that I I love is really trying to build also diverse. Perspectives and backgrounds. So again, it’s not just, oh, I’m only going to, you know, have previous managers or whatever. I like to have different people who are going to have different perspectives that bring that in some may be folks.

[00:09:49] Who’ve been my peers. Because, you know, I really respect and admire the perspective that they bring. Some of those folks, again, are folks who gave me the shot early on. And some of those people are ones where I’m like, you have a very different perspective than I do. Like I want to hear your thoughts on this, and that’s really valuable and it should be a core, a core group of people that you can rely on when you are.

[00:10:13] Thinking about, and you’re reflecting about your career, what you want, what are next steps? All of those things

[00:10:22] Zach White: [00:10:22] for the engineer, listening to this one thing I see a lot is this lone Wolf mentality, you know, flexing your intelligence and you I’m going to read another book about that, and I’m going to continue to do this on my own and just encourage you listening.

[00:10:36] So take this insight from Kate seriously, you know, who are those people? And don’t overthink it. Just let let’s find those people who are in your inner circle, who, you know, who you trust, who can provide that diverse perspective and create these times for reflection and really stepping back from what’s going on.

[00:10:52] Is the work still aligned? Is there still a fit? I really liked that, that perspective. Yeah. Kate speaking of paradigms , uh, I can’t think of , uh, a group of people who might arguably be labeled more as having, you know, stereotypical or strong paradigms about life than engineers. You know, we are our whole set of memes just about engineers and, and in many cases we’re proud of that.

[00:11:17] And in other cases, maybe not so much, but I’m curious. You’ve you’ve led all functions of the business. You know, you’ve led engineering and product development teams. You know, now you’re responsible for the entire organization and have been in other large companies. What is it about engineers that you would say is, is unique or different?

[00:11:35] Like how, how do we want to become more aware of our, our strengths and weaknesses that are sort of unusual if you will, or are maybe where are we the same? And we just don’t realize it. Like, what’s been your experience with this unique breed of employee, the engineer.

[00:11:51] Kate Terrel: [00:11:51] Yeah. I had 6,000 of them, I think at Whirlpool , um, you know, engineers are, they are unique and the fact that I think very structured, very detail oriented , um, and those are really wonderful.

[00:12:04] I also think about , um, Systems thinking, right? The engineer wants to know how the system works and like, those are really important attributes and they are things that we, we need. I think on the flip side, one of the things that engineers can learn is. Sometimes we don’t have all of the details and we have to think about our intuition.

[00:12:30] We also have to think about that EKU, right. That emotional. And it was funny. I had an interaction with an engineer where , um, we’re driving some change and it’s not just a, Hey, here are the details. Go do it. There’s still that need. And that desire. I want to connect. I want to have the emotional connectivity to be able to deliver on the change that’s going on.

[00:12:58] And so in that way, I think , um, engineers are just like everybody else. Right? They, they need that as well. Now they may need it in a more detailed and granular level that other or other individuals that’s. Okay. Um, but it is that same. I want to feel that connection. I want you to help me as well. It’s not just, you know, numbers and data and everything else.

[00:13:21] It’s a big part of it, but there’s more to it

[00:13:24] Zach White: [00:13:24] for the engineer who wants to make it to this director and VP level, the places, you know, above individual contributor work. You’re, you’re out of just the engineering department from your perspective, where have you seen. You know, sort of the engineer gone wrong.

[00:13:38] Like you get to that level and something about the way you show up in that place, you know, you’re missing something. What, what have you seen tell us about those?

[00:13:48] Kate Terrel: [00:13:48] Yeah, that’s a great question. I think one of the biggest things that I see, and this is frustrating is I see engineers who want the director or the VP title.

[00:14:02] But they get their energy from doing that technical work and the depth of technical work. And they go, oh my gosh, to advance my career. I have to lead these big teams or these big, and they hate it. Right. And that’s not their sweet spot. And that plays out not only for them, but for their, for their organizations.

[00:14:21] And, you know, you know, I love the fact I know at Whirlpool and at the, at the place that I’m at now , Um, how do you have a technical track? Right. So you can continue to grow and develop, and there’s leadership that is involved in that, but it’s different than leading big teams. And so I think for the person who does like, , like, if you get your energy by getting results through others, by coaching and creating a vision and creating that followership.

[00:14:50] To achieve that result, then that’s phenomenal and continue to figure out how you grow and develop in that way, but also really know yourself to say, Is that where I get my energy or do I get my energy really diving into this technical problem and figuring it out. And, oh, by the way, sharing my learnings with people, because I want to share my learnings, but I don’t have that day-to-day responsibility of people leadership because I get to get in and figure out how things, how things really work and how I can level it to really help the business, the project, whatever that might mean.

[00:15:29] Zach White: [00:15:29] This is super important. We got to sit on this moment for just a second, because it is really tempting to want to go after the bigger paycheck, the bigger title, you know, especially if you’re an engineer who’s been successful by driving results in the technical work. And there’s this sense of, well, the next step is manager director VP.

[00:15:53] You, you mentioned at the very beginning of our conversation, that it’s the type of work that actually drives a big part of that fit. And then we lose sight of the actual type of work that a director or VP is doing versus the accolades and the, the belief of uh, you know, that’s what achievement looks like.

[00:16:14] Right? So for the person listening to this, like please push, pause for a moment and ask the real question. Not do you want to be a doctor? Do you want to do what a director does every day to drive the organization forward? Is that really career fit for you? Yeah, you got, okay. This is like, I, I, you know, I wish somebody had said this to every engineer before we got to those levels, because what happens is unfortunately to your point, you get there and then you realize this is what I want

[00:16:42] Kate Terrel: [00:16:42] to do.

[00:16:42] And people tell stories, right? They tell stories have to be successful. You have to be a director or you have to be this. And. Let’s blow that right out of the water, right. To be successful. You need to be in a role that is a great fit that, you know, you get up excited about the work you’re doing every day.

[00:17:01] That’s what success looks like.

[00:17:05] Zach White: [00:17:05] Yeah, this is the happy engineer podcast. And I am yet to meet a happy engineer who is at a director or above level. And doesn’t love doing the kind of work that you described, that visionary coaching team, leading organizational development type of work. So just make note of that for all of our college grads, listening to this, the people, Hey, I want to be VP one day, settle down.

[00:17:27] Let’s take it one step at a time. In the spirit of reflecting then. Okay. I love you said, take the time, ask these questions six months, 12 months, pause and reflect. Uh, let’s reflect about Kate for a second. Yeah. Take us back. You know, know, you’ve had incredible success by all measures in your career and you know, a a lot of.

[00:17:48] Listening, like, Hey , how, how do I get that? How do you move up? How did you get to these levels? You know, even though it’s, it’s HR, rather than engineering, a lot of those principles are, are the same. So take us back. Like, what was the point in your career journey where you had to really ask yourself the hard question.

[00:18:05] Am I ready for the next level? Is this what I want? Is this what I value? And, you know, your courage had to come to the table to keep pressing through. What’s a moment from your story that stands out in that way. Uh, there,

[00:18:17] Kate Terrel: [00:18:17] there are, there are so many , um, and I’ll tell you one was , um, taking the job at Whirlpool and I will tell you that because I had been.

[00:18:29] In Columbus for I’ll just say a long time. I had , um, I had a husband who had his own business. Right. He had his own business. We were, we were our friends. Like we, we built a life there and I get this opportunity to move to Michigan. Right. And there’s a woman who is in Columbus, Ohio. I was like move to Michigan, but move to Michigan, go to work for this, you know?

[00:18:55] Phenomenal company, but moved to a very small town where we didn’t know anyone where we didn’t have the support network. My husband quit his job, essentially. Like, you know, his partner took over the rest of the business and we made that move. And I agonized over that re like that was a risk. And I remember my husband saying.

[00:19:15] The worst thing that can happen is you hate it. And we moved back and , um, and it was like, okay , like, I can take this risk. Like you can always, you can always adjust. Right. And what I found was from a career standpoint, That was a phenomenal opportunity for me from a growth, from a development, from a learning perspective and from getting to impact on the business, because what I loved about my experience, there was there were growth opportunities all over the place.

[00:19:47]Um, but had I let my fear hold me back from taking that risk. When you and I probably wouldn’t be here talking today. Right. And I don’t know, quite frankly, that I also would have had the courage to again, take the leap from Whirlpool to dress skulls. Right. I move 2000 miles across the country , um, to be able to come out here.

[00:20:10] And again, that was another one where, okay. Well, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a big move. It’s a big adjustment. It’s a different industry. It’s all of those, all of those things. Um, and then, you know, quite frankly, and then I’ll, I’ll be quiet, but then the move going into a startup, like, oh my gosh, life sciences, tech, startup.

[00:20:28] I knew I have the core , um, Tenants have really great HR people, all of those things. But now, like how do I apply this in a, in an environment that is really, really different. Um, but you do those things. And what I found is it’s a, it’s a very different experience than my past ones. And it is very additive to my overall portfolio of experiences.

[00:20:50] And so I’ve been able to learn, and hopefully I’ve also been able to have a positive impact on that business as we continue to.

[00:20:59] Zach White: [00:20:59] So, okay. If you go back to Columbus and you’re making this decision to uproot your family and take this risk to go to Whirlpool, what was it that you were most afraid of when it comes to career fit?

[00:21:15] Kate Terrel: [00:21:15] I think there were two things. One. I wanted to be sure that my family would be happy. Um, right. Like that’s a big adjustment. And to, you know, I am, I’m a very achievement oriented individual and I, I wanted to be able to be successful. Right. I wanted to be able to get up there and, you know, demonstrate that I could, that I could make an impact.

[00:21:39] And that fear, right. That tension of like, can I, can I really do that is one of those things where you’re like, okay,

[00:21:47] Zach White: [00:21:47] Kate to somebody in that place asking the question, do I have what it takes? Can I, can I do it? Maybe there’s a role they want to apply for internally for promotion. And there, they’re not even sure if they should apply because.

[00:22:01] Not sure if I have what it takes or, you know, I’ve been in this role for five years and I’d love to change companies and maybe move, but, you know, I hate to leave a good thing for something that may fail, you know? Yeah. Like they’re connecting with what you’re saying right now, but what would you offer that person who’s stuck in that place right now of fear that I’m not sure if I have what it takes.

[00:22:23] Kate Terrel: [00:22:23] I think you give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Like our inner critic can be so strong and you need to give yourself the benefit of the doubt and. And you need to have confidence that maybe that next opportunity wasn’t the best opportunity, but you’ll learn something from it. You’ll learn that you need to adjust.

[00:22:48] You learn that you need to do something different and having that confidence in your capabilities that okay. Even if this wasn’t the best thing and it didn’t work out, I still learned from it and I’m still able to adjust and I still have great skill and capability that I can bring to. An organization, whatever that might be.

[00:23:09] Zach White: [00:23:09] Does it get easier to face those fears?

[00:23:13] Kate Terrel: [00:23:13] No. No, it doesn’t. Right. Like, I think there’s something innate about humans where that fear or that inner voice , um, continues to be very real. And quite frankly, you know, as I’ve , um, Had more of my, my career. Like, you also know what the, like the stakes now for me to move.

[00:23:35]Um, or did you, like they’re much higher than they were when I was early in my grade. When you’re early your career, like the stakes are different. I’m not going to say they’re less or more, but the stakes are different. And so, um, it, yeah, I think it’s always, it’s always there and you just have to push yourself.

[00:23:54] Zach White: [00:23:54] I mean, it’s amazing to hear you say this from your position, right? We can’t argue with the fact that you’ve moved into now, the chief level roles at huge organizations and in startups. You clearly found career fit. So, you know, we can’t kind of pull the well easy for you to say thing like you’ve lived it. But one thing I tell my clients is that the perspective on how hard the next step is for somebody who’s way behind.

[00:24:19] You know, it’s like, Hey, that next step should be so that’s so small. That’s so easy. It’s so simple, you know, but, but it’s easy for you to say because you’re looking back at a step you already took, right. That’s right for them. That next step is just as hard as your next step is. And the truth is every next level.

[00:24:37] Next step, bigger thing is going to trigger the same. Core question. Do I have what it takes? And I love to hear you say, Hey, buckle up. If you want to go achieve big things in your career, you’re going to face a lot of these moments where fear stands between you and taking action, and you got to move through it.

[00:24:59] And I love this. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt you better.

[00:25:03] Kate Terrel: [00:25:03] It is. And I’ll tell you a really quick story. I was working for Accenture , um, at nine 11, I was in Manhattan. I was working there, you know, fortunately, you know, I was fine, but I was having, you know, after, you know, shortly thereafter I was having a conversation with one of my mentors.

[00:25:20] And at that point, I loved working for Accenture. I loved the work that I was doing, but my personal life was in a very different place because I was living and working in one city and I’d come home on the weekends and I was cheating and everything else. And she just looked at me. We are having a glass of wine and she just looked at me and she said, Kate, what would you do if you weren’t.

[00:25:41] What would you do if you weren’t afraid? And that, I mean, it stuck with me like how many years later? And it really stopped me to reflect, and it took me about another year, but that was when I made a decision to get off the road to find what was the next chapter for me. I ended up meeting the person who is now my husband, but that question, even though, you know, my life.

[00:26:07] I had this great career. I had worked that I loved, but I had a, I had a different void question is so important. I think, and again, it sticks with me to this day.

[00:26:19] Zach White: [00:26:19] I love this little it’s really subtle point, but it’s super interesting that the question, the moment of that conversation, it was a year later before your life really shifted from the impact of.

[00:26:32] Question. And sometimes I think we look in such a short time horizon, like, oh man, I listened to this podcast and nothing changed in my life. Yeah. But, but sometimes the, the question or the, the mentor who says the right thing at the right time. It’s not like the next day. Everything changes. Sometimes that seed has to germinate and grow for a little while before it comes above the soil and actually creates change in your life.

[00:26:56] And, but hold on, we got to back up for a second. You were there in Manhattan around one of the most pivotal times in history. Just really quick. Tell us what that was like for you. Oh,

[00:27:10] Kate Terrel: [00:27:10] You know, it was a devastating time for our, our country. And at the same time you saw a community come together to really rally something that was very, very difficult.

[00:27:24]Um, and you know, for me, it was one of those wild, like life can change. Life can change pretty quickly. How do you assess all the different components of, of your life? And so it, it was pretty impactful to be , um, to be in the middle of that or be so close to it,

[00:27:44] Zach White: [00:27:44] right? Yeah. Yeah. How did the intensity of that experience, how has that stayed with you?

[00:27:52] How does it impact you now?

[00:27:56] Kate Terrel: [00:27:56] You know, I think , uh, One of the things, and this is a theme throughout my life is , um, there were a lot of things when nine 11 happened that were out of our control, my control, those types of things. And I think being able to focus on, and that can be really frustrating. Right.

[00:28:15] When you think about everything’s outside of your control, how do you take the one or the two things? That you can control that you can impact and focus there because that’s a lot less frustrating than thinking about everything else that’s on there. And I think we can often, and I, I take that lesson. Um, I’ve taken it throughout my life.

[00:28:40]Um, and yeah. You have to be able to focus on what you can control. Like that’s where you find power and energy. And if you continue to focus on things that you can’t control , um, it’s frustrating and it’s de-motivating um, and so that’s something that I think does carry through. So, you know, this big thing happened.

[00:28:58] Okay, well, what can I do? You can reassess your life and you can, you know, look at your , um, your values, your priorities, all of those things, and make sure that you’re doing, you know, what you want, you know, whatever that looks like for you. Um, can you make a contract? You know, what is your contribution to helping, right?

[00:29:17]And, and, and helping a community that was, was devastated, devastated by something like that.

[00:29:22]Zach White: [00:29:22] The,  the phrase. Work-life balance pops into my mind. When I hear you describe reassessing, you know, where you value spending time and energy. And, and, you know, this is a tough topic in the world recently with having come through , uh, the season of the global pandemic and COVID and how that has impacted work-life balance.

[00:29:42] But what, what would you say. The biggest things you’ve learned, you’re in a huge role leading the organization as a chief people officer, like how do you frame up the idea of work-life balance in your own journey? Yeah.

[00:29:57] Kate Terrel: [00:29:57] Well, first I’ll be provocative and say, I don’t really believe in work-life balance.

[00:30:03] Zach White: [00:30:03] I believe I’m so glad

[00:30:06] Kate Terrel: [00:30:06] I do not.

[00:30:06] I do not. And work-life integration because the fact that matters is what work-life balance. What I think you’re trying to get from it is that. In whatever you’re doing, whether it’s personal, it’s professional, you want to be engaged and you want to be fully present in that moment. And there are times when work is hugely demanding and there are times when your personal life or something, it’s, it is.

[00:30:33] Hugely demanding. And the fact of the matter is it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. How do you get those different pieces to fit together in a way that works for you and allows you to engage the way you want to engage? And so that’s, the key to me is figuring out how those pieces of the puzzle fit together in the right way that make you feel , um, that make you feel energized and whole.

[00:31:02] Zach White: [00:31:02] Be fully present. I love that phrase, but that’s partly because I’m a coach and I, I know for myself what that means and how, how I show up in the world. But when I was in my engineering days, I really wouldn’t have had a clue what you mean by that. So can you describe in layman’s terms? Like what do you mean by being fully present?

[00:31:28] Kate Terrel: [00:31:28] I think it means you are listening. I think it means you are noticing. You’re you’re taking the time to not be distracted. And quite frankly, you know, in today’s day and age, you’ve got slack going, you’ve got text messages, but you can have all of these things that divert your attention. And it’s hard.

[00:31:52] Like I know for me, it is really, really hard. But are you, are you, are you there? Are you listening? Are you engaging? Are you noticing, are you stopping to notice? Um, those are the things to me that say, oh yeah. Okay. I’m, I’m fully present in this,

[00:32:11] Zach White: [00:32:11] the systems and the technology and the company cultures that we work in. I’m just going to pound this home. Cause I think it’s so important. What Kate just discussed. Being fully present means no distraction means being able to apply a hundred percent of your conscious mind to listening and noticing and being with what’s happening in this moment.

[00:32:36] And we have so much built in that’s, you know, productivity multipliers at at least as they’re branded that way. Right. But at the exact same time, when you have all of those inputs happening at the same time, you are preventing yourself from being fully present, which limits your ability to experience life, the way that you just described this fulfilling, happy flowing, integrated state.

[00:33:02] And so how do we fight? Sort of culture towards constant distraction and multitasking, which isn’t a thing either. It is not agree with this idea of like, I want to be fully present. Like that’s how I want to live and it’s important for career fit, but this, you know, the systems in the company and he’s like, how do you reconcile it?

[00:33:24] Kate Terrel: [00:33:24] Yeah. Uh, first I think it’s really hard in today’s day and age.

[00:33:28]Um, I will say carving time. Yeah. Focus time, right? Scheduling it. Like this is focus time. You know, one of the other things that I did recently is I went through my phone and I shut off a ton of notifications. Like yeah. Binging at me. And so, um, that is also helpful, right? Because like we were Pavlov’s dog, right.

[00:33:53] Things. I got to go look at my phone, I got to see what’s there. And so those are a couple of simple things, knowing that it is, it is really hard in today’s

[00:34:01] Zach White: [00:34:01] day and age. Yes. I love the specific action to carve time out. And just to add to that a lot of times, We take no action because I’m not able to solve the whole problem.

[00:34:13] You know what? Kate there’s distractions. So what am I going to do? Well, if you can carve out an hour, a day of pure focused work in a flow state in a way that’s fully present, you’re still gonna enjoy that life more than zero. It’s like, just because you eat one unhealthy thing doesn’t mean you should throw the whole diet out the window for the next six months.

[00:34:33] Right. Just bite off what you can. And, and make that incremental step forward. I love that great engineering and great coaching. Kate. I, I always end with this. I think we know that questions lead and the answers follow. We want to ask ourselves great questions and I know we could go a thousand more directions with your story and all the amazing experiences you’ve had.

[00:34:54] But, you know, just to wrap this up, if the engineer listening is, is asking the question, you know, how do I. Get to this place of happiness and fulfillment. And I want to be a VP of engineering one day. And how am I going to make this happen? What would be the best question to lead them with?

[00:35:12] Kate Terrel: [00:35:12] I think the question I would ask myself is what do you value?

[00:35:19] And list all of your values. What are they? You know, it might be achievement. It might be personal time. It might be wealth creation. It might be any of those things, list them all and then continue to narrow them down until you get to your top three and then take an inventory of how you are living those values.

[00:35:44] And what’s in sync. And maybe what’s out of think so that you can make an adjusted.

[00:35:50] Zach White: [00:35:50] What do you value? I love that question. And I can tell you with the engineers that I coach Kate, a lot of times we have not spent any quality time with even what are my values, period. Let alone boiling it down to the top three, which is that’s something I’m going to have to take and go home and do that’s really great.

[00:36:12] Kate. Thank you so much for this time. I know people listening are going to be curious about who you are and Octa and the work you’re doing and, you know, leadership and the work that they do. Just uh, you know, if somebody wants to connect with you or get to know more about what you’re up to, where would you point people?

[00:36:27] Where can they find out more?

[00:36:29] Kate Terrel: [00:36:29] Wow. They can always go to my LinkedIn profile, which is just Kate Terrell , um, or, you know, they can feel and feel free to reach out that way. That’s probably the best way to, to learn more about.

[00:36:40] Zach White: [00:36:40] And if somebody wants to find Aktana and you just really briefly tell us where you’re at now and what you all are doing, how they can get.

[00:36:48] Yeah.

[00:36:48] Kate Terrel: [00:36:48] So  is a technology company that really helps life sciences and pharmaceutical companies deliver to connect the healthcare , um, connect with the healthcare providers. And so we’ve got an amazing technology platform. We are located in San Francisco. Um, you can find out more about us at

[00:37:10] Zach White: [00:37:10] awesome. So we’ll put that in the show notes and for the engineers seeking career fit who love to geek out on tech and what’s going on some really amazing things happening in that organization. Well, Kate can’t thank you enough. This has been fantastic. And uh, just wish you a ton of success with what you’re doing there at Aktana and the work you continue to do and volunteering and helping shape leaders around the country and the world.

[00:37:30] And , uh, I hope we can connect again sometime soon.

[00:37:33] Kate Terrel: [00:37:33] Zach I’ve really enjoyed our time together and look forward to talking again

[00:37:37] Zach White: [00:37:37] in the future. Awesome. Thanks. Kate.