tell us a little bit about yourself
Born and raised in Pocatello, Idaho, I now live in beautiful Tacoma, Washington where I work as a strategic communications consultant. I came to communications from a background in politics, working for a decade as a policy advisor and campaign organizer for leaders like U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and former U.S. President Barack Obama. I hope to one day publish a few novels. I’m drafting two of them currently. Later in life, I will launch a third or fourth career rescuing sea turtles somewhere much warmer than the Pacific Northwest.
What’s your favorite achievement in life?
I finished the first draft of my first novel in about 11 weeks. The first draft is the hardest—beating back years of being told it wasn’t possible or “writers are just dreamers.” When it happened, I was more elated about silencing those voices than I was about the novel itself—I knew it would need two or three revisions to sculpt it into something worth sharing. But there’s a kind of magic in finishing.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Everyone needs a toolbox of strategies to survive difficult times. Journaling helps. Long runs or hikes in the mountains help. A good glass of wine, the advice (or listening ear) of a friend, a rock-out song you can belt out in traffic. Most often, it takes multiple tactics to get through.
My Dad died when I was 27 years old. I’m still processing his absence in my life nearly nine years later. In the first year after his passing, I went on a multiple-day white water rafting trip through Hells Canyon, spent a week and a half drinking in the Florida Keys, quit my job, and moved out of my home state. Sometimes the difficult times can be the most motivating.
When you close your eyes and imagine an empowered woman, what do you see?
I see a woman who doesn’t back down when she speaks her mind and receives pushback in return. After standing her ground, she feels no urge to cry or apologize or go home to hide. In fact, she doesn’t even know she’s not backing down.
Tell us about your own path to empowerment.
Like most girls, my self-confidence began disintegrating during third grade and bottomed out in my early teens. Unlike most girls, I had music as my backbone: I played flute, and I played it well. My mom hired a flute teacher who turned out to be one of best flute instructor on the planet, somehow stuck in Pocatello where her husband oversaw the university’s music department.
My flute instructor focused me on progress and self-improvement: the absolute foundation of self-confidence. She taught me to push through challenges, beat my goals, and perform under great pressure. She taught me to recognize my own voice.
What life lessons did you learn from your parents?
My father grew up in an isolated mountain town in central Idaho. It is a place without trees but often in the shadows of surrounding peaks. Being there levels the social playing field—the store manager isn’t better than the delivery driver or the janitor or the grocery clerk. Status comes from braving the elements and watching out for neighbors—and everyone’s a neighbor.
As a twelve-year old, a church project led me to ask him what he thought was my greatest virtue. I didn’t understand his answer until he left for work and my mother explained it to me. He said, “You are no respecter of persons.”
To be valued for not assigning judgement to external status taught me a great lesson about the race for prestige.
What’s the best advice you’ve received recently?
I have terrible posture, and it finally caught up to me last year. At one of my early visits to the chiropractor, my doctor gently addressed my poor posture by saying, “I’ve noticed that empathic people tend to make themselves smaller than the people they’re listening to.” He hunched down. “They think it makes the other person feel better, or makes them feel heard. But try this instead.” He stood up tall, chest forward, shoulders back. “When you project confidence and positivity, you actually have the power to change the energy of the person you’re listening to. If they’re having a hard time, you can change that.”
How do you empower yourself?
I’m fascinated by the phrase “empower yourself.” I guess I thought that empowerment is something you can’t do for yourself; you kind of wait for someone or something to do it for you. In truth, it’s probably both.
So what do I do? I set goals, lots of them. This works as well at work as at home, but it might more important at home because home life tends to have less forward momentum than work does (fewer regular deadlines or people holding you accountable). New Years resolutions are important, and setting weekly sub-goals makes them achievable.
I’m a big believer in sub-goals and incremental improvement. You know what happens when you write for 15 minutes every morning? You end up writing almost 100 hours a year. You know how many words you can write in 100 hours? 100,000, easy. You know how many words are in a 350 page novel? About 87,500. Try it: 15 minutes a day, and you’ll write a novel this year. I promise.
Who or What inspires you?
Like her or not, Hillary Clinton inspires me. She has been belittled in every possible way for a very, very long time. But she keeps going. After her failed health care push in the nineties, I would have given up had I been in her shoes. But she weathered it, ran for Senate and won, ran for President and lost, served as Secretary of State, then ran for President and lost again. If ever a brave woman walked among us, Hillary is she.
How do you take care of yourself so that you stay balanced and centered?
There’s no such thing as balance. Besides, a balanced life would be boring. Being centered, however, is important. When I feel way out of whack, ungrounded, I have to carve out time for solitude. And I mean solitude. If I’m at home, no one else can be in the house. My preference is always to be alone on a trail in hard-to-reach mountains with no other humans in sight, but living in Western Washington, this is a rare treasure. So now I’m learning to meditate.
What is your hope for women on the planet?
I hope that we don’t lose the progress of the past 120 years just because we’re satisfied with how far we’ve come or because we’ve forgotten how limiting a life without choices can be. It will be very easy to relapse. Don’t ever forget that.
What role can men play in supporting empowered women?
The most important things a man can do to support a woman is let her finish speaking and stay out of her way. Someday, I hope to meet a man who can do both.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Margaret Thein. Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker prize, the novel describes the very human side of life during the many revolutions China endured last century. Its parallels to upheavals we face today give me nightmares. It’s a must-read for anyone tempted by purist ideology.
I’ve been enjoying Macklemore’s latest album, Gemini. I’ve not been enjoying Pink’s latest album, Beautiful Trauma. And I’m not sure James Vincent McMorrow’s True Love album improves on any of his previous albums, which makes me sad.
If you were a superhero, what would your outfit look like?
Red boots and a cape, but probably a comfortable business suit beneath. And a hat. I want to bring back hats. Why don’t people wear hats anymore?
How can people get ahold of you?
Reach out to me on my defunct blog at www.kathrynwhittier.com, or follow me on Twitter, @kathrynwhittier. I’d love to hear from you.