Katy Martin is a special project manager in organizational development (previously technology chief of staff), as well as a career coach and entrepreneur living in Chicago. Read on for the 3 best life lessons she’s learned, why sometimes you just need to travel solo, and where she’s learned the most from traveling.

Katy Martin - Career Coach and Entrepreneur at Fierce and Focused
Photo courtesy of Katy Martin.

Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are now.

My new title is special project manager – organizational development and my previous role is technology chief of staff; I work full time in a people operations role for a food company and I do career coaching and other entrepreneurial things on the side! I guess you could call my trajectory “pivots based on things I’m interested in”. For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a 4th grade teacher. My first year in college helped me understand that wasn’t the career path for me. I was really interested in adult learning, but I don’t think I knew how to channel that into a college degree, so I selected hospitality and tourism as a major. I did a rotational internship at a hotel and had a boss who became a friend and mentor to me.

I pitched the idea of my rotational internship being made into a full-time role. Through my blossoming career in human resources and my amazing mentor, I was able to grow my career and figure out how much I enjoyed training adults. I rounded out my career experience by performing recruiting work, career coaching, and organizational psychology. I keep learning about things I enjoy and then making careers out of them, which has been SO amazing. 

What made you want to pursue your profession/area of focus?

My parents both studied psychology and have masters and doctorate degrees in the field, and as I write this, it sounds so cliché, but they really instilled a love for learning about people, how they function, how to optimize their behavior, habits, interactions, skillset, etc. I wanted to dive into the psychology of people and allow others to fulfill their potential. 

I get super jazzed when I hear that I’ve helped someone land a job they really love, build a new habit, or negotiate for an extra $8,000!

Fierce and Focused with Katy Martin - career coach
Photo courtesy of Katy Martin.

What has been a challenge you’ve overcome on your way to where you are now?

I continually overcome ‘imposter syndrome’. I had a lot of difficulties building confidence early in my career. I was thrust into a role with a lot of responsibility at a young age and early stage in my career, and even though it was a role that I asked for, I think I had a hard time taking on authority when I was brand new to a salaried role, had never managed others, and was expected to hold a leadership position. 

It has taught me two things: 1) everyone feels a little bit “out of their element” in their careers at times and 2) do it before you’re ready and embrace all the not-so-perfect learning that comes with it. 

What gets you excited to wake up every day? Why?

Oh, I love this question. Life is so full of things to discover. I never understand when people tell me they’re bored. I guess I get it. I can recall times when I was ill to the point of being immobile, but also bored out of my mind just being there… bedridden. But… I digress…

I just think that in a world full of information, history, new theories, new discoveries, all types of perspectives… I get excited to go down rabbit holes that I’ve never explored before. I have an endless stack of books that sits by my bedside that I’m always paging through and digging into. 

“I continually overcome ‘imposter syndrome’. It has taught me two things: 1) everyone feels a little bit “out of their element” in their careers at times and 2) do it before you’re ready and embrace all the not-so-perfect learning that comes with it.”

What’s the best/most important thing you’ve learned or taught yourself? Why?

  • Therapy is gold. So necessary. We are complex, nuanced beings who need to unpack shit. I have grown so much and learned to become comfortable with my identity, behaviors, traits, anxiety, etc. through therapy. 
  • Your network can do you favors. I have learned the power of connecting with folks (truly connecting) and allowing your network to take you places. 
  • Don’t force things. What’s meant to be will be. This one applies in a broader sense to the aforementioned items. :) 

What’s the next thing you’re going to learn or teach yourself? Why?

I have been trying to relearn Spanish for the LONGEST time. So, in theory, I want to say learning the Spanish language all over again. However, the more realistic thing that I will teach myself next is how to use the Procreate app on my iPad. I love design, colors, and in another life I would have studied graphic design or UX/UI in college. 

>> Want to learn Spanish? Sign up for a free 2-week trial and Try out a class on Skillshare!

Do you have advice for finding a strong mentor/ building a relationship with one?

OOOH. The ‘don’t force it’ rule applies here, heavily. I’ve heard of some folks asking someone they respect to grab coffee, but never calling it mentorship, then doing it over and over, until eventually they have a built-in mentor (this works!) In other cases, I have had bosses that organically evolved into mentors (I know was super duper lucky).

“Your network can do you favors. I have learned the power of connecting with folks (truly connecting) and allowing your network to take you places.”

Ensure that in all cases, you have something that you truly seek from the mentor, and don’t just have a mentor to have a mentor. Ensure that you’re able to organically connect on things that you both are truly interested in!

Chicago Career Coach Katy Martin
Photo courtesy of Katy Martin.

Favorite resources for ongoing learning? Why?

Atomic Habits by James Clear – the book is so easy to read and easy to apply to your real life. The author has a ton of resources in his weekly newsletter and website, too. I honestly read Atomic Habits and Getting Things Done in the same week and I swear I’ve never been so high on productivity in my life! 

I have also been hooked on a couple of podcasts lately; I feel like I stay “with the times” by listening to ‘The Daily’ podcast by The New York Times and I also listen to ‘Limitless Life’ by Melyssa Griffin when I’m looking for entrepreneurial inspiration. A colleague recently introduced me to ‘You’re Wrong About’ which helps me learn more about what actually happened in historical events. 

Related: Co-founder of Colorado outdoor womxn’s organization Odessa Collective swears by The Daily podcast too – check out her full interview here!

What’s your favorite travel memory? Why does it stand out?

My solo trips have actually been the most memorable. I have gone to Cancun by myself and I actually loved just lounging by the beach, not worrying about anyone else’s plans or itinerary. I also got divorced in January 2019, and shortly after, I took a solo trip to Miami to regroup and figure out the next chapter. It was helpful to physically change my scenery in order to change my mindset, emotional state, and everything else. 

What’s your least favorite/worst travel memory – why? Did you learn anything from it?

Hahaha – it just dawned on me. I did a three-week trip where I went to about 7 different cities alongside my partner. I was trying to throw surprise birthdays, work remotely, run errands, have fun, sightsee, etc. and it was TOO MUCH to juggle. I was stressed 85% of the time. Moral of the story… take actual time off and don’t try to work and play at the same time. 

Katy Martin - entrepreneur and travel lover
Photo courtesy of Katy Martin.

Out of all the places you’ve been, which has been your favorite and why?

I think that my spirit comes most alive when I’m on the west coast. Most notably, in Portland, Oregon, I feel like I see myself in it. The hippie/city-dweller part of me feels seen there and validated. I feel like I’m a multi-faceted person who loves business plans, running around barefoot, making banana bread, hiking, and reading a good book with some tea. And Portland, in a way, feels like a melding of all of those things. I’ve lived in New Orleans for two years, and it also evokes similar emotions in me: artistic, laid back, carefree, and inspired. 

“My solo trips have actually been the most memorable. I have gone to Cancun by myself and I loved just lounging by the beach, not worrying about anyone else’s plans or itinerary. I also got divorced in January 2019, and shortly after, I took a solo trip to Miami to regroup and figure out the next chapter. It was helpful to physically change my scenery in order to change my mindset, emotional state, and everything else.”

Where have you traveled you feel you learned the most, why?

Belize taught me so much. I actually won a free trip to the rainforest of Belize through a school project, believe it or not. I was able to develop a tourism business plan for a research and education facility. I stayed in a rainforest hut and watched a snake eat a frog (it was not orchestrated, it just happened while I was there), and I got to learn about bird research, along with a totally different way of living than what we see in the United States. 

If you could only ask one question for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“How are you, really?” … we waste so much of our lives on the surface of life. 

Learn More About Katy Martin

  • Link to website: https://fierceandfocused.co/
  • Link to LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kmartinchicago/
  • Link to social media: https://www.instagram.com/fierceandfocusedco
Career coach and entrepreneur Katy Martin
Photo courtesy of Katy Martin.