Stranger 91, Day 91 – Meet Kathryn, the “Always Bettering”

Stranger 91, Day 91 - Meet Kathryn

I finally met someone I had seen numerous times on my floor and throughout Atlanta Tech Village’s (ATV) halls for years. I joined my company just this year, but I have been in and out of ATV for years. So, I’ve seen today’s Stranger lots of times, including more recently as her company moved onto our floor. Truth is, I actually met her last week. Though, I only got her name as she left for a meeting. We made plans to finally meet today, and so this is where today’s Stranger story goes…

Meet Kathryn, 33

Who are you?

She’s quiet for a few seconds. “Oh man! What a hard question!!” she laughs.

She wants me to be more direct. “Does it have to be, or can I answer specifically? Or, what do you want?”

It’s up to you.

“My name is Kathryn.” She mentions her maiden name, too, which “aligns nicely” because it means 100 in Dutch. “Very much ties in with this.”

She continues, “My job is the COO at Rigor. And then, I would say who I am. I am enthusiastic. I’m really organized. I like to make things better. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I’m super into triathlons, and nerd out on that.”

I’d like to ask questions about “what does making things better mean”, but also, “what drives you do this crazy thing of triathlons”. So, let’s start out with what does making things better mean?

She thinks about this. “Well, I’ll just turn it right into triathlons. I am taking a little break right now, but over the past seven years, I’ve done five or six Ironmans. So the distances are really long. It’s a race that takes you 11 hours to do, and 9-12 months to train for. So you have this big goal, but every single day, it gives you a reason to exercise. You can’t cheat the process. So you can’t, at the very last minute, say, ‘Oh my God! I’ve gotta get ready! Let me just cram it all in!’ You just have to be methodical about doing it a little bit every day.”

“I, for better or worse, see problems all around me.” She laughs. “Like, ‘Oh! That could be better. That could be better. That could be better!’ So making things better is like, ‘What’s the problem? What’s the pain we can fix either today, or what’s the big thing we need to work on that take a long time, but will move the needle long-term?'”

“Does that answer the question?” Sure!

You said you started doing triathlons for at least the last seven years.

“I think so, yeah.”

How’d you get into it?

“I… played sports growing up, including in college. Not anything special, but I played D3 softball. I was used to being a part of a team, and exercising with a purpose. I graduated, and I was kind of spinning my wheels a little bit because I wanted to be doing something, but I didn’t have a meaningful end goal, right? Like, being skinny only gets you so far,” she laughs.

“Like, you can be healthy without really pushing yourself. You can just, kind of like, check the box, and be like, ‘Yeah, I did cardio for 30 minutes’. So, I started running. That was really fun. I was training for running races. I had some friends that did triathlons, and I got injured running. So, it was a good time to add the cross-training of biking and swimming. And my dad was also a really big cyclist, which made it fun. I learned about riding, cycling with him. So that was fun. And then, started out slow. Did two sprint triathlons my first year. Just trying to finish. It’s funny because the swim is 500 meters. The Ironman swim is 2.5 miles. So it’s like SO much — but it just felt — I was like, ‘I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!’ But then, you know, I just built on that over time. Then all of a sudden, you have this little thing that you’re doing Ironmans all the time.”

You’re working at a startup. You love triathlons. You love making things better. What do you see as the commonalities between doing the triathlons and, I guess, being the COO at a startup?

“It’s funny. So, I really believe that there’s stuff in your life that is always running parallel. Meaning, whatever I’m doing in triathlons, I’ll be learning from that, and be able to apply that to work, and vice versa. Same with relationships, too.”

“So to me, it’s good to remember in a startup, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s always more work that you can do. You can pull an all-nighter every single night, and still not get all the work done. You just have to pace yourself. But, you also have to be consistent. If you work consistently all the time, it starts to build on itself. I feel like we’ve seen that at Rigor this year. There’s been super highs, and special things that have happened. More so, we’ve been working on, you know, finishing five projects per quarter. Now, finish every project. Now, you can build on that project — you’ve laid the framework or foundation. Let’s do the next iteration of that. If you do that consistently, over time, all of a sudden you turn around, and you’re like, ‘Holy shit! We have 40 people?!’ And everything is getting done the way we’re talking about it. I can’t believe a year ago, we didn’t even have team meetings.”

“It’s a lot like triathlon training to me because you don’t even realize it. But all of sudden, you’re like, ‘Holy shit! I’m running a marathon!’ Seems like a year ago, I was just doing a 10K.”

“So, it’s very similar to me.”

Kathryn and I laugh for a moment. As she shifts on the couch, the back cushion falls off causing us to laugh some more. Apparently, her laughing is quite strong.

So you love bettering things — making things better. You’re a triathlete, and grew up playing sports. Have you found, sometimes, it’s difficult to balance that sprint-sprint-sprint mentality? Curious as to what you do keep remembering to slow down. Or honing into that something that says, “Oh, I can’t always make everything better right now, even though I really freakin’ want to?”

“Like the couch breaking. This couch needs to be better!”

Haha, yes, exactly. Do you still sometimes struggle with, I guess, finding that balance?

“Uhh, all the time! But I think having — so for me, having important things, it creates tension, and it forces you to balance it. So, Rigor is important. Ironmans are important. My husband is important. Family is important. They’re all important, so I can’t do 100% of all of them. I have to stop working, so I can go home and see my husband. I have to stop working so I can get a workout in. I have to, sometimes, I have to work instead of workout. I think there’s a natural pull there that forces you to do different things.”

“One of the things I’m always working on is I have very high standards for myself. That translates into other areas. And also, I want to give 100% everytime, but that’s impossible.” She laughs. “So, sometimes, I make conscious decisions of, ‘Okay, for this stretch of time, this is going to be my priority. And for this other stretch of time, this will be my priority.'”

She asks me again, “Does this answer the question?” Sure!

So what is one thing you made better yesterday?

“Hmm,” she thinks.

I’ll allow you to cheat and pick throughout the week.

She laughs. “Well, I have 12 things I made better yesterday. But none of them are big, right?”

But does it have to be big? That is the question.

“It doesn’t have to be big. I guess that’s the point, right? Incremental.”

“So, I worked from home yesterday which is awesome. It was Rigor’s ‘Yoursday’. Thursday ‘Yoursday’. So you work from home — or, you can work from wherever. There are no internal meetings, which is awesome because you can get a lot of shit done. I talked to somebody on my team about doing a churn deep-dive review in January for 2016. That’s all about making it better — what have we learned?”

Kathryn shares with me another — “Small project, but I added leather ties to all of these utensils so we can that hang them on the wall of our house. We have a new house. So, it was a little project. Got it done!” She’s smiling big thinking about how great it was to accomplish this little project.

“And then, OH! I met with an executive coach yesterday who I’ve been working with. Every session is about, ‘how can I be a better leader? Communicate better? Be more patient with myself and others?’ So…”

Cool. I guess since we’re ending the year, I don’t know how you feel about New Year’s resolutions, but what do you feel you want to really get better at next year?

“It’s funny that we’re doing this. One of the things that I want to get better at is public speaking… which I don’t like doing.” She smiles shyly about this. “So that’s one thing.”

“I don’t actually do the New Year’s resolution thing that much. Because for me, the goal setting and achieving is really fluid. Some people are like, ‘here’s the goal, and I’m going to achieve it’. I know it sounds weird. Yes, I do Ironmans, but I don’t work that way. It’s more about every day getting better, and the right things happen. It’s fluid.”

She asks me how I feel about New Year’s resolutions. I mention how I felt for those like she and I, our resolutions are much more fluid. If we want to do something or challenge ourselves, we typically just go for it (this journey being an example of that). I felt that for some people, having a clear date to start and an actionable plan helps them get started. Then, as they progress through whatever resolution or challenge, it becomes more habitual.

She agrees, “Becomes like a habit. There is value, though, in sometimes you get so into it, that it’s easy to get distracted — so knowing what’s important. Those bigger goals help you decide what’s important.”

So, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (that’s you), if you could ask anyone any question, effectively tomorrow’s Stranger, what would you ask? Before you have your turn, John, from yesterday, he wants to ask you —

“So does it pay forward to the next person? Ooh! That’s so fun!”

John wanted ask you if you could do one thing different, what would you do? And why? (Thanks to John, Stranger 90)

“If I could do one thing different…” She thinks about this.

“That’s a really broad question.” More thinking. “Umm…”

“I don’t want to miss my chance. I will say similar to the thing about goals and kind of being fluid, I believe that everybody’s doing the best they can in the moment. Even though I’ve messed some stuff up, I don’t look back and say, ‘Oh, these were mistakes’. And I kind of think if you want to be doing something different, you should just start doing it.” She laughs, “No sympathy!”

“But I would say if I were to do something different, I wish that sometimes I could let things go more. This is broken. I wish this didn’t bother me.” She motions to the couch piece that fell over earlier. But by doing so, she knocked off an adjacent piece. Haha. “Now, I broke another piece of the couch. Like why is the couch broken?!” Hahaha. She thinks it’s maybe actually a daybed.

“So, if I could do one thing differently, I would let go of little stuff more.”

Has that affected you day-to-day on certain things?

“Sometimes, I’m late because I’m like, ‘ah! I gotta get this place clean!’ So yeah.”

You’re turn! If you could ask a Stranger anything… what would you ask?

“This is a reused question. We went to Buttermilk Kitchen on Tuesday. We started this tradition when we have somebody new on the client success team, we go to Buttermilk Kitchen, and we have some really cheesy but fun get-to-know-you questions. So we ask — these aren’t all my questions, but we ask, ‘what’s one of your favorite holiday memories? If you could travel to one country, where would it be and why? And then, what’s your secret talent?'”

“So I think what’s your secret talent? Just to whoever’s next.”

She asks me who is John so she can “thank him for his question.”

After the handshake.

Yesterday, I met John who I’ve seen on my floor countless times. Today, I got a chance to meet Kathryn who I’ve seen throughout the years at ATV. I think, sometimes, that after a while of not meeting someone you see a lot, people tend to think it’d be awkward to finally meet. At least, I’ve noticed that I’ve felt that way in the past. Well, better late than never, as they say, and I’m glad I got a chance to sit down with Kathryn to actually get to know her.

Kathryn’s “always finding ways to do things better” mentality is very similar to my own. I’m always looking for ways to improve something, most especially myself. I love challenges, and Kathryn does, too. I think her thinking about all the stuff she even did yesterday to “do better” was very interesting. I liked how she could point out even the “small” things that she did better. Too often, we think we have to make do something big to make a difference or to talk about. However, even the smallest things can make a big difference. That can be a hello to a Stranger, a smile to a friend, or yes, leather ties on home decor. The details can sometimes affect someone’s entire outlook on the day which can then affect a whole week, and so on. Think: ripple effect.

When Kathryn talked about how she had challenges and goals set and achieved fluidly, it crystallized in my head about this notion of those who are easy to set in motion changes vs. those who need a little more structure. This was a simple, quick revelation, and one that I truly believe is common for people. There’s a spectrum here of those who can just start things at any time, and those who need more motivation. There’s not necessarily a good or bad to this. In fact, sometimes, it may involve extenuating circumstances that affects the abilities of someone to make change — think along the lines of resources, processes, and priorities.

I’m curious to hear more of how Kathryn finds ways to improve things. It could be valuable to think as an entrepreneur.

Meet Kathryn. No longer a Stranger.

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  1. […] would you ask? You’ll both have that opportunity, but before, I’d like to ask you what Kathryn, who I met yesterday, wanted to ask you. She wanted to ask, “What is your secret […]

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