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Finding Success Through Passion and Personal Strength, with Sara Holtz

Finding Success Through Passion and Personal Strength, with Sara Holtz

Episode 80: Finding Success Through Passion and Personal Strength, with Sara Holtz

Anyone who's moved from corporate law to entrepreneurship knows it is both a challenging and exciting venture – just ask Sara Holtz. After years in corporate law, she decided to put her marketing and business mind to use and inspire younger on women how to succeed in their careers. She started the podcast “Advice to My Younger Me” as a way to tackle the grueling questions and concerns that young business women have. In this week’s podcast, Sara discusses her non-linear career path, the importance of acknowledging your strengths and passions and figuring out how happiness can translate to success.

Episode Transcript

00:00 S?: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, conversations with women changing the face of business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.


00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera.

00:20 Maricella Herrera: Hey, Kristy.

00:21 KW: Hi! What's going on? How you doing?

00:23 MH: I'm doing well. I'm exhausted, it's been such a long day.

00:27 KW: So I think the change between seasons is some of the hardest days or weeks that I personally experienced. It always ends up being like my hair goes dry, everyone gets sick, and it suddenly rains every single day.

00:43 MH: I know. But holidays are coming.

00:46 KW: Yes. That's exciting... I actually really love the fall and the holidays, so I'm excited.

00:50 MH: Me too. I'm also very excited 'cause I finally bought my ticket home.

00:55 KW: Oh, yes.

00:55 MH: So, yeah.

00:56 KW: Yes. We're gonna have to supercharge our podcast tapings for a little bit...

01:01 MH: I know. [chuckle]

01:02 KW: So we can make sure we don't miss you too much when you're gone.

01:06 MH: I'm happy to tape from El Salvador. [chuckle] Send some sunshine your guys' way in December.

01:12 KW: And tequila and coffee too?

01:14 MH: Of course. [chuckle]

01:14 KW: Okay, so if you send me a care package of tequila and coffee from El Salvador, then I will gladly tape remotely with you.

01:22 MH: What our listeners do not know is that every time I go to El Salvador, one of the things that does come back with me is pounds and pounds of coffee to bring to this office. [chuckle]

01:31 KW: Yes. Well, [chuckle] and the important side note to that is that for some reason, nobody in the office has a coffee grinder. I don't understand why, except for me. So I always bring it home and I grind it, and then conveniently forget to bring it back. So I luck out the most, unless someone calls me out for stealing all the coffee.

01:54 MH: It's good coffee, man. It's good coffee.

01:55 KW: It is, it's very good coffee. It's fantastic. Well, yeah, so excited we are now in the fall, lots of great stuff happening. We just closed out September. As many of you know from our earlier podcasts, we had a great big promotion in September. So we wanted to thank all of you for sharing the love with that, and say welcome to our new members in the Ellevate community. We grew significantly in September and we'll continue to do so, and it just makes our impact in our community and our voice stronger and more powerful. So thank you. We also wanted to share some exciting news about the Ellevate Squads program. We just launched a new product on the Ellevate website called Ellevate Squads, which is connecting small groups of women online for peer mentoring over a set, defined period of time. So more details about that at, but great stuff happening. We're having a lot of fun doing it, but not as much fun as we have with our podcast.

03:00 MH: That is true. That is very true. Yeah, lots of great stuff happening in the community. We're growing, we're making change, we're impacting. I keep saying about Squads, which you should definitely check out, but we had 1,400 women sign up to be part of this program, which is really, as Kristy said, about helping each other succeed and really getting peer mentorship and helping each other. And when you think about that, that's 1,400 women who raised their hand and said, "I wanna help myself. I wanna help others." And that's just really powerful.

03:41 KW: It is, because it's all around action. And we said, 2017 was our year of action, and it is. And it has really proven to be the truth, but part of the program is really thinking about where are you going, and how are you gonna get there, and how you use the power of the community to support you in that. So we are excited. And we'll continue to share updates on that with you, and some of the stories we hear from women in the community that participate in the program. But before we get to today's fantastic interview with Sara Holtz, who has a podcast as well called Advice To My Younger Me, and I was honored to be a guest on that podcast, Maricella had a great conversation with Sara.

04:23 MH: I did, I may or may not have told her, I'm the fun one. [laughter]

04:31 KW: We'll have to duke that, we'll have to duke it out for that title. [chuckle] Although I don't... [laughter] So before we get to our interview with Sara Holtz, Maricella, do you have a poll to share with us?

04:47 MH: Yep. Yes, I do. So actually, I wanted to share this poll, which is the one that came out this week because we had an amazing amount of responses from our members, because it's very timely.

04:58 KW: Alright, what is it?

05:00 MH: So we asked our community, "Would an employer's willingness to cover reproductive health insurance impact your decision to work for them?"

05:07 KW: Interesting, very timely question.

05:09 MH: Very timely.

05:11 KW: I'm not surprised we received a lot of feedback on that. So what did the community say?

05:16 MH: 57% said, "Yes." Full stop, just "Yes." 16% said, "Not now, but it would have in the past." Another 16% said, "No." I was actually interested to see that. And 10% said, "Not now, but maybe in the future it will."

05:34 KW: Interesting. Great. Well, thank you for sharing that. And for those of our listeners, if you don't subscribe to The Morning Boost, which is Ellevate's daily or weekly newsletter, depending on how you like to receive your newsletters, we have a poll that we run every Tuesday, and we wanna hear from you. We love hearing your voice, what you think about issues that are important to women in business, and being able to share that insights with the greater community. So please subscribe to The Boost and share your thoughts with us. And now we're going to get to Maricella's conversation with Sara Holtz.


06:18 MH: So Sara, thanks for being on the podcast. Tell me a little bit about your journey, and what you're up to.

06:26 Sara Holtz: Well, I've had many jobs, but if you look at my career in the big picture, I look at it as having three distinct segments. So the first one, for the first 20 years of my career, I practiced law in a variety of settings. I worked in a law firm, I worked in the government, and I ultimately worked in an in-house corporate department. And my last job in the legal field, I was the general counsel of a major company. And then when I was about 38 years old, I had my first son, and the demands of a high-powered job and two small kids was just too much to juggle. So I started a consulting firm, which was called ClientFocus, which ultimately, and it wasn't exactly linear, morphed into a business that coached and trained women partners in major law firms on how to develop business. And that skill about being able to develop business is really the critical career ingredient for women in law firms. That's how you get some power. That's how you get respect. That's frankly how you make a lot of money.

07:45 SH: So I worked, I did that for about 20 years. And then about a year ago, I was in the process of winding down that career, and I started a podcast called Advice To My Younger Me, where I interview experts in workplace success about what they wish they'd known earlier in their careers. It's a lot like this podcast, but a bit different in that we take on a specific challenge. We focus on an issue, as opposed to an individual, and we talk about things like, "Should you pause your career to raise children?" or "How do you deal with the impostor syndrome?" or "How do you speak with confidence?" or "How can you be successful while being an introvert?" Those kinds of things.

08:29 MH: I was looking at your episode list, and you have quite a few Ellevate-rs that have been your guests, which is great to see. And I always love hearing the reasons behind why someone started a show like this. So can you tell me a little bit about why you started Advice To My Younger Me?

08:48 SH: Sure. Yes, well, to be sure, I didn't start it to make money [chuckle] as any fellow podcaster will attest. It was really a pay-it-forward project. I'm very grateful for the career I've had. It's been satisfying financially, satisfying from a sense of growth and being able to use my talents, and I believe it's made a difference in people's lives. And frankly, you can't get much better than that for a career. So as I was winding down that career, I thought about, "How could I empower younger women to succeed in their careers?" And because I really did wanna pay it forward, and I wanted to reach a broader group of people. So I started out by thinking about what my strengths were, and one of them was, I've always loved being at the front of the room, even ever since I lined up all my little dolls when I was four years old in the living room in their little chairs and lectured to them.

09:52 SH: And so that was one thing, I knew that it was probably gonna have something to do with the spoken word. And I have a fabulous network of smart, influential women that I have gotten to know over the course of my career, and I wanted to tap into that. And finally, both from my own experience and from the experience of my clients over the years, about what it takes to succeed in the workplace, I've learned so much from them. And so after a lot of thought, and let me say also a lot of false starts, which has been true throughout my career, I came up with the idea of a podcast. And we're about to launch our 40th episode tomorrow, and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback about the podcast. So the market tells me that was a good idea. [chuckle]

10:50 MH: So tell me about, a little bit about the change from corporate law to more of this coaching entrepreneurial side of it. How was that career change for you?

11:00 SH: Well, some of it was a little bit scary, and some of it was exciting. And in the end, it turned out that I think I was really cut out to be an entrepreneur, much more than I was cut out to be a lawyer, a business lawyer.

11:20 MH: What skills do you think were really what drew you to becoming an entrepreneur? What traits that you found within yourself to actually start a business?

11:30 SH: Well, I think the first and most important trait that I discovered was that I had a real passion around this issue of helping women succeed in the workplace. And in my case, it was helping women partners in law firms succeed in their environment. But that was an issue that I was drawn to again and again and again throughout my career. I also learned that I was good at marketing, and running a business in general. And I think I learned that I had the risk tolerance that you need to be a successful entrepreneur, which of course was nothing I'd really had tested in any of my jobs as a lawyer before. So it turned out that it was actually a really good match for me, but not one that I had particularly anticipated.

12:18 SH: My father was an entrepreneur, and frankly, unlike many of my friends who early on in their careers were like, "Oh I wanna start a business. I wanna... " whatever it was that they were interested in doing, the prospect of being an entrepreneur was not particularly attractive to me because I had seen up close and personal what the downside of being an entrepreneur was, which was, getting a call at 2 o'clock in the morning about the fact that the alarm was going off, or having employees steal from you, the kinds of things that happen when you run a business. So I was not somebody who was immediately attracted to it. But once I wound up doing it, I realized it was probably in my blood. [chuckle]

13:06 MH: It's interesting. People don't talk... I mean when we hear from a lot of people who wanna start a business, they usually are attracted to that freedom, sort of, or glamor of, "I'm gonna be an entrepreneur, I'm gonna start a business." But you don't really hear the talks about the real thing, and the ugly side of it. So it's interesting to hear that you were coming into it with eyes wide open, [chuckle] and still chose to make...

13:36 SH: Wide open.

13:37 MH: Yeah, and still chose to make that leap. You are a business development expert, and have helped women lawyers make it rain. As an introvert, at some point, I was in business development, and it was not my thing, to say the least. I have really realized my strengths are in the operations part of a business.

14:00 SH: We'd make a great team. [laughter]

14:03 MH: Yeah. Kristy and I work really well together, I think, because of the same thing. [chuckle] So tell me a little about that. What are some of the tips you could share with people who are in business development, and want to continue to grow their career in that area?

14:19 SH: Well, we could... When I do programs, they're over a year-long period about eight days. So unless our listeners have an enormous amount of patience here, [chuckle] I don't think they're gonna wanna hear all my tips about this. But really top line, I think it's important for people to have a clear sense of what they're trying to accomplish, and why they're trying to accomplish it, right? Like, so do you wanna be successful at business development because it gives you some autonomy, some freedom? Do you wanna be successful at business development because you wanna be able to work with the clients you wanna work with, and not have to work with people you don't particularly like? Do you wanna be successful with business development 'cause you wanna make a lot of money? Which frankly, is a perfectly fine goal, and I think one that women don't embrace enough.

15:19 SH: So that's the first thing, is you have to have a clear picture of where you're going. And then I think once you have that clear picture, you have to make sure that all your activities are focused on both the people and the activities that are gonna allow you to develop that goal, to move you toward that goal. So who are the influencers who are gonna actually hire you? Who are the people who you want as your clients? And then going a little bit deeper, what are the activities that you can engage in that are gonna connect you with those clients? And why is it that you have not yet been hired by those people, and what do you need to do to try and achieve that goal?

16:08 SH: And then the final thing, and I think this is the biggest mistake... Again, I can't speak for anything besides lawyers 'cause that's really the marketplace that I am familiar with. But the final thing is that people have to be consistent about their follow-up. People think, "Oh I went out. I had lunch with this person. They didn't send me business. Obviously, this isn't gonna work." And the studies are... Particularly in the professional service arena, which is the only arena I know, that it takes between seven to nine significant contacts, which may take between 18 months and two years before you land a client. So this notion of kind of staying in the game, staying engaged, dealing with mini-rejections is the way I would think about it. That's really critical to being effective at business development. So that's kind of the top line.

17:04 MH: So I really... I actually really like this, and starting with self-awareness and why you're doing, knowing your goals and where you wanna go, but then, you know, the follow-up. The follow-up is key in so many aspects, not just business development. We talk about it in networking a lot. So for me, when my networking actually clicked after being at Ellevate for a few years already, and I was thinking I'm a bad networker, the moment it clicked was when someone told me that networking is just a fancy word for helping other people.

17:39 SH: Yeah, or I talk about it as building relationships. And frankly, there's so much counter-information in the marketplace that networking is about how many people can you hand your card out to, or how many names can you get in your Rolodex or contact management system or whatever. But that's not really what good networking or good business development is about. All of this is really about building relationships. It's not about some slick sales pitch, or tricking somebody into hiring you. It's really about building authentic relationships with people, who then begin to see you as somebody who can help them achieve their goals.

18:24 MH: So turning a little bit from networking and business development, and some of the tips, I would love to hear about your experience with your podcast. You're releasing your next episode, which is I think episode 40, pretty soon. What have you learned by transitioning yet again from... To doing something different?

18:45 SH: Well again, my podcast is Advice To My Younger Me. And as you might guess from the title, we bring on experts to address critical issues that women face in the workplace like, "Can I pause my career to stay home and take care of kids? And if so, how am I... Should I go back doing it? How do I decide whether I should stay or go in a particular career or particular job?" All of those kinds of issues. And I bring on experts, and we talk about those issues, and try and give some very concrete practical advice to women about those issues. I've learned a lot of things. First of all, I've learned that there's a lot of amazing women out there who are doing some amazing things, and who are very generous about spending their time helping other women. So that's probably one of the first things that I've learned. I've learned that there's many chapters to our career, as we've talked about before. So this is somewhat very different than what I've done in the past, but connected to it.

19:57 SH: I've learned that anytime you connect with your strengths, you're likely to be successful. And I've talked a little bit about what my strengths are: Standing up in front of a room, researching things, having a great network of amazing women in it, and things like that. And that when you focus on your strengths, you really are able to leverage that into a successful project. I've learned that it's great to have a challenge in your career, and to take on something that's very different than what you've been doing before. It's very energizing. It expands your world. So there's... A lot of good, great things have come from it.

20:45 MH: When you're unfamiliar with something, what's the first thing you do to actually start figuring out a way of tackling something completely different?

20:52 SH: So I think people approach this in different ways. And I think one of the things that is interesting as your career unfolds is that if you're paying attention, and I really underline that "if" because I think so often, we are so busy doing the day-to-day, and really fully immersed in whatever we're doing, that we actually don't spend the time to take... To reflect on, "What's working here? What's not working here? What are my strengths? What part of the day am I fully energized? When am I feeling down or negative or unengaged, whatever it may be?" And so I think, I personally think that one of the things that's important for me when I take on a new challenge is to have a plan for it. I'm a planner. Now... And you know that there's lots of people out there who approach challenges in completely different ways. Somebody might approach a challenge by talking to everybody they know who might be operating in that sphere, who have done that kind of thing before, who have succeeded in that way. Some people just wing it. They're just really great at jumping in and learning from their mistakes.

22:15 SH: So I think you have to know something about yourself. For me, regardless of whether I'm planning a trip or planning a podcast, launching a podcast career, I have to sit down with a lot of research and a lotta time to lay out the plan of how I'm gonna approach it. And that plan gives me a lot of confidence to be able to take what other people might view as something very risky. I have to laugh because I'm part of a women's podcaster group, and somebody posted in the private Facebook page: "How long between the time you decided to start your podcast, and the time you actually launched it?" And so I responded and I said, "It took me about a year. I had to design my logo, and figure out who I was gonna use as my audio editor, and I had to listen to everybody else's podcast who was in the space that I'm in," and et cetera, et cetera. You can imagine, if it took me a year, how many tests that were involved in this.

23:18 SH: And somebody else in the group said, it took her 36 hours. So I think [chuckle] that sort of says, people approach kinds of challenges in very different ways. I think what's really important is to know what works for you, and to do that, because a lot of times when we take on risks or challenges, I mean we have a lot of anxiety about them. And so the question is, "What do I have to do in advance so that I can moderate that anxiety, so that I can overcome that anxiety?" And for me, that's planning. For other people, it may be soliciting advice. For some other people, it may be, "Hey, I'm just gonna jump in and see what happens."

24:06 MH: Wow, 36 hours.


24:10 MH: I'm laughing here and Katharine's laughing with me because when we started with the idea of doing the Ellevate Podcast, I was... And it's the beauty of having a diverse team. Part of... Some people were like, "Yes! Let's do it! Let's do it now." And I just sat there and was like, "How?" And started mapping out everything and everything and everything of what we were supposed to do.

24:35 SH: Yeah. What kind of mic you needed, and were you gonna record on... Over Skype or use Zencastr, right? Yeah, there's a million things. But again, that's really an example which is, that woman who took 36 hours, she was like, "I'll figure it out as I go along. I'll have a bad interview over some service, or my mic will sound terrible, and I'll get a new mic." Right? But that's just not the way I approach these things.

25:07 MH: Yeah. No, and just reflecting, having this conversation with you and reflecting about our journey for this podcast, I think one of the key things for me was, okay, I just have to admit that I don't know what I don't know, and I will never know it, so I'll find someone who does. [chuckle] And therefore, we have Katharine here. And it wouldn't have happened otherwise. It's just knowing your strengths, and also knowing where you lack those skills.

25:37 SH: Yeah... Yeah, and I think I really wanna underline that 'cause I think that that applies much more broadly than starting a podcast. I think that one of the things that I came to later in life than I would have liked, was to really understand how important it is to understand what your own personal strengths are, and actually also to understand what fuels your passion and what you find depleting. And oftentimes, I think we think we need to be good at everything to be good at our job, and there's nothing that could be further from the truth, right? What we need to be good at is the things that we're good at, and then we can actually be excellent at them. And we need to get to a place where we can acknowledge, for example, "Technology is not one of my strengths." And I know women who operate in the podcasting arena who love the technical details; I don't. I know lawyers who love writing the third draft of that brief to just make it shine. I wasn't one of those lawyers.

26:49 SH: So I think it's important to know what your personal strengths are because then you can associate yourself, surround yourself with people who fill in your areas of, I won't call them weakness, but not strengths. And that allows you to kind of leverage your strengths. We learn so much... We achieve so much more when we leverage our strengths, rather than when we try to improve our weaknesses. But it took me a long time to learn that, because there's... Initially, you start out with this notion that I need to be good at everything if I'm gonna be good.

27:30 MH: Yeah. This is great. I'm using this as therapy. It's interesting. We've been talking a lot about this recently at Ellevate because we hear a lot of women who have been doing a certain career for a long time, and all of a sudden realized that they need a change, and they don't know where to start. And what we always tell them is, "Well, think what do you like to do, and what are your strengths, and how can you apply those into a different setting." And the leveraging of other people, it again comes back to networking for me, where it's, if you meet people with very diverse backgrounds and diverse skill sets and diverse perspectives, the more you can actually build a more cohesive... Not cohesive, but a more balanced team, where everyone's just leveraging each other's strengths. So Sara, what advice would you give your younger self?

28:29 SH: Wow. Well, there's so many. But I guess the most important one is to figure out your strengths, and what you really love to do, and fashion a career around that. And I'll tell you a quick story about that, which was, when I was deciding to leave corporate law, when I ultimately decided to leave law altogether, I went to a career counselor. And she gave me a big stack of cards. I take it this is a assessment that is pretty common in the career counseling arena. But she gave me this big stack of cards, and the cards were like, "What skills did you have?" So there was like, "Can you develop a budget? Can you manage people? Do you know how to lay a hardwood floor? Can you knit?" Just all across the board kinds of things about things that you were capable of doing.

29:30 SH: So I went through this big stack, and it wound up being a little bit of a smaller, considerably smaller stack of things that I could actually do, knitting and laying hardwood floors not being among them. And then she said to me... She handed me my stack of skills that I had, and she said, "Now which ones of these do you wanna do?" And I looked at her, and I know this is hard to imagine, but I actually didn't understand the question. And she said... She repeated it, and she said, "Which ones of these do you wanna do? And literally, that was the first time I had ever thought that I could be capable of doing something, but choose not to do it. And that's what I mean about knowing both what your strengths are, and what you really love to do, and fashioning your career around it. Which is to make sure that it's not only the things you're capable of doing, but the things that actually fuel you.

30:25 SH: And the second piece, which is kind of a sub-point of advice on this, which is, that to do that, to figure out what your strengths are and what your passions are, you really have to take the time to regularly reflect on where you are, and where you wanna be, and what part of your day fuels you, and what part of your day drains you, and when are you excited to be going to work that day, and when do you dread it? And that happens only when you can really separate yourself from the day-to-day activities, and that could be like taking a spa day to focus on it, or maybe it's just an hour at Starbucks. But whatever it is, you have to get out of the office, and you have to sort of create a special space to actually embark on that reflection. And sadly, I didn't figure this out until well into my career, this notion about really being introspective about what fuels you. And I think it can make a huge difference in how happy you are, and how successful you are in your career by doing that.

31:38 MH: I love that. That's great advice. Thanks so much for being with us today, Sara.

31:41 SH: Great.

31:45 MH: Is there anything else you'd like...

31:46 SH: Terrific.

31:47 MH: You'd like to leave our audience with?

31:49 SH: No, just go out and figure out those strengths, [chuckle] and that passion. And I guess I wouldn't be a good marketer if I didn't say, "And check out the Advice To My Younger Me podcast," which is available wherever you get your podcasts. [chuckle]

32:03 MH: Absolutely. Check it out. Thanks again.


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