It Is Ok To Not Know What Your Ultimate Holy Grail Career Is, Keep Learning, Keep Exploring And Keep Developing Yourself – Katherine Lorek-Wallace

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?

I was never one of those individuals that had their whole career path mapped out from an early age or ever held a deep conviction of where I wanted to be at a certain age.

I went from ballet dancing to studying philosophy just to conclude that I still would like to try myself in a creative field and study photography. None of the above came to me naturally, I had to work hard and be disciplined. Moving from London to Nottingham at the age of 30 was a major adjustment point, but also an opportunity to reinvent myself. Creative roles are not as widely available outside London, and therefore insisting on the creative field would require some significant compromises. Having applied for a creative role with then BPI, I had been offered a commercial role instead.  I did not consider business, corporate environment as one that would interest me, I reluctantly accepted the role thinking it will only be a temporary solution, not knowing that I will not only be good at it but will also be one of the greatest learning experiences to date!

Six years on, I am now working in a capacity of General Manager within Manufacturing of construction materials. Whilst it still seems to be a male dominated industry, I do see big strides being made towards diversity and gender equality – within the industry and the business itself. 

What is a typical day in your career?

There is no such thing as a typical day in my career, my role is varied and I have the privilege to make it as interesting and meaningful as I want. I may be working on a supply of materials for a restoration project in a Sumatran Rainforest one day, and on another day I would be helping an end user design a wheelchair accessible raised bed for growing vegetables.

What made you choose this career/industry?

Whilst I never intentionally targeted the construction or manufacturing industry, I remained open minded when the opportunity came along to look after a business division, specializing in recycling and remanufacturing waste plastics into a sustainable and innovative second life building materials. It happened, that the company’s values, ethos, and passion for sustainability, are so strongly aligned with my own values, it makes my working life a bit of an adventure. If you enjoy and feel passionate about what you, everything else can be worked on. 

How did you get to where you are now, and did you face any challenges along the way?

Considering that my background was in a creative media and photography, working in business can sometimes feel daunting and I often find myself out of my comfort zone. The experience however has proved to me that if you embrace what sits beyond the safe place, that is where the most exciting and worthy things happen.

If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?

Overcoming setbacks can be a challenge in itself, but every setback is a learning experience, that contributes to who we are and what decisions we going to make next time around. I once launched a product that took much longer to embed in the marketplace than I expected, it never became as big a success as I thought it would. There is always more than just one solution, in this case my chosen approach it was to learn as fast as possible, cut the losses and move on. I dusted myself off, pulled myself up and learned some valuable lessons. One of them is to always have a plan ‘B’.

It is important to me to slow down every now and again and enjoy simple things, such as black coffee and a sea view.

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?

I feel passionate about the environment, sustainability, and innovation. I believe that in the current landscape of the climate crisis, it is paramount that we change the way we live and utilize the resources available to us.  Now, more than ever we need to plan ahead, preserve natural resources, and manage waste in order to adapt to climate change while also mitigate its impact on our environment. In my role, I have the opportunity to contribute to developing and supporting the circular economy and open loop recycling. We work hard on educating our customers and stakeholders on value of plastic as a raw material, and on the benefits of using second life products over their virgin alternatives.

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?

As a child, I have seen my parents build a successful business from very little, they worked hard and were not afraid of taking risks. My dad always perceived risks as an inevitable part of life, often repeating that the biggest risk is the one of not taking any. One could wonder, what is the point in aspiring, if we are not going to make a leap and test ourselves? My determination comes from the willingness to take risks, willingness to test myself and to develop myself.

What’s great about being a female in your role?

Wearing high heels! And encouraging, mentoring other young female talent to pursue their career path with confidence and self-belief.

What is your biggest achievement in life?

My biggest tangible achievement is making the decision to pursue my postgraduate master’s degree in business. I am now a halfway through the course, and thoroughly enjoying it.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

Perseverance and hard work always pay off.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

I never wanted to limit myself or see gender as a challenge, which may stem from my innate tendency to look out for opportunities and advantages instead of challenges and limitations. It does not go without saying however that we would not be where we are in terms of gender equality, if it wasn’t for the brave, determined and strong trailblazer women that stood up to what was once considered as conformity.

Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

I am a keen reader, on average I have approximately three books on the go, which I pick up depending on mood. I enjoy being surrounded by nature, which triggered my passion for rock climbing and diving.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

My mantra is ‘don’t count the days, make each day count’. This mantra keeps me motivated and reminds me to make most of each day.

What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

  • It is never too late or too early to chase your dreams
  • Be open minded
  • Believe in yourself, as sky is no limit

 

What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given? 

My ballet teacher once said to me in the moment of my weakness, that when I am not training, someone else is. Moreover, in a defining moment of being selected or not for a life show, that little extra effort may just be the help, that will get it over the line. You can apply this thought to anything in life, prepping for a meeting, training for a marathon, or studying for exams.

Also don’t dwell on the past, concentrate on what lays ahead. We sometimes are consumed by re-living and re-thinking our past decisions, choices, and mistakes. Reflecting is a valuable way of learning and managing ourselves, but for it to be productive, one must eventually move on.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

With photography being a big part of my life, Diane Arbus must be a woman that impacted me the most and in multiple ways. Through her photography, Arbus normalized what was then considered marginalized, with humility and respect.

She said that photography is a ‘license’, to go whenever she wanted – to do whatever she wanted. In times where social norms were still an inhibiting factor for women, she found herself ‘an excuse’ that enabled her to pursue what she was passionate about. On the contrary, I too often see people looking for excuses to not do things.

What are your key motivators?

 I value my own independence and sense of achievement. I like to feel that I made a difference.

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

I feel that large organizations are under increasing pressure to be more transparent and explicit about their gender policies. A lot of great work is being done to remove stereotypes and attribution bias from the workplace, unfortunately, it will take a few more generations and several persistent female leaders to reinforce the change.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

I am a strong believer in being in a role or winning a promotion on merit. Women are currently navigating a difficult landscape post pandemic, with working from home and wearing multiple hats, it must be difficult to sustain high level of commitment when maneuvering family life.  My strategy was always to make sure I get to where I aspire to be, on merit. I always prioritized my personal development and made most of all opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Be brave, be bold and celebrate your individualism. Determination and hard work usually does pay off, having said that, if you don’t feel appreciated, perhaps it’s time to move on and work for a business that will have the level of diversity and sophistication to empower female leadership.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Listening is a foundation of a meaningful communication and a basis for building relationships.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

If I had the opportunity to speak to my 16-year-old self, I would say that it is ok to not know what your ultimate holy grail career is, keep learning, keep exploring and keep developing yourself.

You will be ok.

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