Entrepreneur and author Kathryn Sollmann knows the definition of personal growth. She has started 5+ companies based on her ambitions, and now works full-time to help women find flexible work options.
Her book, “Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead,” will be on the shelves October 9th. But before her big debut, this Fairygodboss talked self-confidence and how to measure success.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Kathryn Sollmann
Founder, 9 Lives for Women
Greater New York City Area
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
It all started when I was an avid fan of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I wanted to be Mary Richards (clothes, apartment, job), and I was career minded from a very early age. I was always very entrepreneurial. I had a catering business in college and I’ve launched several businesses with and without partners (investment-related publishing, marketing communications, and two different businesses focused on current and returning professional women). Early in my career, I had two long stints as an employee (training & development at a big accounting firm and conference programming at Institutional Investor magazine). But since then, I have loved the freedom of creating many different initiatives that fit in and around my life.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I believe that up is not the only way forward for women and that a new feminism—a different work equality—will emerge when we acknowledge many respected paths to professional stature and financial security. The most critical workplace issue for women is not how high they can rise, it’s continual participation. Too many women take at least one costly career break and forfeit up to 4X their salaries each year they’re out. Anyone who wants to reach the pinnacles of business or government should absolutely have a path to do so, but I believe the vast majority of women who have 2 huge caregiving roles (children and aging parents) are lucky if they get dinner on the table—let alone have the energy or singular focus to claw their way to the C-Suite. My book helps women find many flexible, lucrative, professional ways to work, care for their family and achieve long-term financial security.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
Twice in my career, I walked away from a business that I created from scratch. These were difficult, emotional decisions, but I knew in both cases that I was no longer in personal growth mode. Sometimes you have to go through that discomfort to get to a more fulfilling and healthy “other side”.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
I have two Fairygodbosses: my two daughters (ages 27 and 18). They’ve always kept me on my toes, challenged and broadened my thinking, and provided endless inspiration to find ways to help all generations of women blend work and life.
What do you do when you're not working?
I’m a big foodie. I'm always reading recipes and thinking about something new to cook. A very sophisticated professional woman got me into knitting a couple of years ago, and I love seeking out high-end yarns and getting lost in a project after a long day. I’m an avid reader and the Kindle saves me from lugging six books in my suitcase. And when I’m not working, I’m usually forcing myself to exercise—I’m a new fan of pilates.
If you could have dinner with one famous person—dead or alive—who would it be?
Sheryl Sandberg. I admire how she empowered women to stand up for themselves and “lean in” to their highest potential. But I think she forgot about the family part—and how hard it is for everyday women (with everyday bank accounts) to blend work and life.
My sense is that Sheryl engaged lots of younger women (as women’s professional organizations tend to do) who haven’t yet reached that tipping point of realizing the C-Suite isn’t easy for a woman who has the other big jobs of caring for multiple children and elderly parents. “Lean in” is the cart before the horse. We can’t forget about helping women with step one: they need more foundational support from employers so they don’t topple over while they’re leaning in. And women should also be able to “lean in” to more flexible work without judgments that they are not “ambitious enough." Sheryl and I have a lot to talk about over a good dinner (maybe I would cook!).
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
"Out of Africa" is an all-time favorite. But I always tell people to watch a less well-known film, "Return to Paradise." The latter is a haunting movie that is great dinner conversation, trying to answer “What would you have done?”
Lightning Round: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
"Time and Again" by Jack Finney. Such a great love story. I’d love to travel back to late 1800s or early 1900s New York City.
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
Online clothes shopping, I guess. I love the convenience and the huge selection. If I won the lottery, I’d start a few other businesses that are percolating in my head, buy a house on Lake Como, and an apartment in Paris. Then, I'd fill every available wall with seascape oil paintings.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
My best career advice is not “get to the top." It is “stay at it.” Always, always find work that fits your life. Plan for life’s surprises. Make sure you earn, save, and invest toward a long and comfortable retirement. Explore the ever-widening world of flexwork, and you’ll find many interesting and exciting ways to tuck all generations of your family into a future that is financially secure and safe.
Why do you love where you work?
I work in a home office in a very pastoral setting with lots of gardens and mature trees, big fields, lovely views and the occasional sounds of a nearby farm. The best “co-worker” I’ve ever had is always at my feet – a three-year-old black lab.
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