Founder & President, Ellia Communications, Inc.
After choosing to turn her personal mess into a message, Kathy Caprino became a nationally-recognized women’s career coach and work-life expert, executive and leadership developer, writer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. Author of Breakdown, Breakthrough, and Founder of the Amazing Career Project, Kathy is also Founder and President of Ellia READ MORE »
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: The Power of Breakdown to Breakthrough
I was a corporate marketing executive and spent 18 years in corporate life. In the beginning, it was exciting and rewarding, and I enjoyed it. But as I approached 40 years old (I’m 52 now), things began to change. I was outwardly very “successful,” but inwardly I struggled. My work began to feel false and inauthentic to me much of the time, and work-life balance was unattainable. I couldn’t speak up truthfully or be my true self. I became seriously ill with chronic infections of the trachea, was exhausted and drained much of the time, and my work didn’t feel meaningful or positive in the world.
I knew I needed outside help to reinvent my career, and reached out to get it, through working with a therapist, career counselor and mentor, etc. But nothing moved me forward to make the changes I needed to. I then began to experience all twelve of the “hidden” crises I write and speak about today, including gender discrimination, sexual harassment, financial struggle, feeling like I was wasting my real talents, missing my children’s lives, and longing to do something of greater meaning and purpose in the world.
Finally, after a brutal layoff in the days following the attacks of 9/11, I made a decision to reclaim my life. I decided to help people, and not hurt and be hurt. I earned a masters degree in marriage and family therapy, trained as a coach, and began speaking to women around Connecticut about thriving through life change. I was astounded at what I found, which was that 9 out of 10 midlife professional women I spoke with were as miserable as I had been. I decided I needed to understand why, and to be part of the solution if I could.
So I conducted a yearlong national research study on women overcoming professional crisis, which culminated in my book Breakdown, Breakthrough about the 12 “hidden” crises working women face today and how to overcome them. I launched my career and entrepreneurial coaching and consulting firm Ellia Communications and began to write and speak nationally about the challenges women face to reach their highest potential in business. I’ve learned a great deal in the past 10 years — about running a profitable business, the need to pivot when your business model is failing you, about work/life challenges, midlife, transition, breakthrough, and the brilliance and courage of women today.
Now, as Founder and President of Ellia Communications and The Amazing Career Project, and as a national speaker, contributor to Forbes Leadership, Huffington Post and AARP, leadership trainer, coach and consultant, I truly love my work and my business, and am supremely fulfilled by it. I’ve recently re-aligned my work to focus on leadership – helping both corporate career women and female entrepreneurs step up to their highest potential, applying all the business lessons and insights I’ve learned – in marketing, entrepreneurship, launching compelling products, authoring a successful book, pitching ideas effectively, partnering with empowering supporters, developing compelling training programs based on sound research — and now offer these insights to support career and business women globally.
Of course, running your own business is not without its serious obstacles, but I’m passionately committed every day to breaking through my own business challenges, and helping other women do the same. If I can help at least one professional woman each day step up with clarity, confidence and courage to her highest potential and overcome her business challenges, I feel I’m on the right road.
Q: How can someone who is not in a traditional position of leadership, still inspire a shared vision in her workplace or community?
A: I believe that within each and every one of us is the potential for inspiring leadership, regardless of one’s sphere of influence at any given moment in time. As Betsy Myers — President Clinton’s senior adviser on women’s issues and as the COO of President Obama’s 2008 Campaign, shares in her great book Take the Lead, leadership today is not about command and control as it once was. Great leadership that engages, enriches and inspires those around us requires these qualities: authenticity, connection, respect, clarity, collaboration, learning and courage. If you can build these qualities within yourself, foster mutually-supportive relationships, strengthen your communication skills, understand your own personal brand and mission clearly, and have the courage to believe you can make a difference, then you will contribute to your enterprise and move it forward in meaningful ways as a leader.
Q: A great negotiation can be game changing for one’s business or life. Studies have shown that men are much more comfortable negotiating and asking for what they want compared to women. What’s your advice to women who are uncomfortable asking for what they want?
A: Being clear on what we want and having the courage to ask for it in a compelling way is a key to advancement and success. Yet many women struggle with this due to a number of factors, including our neurobiology and cultural training (For more about the unique ways women’s brains are hard-wired, and the impact of this on our thinking and behavior, check out Dr. Louann Brizendine’s great book The Female Brain). To help you gain comfort in asking for what you want, you must first understand that a negotiation is simply a conversation with each side presenting its case. The better informed you are as to the data and facts/information supporting your case, and the more emotionally balanced, confident and in control you are in presenting it, the better you’ll fare.
Here are some tips to help:
1). Know specifically what you want and why you want it. If it’s your ego that’s prompting your desires, think again before asking, and dig deeper to understand your motivations. Being driven by fear or ego will most likely lead you down a path that will not be successful in the long run.
2). On the other hand, if you’re asking for something you know you deserve, such as a raise or promotion, do thorough research on the standard compensation packages for those in your field who have similar experience and accomplishments. Build a strong case and connect with your sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Develop a document that outlines the major contributions you’ve made and how they’ve moved the enterprise forward. Believe without doubt or concern that you deserve it.
3). Finally, practice communicating and articulating your case without emotion, defensiveness or fear. Ask for what you want in a way that presents a powerful case demonstrating your value and worth to the organization.
Q: Many people become discontent with their current career yet are too afraid or reluctant to make a change. What’s your best advice for women in this situation?
A: As a career and leadership coach, I see this each and every day – women who are highly dissatisfied in their careers but remain stuck, afraid and unwilling to take the leap to consider making a change. I’m truly saddened by this, because in it I recognize myself. This was me for many years in my corporate life. I was overly attached to the money, the “security,” the self-esteem I thought my title, power and executive prestige gave me. In truth, I was a slave to all of those things, but didn’t realize it.
My advice for women who want to leave their current path but are too afraid, I’d ask this:
When you’re 90 looking back at your life, what do you want to have stood for, accomplished, given, achieved and left behind? What do you want to be known for?
Once you’ve identified the legacy you want to leave, can you say you on you are on your way to creating it? If you’re deeply unsatisfied in your work, most likely to this question is “no.”
I’ve found through my research that highly successful and fulfilled professional women have the following traits.
1). They are “above-the-line” thinkers – they believe they are accountable and responsible for their own lives, and trust they have what it takes to create a fulfilling life
2). Their goals are natural outgrowths of who they are – they move one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, towards their goals, because these goals are aligned with who they really are
3). They are deeply in touch with their power and express it confidently
4). They are ready to commit time, energy and resources to their growth
5). They are courageous, open and excited to grow and embrace critique
6). They honor their unique priorities and their boundaries
7). They believe in themselves and in others, and in their own self-worth and value
If you’re too afraid to make the change you know you need to make, I’d ask you to review the above traits and see where you need a boost, and get some help from an empowering mentor, coach, supporter or friend who can help you access the internal power you need to bring about the changes you long for. It’s your life, and it’s up to you. No one else can do it for you.
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: My greatest risk so far has been leaving corporate life and launching my coaching and consulting business, Ellia Communications. As a young adult, I was shaped strongly by watching my dad’s professional trajectory as a corporate guy (he was with General Electric for 30 years), and somehow I believed (or should I say “assumed”) that my destiny was to be a corporate leader. But after 18 challenging years in corporate and a brutal layoff, I knew I needed a new direction. Nonetheless, taking the leap to starting my own business was intimidating to say the least. The territory to navigate through was so unknown that I worried I didn’t have what it takes. But I figured it out, and got great help all along the way. Also, developing my voice as a writer and contributor on leadership and career issues for Forbes and other major media outlets felt risky as well because, to me, so much was on the line. These topics and issues are so important that I wanted to feel I was doing them justice and advancing the national conversation in a positive way. Both of these endeavors – building my business and becoming a regular contributor to Forbes, Huffington Post and AARP Work Reimagined have been among the most rewarding and enlivening experiences of my life. Again, focusing on advancing women’s success makes me feel that my talents, experiences and insights are being put to good use.
ON Self Care
Q: How do your prioritize your time?
A: I have some rituals and behaviors that help me make the most out of my time, which is divided among a number of key endeavors including speaking, training, writing, coaching, product development, and client/business development. Each day, I formulate a list of what 1) must get done, 2) would be nice to get done, and 3) doesn’t have to get done. I tackle the most challenging items first if I can, then reward myself with actions and activities that are easier and less strenuous for me. Interestingly, the very first thing I do in the morning is check my email (which many time-management pundits recommend against). But I find that my incoming emails truly excite and enliven me and set a positive tone for the day, because they’re often from new clients, exciting colleagues and partners, and are about new opportunities to write and contribute. (If you hate reading your incoming emails, I think it’s a sign you might hate your job!)
The key to effective time management is to know: 1) what you care about most, 2) what is essential to you to accomplish each day, and 3) how to develop strong boundaries to protect your time and your space so that you are free to focus on what will contribute best to your own success and fulfillment.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure.” What do you know for sure?
A: I know for sure that:
1). I can make a difference in the world — and that we all can.
2). Women are truly amazing and inspiring – loving, courageous, brilliant and strong.
3). We can change our lives, careers and our world for the better, if we believe we can.
4). We can’t do great things in our lives alone and in a vacuum – we need empowering support and help from others, and we have to ask.
5). The most formidable barriers to our success and fulfillment are our beliefs.
6). We humans are incredibly resilient creatures and can overcome even the deepest trauma, pain and suffering.
7). Surrounding ourselves with those who love and believe in us, and protecting ourselves from negativity and from those who would keep us small, is vital to our success and happiness.
8). Living from our higher selves is much more fulfilling and enlivening, but takes serious commitment and focus.
9). The negative patterns that keep repeating in your life are signs that an internal shift within you is required. The negativity won’t be erased from your life until you do what’s necessary to release it.
10). Operating from love, self-worth and empathy is a much happier way to live than from fear, self-rejection, and isolation.
ON Self Care
Q: I’ve learned from experience to take inventory of my relationships, to see who is imparting more negativity, stress or insecurity than confidence. Have you had to reassess a personal or professional relationship that was holding you back from becoming a more fulfilled or successful person?
A: Most certainly, I’ve had to revise and reform a number of key relationships in my life and work, in order to become the person I wanted to, and achieve the success and fulfillment I longed for. One interesting example is my relationship with my husband. My spouse is a renowned jazz percussionist, composer and educator, and to me, he always had the amazing creative life. I on the other hand, viewed myself as the “money bags” – the one with the boring, unfulfilling work who would bring home the big corporate paycheck, benefits, 401K and more. This dynamic in our marriage worked until I snapped after being laid off from my corporate life. I woke up, and realized that I didn’t want this meaningless corporate existence any longer. But moving away from it would mean a dramatic revision to the way we interacted and managed our family and our money, and to the “contract” that we subconsciously made to each other when we married, about money, power, security and about the roles we were to play.
Thankfully, my husband is a very flexible, open and evolved individual who was able to bend and encourage me to pursue a new professional identity and path. My new professional path and focus has dramatically altered our interpersonal and power dynamics and relationship in very significant ways. In the end, I realized that I was the one who had kept myself limited and constrained, who didn’t believe in myself. I was the one whose negativity, insecurity, and stress interfered with our individual and collective success and happiness. I was the one who needed a transformation in order to experience myself and my life in the most expansive way possible, with greater success, fulfillment and joy. I had to walk away from my relationship with my old self to pave the way for the new version to emerge.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: As an English major and a lover of books, and in my current line of work, I’ve read hundreds of books, and love to explore new ideas, experiences and perspectives. But of all the books I’ve read, I believe it’s the little book called Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, that made the most enormous impact on my life. I first read it 10 years ago as I was studying to be a therapist, and have read it many times since. I cherish this book. Written by the great Viennese psychiatrist who’s remembered for his tremendous impact on humanity, the book explores Dr. Frankl’s years of unspeakable horror in the Nazi death camps and what he learned about spiritual survival. Frankl argues that we can’t avoid suffering, but it is how we choose to cope with it, and move forward through it in the pursuit of what we find personally meaningful, that will carry us through life, no matter what it brings.
This book was a life-changer for me because it unlocked vitally important concepts of spirituality, personal meaning, the power of our thoughts, unconditional faith, and the ability to overcome the severest of traumas by going within and finding one’s own meaning and purpose. I was craving for a new way to understand these concepts, and Dr. Frankl delivered that to me, in the most beautiful, loving and compassionate way.
Here’s one key passage that stays with me even today:
“We who lived in concentration camps remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Q: Tell us what inspired you to write your book.
A: I spent 18 years in corporate life and experienced numerous serious crises (but didn’t understand them at the time). Then, after I was brutally laid off in the days following 9/11, I decided I needed to completely reinvent, and reclaim my life and career.
I spent three years earning a Masters degree and receiving training as a marriage and family therapist and a coach, and as I began working as a therapist, I started to deliver talks to women around my state (Connecticut) about how we can thrive through life change. I noticed then something that was very shocking to me – that about 7 out of 10 midlife working women were facing a major crossroads and over half didn’t know what to do about it. And many more were as miserable as I had been in their jobs. I somehow “snapped awake” and felt that I was being called to help other women overcome the challenges I had faced. I decided it was time to turn “my mess into a message.”
I consulted with a wonderful freelance editor about my plans to write a book on the topic of women’s professional crisis, and she advised me to take three powerful steps:
1). Don’t make this book just about me and my experiences – research, research, research what other women are experiencing. Let this book reveal the inspirational stories of others’ transformations as well.
2). Collaborate with successful organizations and partners who can help you spread the word of your work
3). Don’t launch your book into a vacuum – begin building buzz now
I then conducted a yearlong national research study on Women Overcoming Professional Crisis, and was so stunned and inspired by the stories of women’s transformation from “broken down” professionally to enlivened by their brave new directions, that I knew I had to write this book. From the 100 interviews I formally conducted, I observed there were 12 common yet “hidden” crises working women face today, and I developed a three-step holistic model for recognizing these crises and overcoming them once and for all. I tried out my new material and model for change in my own therapy and coaching practice, and it worked!
I believed with all my heart that my book Breakdown Breakthrough had to be written, and I trusted that, despite my having no media platform or other key requirements for being published, I’d find a great publisher who supported me and my messages, and I did (Berrett-Koehler Publishers)! Four years after the book was published, I still receive emails and notes from women all over the globe sharing their stories and explaining how the book impacted them and prompted major life and career change and growth for them. I am humbled by and deeply appreciative of the impact the book has had.