Dear Sheryl Sandberg,
Kayti Sullivan is leaning in. Look her up.
Kayti and I first bonded in college, while playing boozy dodgeball games in matching Greek t-shirts as undergrads at University of California, Santa Barbara. Sully, as we called her, was one of many Pi Phi sisters who defied my preconceived notions of ditzy Legally Blonde sorority girls. Yes, we have a secret handshake. No, I will not show it to you.
This girl walks with a trail of sparkle, and her shimmer rubs off on everyone in her wake. After years of traveling down our separate life paths, she and I reconnected when I moved to The City Where Dreams are Made Of to work with charity: water. Sully was one of the only old friends I knew who lived in New York, so when I took the job, I pinged her. Even though we hadn't spoken in years, she responded enthusiastically right away, let me sleep on her couch for the first few nights, invited me out with her friends, and showed me around Williamsburg. Our re-kindled friendship quickly became the greatest comfort when I moved to this big, intimidating city. She is 99% responsible for me moving to Brooklyn and we cohabitated for the first three years I lived on the East Coast.
Here's why sharing a home with Kayti is the best:
1.) She's a morning person. The sound of the front door closing at exactly 6.30am served as a daily motivation to get out of bed and go to the gym like Kayti. (More accurately, it was a daily reminder that I was pushing snooze five times and not going to the gym).
2.) She and I can thoughtfully discuss what it means to be a human being and have a two-person Justin Timberlake dance party on the same night.
Kayti applies 100% of her energy to whatever is in front of her. At the office, she's not satisfied until she understands everything going on around her. She’s the most focused, sweaty cyclist in spin class. She's the first to challenge anyone to a chugging contest: I've watched many a beefy dude walk away in shame. The moment she decides she's tired, she'll pass out like a toddler riding in the backseat of a car within two minutes. No matter what she's doing, Kayti is all in.
Our roommate-ship recently ended when she and her husband Morgen (coffee #4 and the other half of an inspiring curly-haired couple) moved across the pond to London.
In 2007, Kayti interviewed for an entry-level sales job with an unknown start-up in San Francisco called Yelp. Now, in 2014 at 30 years old, she’s the Head of European Sales, responsible for growing the business and managing the Germany, Ireland, and UK offices.
Sully worked her butt off to get there. When first offered a management position, she read every book on the topic that she could find. Recognizing she didn't know all the answers right away, Kayti was humble and open to learning. She was eager to get feedback for how she could improve -- not just searching for compliments, but soliciting constructive criticism. This allowed her to adapt quickly in her new role, accelerate her learning, and change the way other people saw her.
Kayti is considered young for her big-time job. Her hair is big, blond and curly. She smiles a lot. Her personality is positively effervescent. And she’s consistently the person who sends me ridiculous “how the hell did you find this” videos. But don't underestimate Kayti Sullivan. She manages hundreds of employees. And she does it very well. I’ve been told she has a “dazzling” leadership style. I dream of one day becoming a people-manager as excellent as her.
Note to Self: What makes someone a dazzling manager?
The #1 piece of advice she gives to ambitious people coming through the office door is to
“If you do that, opportunities will open up and it's up to you whether or not you want to walk through those doors when they do. But you create them *dramatic pause* by putting your butt in your seat *dramatic pause* and making yourself excellent.” Kayti lifts everyone around her up, because she insists that they recognize the excellence in themselves.
After three months on different continents, we spent this past weekend together, celebrating our good buds Caroline (coffee #6) and Rasmus' fairytale wedding on Lake Lucern, Switzerland. Laughing, dancing and snacking on Swiss cheese highlighted how much I miss my roomie -- a whole-hearted bastion of life, who sips only from beer steins that are half-full.
1. Don’t stress out.
Early in her career, Sully was weighed down by the pressure to hit sales numbers at her new job, as well as the 20-something pressure to figure out who she was as a human. In response, she got hyper-organized. She realized that once you put a plan in place, anxiety dissipates, so you can handle anything thrown at you. Making a plan also makes time for binge-watching Felicity and Gossip Girl, without guilt.
Kayti's mum, Sue (an Aussie from Melbourne), studied and worked at Stanford and is a neurobiologist who discovered an enzyme in the human brain (no big deal). But you'd never guess it upon meeting her, in the best way. Sue has a genuine interest in the value that each person she meets brings to the table and treats every person she meets with respect.
Learn about the colleagues and friends you spend your days with, and take a real interest in the value that everyone have to offer.
3. Choosing a great life partner is super important.
The person you choose as your partner is the most important decision you'll make in life. Kayti and Morgen constantly adventure-travel together, brainstorm new company ideas over dinner, and illuminate the beautiful wacky side of one another. There is no question why they were invited to, and attended, a wedding every weekend last summer.
Marriage expert John Gottman has found that spouses willing to receive input from his or her partner(s) is a key indicator for happy, stable marriages. The majority of their courtship developed while they lived long-distance. When they got married, Morgen based in Boston where his company IdeaPaint was based, moved down to New York. Morgs is an outdoors enthusiast, so New York was not his #1 option of places to begin their married life. But they found a perfect compromise in the form of a simple duplex in New Paltz, a historic village nestled between the Shawangunk Mountains and farmland (their weekend retreat). The adaptability and desire to grow that exists in their individual work worlds is equally important in their relationship.
4. Face conflict head-on.
Difficult, uncomfortable conversations are inevitable in life. Dive right in with the opening line, “I’m just going to rip the bandaid off, then we can talk about it.”
5. Don’t let analysis paralysis slow you down.
People commonly face decision-based anxiety that gives us “analysis paralysis.” We are all defined by the big life decisions that we make. . . . but decisions are not final. You can choose a path, then change course. Missteps aren't the end of the world. One of Kayti's strengths is her ability to critically assess her path and be willing to change her goals.
After finishing a Masters in Ancient European Art, she began pursuing jobs in galleries and museums. But despite the fact she'd spent her entire academic career immersed in the art world, she quickly realized that she couldn’t imagine a future in that space. Her new litmus test for job hunting became the question, ”Do I want to be the person who is interviewing me when I grow up? Are the leaders of the company inspiring and am I confident about putting my financial future into their hands?” When she interviewed at Yelp, she thought, “These people are engaging, contemporary, from varied backgrounds, and I could see myself having a career like them one day.” So she followed her intuition and took the job based on the three Yelpers she met with. She has always been a supportive brand ambassador and truly believes in the company. When she and Morgen got married, they hired the caterer, photographer, and DJ off Yelp.
High five for following your intuition.
PS. Andrew Firestone from The Bachelor Season 3 (of the Firestone Wine family in the Santa Barbara area) came to our sorority house to win votes when his father Brooks Firestone was running for local office one year. #whereishenow? #FirestonePinotNoirFullCircle