And 3 More Useful Tips for Entrepreneurs From Adam Grant
Clarity coach, consultant, entrepreneur
In this interview Katja shares her story of following her inner desire despite fears and insecurity; explains why it is important to sometimes switch off your head, what are the dangers of perfectionism, and why you shouldn’t listen to family and friends when starting your own project.
Katja, tell us about your career, how did it all begin?
To briefly summarize my story, I was employed in an office job until 2012, after which I turned to freelancing, and finally to starting my own project.
I finished my studies in 2006, graduating in psychology with a master’s degree. Then I went straight to work in the non-profit sector for a very good organization; I worked at the headquarters as a project manager and scientific coworker.
We had a lot of great projects; I worked with the foreign population and in health promoting sector. After about five years I realized: OK, I could stay here forever, but isn’t there more to life? Even though I liked my job and considered it purposeful, I had this very strong inner feeling and a hunger to see the world—to explore my options.
There were two things that were driving me. First, I wanted to be more in touch with the creative world, because most of my friends were artists, designers, photographers or videographers. That was the crowd I spend my time with and was always fascinated by. The second thing was the urge to do something on my own. I think that is what all entrepreneurs have at some point: this feeling of “I don’t want to be dependent anymore, I want to do my own thing.”
How did these career changes progress?
All in all, I think it took me a year. The decision was made in 2011, when I actually told my boss that I was going to quit, and half a year later in February 2012 I left. My plan was to go to Berlin for a couple of months, where all the creative movements were concentrated. I moved there to re-evaluate myself and to see what I could do with my life, thinking of it as my time-out or, as they say today, sabbatical. Months turned to years, I ended up staying in Berlin until 2018.
At that time, I was asking myself: What if I could just freelance as a project manager? It was a very unusual path in my field, but it was actually possible. I started to offer my services to my former employer and other institutions I had worked for earlier. As I was captivated by the creative field, I was also trying to get some project management jobs there. I would say it was a transitional phase, as I did not change my actual job, I only shifted it to other branches and niches. Of course, it took time to adjust, but I eventually ended up doing it for a couple of years and made my living out of it.
However, in the beginning it was not easy for me, it was also very lonely. I’ve always been kind of a stubborn person, when I set my mind on something I do it, but I definitely underestimated how much struggle it takes to cope with insecurity.
It was a constant mix of being totally excited and absolutely scared. I guess it’s what all self-employed people have to learn: To get comfortable in the uncomfortable.
That’s a great topic: let’s talk about struggles. What were yours and how did you handle them?
My biggest struggle was that I thought no one understood me. After quitting a job in a huge, well-known humanitarian organization I was confronted with so many questions. I had this wish to be independent and try different things, but I didn’t understand where I fitted in, and sometimes I was thinking to myself: Are you out of your mind? Can’t you just be content with having a proper job? This self-judgement was mixed with public opinion and family members’ opinions. People were constantly asking me why I was doing this, how could I earn money with it and so on. At some point I realized it was not about me, it was about them and their own fears that they just threw at me. Nevertheless, it was a constant mix of being totally excited and absolutely scared. I guess it’s what all self-employed people have to learn: To get comfortable in the uncomfortable.
Thank you for sharing this. It is very refreshing to hear about struggles, and not only about the positive sides of self-employment.
I think it’s important to talk about it, to normalize the feeling. When you start your own project or do your own thing, it’s like an creative process: You may have an idea or vision, but you still don’t know exactly how this is going to work out or turn out.
Insecurity is a completely normal human reaction when we are confronted with the unknown. We are stepping out of our comfort zone, which I would define as the environment of predictable and understandable tasks, things, challenges. We know them, and that’s why we can handle them, they don’t scare us anymore. When you start your own thing, you automatically step out of the comfort zone. This unknown area becomes a fear zone, but the beautiful thing is that it’s also the zone of the most learning—and that’s where the magic happens.
I know it’s cheesy when people talk about “that’s where the magic happens,” but it’s true. Results can only happen outside the comfort zone, because you are changing as a person just by stepping outside of the safe area, and doing things that you usually don’t. You are no longer doing something because someone else asked you to, but because you have an idea and you are brave or curious enough to explore it. I think one way of gaining more confidence is by throwing yourself out there, accepting the fear and just doing your thing regardless. That is how you expand, or kind of create a new comfort zone. One day you realize that you are getting positive results and that you are actually living it.
Speaking of fear, it’s never about “overcoming” it, I actually don’t like this term. No, you have to accept it and learn to take action despite being scared. That’s how we learn to walk or ride a bicycle, and that’s how we learn everything new in life.
You found a working model of freelancing, but then changed everything again and became a coach. Why and how did you come to this idea?
I realized that my dream of working in a creative field had come true, I was indeed cooperating with designers and photographers just how I had imagined. But after several years I was satisfied with it. It was amazing, but I wanted to move on.
The turning point was when I was cooperating with a very successful artist and her team. While coordinating and running projects, I was also working a lot one-to-one with people. I realized that I was doing so much more than just my actual job, I was connecting and providing support on a personal level. But I only came up with the coaching idea, through the inspiration of people telling me: “Hey, that really helped me. You should be a coach!”
And that is funny, because I had actually received this kind of feedback throughout my whole career, and I think in the back of my head I always had this idea of becoming a coach one day. That gathered pace more and more, until I realized I should start offering this as a service. Because in the end I am a psychologist, so I kind of came back to my roots thinking: Wait a moment! Of course, it makes sense, because it’s what I am originally trained on. I studied human behavior, how to motivate people and how to make them feel better.
What happened next?
When I realized this desire of helping more people, and made the decision to become a coach, I was extremely excited! I felt it was exactly what I wanted to do next. And I was just like going crazy (laughs). I remember I went home thinking: Wow, I’m actually going to do this! Emotional excitement came up, and this is no joke, I really feel I became like a maniac for a couple of months. I literally locked myself into my apartment. I bought a big flipchart, put it in the room and was just letting all my ideas out. I was immersing myself into this flipchart, sketched my concept, writing over, taking photos. I was really obsessed.
To make it short, my goal was to create the service that I had wished for five or six years earlier, when I was going through this transition of understanding what do I want to do with my career. And that’s how I came up with the concept of wanting to be a clarity coach for female professionals who were experiencing similar struggles.
Entrepreneurship is the biggest personal development school that you can go through. That’s why it’s very challenging, but also very exciting.
Why female professionals exactly?
Good question, I am asked this a lot. The decision of focusing on females was from my own experience of seminars, coaching and training. I personally always profited the most when it was purely female workshops or female settings, because I just felt we all open up more, there is this empowering energy of female support. On the other hand, women very often have to deal with the issues of insecurity or feeling that we are not good enough, not perfect. There are also many psychological studies showing that women have way lower self-esteem than men.
Speaking of perfection, do you think it is true that aiming for perfection often leads us to doing nothing at all?
Yes. I think this is also one of the massive mistakes many entrepreneurs make. We seek perfection from the very beginning. But here is the thing: Done is better than perfect. You have to just totally incorporate an action-taker mindset. This is what I would do differently myself if I were to go back, and this is also a topic I work on with every single client, because perfection is something that really holds us back. The thing is that entrepreneurship is the biggest personal development school that you can go through, because you are constantly confronted with personal issues, fears, limiting beliefs, inner stories—and at the same time with reality. That’s why it’s very challenging, but also very exciting.
How can we cope with perfectionism? When should we draw a line and say okay, it is good enough for me?
Usually the perfection is related to ourselves. It’s our inner story and our wanting to be perfect, because people outside don’t care, they don’t even see what we see. What helps is to really understand: What is the minimum I need to have in order to move on? – and just leave it there. You can always optimize your service, or make the website nicer later. The perfection issue is something we have to acknowledge and let go for the sake of taking action.
From the business perspective, you have to understand very early the difference between secondary tasks and money-generating tasks. You should make sure that you don’t spend too much time lost on secondary tasks, because this will cost you time and money.
Timing in general is a crucial topic as well. Sometimes people wait for the “right moment” for too long, and they never get into action. You need to understand that there is never a “right moment.” At some point you should be just tired of not doing what you feel you need to do, as if you were giving up on your own dreams. I guess for everyone it’s a personal story. For me it was the question: If not now, when then?
Which supporting tool can you recommend to begin with?
I am a big fan of Simon Sinek and his concept of “Start with Why”. This idea itself is not new I guess, but he put it into a very nice tangible concept that people can understand and share. And I am totally on his page. I love the Why, and I also recommend using it when you ask yourself what do you really want to do next. The Why is connected with you as a person, and your purpose. You can be sure, if you follow that path, it will lead to fulfillment, because you are revealing yourself. Means: Who you are, what you believe in and the actions that you take, will start to be more aligned.
Why can’t we understand our Why?
I do believe the reason why most people have a hard time finding the Why is because they are looking for it somewhere in their head. Our modern Western society is very rationalized, we think through and analyze everything. We are looking for a solution somewhere in our thinking process. I do believe the Why—although of course it does have a thinking part to it—is mostly emotional; a heartfelt connection.
When you switch off your mind, the subconscious—where inspiration lies—comes up. That’s why most moments of inspiration happen when we least expect them: In the shower, or during the winter holidays, or just when doing random things. It’s beautiful how, when we stop thinking and rationalizing, we suddenly get a click, and the solution is just there. However, it does not happen out of nothing, it’s usually a result of a process of having started to be more genuinely in touch with yourself..
What is your Why in being a coach?
Speaking of my Why, I have two of them. One was definitely my drive for independence and freedom. The other Why is the desire to help people to become what they want to be, to reveal the potential they have doubt about. Seeing people evolve personally, seeing that shine in their eyes, when they are inspired by themselves, just makes me the happiest.
I do believe in the power of our own desires, our own dreams, and that they are worth being looked at and followed.
Which advice can you give to budding entrepreneurs, and to those who are thinking of taking this path?
There are three very important things I tell my clients. First—and we talked about this earlier—done is better than perfect. I think the entrepreneurial field ultimately is all about taking action. Of course, we have to do the thinking part, we have to do the conception part, we have to do the testing and playing around. But at some point, we have to take action. And I think this is what a lot of people wait for too long.
Second, you should understand that you do not have to do everything by yourself. I dare to think that it is important to invest in yourself and hire your business coach. It is very empowering and can help to get on the right track faster and easier than by doing and learning everything by yourself.
Third, and probably the most important thing is to surround yourself with like-minded people. The biggest mistake that you can make is seeking support from people who just don’t understand you and the path you have chosen. Don’t expect your parents, or your best friends, or your partner to be happy about your decision. Don’t try to seek their validation, just tell them: “That’s my thing and what I need to do now,” and then go and find people that inspire you.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that inspires you?
I like the claim of my brand: “Your dreams matter.” I do believe in the power of our own desires, our own dreams, and that they are worth being looked at and followed. For me “Your dreams matter” also means “You do matter.” You as a person, you with your heart and your desire, your weirdness, your craziness, and it’s not about perfection. It’s about self-appreciation. You do matter and your dreams matter. It’s my claim, and it’s also the way I live my own life.
ABOUT KATJA NAVARRA
Katja currently offers 1 to 6 months personal 1:1 Coaching Programs for female professionals. Besides that, she works as a psychological counselor for an Employer Assistance Program provider and has been working as an independent consultant for a diversity department in the health care sector since 2012. She is also a co-founder of a new online marketplace for educationally valuable toys (www.thebetterplay.com) and is involved as consultant for other young entrepreneurs at the Startzentrum Zürich.
Find out more about Katja right here: