Catch TEDx Speaker, Growth Coach Dr. Katie T. Larson LIVE at LIMITLESS: Breaking Free from Limiting Barriers & Living Consciously (HK), with #teambusywoman.
In this interview, Dr. Larson candidly shares how she felt moments of “Imposter Syndrome" when she first received her PhD, her take on happiness vs. joy, having the courage to "answer the call", and even on women-related menstrual cycles and how it can affect motivation, cooperation & productivity.
What are some ways you live a purposeful life? And how has this 'purpose' evolved over the years?
I am a big believer that we have not one but several purposes in life, and over the years, my purposes have changed quite a bit - some were tied to my career, others were tied to my life stages.
I often compare our human lives to a big, unpolished chunk of stone with our purposes as the facets that get polished down, eventually making a beautiful gemstone. I see that some of my purposes have been: giving, receiving, caring, listening, helping, guiding, learning, researching, and supporting — and while engaged in each, I tried to really let myself be “polished”.
About 10 years ago, my purpose was to connect with adolescents as a high school science teacher, and I did all that I could to be a positive role model who could guide them towards their best selves. Later, my purpose evolved into many roles from scientist to professor to chef to mentor - each of which helped me see myself and the world through new perspectives, continuing to polish each facet of my self.
Now that I have become a mother, I see my purpose has changed entirely. I find my existence has become so much more than just polishing my self. Now, I am in charge of helping raise another being to be the best human they can be. I find this purpose more meaningful than any I have had yet.
What does happiness mean to you? How do you achieve it in your day-to-day life?
I think that happiness and joy should be differentiated here because I think you can have a lot of joy in your life, but not have constant happiness. Personally I find joy in living a life full of curiosity, adventure, love, and connections. By positioning myself to have these aspects in my life often, I create joy, but because they can sometimes conflict, I am not always happy.
For example, I love to sink deep into “rabbit-holes” of curiosity and will get stuck reading & researching for days, forgoing any connections with loved ones for a while. Although this brings me a lot of joy, soon I get lonely and not very happy. So, for me it is important to be aware of what brings me joy and do it in ways that also make me happy. It is a constant balance, which I don’t mind fine-tuning as I go. I think pursuing happiness is more difficult than pursuing joy because it can be so short-lived, so I focus most of my energy on curating a joyful existence and as a result, get many happy days in between.
On your personal brand webpage, you talked about how you moved to New Zealand after choosing the location randomly from the spin of a globe. What prompted you to take such a huge risk like that, and has that decision helped you find purpose in life in any ways?
I was lucky enough to have a professor who pushed us to find that liminal space outside of our comfort zone and dwell in it until we were comfortable. He pushed me to do the scariest thing I could imagine and for me, it was leaving my friends and family to live on the opposite side of the world.
I was terrified as I got on the plane for NZ the first time but when I arrived, I knew I was “home”. It was actually a very spiritual moment for me — my heart knew it was the right thing to do and it guided me well the whole time I lived there (and it brought me back two more times later).
That decision has reminded me that the most meaningful and rewarding aspects of life are often just on the other side of our comfort zone. If you can find the courage (and sometimes you really only need 20 seconds of it!) to push yourself outside of where you feel comfortable, you really can benefit and grow immensely. This type of courage is what I mean by answering your “Call to adventure”.
By trusting your heart to lead you to the most growth, you will engage in an adventure of a lifetime — complete with lots of action, tests, mentors, allies, villains, and of course, a great reward that awaits you just beyond your comfort zone. It won’t be easy — but it will be worth it.
What are some challenges that you have faced in your career?
Because I chose to be self-employed as a Growth Coach, many of my challenges have been self-imposed as I am both the boss and employee! I laugh at myself when I make goals and rules, then break them a few days later… Staying motivated and focused can be a challenge when I am lacking energy or time to put into my business.
What may seem surprising to some is that a key gender-related aspect of self-employment is recognizing how your personal menstrual cycle can affect motivation, cooperation and productivity. As a woman, it is important to note that we are not linear creatures, but instead cyclical — which means it is completely normal to be very productive one day and hardly at all the next.
I recommend women to chart their cycle into four seasons and recognize when they are in “Spring and Summer” (after menstruation and near ovulation), as this is the most productive time to cooperate with others; “Autumn” (after ovulation) as this is the most independently productive time; and “Winter” (during menstruation) as this is a time to rest and reflect in order to dream up new possibilities, but not to act on them.
This concept single-handedly made my business easier to navigate and manage, as I am easier on myself during certain seasons and I don’t push myself to produce when I should really be reflecting. This has also helped my clients who may be struggling to fit into a linear workplace.
What was your support system like during the times of challenges?
I have been fortunate enough to have a supportive husband and great friends during this process. My husband has been the best shoulder and ear — supporting me and listening to me “think out loud”, helping me articulate what I do for others. He says he is lucky to get my coaching services for free (and on-demand), and he wants everyone to be able to experience what he appreciates about me. I love that he supports my visions, actions and pushes me to offer them to others.
Also, I have a strong group of girlfriends, who coincidentally are also self-employed as a variety of service providers from copywriters to fellow coaches. Thy have been my rock during the creation of GrowthQuests. They have not only been empathetic to my path as they have all traveled a similar one as well, but they are great with advice and tips on how to approach the market with my services. We like to chat on video calls and/or meet up in person if time allows.
Were there any self-imposed challenges that you had to face?
It is so normal to have this! I definitely felt moments of “Imposter Syndrome” once I finished my PhD and was now supposed to be called “Dr. Larson”, but still felt like I had so much to learn! Although I am now considered an expert in my field, I am also insatiably curious, so I tend to want to learn more and more, and am never satisfied with what I know.
Another self-imposed challenge is pricing my services. I personally love my work enough to do it for free, but I also know that I have a unique form of expertise that is actually worth a lot to my clients. So learning how to price myself accurately and fairly has been a challenge because I think many women under-value their service to the world - myself included. This has been a learning process as I continue with my work.
How did you solve these problems and face these challenges?
To combat Imposter Syndrome I simply had to just throw myself out there. I had to make friends with my vulnerability and have courage to do the work I believed is important to the world - one workshop and one client at a time.
Some actionable mantras I use or rituals I practice include:
- "Trust the Must"... What part of your heart is saying "I MUST do this?". Trust that...
- Also, one of my all-time favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell that I love is: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us".
As someone with high expectations for myself, I wanted to offer only the best of my abilities, but I had to make amends with the fact that you can’t offer your best until you start offering first. I reckoned it to jumping into the pool before being able to fully swim. I began my work by offering workshops, one-on-one coaching, e-courses — nearly anything that I could try my hand at.
A piece of advice a fellow coach gave me was “Let your work define you”, which was really helpful for me as I was transitioning from a PhD student to a coach. When you first begin, you define yourself by your website copy, but those words feel shallow without experience behind them. Luckily, the more work you do, the more your website can reflect what you actually do, rather than the theoretical versions of yourself. This too is something I am still trying to improve as I think there are many ephemeral aspects to my work that are hard to put onto a website.
Were there any lessons you learnt from these challenges?
So many things! Primarily, I learned what I am “made of”, meaning just how creative, clever, and courageous (all Cs!) I am. This helps keep me going when I temporarily forget just how much I have already achieved. I try to look back and reflect on how many times I have reinvented myself and transformed into something new, and it reminds me that everything I am experiencing is all part of the growth process. Luckily, experiencing a lot of self-growth is vital to better understanding my clients, who need to know that I am still growing as well.
Do you have any advice for women who are struggling to live a fulfilled life? What can these women do to improve their wellbeing and make the best of their lives?
First, it is important to know that the “struggle is real” — meaning that finding fulfilment in the modern age can be extremely difficult due to so many factors working against us. We live in an era where marketing, social media, and the workplace are specifically designed to make us feel inadequate and less fulfilled so we are more likely to consume products and services that will benefit someone besides our self.
My first piece of advice for women who are feeling less fulfilled is to ask themselves, “Who am I really living my life for?” If you find it is to maintain a certain image on Instagram, or to satisfy a boss’ demands, or to impress your friends with the latest handbag, you may not even be living your own life. This helps you recognize you can live a meaningful, soulful life without being selfish.
The second piece of advice I would give is to “Answer the Call” to adventure. We all have a call that has the potential to bring us from the ordinary world to the special world - some of us answer it and many of us ignore it.
Answering the call takes extreme courage because it will fling you into the unknown and there you will find the most adventure and most growth (which can be a bit painful at times), but ultimately makes us fulfilled because it is the true path we are meant to be on.
You can recognize the call usually if it has one or more of the following: a) it is frightening, yet strangely familiar, b) it often comes at an inconvenient time, c) once you answer it, it feels magical, emotional and “just clicks”. If you trust yourself and have the courage to answer the call, you will seldom regret what it brings you and often feel more fulfilled for listening to your heart. This is how we grow and this is how we develop into mature, purpose-filled adults.
Dr. Katie T. Larson, PhD is a "Growth Coach" and the founder of GrowthQuests, a natro-mythic approach to personal exploration and transformation. She is called to bring the joys of creativity, stories, and play back into the field of self-development. A courageous explorer of inner and outer worlds, she has traveled the globe as a scientist, educator, and scholar gathering unique and universal aspects of how one’s life journey unfolds.
How do you face your self-imposed challenges and befriend your vulnerabilities?
Read more: Embracing Your Vulnerabilities and Staying True To Your Self & Purpose
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