Favorite Makers: Career Coach Elatia Abate

by Debbie Baer May 23, 2016


Left to right, me, Elatia, and Betty the mannequin.

Meet our newest Favorite Maker, Career Coach Elatia Abate! I met Elatia about 3 years ago at a seminar where she was teaching an intro to Design Thinking. Back then I was trying to name our company and was really stumped. Inspired by Elatia’s teaching–part creative audaciousness, part enthusiastic cheerleading and part patient listening–I reached out to her afterwards for some help. She gave me some fun games to shake up my creative process and, maybe the best idea, she encouraged me to open up the conversation and share my challenge with friends and colleagues. Soon after I had a name and a few months later I hired her as my coach.

Elatia Abate makes people realize their creative potential.

TO START, I ASKED ELATIA TO TELL US WHAT SHE DOES AND WHAT COACHING IS.

Well, I’m an entrepreneur and a coach. I went into business for myself to revolutionize the way the world thinks about career and making money. And I’ve realized it’s moved beyond that, and I actually want to change the language that we use around these things too. And now I’m founding a company called Dream Job Designs which I’m going to use to take all of these ideas to the rest of the world.

So, what I do as a coach–I think a lot of people have a misconception that coaching is “therapy-lite.” It’s not. Coaching comes more from the world of theatre or sports where the idea is the better you are at something, the more coaches you have. So if you think about professional athletes or someone like Angelina Jolie, they’ve got nutrition coaches, gym coaches, acting coaches, dialect coaches and on and on and on. So people who are at the top of their game who want to improve what they do hire a coach to help them do that.

The question with coaching is, “given where we are today, what do we want to create now?” Because the only thing we can ever have is right now–the past is already over and the future doesn’t exist yet. The reason we don’t coach based on planning from the past is because you can’t create a future that’s anchored in things you want to change.

For example, let’s say you’ve failed at three businesses and you’re living in this space where you tell yourself, “I’m the person who failed at three businesses but today I want to be a success.” You can’t be a success if you still think you’re the person who failed at three businesses. By doing coaching, you kind of zero out the sum, start with a blank slate and say, “who do I want to be, what do I want to create and how do I get myself there?”

I LOVE HOW YOU STARTED BY SAYING YOU'RE FOUNDING YOUR COMPANY TO TAKE YOUR IDEAS TO THE WORLD. IT'S THIS INSPIRING THING IN ALL MY FAVORITE MAKER INTERVIEWS, EVERYONE SAYD, "I HAVE THIS THING AND I'M BRINGING IT INTO THE WORLD." WHY DO YOU FEEL LIKE BRINGING YOUR DIEAS AROUND CAREER AND MONEY INTO THE WORLD? 

The feeling comes initially from my own experience, of having lived what it feels like to not be happy in the way that I make my money. And even worse than that, to be so unhappy as to get sick from the stress. And then experiencing what it feels like to be totally fulfilled in what I make. The difference in my own quality of life is the base line for that.

And from my practical experience: I used to run recruiting for a really big consumer goods company and a really big media company. After interviewing so many thousands of people who were fabulous but were bored or worse–I just think humanity deserves better than to be bored and miserable for more than half of their waking hours every single day!

TOTALLY, AND DON'T FORGET THE CRAP THEY BRING HOME AFTER HOURS. 

Exactly, and I have this theory–it’s not exactly about finding your passion or your bliss, because those are kind of fuzzy terms. What that stuff really means to me is excitement, and excitement comes from things like intellectual challenge, it comes from building stuff, it comes from creating things in the world. Or for more cerebral or academic people it comes from thinking about things. And I think more people deserve to live that way, with that light behind their eyes.

I LOVE THAT. SO THIS ONE OF MY FIRST INTERVIEWS WHERE MY FAVORITE MAKER DOESN'T PHYSICALLY MAKE SOMETHING, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS SO MUCH CREATIVITY IN COACHING. I'M CURIOUS, WHAT DOES CREATIVITY MEAN TO YOU AND HOW DO YOU HELP YOUR CLIENTS DISCOVER THAT THEY ARE ALSO CREATIVE?

For me, every coaching session I have and every workshop I teach is actually akin to a creative design process–it’s about bringing something into the world. I’m getting chills just thinking about this! So that’s why I called my company Dream Jobs Designs as opposed to like, Get Your Best Job! Because it’s this notion of being able to bring something forth into the world, getting to imagine something, create it, sketch it out and make it real and tangible in some way.

So creativity means to me the ability to say and do and experiment with things without worrying about judgement. It’s the ability to bring something into the world or to connect disparate dots and make them come into fruition in some way. And creativity for me is fun. Creativity is freedom. So many of us, and myself included–especially before I started all this work– we are such prisoners to what other people think, to pleasing other people, to what we “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Creativity, by bringing our own experience into the world, breaks those shackles. And that’s magic.

I BET I'LL HAVE PEOPLE READ THIS WHO THINK, "THAT SOUNDS AWESOME! BUT SO SCARY BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH TELLING US WHAT WE 'SHOULD' DO." WHAT LITTLE NUGGET OF HELP CAN YOU GIVE PEOPLE WHO ARE A LITTLE AFRAID OF THIS IDEA?

Yeah, so I’ll give you 2 answers to that. One, to address the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” First, notice when you say that–because we all say to ourselves, “I should do this, I shouldn’t do that.” Then ask yourself, “is that true? Is it true that I should be doing this?” Or, “who’s telling me that I should be doing this?” Because oftentimes it’s not even you who thinks you should be doing something, it’s something you heard from someone else. So as you begin to dismantle these shoulds or shouldn’ts–these things we perceive as truths–you see that actually we could be doing infinite other things. That begins to unlock the idea that something else is possible. Maybe something isn’t so crazy.

And then in terms of recognizing for oneself how creative they are, what their capabilities and potential might be. You know, there are people who right away say, oh I’m not creative.

RIGHT, OR ALL THE PEOPLE WHO SAY, "I CAN'T DRAW SO I'M NOT CREATIVE."

Right, so you say okay, well, maybe not today. You are actually a really great example of this, because when you started grad school you had never done a costume sketch before. Ever! But here you are, and you started out and you just had to practice. So this second nugget is to let the valve off of the pressure cooker. It doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate, it’s not going to be perfect, but can you do something today that adds a bit to your knowledge in that area?

And if that’s hard, then okay, go back to that idea you have that you’re not creative, and think back over your whole life, are there instances that actually prove the opposite of that? Where you actually were creative? Even if it’s in a family situation, or decorating a birthday cake or whatever, you begin to see the statement of “I’m not” is actually not as true as you thought it was.

RIGHT, INSTEAD IT COULD BE, "I'M RUSTY," OR, "I DIDN'T REALIZE WHAT I'M DOING IS ACTUALLY CREATIVE." I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE CONNECT CREATIVITY AND CREATION WITH PRETTY PICTURES OR SOMETHING YOU CAN SEE A HAND IN. BUT THERE'S CREATIVITY IN DESIGNING YOUR CAREER, DESIGNING HOW YOU GET TO WORK EACH DAY...

Exactly! And creativity comes with challenge. You know, a very dear friend of mine who is a partner at IDEO and a toy inventor, he always says, “the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s boredom.” And we’re also breaking this notion that work is bad. Because work, actually, is pretty awesome–if you’re doing something that is intellectually stimulating, that’s challenging, that’s making your mind grow and stretch. We humans were made to do that. That’s why we love solving puzzles, that’s why people are so interested in gossip, because you’re hearing other people’s problems that you then try to armchair solve!

I'M REALLY GOOD AT SOLVING OTHER PEOPLE'S PROBLEMS!

We all are SO good at it! Right? And so that’s where the fun is really is, it’s changing the notion–and this is what I mean about changing the language around how we talk about these things–that work is bad and play is the opposite. Because really, that’s not the case.


Elatia and I recreating our interview, smiles and all!
YOU SAID SOMETHING EARLIER, THE IDEA THAT WHEN SOMETHING HAS TO BE PERFECT THAT'S SUCH A BURDEN. 

Oh sweet Jesus yeah! It’s really heavy!

IT'S SO HEAVY! WITH THE WILLARY IT'S HARD FOR ME TO ACCEPT THINGS WON'T BE PERFECT, I'M ALWAYS FINDING SOMETHING I WANT TO DO BETTER. BUT I DO KNOW IT'S ALL AN EVOLUTION. I'M CURIOUS THOUGH, WITHOUT PERFECTION, HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS? HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU'RE DOING A GOOD JOB? 

I think that all goes back to having a good understanding of what you want to create and why you want to create it. Because we realize the “what” we want to create has a lot less to do with the actual outcome. So it’s always, what do I want to create, why do I want to create it and am I moving toward my goal?

As long as the progress is forward in general then it’s successful. And also, steps backwards aren’t that big of a deal. “Okay, we’ve moved backwards. Is this a big deal? Do we want to get back on track?” And if you do then it’s figuring out what you have to do to get back there. This shift in awareness is different than “Oh my gosh, the world’s going to end because we shifted course.”

Yes, and something I like doing when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and need to find some awareness is to take a moment at the end of the day and ask myself, “is The Willary better off today at 5pm than it was this morning at 9am?” And breaking it down even further if it’s really rough going, “is it better now than it was an hour ago?” I find that helpful.

YES, AND SOMETHING I LIKE DOING WHEN IT FEELS LIKE I'M SPINNING MY WHEELS AND I NEED TO FIND SOME OF THAT AWARENESS IS TO TAKE A MOMENT AT THE END OF THE DAY AND ASK MYSELF, "IS THE WILLARY BETTER OFF TODAY AT 5PM THAN IT WAS AT 9AM?" I FIND THAT HELPFUL. 

It is, and here’s something that supports that even further, what are the actions you’re using to fill your day? Because we often get caught up in the easy, busy tasks and we don’t do the harder tasks that actually move our projects forward. And it’s an easy trap to fall into, and fear’s the reason why, only 100% of the time!

RIGHT, LIKE I HAVE TO CLEAN THIS ROOM BEFORE I CAN WRITE THIS TOUGH EMAIL BECAUSE I CAN'T WRITE UNTIL THE ROOM IS CLEAN.

Exactly. And sometimes that’s the case, but do you need to clean your whole house? And get the toothbrush out and clean the tile? Probably not.

SPEAKING OF THINGS THAT MIGHT FOCUS YOU, LIKE SOMETIMES CLEANING IS A GOOD FOCUS, DO YOU HAVE A ROUTINE THAT STARTS YOUR DAY?

I do. I wake up and walk my dog, then I have a meditation practice I do. Then–I’ve created this “I am” statement, which is my fullest, best expression of myself–I read through that as I begin to face the day. I work out some days before I start working and it all sets me right in gear to get stuff done.

Also sleeping is a huge huge thing, having all that foundational stuff. And then, once I get going I don’t check my email until the late afternoons. Because email is allowing other people to come into my time and my creative space. And I communicate that clearly to my clients and say if you need to get ahold of me you can email or text me. But setting aside email allows me to have a chunk of uninterrupted time to create things for my company, or a class I’m working on, or even think about how I want to approach new clients.

IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'RE ALWAYS CREATING SOMETHING, DO YOU EVER GET STUMPED? WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET UNSTUCK?

Yeah, of course I get stumped! Even now, with the launch of Dream Job Designs, thinking about how I want it to come into the world, what shape I want it to take, what is the best way to communicate the ideas I have about career and fulfillment–a big stump is the blank page.

THERE'S NOTHING SCARIER THAN A BLANK PIECE OF PAPER!

Right! And true confessions, I go and clean the kitchen and do something that is not pushing my business forward. But what do I do to get over that? I go for a walk, I have a lot of dance parties with myself. Sometimes I’ll call my coach and say “hey, I’m getting in my own way here, I need some help shaking myself out of this.”

And then really, the answer 99.5% of the time is just do something. Anything. And don’t worry about it. A  game I often recommend is to play the opposites game. So if someone is like,” I’m launching this company and I want it to be the best company ever,” I say, “can we see what it looks like as the worst company ever? Can we write that for 5 minutes?” And it’s like okay, if the objective isn’t to be great then suddenly it isn’t so hard to start writing some things down. It gets something on the page.

And in my creative process, what I usually do is take big rolls of art paper and put them on a big table and just start writing stuff out and connecting the dots. Really, it’s a lot like sketching.

YES, IT'S SO HELPFUL TO WRITE ON BIG PIECES OF PAPER FOR IDEAS! YOU CAN DRAW BIG ARROWS!

And also for me, I like physically putting something on paper. Because I don’t have computer design skills, the computer to me means typing something. Then it becomes serious and immovable in someway, so I don’t like starting there.

The thing I think is so cool about the creative process–and about discovery and doing something in the world–is that if you’re open to it, there’s always going to be more. There’s only going to be more understanding and cooler stuff that’s going to happen.

SOMETIMES THOUGH I FIND THE POSSIBILITY OF MORE STUFF IS OVERWHELMING, LIKE WHEN SOMEONE POINTS OUT SOMETHING ELSE I COULD BE DOING OR WORKING ON. I GET ANXIOUS BECAUSE NOW IT FEELS LIKE THERE'S EVEN MORE ON MY PLATE!

And with each new piece of information that comes to you, no matter how cool, you can determine if it’s right for you at that time. For example, I’ve received all kinds of advice for how to scale a company and it’s just not the time right now. And having the ability to say no kindly and emphatically is part of that. Like “oh great, new stuff! Does this stuff come in for now, do I save it for later, or do I toss it away because it’s just not in my wheelhouse?” It’s not all on you, we don’t have to accept everything that comes into our space.

I LOVE THAT! SO, I LOVE KNOWING THIS FROM MY FAVORITE MAKERS, WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

I’m proud that I had the guts to leave the corporate world. I’m proud I am growing to a place where I am ever more comfortable in telling my own story. And I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve had a hand in dramatically improving people’s lives for the better, and what a privilege that is. What a privilege that I have been given the opportunity in my lifetime to make other people’s lives better. That’s f-ing awesome.

I love working with amazing creative fun and interesting people and I get to do that all the time! So that’s super cool! My clients are on this adventure, and although I’m a supporting part of that, I still get to live that adventure through you! I’m on my own different one, but it’s like hooray! This is a fun story to follow!

How much fun was that? Are you ready to start creating your own adventure? Here's how you can get in touch with Elatia if you think you want a little help.

At The Willary we proudly outfit, empower and celebrate women like Elatia who make amazing things happen in the world every day. If you're new to us, Welcome! And check out our Core Collection of functional, durable, and versatile clothing Made for Makers.





Debbie Baer
Debbie Baer

Author



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