In this episode, Sara talks with Colleen Kerr about her epic journey from being the "Erin Brockovich of Kentucky bluegrass stubble burning" to opening a restaurant called Sweetgrass Food Company, plus everything in between. Today, Colleen is Vice President for External Affairs and Government Relations and Chief Legislative Officer for Washington State University (WSU) and founder and co-owner of Sweetgrass Food Co. restaurant, which serves 100% Good Food in an intentionally designed space in downtown Seattle. Colleen delves into why career trajectory is illusion, how to get back up after "getting punched in the face" in one's career and life, and how success requires getting comfortable with discomfort. Want to make your own career change? Download Sara's Seven Cs of Successful Career Change Chart. Sara and Colleen Discuss:
Colleen's Full Bio:
- How they got connected
- Colleen's four degrees
- Colleen working for a private, non-profit law firm
- Using her negotiating skills to earn joint degrees
- Doing a human rights fellowship in Ireland
- Working on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry
- Working as an attorney for Preston Gates and Ellis in Seattle
- Moving with her boyfriend to New Orleans
- Evacuating for Katrina
- Moving back to Seattle and working for the Washington State Dept. of Commerce in Olympia
- Realizing her career trajectory was an illusion
- Working many positions in the Washington state government
- Being recruited by Washington State University (WSU)
- What land grant universities are
- Getting her a$$ kicked at WSU
- Starting Sweetgrass Food Co.
- Convincing her husband to open the restaurant with her
- Sourcing locally and organically, supporting underrepresented population-owned companies, etc.
- The restaurant's three top values
- Getting into teaching astrology, energy, shamanic work, etc.
- Recalling and harnessing that part of ourselves that used to take risks because "we didn't know better"
- The myth that there's a "path" to be on and how freeing it can be to let go of those illusions
- Realizing that stepping off the edge of the cliff is actually exhilarating
- Orienting toward her purpose and values
- Messages that she got from her family about career and work when she was growing up
- Facing gender bias, sexual discrimination and ageism in her work
- Having a plan, "getting punched in the face," and building and strength, in advance, to get back up
- The impact of meditation on her life
- Learning to show up as her full self in all areas of her life
- Using work as a way to express oneself in the world
- Her mentor, Lisa Brown
- Being a mentor to others as an act of service and what's that's like
- Coming up with questions in advance of meeting with a mentor
- The importance of actually following the advice you're given
- Colleen's recommended resources:
- Brené Brown's TED Talks
- Her primary piece of advice for people breaking into new and different kinds of work
- The things that will change your brain more than anything: gratitude, challenging yourself and cultivating personal relationships
- ...and more!
Colleen Kerr is Vice President for External Affairs and Government Relations and Chief Legislative Officer for Washington State University (WSU) and founder and co-owner of Sweetgrass Food Co. in Seattle. In her position at WSU, Colleen serves on the senior administrative team for Washington State’s land-grant university, reporting directly to the President. She currently serves as the co-chair of WSU’s Economic Development Council, where she is leading the efforts around the Seattle Initiative, dedicated to connecting WSU’s research, academic and service mission to the greater Seattle region. She also sits on the Executive Committee of the Seattle Chamber and the Executive Roundtable for the Washington Global Health Alliance. Colleen serves as an institutional leader in defining external strategic priorities and conducting outreach with multiple stakeholders from the public and private sectors. Her office had the leadership role in securing legislation that launched the WSU Everett campus, in securing the federal designation and funding for the Center of Excellence designation of ASCENT, the launch of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, the second publicly funded medical school in Washington. Colleen brings a wealth of experience to WSU and her role in advancing the public policy benefits of WSU’s extensive research and educational programs. Following a human rights fellowship with Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, she worked on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry for Madden and Finucane Solicitors, one of the premier legal firms in the European Union and located in Belfast. After coming back to the U.S., she was an attorney with Preston Gates and Ellis, LLP in Seattle and then was a special assistant on government accountability for the state’s Office of Economic Development in the Washington State Department of Commerce. She served as legislative director for State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and deputy chief of staff for the Senate Democratic Caucus in Washington State. Previous work for the legislature includes being tribal counsel for the Washington State House of Representatives. In 2015 with her husband and best friend, she opened Sweetgrass Food Co. restaurant, which serves 100% Good Food in an intentionally designed space in downtown Seattle. Sweetgrass focuses on a premier cafe experience, catering, and offers a "creative space" for the neighborhood. Reflecting the owners' values, it participates in the local food economy by prioritizing organic, local producers and paying a living wage. The menu highlights "real" food and defaults to plant-based, inviting guests to make additions or changes to suits their tastes or dietary needs—making nutritionally dense food delicious, accessible, and even chic. Indeed, the food genre—from Buddha bowls and soaked oats to matcha lattes and celery juice—is most aptly categorized as "hippie-chic". Colleen holds a JD degree from the University of Washington, an AM in Public Policy from the University of Chicago and a MA Hons in Modern History and a MLitt in International Security Studies, earned with distinction, from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In her spare time (?!?), Colleen is outdoors as many days as she can with Mike and Trixie and Molly, travels extensively at home and abroad, is a 20 year student of yoga, is an avid reader, baker, and a burgeoning astrologist. Connect with Colleen and Sweetgrass Food Co.:
Sweetgrass' website: www.sweetgrassfoodco.com
Sweetgrass' Instagram: www.instagram.com/sweetgrassfoodco
Colleen's Instagram: www.instagram.com/colleenaelizabeth Connect with Sara and Women Who Went for It:
Nominate a Podcast Guest: www.saramcardle.com/podcast-guest
Phone: 503.893.2043 Want to make your own career change?
Download Sara's Seven Cs of Successful Career Change Chart