Pretty When We Win: Mary Blalock, Career Coach

Pretty When We Win is a series that seeks to reconceptualize pretty by draining it of its negative power. This first iteration highlights inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who identify as women; it hopes to encourage contemplation of the word pretty and explore how we use it in our daily lives.

To say I was skeptical of career coaching would be an understatement. When it came to navigating my career, I was always a do-it-yourself kind of person. The voice in my head loudly shouted:

I should be able to do this on my own.
The struggle will make the victory that much sweeter.
Am I admitting defeat if I seek help?

When I found myself juggling an unsatisfying career and cancer caregiving last year—not to mention unintended hair loss from the stress of it all—I knew I needed support. I was thankful when a friend recommended Mary’s services.

My reluctance and my defeat kept me company during our first 1:1 session. Several sessions later, Mary turned me into a coaching convert. She provided personalized advice, structure, accountability (yes, that means homework), and most importantly, an empathetic ear. What I appreciated most, however, was the time set aside to experiment and improve. I’ll let her take it from here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a career coach who works with people to find career paths and navigate the job search to find a job that’s more fulfilling. I focus my work on women-identifying and non-binary folks and support my clients in identifying their strengths and building confidence by practicing their career story to describe to people what they bring to the world. I also support people finding communities of people to connect with for career paths at companies who are contributing back to making their workplace and the world a better place. My passion is in the community and how we can dedicate our lives to improving our world through our career paths.

I also co-direct a networking event company called @ladiesnight_pdx and volunteer for an organization called @equitablegivingcircle that feeds BIPOC families in need with CSAs from BIPOC farmers.

Please name a woman who inspires you and why. 

Right now, I’d have to say AJ McCreary @alannajoymccreary who directs the @equitablegivingcircle. She started this giving circle in a couple of months and has inspired hundreds of people to donate time, money, food…whatever they can. She’s an amazing and extremely humble leader and has a way of inspiring people to make big ideas happen for changing the world and helping folks in need. She has a vision for how the world could be better and the courage to ask people to be better. Just watching her work makes me believe that people can do more with their time and their career—and to keep believing that things that seem impossible can be easier.

I always encourage my clients to dedicate their careers and lives to a greater purpose because the only way we can get through difficult times is by supporting communities, families, and workplaces.

What made you want to switch careers? What served as the impetus to start your business?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, therapist, or coach of some kind, but at the beginning of my career, it was hard to believe I was qualified to be an expert on any particular subject. I’ve had many different careers on my path so far—journalism, marketing, non-profit, crisis worker, yoga teacher recruiter, and career coach—so I know how hard it can be to find a specific career path. I always encourage people to see the underlying strengths in their personalities and the gifts that they can offer the world. For me, that’s a combination of empathy and creativity. I loved being a recruiter but didn’t feel like I could offer enough as a recruiter to encourage people to break outside of the status quo.

What is the hardest part of doing something on your own?

Although I only want to work for myself in the future and am an entrepreneur at heart, it’s definitely not the easiest path. As a recruiter, my job was very similar except I had financial experts, operation managers, administrative support—as well as paid time off. I wouldn’t change my job for the world and feel very lucky to have found my true calling, but I realize that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone because it’s certainly not easy.

What keeps you up at night?

I try not to watch or read the news before bed because there are so many disturbing things happening in our world. I’m particularly freaked out by the racism, sexism, and homophobia that permeate the world today. It helps me sleep at night when I can actively participate in my community and give back to the world in some way. I always encourage my clients to dedicate their careers and lives to a greater purpose because the only way we can get through difficult times is by supporting communities, families, and workplaces. Since we have so much access to information right now, it can be overwhelming. I like to think about what I can do to make a difference—it doesn’t matter how small because there are greater ripple effects for all good things.

What struggles have you encountered that you feel are unique to women entrepreneurs? What’s the toughest part of being a woman entrepreneur?

The hardest part of being a woman entrepreneur is not seeing plentiful representation of women, BIPOC folks, and LGBTQ communities at the top of the power structure. I didn’t view myself as a business person for a long time because I didn’t grow up with that representation. It was empowering to get connected with women’s business groups and find mentorship from women who helped me gain confidence in myself in the business world. The toughest part of being a woman entrepreneur is the lack of funding and venture capital available, but since I’ve never gone down the funding route, I’ve been able to find some great support and resources in the entrepreneurial community.

What kind of weight does the word pretty have for you? What does pretty mean for you?

In my younger years, my confidence was wrapped up in beauty standards and never feeling “good enough.” I grew up as a dancer, so there was a lot of pressure to be stick-thin and gorgeous. I was lucky to have a strong feminist grandma who gave me books about strong women and always encouraged me to challenge society’s expectations of women. I like to joke that she’s following me around making sure that I’m continuing to challenge the patriarchy since she’s no longer alive. Although I’m incredibly feminine in my fashion sense, I like to dress from a place of feminine power and follow fashion influencers who are challenging the outdated ideas of what it means to be “pretty.”

Where do you find strength?

I find strength by watching what other people dream up as what is “possible.” It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the negativity and then I see friends and people in my community who are challenging cynicism and negativity by just getting shit done. Instead of focusing my energy on being pretty or rich, I’m focusing my energy on how much I can get done in this short amount of life that I have been given. I’ve worked hard to surround myself with an amazing community of people who inspire me and it gives me hope—which gives me the strength to keep working to make things better.

What inspires you?

I’m most inspired when my clients recognize their strength and value in this world. When I see someone’s face light up with the recognition that they are given a gift of this life and start venturing onto a career path—it’s the most amazing feeling ever. I have incredibly inspiring clients who are faced with challenges and obstacles in their path, but it’s inspiring when they discover their inner power to change things. I have the most amazing job in the world: that I get to be the catalyst for women to find strength, empowerment, and ultimately work to make the world a better place.

What’s your favorite way to connect with your clients/partners/customers?

I absolutely love Instagram and was crushed when my account was deleted last month. I’m back with a new account now and enjoying hosting Instagram Lives every Wednesday at 4:30pm PST. I’m developing a podcast but starting by interviewing inspiring women on Instagram live every week.

Can you offer some advice to other women who are looking to start their own business and/or make a career switch?

The most important thing you can do is build a community of people around you. I say this to my clients constantly but also understand how impossible that can feel if you’re feeling isolated and overwhelmed by your current circumstances and environment. It takes time to build community—but it’s so important to have the support of people around you who can encourage you, offer advice, and mentor you toward the future. I know how hard it can be to build a community on your own, so I host weekly mastermind groups that act as a built-in community for your career.

Photo credit: Mary Blalock

For more from the Pretty When We Win series, visit the Entrepreneurship section of The Mocha Minimalist.

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