The Power of Growth is in Giving First

Kathy Keating Leadership

One Thursday in 2014, as I aimlessly scrolled through my Facebook feed, a post caught my attention. It was a plea for technical mentors to gather in Boulder, CO over the upcoming weekend. They needed help guiding teams participating in a data-focused hackathon-style competition organized by the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. Little did I know that stumbling upon this one post would become a turning point in my career, setting me on a path of personal growth and building a deep network of mutually supporting relationships.

As I read the request, a multitude of excuses flooded my mind. I pondered over the lack of time to plan, the possibility of other commitments arising that weekend, and my own doubts about what value I could bring as a mentor. Despite having successfully founded a company in the past, I questioned the extent of my knowledge and hesitated due to my introverted nature.

However, deep down, I recognized that if I wanted to continue advancing as a technology leader, I needed to forge stronger connections. In Massachusetts, I had easily risen to the role of VP Engineering, but upon moving to Colorado in 2005, my career growth had stagnated. VP and CTO positions seemed out of reach, concealed behind closed networks. I was an outsider.

Having spent a significant portion of my life freely giving back my time and knowledge, I understood the value of volunteering. It benefits others and it also provides an opportunity for personal learning and growth. So, with a surge of determination, I clicked the button on the post and signed up to become a mentor.

Arriving at the event on that fateful day, I discovered that I was one of the few mentors present at the Boulder location, and it was the inaugural year of the competition. Just like any fledging startup, we were making it up as we went along!  Without wasting a moment, I immersed myself in the teams’ challenges, lending an ear and offering guidance wherever possible. Together, we fleshed out ideas, defined minimum viable products (MVPs), and crafted compelling pitch decks.

By the end of the event, I felt exhausted yet accomplished. I came to realize that my knowledge held immense value for the participants. Throughout the competition, I honed several remarkable skills: swiftly comprehending business challenges and generating potential solutions, effectively articulating solutions and pitching them for investment, and encouraging others to overcome their fears and embrace possibilities.

In the second year of the event, I was entrusted with the volunteer role of Mentor Liaison, responsible for recruiting and training mentors. Over the following years, I served in this capacity, gradually gaining confidence and honing my leadership abilities. Simultaneously, my network expanded, growing both wide and deep. I have also had the privilege of judging the competition’s finale twice during the event’s ten-year span.

To this day, I encounter participants, mentors, and staff from those events within the vibrant Colorado tech ecosystem. Many of them have founded companies and experienced remarkable career growth. They apply much of what they learned as participants in their daily work.  The relationships we forged remain strong, with numerous individuals continuing to turn to me for advice during challenging business moments.

Several outstanding participants from those yearly events joined my Product Engineering teams as employees. Through one of these events in 2016, I even met a co-founder for my second company, Apostrophe, while we both served as pitch coaches. A three-time competition winner became our Lead Developer. Eventually, our startup went through the Techstars Boulder accelerator, introducing me to an entirely new network and global community where I continue to actively contribute.

I remain humbled by the willingness of all these individuals to embrace my coaching and guidance. The continuous invitations back into their lives serve as a testament to the impact we have had on each other. I am astounded by the numerous opportunities that unfolded in subsequent years solely because I chose to respond to that one Facebook post.

This journey of personal growth and nurturing strong relationships did not unfold magically around me; it required active participation on my part. I had to stay open to opportunities, confront my fears, and take action despite them. Setting clear goals for myself became paramount, as I proactively charted a path towards achieving my aspirations.

Along the way, I learned to recognize and seize opportunities that presented themselves. However, I also understood the importance of creating opportunities myself. I actively contributed to the community, offering my time, knowledge, and support to those in need. By giving of myself, I continue to be reminded that the most fulfilling experiences arise from win-win scenarios, where everyone involved benefits and grows.

Engaging in win-win partnership with others fosters deeper and more lasting bonds than those typically found in networking events. It allowed us to truly understand and learn from one another. In this environment of trust and vulnerability, we gained the courage to share our challenges, fears, and aspirations. Through vulnerability, we build trust, and in turn, trust nurtures more profoundly deep relationships—with both ourselves and others.

As my journey unfolded, people started seeking me out for advice on career growth, leadership development, talent acquisition, and finding compatible co-founders. I encouraged them to follow a similar path of stepping into the community and giving of themselves. I firmly believe that the foundation of personal and professional growth lies in the willingness to contribute and build genuine connections.

Looking back, I am grateful for the pivotal moment when I stumbled upon that Facebook post. It opened doors to personal and professional opportunities I could have never imagined. But more importantly, it instilled in me the realization that the true essence of success lies in creating strong relationships, cultivating trust, and continuously growing ourselves and others.

Learn more about the Colorado data challenge competition that started me on this path:

Want to learn more about the power of giving first?  Check out the Give First podcast where you can be inspired by the stories of other living through this ethos.