Meet Kea Meyers Duggan, Former Marketing Executive & Now Life + Career Coach


About Her

Name: Kea Meyers Duggan

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Advertising

Career title: Life + Career Coach

We spoke to Kea Meyers Duggan, the Founder & CEO of the Aha! Project on the importance of picking your battles and standing up for yourself at work. Kea is a Chicagoan living in Los Angeles who chose her dreams over a marketing role anyone could simply wish for. 

Kea is intensely driven to make a difference in this world, and to uplift, motivate, and inspire people to live on purpose and with purpose. This is #HerCareerStory.

Tell us a bit about your background, and how you started your career as a Marketing Executive?

Kea: The vast majority of my career was spent in marketing, but I took a few detours along the way. At one point, I left the marketing world to start my own dog walking and pet sitting company. After realizing how much I missed having daily interaction with humans, I sold my business and came back to corporate America.

From a very early age, marketing and advertising was something that was a passion for me. My mom shared that as a young child, I was often times more interested in the commercials and the jingles than I was in the actual show I was watching. So, when it came time to decide on a career, advertising seemed like a good fit. Fun fact, though, I also had a strong interest in marine biology. Go figure, right!?.

I was accepted into both a marine biology program at a university in Iowa and the advertising program at the U of I. Obviously, I chose the advertising route. Mostly because it seemed more viable, more acceptable, and more versatile.

While in college, I worked at a student-run advertising agency and I interned at major ad agencies in Chicago. Through networking (I did not know what I was doing was networking at the time, though), the career path started to reveal itself to me. I worked at both marketing firms and on in-house marketing teams in roles with increasing responsibility until July 2018.

The biggest challenge that was common across all of my corporate jobs was standing up for myself,

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the corporate workplace? How did you deal with those issues?

Kea: The biggest challenge that was common across all of my corporate jobs was standing up for myself, my position on a matter, my team, and/or my work against clients and many times, leadership within the organization.

There are many layers to what standing up for yourself encompasses, e.g. deciding how to conduct yourself or respond when your values have been challenged, or when you’ve been, as we say here in the U.S., “thrown under the bus.” Early in my career, I did not handle myself well. When it came to standing up for myself or speaking up, I simply didn’t. I was afraid to rock the boat, I was afraid of sounding stupid, I was afraid to be wrong, or I was afraid I just wouldn’t know how to respond – not realising these were all growth edges.

Through my mentors, seeking guidance from my parents, incorporating feedback from my performance reviews, managers, and trusted peers, and learning more about myself and gaining more experience through situations that arose, I started getting more comfortable with standing up for myself.

Credit: Fusaro Photography

In 2016, you decided to join a coaching certification program – What inspired your career change from Marketing Executive to (part-time) Life Coach?

Kea: Oh! To answer this, I have to take a few steps back for some context. Throughout my entire life, people would come to me for advice. And, I’ve always loved giving advice to friends, family, and peers to help them handle a challenging situation.

About eight or nine years ago when I was considering my next career pivot because I was burned out on marketing (again!), this passion for helping others came to me again, so naturally, I thought therapy was going to be the path for me. I spoke to a friend who started her career as a therapist but moved into coaching. She quickly steered me away from the therapy idea saying, “Trust me, you do NOT want to be a therapist. But, have you ever considered becoming a life coach?”

Honestly, I had no idea that was even a thing! Long story short, I scoffed at the idea and opted to pursue another marketing role, instead. Looking back, I now realize that I was scared and uncomfortable about moving into a career that I knew virtually nothing about.

Fast forward to 2016 when I realized that something was really missing in my career. I was working in a marketing role that was incredibly fulfilling and purpose-filled, yet there was this nagging feeling that I could still be doing and contributing even more. Again, another life coach friend asked me a series of probing and empowering questions which ultimately revealed that coaching was truly my calling – I attended an introductory weekend and the rest is history.

As a Life Coach, what are some of the main challenges most of your clients face career-wise?

Kea: In my coaching experience…

  • low self-confidence or self-esteem
  • impostor syndrome
  • feeling “stuck”
  • box checking (as Michelle Obama perfectly describes in her book Becoming)
  • living up to other people’s expectations
  • needing a plan of action and accountability

…are the topics that come up repeatedly for clients.

In April 2018, you encountered a difficult moment in your career which led to you quitting your job – Can you tell us a bit about what happened?

Kea: There were a series of events and challenges that led to me unexpectedly leaving my job.

We were in the busiest time of year preparing for our biggest event of the year, so my plate was overflowing with responsibilities to ensure this event went off without a hitch – while also having my values challenged at nearly every turn and managing my day-to-day job responsibilities. In addition to that, I was waking up at 4 am to work on my side hustle every morning before leaving for work.

The funny thing is, in many of my coaching conversations, I was encouraging my clients to choose themselves and their dreams. However, I wasn’t practising what I was preaching. I was playing it safe and settling into my stories as to why I had to keep the pace I was keeping.

One morning, while typing an email at work, I started feeling strange. Immediately after realizing that I felt off, the entire left side of my head and face, and my left arm went numb. This went on for about an hour and I had no idea what was happening. I could only muster enough courage to text my best friend who is a doctor and describe what was happening. She panicked because she thought I was having a stroke.

Thankfully, it was not a stroke. However, I was directed to see a neurologist because the general medicine doctor didn’t feel comfortable about the symptoms that were persisting. After 2 hours of physical and verbal examinations, my doctor informed me that I was having panic attacks. Quite frankly, he told me that I had taken on too much and the panic attack and the daily migraines I was experiencing was my body’s way of telling me that it had enough. He advised that I get my stress under control immediately.

The final straw was my manager inviting me to take on an advanced role at work – the type of role that people like me work their entire careers for! However, nothing about her proposal excited me. It was in that moment that I knew I had to make a decision. It was time to choose my dreams and to take the bold step that I coach my clients to take.

Unfortunately, bullying is still an issue which seems to prevail in the corporate environment. What advice would you give to young women who are dealing with unpleasant colleagues and managers at work and those who are struggling to find their feet in the corporate workplace?

Kea: Yes, sadly, this issue persists. These issues are also nuanced, so there are many ways to tackle these issues depending on the issue. Generally, the following guidance can be a good starting point for young career women:

Define the situation…

what the actual issues are (what is it that is problematic for you?), what the ideal outcome would be, and ideas you have on how you can make the ideas reality.

Build your support system.

This includes connecting with a mentor, a peer and/or a colleague you can trust. You do not and should not handle these things alone.

If the situation includes any form of harassment, document everything and please report it.

If it’s not harassment, but you are still at an impasse with a colleague or a manager, take ownership for your feelings. Invite them to a meeting, or better yet a coffee or lunch, and recap the situation from a neutral, not an accusatory, standpoint. “When xyz situation happened, I felt abc [example: disrespected, misunderstood, overlooked, etc.]”

Whatever you do, don’t try to solve the issue in an email. Always have a face-to-face conversation. Emailing almost always exacerbates the issue!

To help you find your feet, get a clear understanding of your top values or personal requirements.

When you are firmly rooted in your personal requirements, they can serve as the lens through which we make decisions and how we conduct ourselves in both our professional and personal lives.

Communication is key in virtually every challenge we face.

We make assumptions based on someone’s tone, the abruptness of an email or a greeting and we run with it. However, take a look at yourself first and ask yourself if you’re creating a narrative. Then, if you have a question, simply ask. Chances are, it’s nothing even close to the story you formulated in your head!

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