Kat Koh (Creative Career Coach): How To Find More Fulfillment In Life
Have you ever met someone and just KNOW they are your people?
The first time I met Kat we were on a double date. I had just moved to San Francisco and hoped that I’d find my peeps, my tribe. But with any risk and big step, you just don’t know.
We started talking about our passions and “what we do” and I almost instantly felt like she was speaking my language. She mentioned she was a creative career coach and I remember thinking, ‘o.m.g. that sounds like the most amazing job in the world. Tell me more.’
Turns out, it is.
And it takes a pretty remarkable person to fill the role.
Meet Kat Koh.
Kat is a creative career coach and writer based in SF. Kat is a creative genius. She really understands the mind of the struggling creative entrepreneur or really anyone looking to find more fulfillment in their work and in their lives. Just being in her presence brings you more clarity and passion for your own work.
In addition, Kat also works as a coach at UnCollege, builds community for Seth Godin's altMBA, and most recently created WeSallyForth, a co-work community in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco.
(I need to step up my game!)
Check out my interview with Kat down below to get to know her a little better, and after reading this, if every cell in your body is screaming “YES!”, check out her website and sign up for a clarity session.
She’s got your back.
TP: What exactly is a "creative career coach"?
KK: Great question. I help creatives do work that matters, more of the time.
TP: How did you discover this career path?
KK: I think I’ve been a coach all my life but didn’t know it until a few years ago.
Even in kindergarten I was the one assigning roles while playing House: I remember going around to my friends and being like, ‘you should be the mom because you’re really nice.’ It’s something that’s always been in me. As I got older I would find myself in conversations with friends where I would feel really lit up and my mind would go super clear when talking with them about how they wanted to spend their time on this planet. I ignored that feeling for a long time.
Eventually it clicked and I realized I was helping people decide for themselves how they wanted to spend their time on this planet. And where do we spend most of our time? Working! Which is how I came to work as a creative career coach.
What ultimately got me to this place though? I was in my 20’s, going through an egregious amount of school, working as a museum curator, and ignoring the signs that were trying to guide me towards coaching. I got to my rock bottom where my body was literally attacking itself like ‘Hey! You’re not listening to me!’
I found my own coach, who helped me reconnect with myself. But it wasn’t until a near death experience shortly after that really catapulted me to make a dramatic life change and pursue coaching. I was back here in San Francisco and coming back from a yoga class, actually; yoga really saved my life that day. I was riding my bike home and so relaxed and zened out from class that when the car hit me I was like a ragdoll. I flipped three times in the air and hit the hood, then hit the ground on my left hip. It was a hit and run.
When I was in the hospital I had one of my biggest epiphanies…life is not short if you’re really present and awake for the juicy parts, and you can have it taken from you at any time. After that experience I decided to pursue coaching fully.
TP: What are some of the most common "blockages" you see with the creatives you work with?
KK: In a word: Fear.
Most creatives are scared to put work out there in front of other eyeballs. They’ve absorbed the messaging or social script over the years that they have to be a genius and their work has to be brilliant. Than they compare their work to those ‘who have made it,’ but they don’t see (or think about) the 300 plus hours it took them to get to that place. They see where their work is now and where they want to be and think ‘my work sucks, I’m never going to get to that level.’ It’s paralyzing. I know the feeling. I stopped working for four years because I used to have the same paralyzing thoughts. That’s part of the reason I’m on this planet: to slice through this idea of having to be a genius and helping other creatives do the same.
In ancient Rome, they had a saying where instead of calling someone a genius you’d say you ‘have a genius.’ They believed that those who were viewed as being particularly gifted were in constant co-creation with this genius, a second entity, like a spirit, to create things. This ‘genius’ spirit would come and visit those that they know will make it, and you just need to show up on this planet and start making and creating. They will come to visit you if they see and know that you are consistent and dependable.
TP: What are some blocks you’re currently working through now?
KK: I’m right there in the trenches with my clients trying to fight fear! I’m constantly practicing and making a habit of hitting publish on my work, even if I’m not totally comfortable with it.
I spent years in curatorial departments, so I have a tendency to create tight conceptual boxes to fit things into. Sometimes when I’m working with my clients, the curator seeps in and I have to remind myself to STOP over-curating and just listen to the magic in front of me. When I’m working with clients, I’m not saying anything that magically uncovers things for them, they do the work, they have the magic. I believe we’re all connected to this eternal source (the universe, whatever you want to call it) but sometimes we get unplugged. So I just help guide them to plug back in.
I must say though: As I continue to work and try to find this balance point, I’ve also learned to appreciate this part of myself too. This obsessive quality is probably what makes my writing good. I do try to avoid getting so obsessed that I never share it. Helping my clients work through their fear blockages has also helped me with my own. My clients are my constant weekly reminders to let go and hit ‘share.’
TP: What advice could you give to someone who is struggling to find fulfillment in their career or lives in general? (I ask her this question and Kat takes a full minute, 60-seconds to really try and put herself in this persons place. To truly empathize with the person who is really struggling – or maybe she’s trying to remember what it felt when she was in this place. It felt like I was watching an artist as they’re pondering and working through a masterpiece).
KK: Take a radical sabbatical. It can be for two days, two months, or two years but take one. It’s not a super novel concept, although in today’s world and being connected 24/7 it seems radical. It’s really about taking time and putting yourself in another situation so you have time to notice what lights you up. When you hate your job and spend at least 40 hours in a place that’s unfulfilling, it numbs your body. So I highly recommend you take something: a weekend at the beach, two weeks at mom’s house, two years in Europe backpacking, whatever. If you’ve been stuck for a while, your nervous system and your body are probably too “loud” right now for you to connect with what you want to do.
Also, as you take this time for self-reflection, don’t ask what, ask why. Why do I believe this about the world? Why do I do certain things? I’ve seen amazing things happen when people push yourselves to make a list of 25 sentences that start with the words “I believe…”. They can be things you love or things you think are crazy and shouldn’t exist on this planet, and then you’ll start to slowly home in on “your why”. People can spend decades swirling around and around asking themselves “what”: What should I do? What should my job be? The what doesn’t actually matter that much. The “what” is a label we give ourselves. But in today’s world, you can invent it, even! I mean have you ever heard of a creative career coach before? “What” can change! By asking why, why do I get up in the morning, why do I feel so much joy when I’m doing this, that is a much better compass than “what”.
Related: Instead of looking for a map, look for a compass instead. There is no map to show you what your purpose is and what you’re meant to do; anyone who offers you a sure-fire map and they can take you there is lying.
TP: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years younger?
KK: I would advise myself to read Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson. It basically breaks down, on a chemical level, what happens in your body when you feel depressed, anxious, stressed, or any other feeling. Now when I’m having those feelings, I can slow down my thoughts and logically talk myself through the feelings. For example, if I’m feeling depressed, I know my brain is trying to love me, it thinks it’s protecting me from something that I don’t actually need protection from. If I had figured out earlier in my life that my thoughts are not who I am, I could have saved myself from a lot of worry.
Also, meditate. If I could answer this question with one word I would say that: meditate. Meditation helps us do the same thing; peel ourselves away from the running tape of thoughts in our mind that may not always be serving and helping us. Meditate!
TP: What does a standard session with you look like?
KK: I like to compare my coaching and clarity sessions to my ‘fish in the water’ analogy. A fish doesn’t know it’s in water – it doesn’t realize it’s able to breath and swim underwater, it’s just doing what comes naturally to it, what’s in it’s DNA. It doesn’t even know it’s a fish, and sometimes if you try and tell that fish it’s a fish, it’s not able to see it or accept it! Same with people in general; we all hold these barriers that keep us from realizing our full potential.
So, part of my craft is finding words and fresh ways that chip away at those barriers and blockages so my clients can gain clarity into themselves, to see the skills and talents that make them who they are. Sometimes people need a little help from someone who’s trained to hear stories to help them see their superpowers. That’s what I aim to do in my sessions, help someone recognize and see the unique light and talents that are in their DNA, as well as any self-limiting stories, patterns, and beliefs that might be holding them back from doing work that matters.
TP: How do I know if a "creative career coach" is for me?
KK: Read some of my blog posts, and maybe my About page. If my story resonates with you or while reading it you’re thinking ‘Yes, that’s me!’ or ‘Yes, I’ve been there!’ or ‘That’s where I want to be!’ then you’ll probably be glad you reached out to me :)
Kat Koh is a San Francisco-based creative career coach + community/lover builder. In addition to 24/7 championing her clients, she builds community for Seth Godin’s altMBA; blogs about what it means to do creative work; most recently created WeSallyForth, a co-work community in San Francisco; and projects insecurities onto her cat.
Learn more about Kat at katkoh.com