Try to imagine all of the dreams and aspirations you’ve had since you were a kid. Now, ask yourself why you dismissed so many of them; whether it was out of fear, self-doubt, or otherwise. What’s stopping you from living out those dreams today?
On April 18, hundreds of women reflected on this question at the fourth annual 425 Women to Watch event at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. Five accomplished, local women took the stage to tell their stories and to inspire others to make the most of their personal and professional lives.
Through laughter and tears, these featured women created an atmosphere of authenticity and openness. Emceed by KING5’s Amity Addrisi, the evening featured Slalom Design Specialist Genoveva Mercado, skincare brand owner Kari Gran, teen cooking star Amber Kelley, entrepreneur Lindsay Angelo, and food writer Danielle Kartes of Rustic Joyful Food.
Each speaker was charmingly themselves. By the end of the night, everyone in the room was a step closer to embracing just that — being your authentic self is the best thing you could possibly do.
Mercado kicked off the night with a tender story of learning and healing through her tumultuous relationship with her mother. As her mother grew more distant due to problems with addiction, according to Mercado, and Mercado spent all of her energy trying to draw her back in, to a point of emotional bankruptcy. When she felt at the lowest of her emotional lows, she embarked on a professional high.
“It’s in the doing that we find the strength we never knew we had,” Mercado said. “For the past few years, I have been designing spaces for the smartest and most influential people around the world. … Do not give your past the power to define who you are.”
Mercado fought against the self-doubt, which stood between herself and her success. The following speaker, Kari Gran, took to the stage in a poised manner, only to admit that her heart was beating through her chest out of a fear of public speaking.
For 20 years, Gran worked in real estate. The structure of the industry provided the day-to-day stability that she thought she needed. However, her talents in developing skin care products specialized for her autoimmune conditions drew her away from the real estate industry. And Kari Gran isn’t the only one who loves the Kari Gran Skincare regime. Since 2011, the brand has seen unimaginable success.
“I suffer heavily from imposter syndrome. Whenever I show up to something like this, that’s who I think is showing up to this event,” Gran said as she pointed to a picture of her childhood self, “Pete Rose” haircut and all. “It’s not a grown-up woman in grown-up’s clothes. It’s a little kid with a weird haircut telling you what her idea of the beauty industry is.”
This sort of imposter syndrome is so common in the professional world, particularly in the lives of women. That’s why it’s so crucial to instill self-confidence into our next generation. So, when our next speaker took to the stage, we couldn’t help but be hopeful for the future.
Sixteen-year-old Amber Kelley shared the story of her childhood as a young chef. As a kid, her passion for cooking turned her into something of a celebrity. Appearing on TV with famous chefs like Jamie Oliver and Guy Fieri and collaborating with health food advocates like Michelle Obama, Kelley became known as the cooking girl.
However, rather than accepting this passion as her identity, Kelley fights back against the idea that people should aspire for just one thing. In her ideal world, we should all follow our passions.
“I hear from adults constantly that they still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up,” Kelley said. “If adults don’t even know the answer, then why are we asking kids this question?”
Rather than asking people what they want to be in the future, Kelley suggests, we should be focusing on what they’re passionate about, or what makes them feel happy. Entering the workforce with only one goal in mind is an unnecessarily limiting outlook.
Next to inspire the crowd was Lindsay Angelo, a growth and innovation strategist. As a kid, Angelo had an unquenchable enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. She started several crafting businesses out of her childhood bedroom . When she got hired as a corporate strategist for Lululemon, it felt like a dream come true.
After 6 years at the company, however, Angelo’s entrepreneurial drive started to feel like an unused muscle. She knew that something had to change. In May of 2017, she left the company to work as an independent strategist and innovation consultant. After experiencing this new world of work, she didn’t have a single doubt in her mind about her decision to leave the multi-billion-dollar company. She shared a quote from an old track coach of hers:
“Fear is an invisible wall. Once you run into it, you realize there was never anything there in the first place.”
Angelo’s bold, “face-your-fears” message couldn’t have prepared the crowd any better for the next speaker: Danielle Kartes. Along with her husband, Kartes runs the company Rustic Joyful Foods, a brand which can be found in book stores, on social media, and even in her food writing for 425 magazine. But it wasn’t always this easy.
After having to close a failing restaurant, losing her house and car, it was hard for her to spot a silver lining. Her son, Noah, turned out to be just that. Because of him, she started cooking again. Because she started cooking again, she wrote a cook book.
“I want people to know that life is good, right now,” Kartes said. “Life is good when you have a tiny apartment, Life is good when you don’t have it all together. Life is good when life is polished. Life is good when life is hard, because it’s all about the journey.”
One particularly side-splitting (yet heart-warming) anecdote Kartes shared took place as she was working on her cook book. The Kartes family was at a financial low, to the point where they couldn’t spare any food waste. The cook book props weren’t just props — that was dinner. During one of the cook book photo shoots, a fresh chicken attracted some flies.
“When the flies got to it, I just started bawling, like ‘that’s supposed to be our dinner!’” Kartes said. “I called my mom and she told me ‘stick that bad boy in the oven and crank it up to 450.’ I need you to remember, when life is tough, when you’re broke, you just stick that chicken back in the oven. … This is really translatable to all kinds of different areas of your life. Just remember the chicken analogy.”
Even though she wound up in hard times, Kartes turned so many of her dreams into reality. While it didn’t happen overnight, the cook book became a massive success. Not because she knew everything there was to know about cookbooks — she’ll tell you that certainly wasn’t the case. She succeeded because she recognized her self-worth, and had the willpower to just put that chicken back in the oven and keep going.
So many women have inspiring stories like these, both of failure and success, of loss and regrowth. But none of these stories, Kartes reminded us, should be compared. Every story is beautiful in its own way, because every person is beautifully unique. It’s events like Women to Watch which serve as necessary reminders of our innate self-worth.
If you know an incredible woman who could share their story at next year’s event, nominate her today on our website.
We’d also like to thank our generous sponsors, who are integral to helping us put on this event: presenting sponsor Kitsap Bank, Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, Prime 8 Consulting, Knobbe Martens, Strother Dermatology, The Bellevue Collection, Always Greener, Ishnala Retreat, King 5, Room & Board, Pavel Verbovski, Spencer Kabelac Productions, Succession Wines and Tipsy Canyon Winery, and Creative Coverings.