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From Entry-Level To C-Suite: Key Lessons From My Journey

Katie Lauver on stage

If I stepped back into my life as a 26 year old new optician, with zero background in optometry, besides the fact that I wore glasses, I would never in a million years imagine that I would be where I am today. My cozy desk in a window of the optical lab was where I learned everything I know about optics, and the practice I took a job in from a random Craigslist ad, was my home away from home.

I jumped into opticianry in 2012 after packing up my life in Virginia, leaving everything I knew behind. A girl raised on 10 acres in the countryside, city living was something I had never experienced. As I loaded my mom’s truck with all of my things and headed down the highway to North Carolina, I was nervous and excited for what was to come. Little did I know that the city I was moving to, and the job I was taking, in an industry I knew nothing about, was going to turn out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

After four years in the practice, gaining experience in every position, I decided to open up my own business in eye care. I launched a company called The Herbal Spectacle, LLC, where I sold eco-friendly eyewear and herbal medicine geared towards eye health and overall wellness. I did this part-time alongside my job, and right as I was getting ready to leave the practice to focus on this full-time, I got a call from a consultant friend in the industry. He told me that there was an opportunity on the vendor side of our industry outside of typical optometry work. The position was in sales at a technology company that I was already familiar with: GPN Technologies, the makers of EDGEPro, the software I had used for years and knew like the back of my hand. As I pondered what to do, as I’m an entrepreneur at heart, I knew this was the right time for change and I interviewed for the position.

After joining GPN in 2016, I switched gears in my mindset and enhanced how I looked at and thought about business. I started in sales at the company, and during my first year I became a sponge, soaking up every ounce of knowledge I could about our business, our clients and the industry as a whole — I wanted to know it all… What made doctors tick?  What were their pain points? And how could we as a company support them to reach their goals? I listened, took notes, and spent countless hours practicing my sales demo and studying our product to ensure I could answer any question that was thrown my way. I became an expert at my craft and then started thinking about how we could go bigger and be even better with how we served our customers.

I was promoted out of sales and into Customer Success in a management role, where I helped to establish processes and procedures to keep us organized so we could serve our clients and our company in the best way possible.  From there I moved into a Director role, then a VP role and then into my current position as the Chief Revenue Officer.  I’m the only female C-level executive in my company, and it’s my utter hope that by sharing key lessons from my journey, that every woman in our industry realizes that they have the potential to be where I am today.  So, what are the key takeaways from my experience?

Get Out Of Your Own Way

Half the time the biggest thing holding you back from advancement is YOU! The faster we realize that we have potential to be anything we want to be, the faster we can actually get there.  If you’re a hard worker, determined, detail-oriented, well spoken, and have a vision for your future, then you can make anything you desire happen.  Imposter syndrome is a real thing, and the faster you kick those limiting belief thoughts to the curb, the quicker you will achieve your goals.  Don’t let anyone cloud your mindset and let you think you aren’t worthy or capable of climbing the ladder — you are! You just need a plan to get there, and believing in yourself is the first step.

Take Constructive Criticism Well — You Don’t Always Have The Answers

In the beginning of my journey in corporate, I had a lot to learn.  I was naturally good at sales, but I needed to understand how to take my natural skillset further in order to be successful.  I needed support with presenting pricing the right way.  I needed guidance understanding relationships and how to work with different companies and their needs.  Naturally, when someone criticizes how we do things, we get defensive and want to justify why we did things a certain way, but if I got upset every time I was told how I could improve, I never would have advanced in my career. Instead, I swallowed my pride and learned from the pointers my leaders gave me. I learned how to push my desire to control everything to the side, so I could expand my knowledge and level up.  We don’t always have the answers, and listening to those who have gone before us will reward us graciously in the long run.

Respectfully Speak Your Mind

I’ve never been one to be shy or timid.  When I firmly believe in a process improvement plan or a career path for an employee or a sales strategy for the company, I respectfully speak my mind.  I stand strong for what I think is right for the advancement of the company, even if everyone doesn’t agree, and I passionately promote my thoughts with a well-researched background when I know I have a game-changing idea.  Not everyone may agree with your recommendations or concepts, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from stating your ideas.  Be confident, be respectful, and show up as the authentic version of yourself always.

Develop Leaders — You Won’t Rise If They Don’t Rise

And last, but certainly not least, develop your team and learn when to let them fly. As a perfectionist, it was always hard to let job duties and tasks come off my plate.  It’s almost like I selfishly wanted to take credit for everything; but at the end of the day, you’re nothing without your team.  A strong, positive, and self confident team is the lifeblood of an organization.  Developing your leaders is not only crucial for their success, but it’s imperative for yours as well.  You can’t rise if you don’t have someone to take your place.  That being said, as you work with your employee leadership, come from a place of love — a place of authentically wanting to see them grow.  Don’t let your own growth agenda get in the way of showing up for them genuinely.  Building strong leaders is a way to leave a legacy at your company and it sets the company up for massive success in the future.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of others.  The journey from entry level to C-suite was a road with bumps and detours, but a beautiful drive nonetheless.  Leaders in our industry cheering me on, is one thing that has kept me going.  Expand your network, take a look at the mindset of the people you spend the most time with, and keep your eyes open for opportunities for growth. And lastly, remember, everything you’ve always wanted is one step outside of your comfort zone.

Love & Light,

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