From Spy, to Employee, to Contractor, to Personal Brand Coach, an Inspired Journey

Written by Shea Harty

16 Aug 2022

As a child, I wanted to be a secret agent, a spy. I wanted to speak different languages and visit other countries.

As I grew, I found myself inspired to pursue another path, and I realized that inspiration could come from anywhere; I am inspired by women who see a problem and go out to fix it. Many women are doing this now by starting their organizations and foundations. If I look at Michelle Obama, she is inspirational in the way she influences and connects with people to affect change in the world. There is Leila Janah, who helps poor people find dignified work. Nancy Lublin, ex-CEO of Do, is a foundation that connects teens to social change. There are more women out there leading change, and that inspires me.

And my journey started in Human Resources, and I’ve done everything from recruitment to HR Information Systems, compensation, and talent management. It always comes back to every role: how do we keep our employees engaged? That’s always the question. How do you get your employees to participate more, and be more active, be entrepreneurial?

As someone that started as an employee and later became a contractor, I think a contractor is just barely one step away from being an employee. Somewhere around 2015, I realized that what I wanted to be was a business owner. If you start as an employee, there’s a transition you’re going through, a mindset change, from being an employee to a business owner. Some of us are going through this in different ways. 

The people who become business owners are looking for a sense of independence. From my point of view, they see something new they can bring to the table, a gap that they can fill, and a vision of how they can do it better or differently. In my case, I love meeting with clients and problem-solving with them. This is the situation. How are we going to fix it? I love looking for unique solutions and finding new ways to improve things. And one thing that helps is having a group of people around you, people you can count on, to be honest with you. My people would tell me if I was going in the right direction or needed to rethink my plans. It helps me look at things more objectively and quiets the inner naysayer.

As my journey continued to develop, I became a personal brand coach for The What If Project, helping people take control of their careers by developing as thought leaders within their organizations and industry. I help my clients view their career as a product they sell to companies and package themselves as a brand. And to further guide my journey in the right direction, the Empowerment Foundation sprung to life, which has the goal of helping non-Dutch speaking immigrants (not only ex-pats) who are unemployed to get back to work. We provide free career coaching, workshops, guidance, and all the support they need to feel confident about their skills and find a job.

I cannot take credit for this journey. The path I have chosen runs in my family. Most people in my family are quite altruistic; they’re trying to do something to try to change the world. So I thought this could be something where I could get to help others. I’ve always been passionate about helping people with their careers. People who don't have the money to have career coaching sessions or who don’t have the money to prioritize coaching sessions need support to get back on track again. That’s what we do at the Empowerment Foundation. We give a little help to get you back on your feet again.

But it is not without its challenges. I struggle with making time. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, you’re the one doing everything; relationship building, marketing, administration, all those things. So it’s always nice when I can outsource some activities, and I have relied on those who volunteer to help others with me.

The takeaway is simple; the start of your journey can vary. Focus on where you want to get and how you want to feel along the way to achieving your goals. Gather and surround yourself with like-minded, passionate people who are genuine, honest, and trustworthy. And lastly, do what you love, and you will grow to love what you do.

A special thanks to Sofia Simeonidou who conducted the interview that inspired this blog post.