Cultivate a positive outlook; when it’s all doom and gloom, it will only compound your mental health when it takes a turn for the worse during a crisis
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Sorenson.
Karen is an award-winning public relations practitioner with multiple individual awards, numerous top-tier articles, and product awards to her credit. She joins the GRC team as an Account Manger, overseeing PR strategies and tactics for some of GRC global clientele. Before joining GRC, Karen managed a range of B2B and B2C clients, focusing on software, MarTech, FinTech, consumer electronics and apps. She developed public relations plans for media outreach, awards, and speaking opportunities for clients. She has secured vital media placements, including print and online in USA Today, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and Cosmopolitan to name a few. Karen is on the Board of Directors for the LA Centurions, a charitable football team of the Los Angeles Police Department who play full-tackle football to raise money for the Blind Children’s Center of Los Angeles. Fluent in English and Lithuanian, Karen holds a BA in Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations from Brigham Young University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I graduated high school thinking I would major in math, teach at a high school, and coach its women’s water polo team. That plan took a hard right when I took an intro to comms class my sophomore year to fill some general requirements. I realized I was going to love PR. My personality is such that I want to tell people about the cool things I love — like tell a stranger in Costco she should buy a book I just finished and loved kind of person. What can I say, I’m my mother’s daughter.
Early in my career, I worked in government, hospitality, and eventually found tech. I love the cool new OS updates, new apps, or innovative hardware. There are so many truly extraordinary technological advancements happening today; it’s hard not to get excited!
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My first job in PR after graduation was an internship with a top agency in Sacramento. That particular voting season had a few bills on the ballot that were of significant interest to our client, in that they wanted those bills to fail. We had a small team that worked to petition state senators to vote no on these bills in the California State Senate.
For months we worked, collected testimonials, signatures, and data to persuade district representatives to vote no, and it looked like we had it locked in. Unfortunately, the night before the vote was to occur, the Speaker of the House “encouraged” enough state senators to vote yes, and the bills passed. Our little team of newly graduated interns was crushed, but we continued on by petitioning the governor. Ultimately we secured a VETO on the bills and the outcome the client so much desired.
I tell this story, fully aware that there were far more players involved than our little group of interns. I learned the power of a team, players seen and unseen, and the role I can play, regardless of how big or small. I also learned that sometimes, despite my rather stellar work, I may not get the outcome I anticipated, but that’s no reason to give up there… I also learned that lobbying wasn’t for me. 😊
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve split my career between in-house and agency PR work, and among the list of past companies, none have offered GRC’s level of direction, help, and guidance for team members, from task completion aids to overall career development.
GRC is keenly focused on delivering high-quality results to its clients while fostering the growth and skills of its team members. One element that underlines all of this is the collaborative nature of this agency. It’s always “we” are GRC. Each team member offers a unique perspective, and that element is not wasted when developing a strategy for our clients.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In my first role as a manager, I had a VP of Communications that will always be “that” person for me. She not only taught me how to elevate my craft as a public relations practitioner but also how to manage staff.
One particularly intimidating job requirement was to give staff reviews. I’ve never enjoyed confrontation nor sought having tough conversations, though I very much acknowledge they need to happen. Her careful coaching and advice guided me in tackling my responsibilities, which is something I’ve had to use many times since.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
It might be before my time, but the lyrics to Matthew Wilder’s song comes to mind — “Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no. I got to keep on movin’…”
To be resilient means to be resistant to pitfalls, trials, and hiccups. Not that those things won’t hit you smack in the face at times, but that you can adjust, pivot, and come out better than on the other side. There is a certain level of tenacity and gumption involved. I also feel that truly resilient people are not overbearing or in your face about their trials; they simply pick themselves up and move ahead.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
During my college years, I took two years off and lived a former Soviet Union country for 17 months. I was young, 21, but living in Eastern Europe opened my eyes to some remarkably resilient people. I met families whose fathers were exiled to Siberia during the Soviet occupation. Women who were the sole breadwinner for the family during the post-occupation era, when actual bread was difficult to find.
These people had a rich history and were a large nation at one point, but were occupied by a series of European powerhouses. Despite all this, these people still worked and fought to gain a better life than what they had, with more opportunities available for their children.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I have been incredibly blessed to have amazingly supportive family, teachers and coaches in my life. Most of the voices I heard doubting me, came from my own head.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I was working in-house at a software company for about three years when they got bought out by a larger company. Due to the circumstances of the acquisition, my role on the PR team was no longer necessary, and I was let go. Bouncing back after that was a little rough. Your psyche, however strong, takes a hit, and personal doubt can easily creep in. It took about a month of interviewing, but I landed another job, but overcoming the personal doubt I felt was far more difficult than finding a new job. I was reminded that sometimes, despite your hard work, things just don’t work out. But hard work is also what it takes to ensure things work out, eventually.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I’m the youngest of 11 with 5 older brothers… I was teased All. The. Time. Need I go on? But really though, my siblings are all extraordinary with 17 undergraduate and advanced degrees shared between us. Being the last in a long line gave me strong examples of how to excel and what to do when you fall short of that excellence.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Take regular self-evaluations and be honest with yourself in acknowledging what you need to work on
- Be a person of action; the point of making goals is to achieve them, take control of that path for yourself
- Cultivate a positive outlook; when it’s all doom and gloom, it will only compound your mental health when it takes a turn for the worse during a crisis
- Build skills that help you to cope and manage problems that may arise, because they will
- Find and develop a talent or hobby outside of work; the shift in mental exercise will leave you ready for the next challenge ahead
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
When I was younger, I swam competitively, and our team happened to share the pool with the US Olympic team (their facility in San Diego was being built at the time). I remember being on the deck, getting ready for our practice, and watching Amy Van Dyken swim. At one point, she mentioned something about wanting to throw up, something I could very much relate to after particularly harsh practices.
After her two Olympic appearances in 1996 and 2000, she was injured in a severe ATV accident that severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. After months of rehabilitation, she took her first steps. I was too young and shy to meet her then, but I’ve always admired her and would love to meet her.
Also, after reading his book, I would love to meet Steve Young. After all, we’re both alumni from the same university.
How can our readers follow you on social media?