Now a Career Coach, HR Consultant, and President of CascadiaNow!, Megan Leatherman uses her history of conflict resolution and unique path of her own life to help others find direction in theirs.
Leatherman graduated Seattle Pacific University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology before working as a residential domestic violence advocate with the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program for four months.
She then attended the University of Oregon where she graduated with a Master of Science in Conflict and Dispute Resolution in 2012.
She went to Israel to work as a community development intern with Kayan-Feminist Organization on two separate occasions; one for three months and the second time to complete her master’s program at the University of Oregon for nine months.
During her second period in Israel, Leatherman helped develop a program to get women more involved in community conflicts and wrote a research paper concluding the project.
After Graduating the University of Oregon she moved to Boston in October 2012 and started a job to pay the bills as an operations aide with Next Step Living, Inc. She was promoted to customer care manager, human resources generalist, and later human resources manager before her and her husband decided to move back to Portland, Oregon in June 2014 to start her own company as a career coach and HR consultant.
She continued working for Next Step Living, Inc. remotely as a private contractor when she decided to enter a month-long program at the Floral Design Institute in November 2014. She emerged with the knowledge that she didn’t want to be florist but also with a transition from working with organizations to working with individuals and their careers.
Leatherman took the responsibility as President of CascadiaNow! in December 2014 when her sister introduced her to now Associate Director Naomi Botkin. She started volunteering as Co-Leader of HR Think Tank in January 2015 which is a space for HR professionals to think critically and discuss new issues in the field.
She writes and runs her own blog called The Integrated Workplace about HR benefits, technical advice, and her own reflections about what it means to be healthy in a career.
The following is an edited interview with Megan Leatherman
Tell me a little more about your work and how you help people find their specific path in life.
“A lot of my stuff with individuals and groups is focused on trying to reconnect with your own internal compass and use that as your guide instead of what a lot of us do which is kind of default to external information or advice or things we think we should do. I think I am kind of on the more spiritual or soul based end of the career coaching spectrum. I do less job search or LinkedIn or that kind of stuff. Its more kind of how to help people reconnect with what they need and want.”
How does that translate into the logistics of finding a job?
“Once you are really clear about what you are good at and looking for and need in your life and once you’re clear about how you want to feel day to day in your work, I think becomes a lot easier to recognize the opportunities that are right for you… Honestly it’s not usually as difficult as I think people expect it to be. A lot of times when I’m working with someone, an opportunity will just kind of pop up or something will fall into their lap or they transition to something new they want to try.”
Tell me more about your time in Israel with the Kayan-Feminist Organization.
“The first time it was pretty overwhelming because it was the first time I had lived abroad or stayed anywhere that long abroad so it was just kind of learning how to travel alone as a young woman and kind of getting to know the culture a little bit and getting to know the city I was in which was a small town on the coast. It definitely stuck with me and Israel is not an easy place to live, especially when you’re working with the Palestinian community but I came back really intrigued and wanting to know more.”
What was a takeaway from the second time you worked in Israel?
“Even if women aren’t explicitly involved in conflict management in their communities, they are most definitely implicitly involved. Even if it’s behind the scenes, women have a really important part to play in patriarchal societies. My other takeaway is just that it is a very hard place to live. I came back knowing that I didn’t want to return and felt pretty burnt out. I wasn’t interested in doing domestic conflict resolution work anymore. It’s not because the people I worked with were difficult. They were wonderful, it’s just that Israel is a very tough place to be.”
Why did you and your husband decide to move back to Oregon?
“Boston was just not a good fit for me. He was doing a grad program there which was two years so once that ended I just really missed the pacific northwest and just felt like the east coast wasn’t the right fit for me. When he was done we decided that it would be a good time for us to come back.”
What inspired your company as career consultant in Portland?
“It wasn’t really a decision it was just kind of the way things unfolded…. I think after leaving an organization and working on my own for a while I kind of noticed what didn’t work for me about being in a traditional nine to five so the idea of getting back into that just became less and less appealing…I eventually picked up another consulting client and last fall I transitioned from doing work within organizations to work with individuals focused on their careers and how that all fits together.”
What’s the best part of working in career consulting?
“The best part is definitely seeing people change their perspective about themselves or what they can and can’t do in the world or seeing them realize their own gifts and strengths and have the courage to live those out in the world. It’s really an honor to partner with people either individually or in groups as they shift their relationship to work and find a way that fits better for them.”
What’s the best part about working with CascadiaNow!?
“I’m on the programming committee so I get to see all of our project applications come through and talk through whether or not something will fit with us. My favorite part is just learning about all of these amazing projects that are going on in Cascadia and to see the way these people dedicate so much time and energy to making their communities better and more inclusive. It’s been really fun to get to see all of that at the forefront and learn all about them and get a detailed view of what people are up to and hopefully move them through as a fiscally sponsored project. It’s been really fun to do that this year and get a lot of projects through the door.”
What does Cascadia mean to you?
“The bio-region itself means a lot to me. I grew up in the Willamette valley in Eugene and I remember all the adults saying “how nice it is to live an hour from the beach and an hour from the snow” and how lucky we were to be there. I would roll my eyes because I didn’t know any different. Now having grown up and seen other parts of the world and other parts of the country it is a really special place. There’s so much diversity here in terms of our landscape and richness of resources here. It’s definitely an honor to have grown up here and to be here still. That natural setting and the nature around us is a big part of what I write about and talk about in my groups because I think people are hungry to reconnect to the natural world around them. A lot of people feel really stuck in these offices that feel stale and not real. I’m trying to find more and more ways to connect the world of work with the outdoors because I think it’s really important and informs how we are going to work in healthy ways.”
What inspires you most about Cascadia and the people who live here?
“We live in the city and its going through some pretty major transitions right now and its growing and there’s a ton of controversy about real estate prices and affordable housing and we have a huge homeless population and that is all in crisis mode right now… In my perspective down here, what feels inspiring is that people here are really trying to grow with the city in a way that is sustainable and inclusive and isn’t’ just a typical story of gentrification and exclusivity and skyrocketing prices like in San Francisco or New York… It can be really disheartening but it can be really inspiring to know that people are trying to find new ways to do that without leaving people homeless.”
What is the most important part of finding work-life balance?
“Probably to give up the idea that you ever will have perfect work-life balance. I like the term work-life integration because I think it gives us more freedom and it acknowledges that our lives can change and have rhythm. Sometimes work will be a much larger part of our lives and other times it will be community, family or our personal health. I think a lot of people get stuck because they think that amount of work or the intensity of their work can never change and that they have to work around that all the time and fit their life into this tiny hole of time that they get outside of work. I hope that’s changing. I hope that’s becoming more flexible for people. I like work life integration because it gives us more flexibility and acknowledges that we need different things at different stages of our lives.”
Taylor McAvoy is a Junior at the University of Washington pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has been a writer and photographer for the university's newspaper The Daily for more than a year focusing on editorial reporting and arts event coverage. She is currently vice president elect of the Society of Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) University of Washington chapter. She is also working on her own as a freelance journalist and photographer.