Kate Harris: Living A Centrifugal Life
I first met Kate Harris while living in Washington, D.C. She was a close friend and confidant to several of my dear friends, so her name often came up in my inner circle. At the time we met, I was working on Capitol Hill for Senate Leadership and she had spent several years working for Senate Leadership on the Hill. We also attended the same church and had similar hearts and so it felt only natural for us to meet.
Kate’s the type of person you meet and then come away changed because of it. She has that “muchness” about her. By that I mean, there are those people who inspire creativity and inspiration, and then there are those who are the very definition of creative and inspiring. Kate Harris is both.
Kate is also someone who has achieved considerable success. From working for Chuck Colson at Prison Fellowship, to working in communications for Senate Leadership on Capitol Hill, to living and working in Oxford, England while her husband was in graduate school, to serving as the Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, Kate has exuded inspiration at every turn, in every platform she’s held, and quite frankly, to every person she’s encountered.
But it’s not the things listed on her resume or the number of boards she serves on that truly describes who she is or how she is – a deeply passionate, wise, and driven leader – and a lover to all things creative.
“My inspiration when I was younger, was self-motivated – I wanted to go do things, acquire achievements, and be impressive. Along that path, my sources of inspiration and creativity have shifted and as I’ve grown up and out, I’ve felt more motivated by others, and to serve and help others with whatever platforms I’ve had. It feels very centrifugal.
“Big picture: I feel like I’m on a journey out from myself.”
While describing the person she was most inspired by, I quickly noticed that in a way, she was describing herself. The person she named was a man named Rich Dean. She first met Rich when she moved from her home in Denver, Colorado, to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Fellows Program with The Falls Church Anglican – the church connects the fellows with host families where they live for a year while going through the program. Kate was connected with Rich and his family, and it was there she saw for the first time the possibility that you could be successful in your career and still enjoy a happy life.
“Rich was the first person who really blew open my world that you could be a successful person and still have this really cool life. He was just so totally off the charts successful – a senior partner at a law firm, played football at Vanderbilt, taught law at The University of Virginia on the weekends, traveled internationally, spoke Russian, served on a lot boards, he enjoyed his life, he had great friends, and a great family – but whenever you were with him, he was with you, and he never gave the aurora that he was too busy. At the time, I couldn’t understand how he could do all of these things and how he did it with such an even keel.
“He showed me the possibility that there is a way to live your life where you can have space in it, and you can enjoy it. And he figured out the more you give, the more it sustains itself. The more time he gave, the more things expanded in his life. He was very disciplined – he worked out every morning and was always home for dinner – but with a lot of freedom and very generous and really invested in the areas he was invested in. He didn’t just say yes to things because they sounded cool or they sounded important – he only gave his time to things that were life-giving to him, where he really could lean in and live.
“I like people who are “all in” and really invested, really serious, really generous – and generous across their whole life – because they see themselves bound with other people and they fundamentally believe their life will be enhanced as they work with others and collaborate. And they engage with all people with the same eager spirit – no matter if you’re an intern or a senior executive – because they just trust it’s all part of a greater economy.”
Perhaps the most important lesson Kate learned from Rich is the example that “you can be really engaged in your work, but not consumed by it.”
Kate’s life is also a great example of that – while she is someone who has enjoyed great success in her career – her greatest joy is devoted to being a wife to her husband, Joel, and super-mom to their four, very lovely children. But her secret to finding balance between effectiveness and a purposeful life is not what you would expect. In fact, it’s the opposite. Her entire framework centers around befriending constraints.
“I don’t really like the notion of balance in general. I like balance in the sense of balancing your checkbook, but balance is sort of an ideology. A framework I’ve found more helpful is the idea of constraints, because we’re all operating under constraints all the time – constraints on money, on time, education, our abilities, everything.”
Kate talks a lot about seeing constraints differently, instead of seeing them as limitations she says,
“We can view our limitations as a way to usher in creativity and bring clarity and focus into what we are doing and live more realistically in life. Our limitations have a curious way of yielding abundance.”
We all know someone who exerts Kate’s qualities and Rich’s qualities. The people who ignite the fire inside us – that was there all along – we just needed someone to come alongside and remind us of our truest potential.
No one needs reminding more than leaders – leaders in business and community. Put simply, we cannot give, what we do not have. That applies to just about everything, but more specifically to business leaders, and to Kate’s point: the greater capacity you have to receive, the greater you are able to give – whether it’s in lending your time, resources, or guidance.