Lived experiences have always helped people identify their purpose as well as the paths they want to pursue. As we find ourselves living and working through a global pandemic, it’s perhaps even more important now that we better understand what our purpose is and how to continue to make progress toward our personal goals through uncertain times.

We sat down with Kimberly Sharp, senior consulting manager at Rizing, to talk about how the challenges we face in life shape the opportunities we embrace—and sometimes even create ourselves. With 25 years of professional experience under her belt, Sharp has learned how to leverage her core strengths to perform at her highest level, regardless of the industry she works in or her job title.

Her professional journey—though at times paved with doubt—has led her to where she says she can share her knowledge and make the most impact. “As a consultant, I can make a difference while helping a lot of people.” Sharp is particularly interested in helping women in IT and the retail industry develop their talents, find their passions, and live in environments where they can exercise their strengths.

Roadblocks Don’t Mean You Have to Stop Driving

“When I think back to some of the most challenging roadblocks in my career, they remind me a lot of what’s going on right now,” Sharp said. She pointed to the idea that a roadblock is generally caused by an external factor that you have no control over. “When I have control,” she said, “I feel like I am the captain of my own destiny. But that goes away when suddenly there is something in front of me that I was least expecting. I guess that’s why they call them roadblocks.”

She recalls finding her stride sometime in 2001. It was post-9/11 and she felt the call to make a big shift in her career by moving into the financial services industry. “It’s when I really started to get the bug for data,” she recalled. But she was laid off from her position following the 2008 recession and forced to rethink her next move. “What I learned from that experience is that we all have inherent strengths and talents that we’ve picked up along the way that make us who we are.” She decided to combine her love of analytics and the retail industry and apply these passions in a different kind of position at BJ’s Wholesale Club. “Industry and actual job titles and specific roles over the course of going through those career challenges became less important. It became more important, however, to determine what my purpose was and what my passion was.”

Challenges—or roadblocks—will always pop up. They will almost certainly pop up when you’re least expecting them. But if you focus on who you are and what you know, then navigating around those roadblocks becomes much easier. You discover that you have a toolbox of skills and strengths that you can apply in a variety of ways. “I also realized that the older I got, the more I began to understand my worth. It became equally important to have other people understand the value of my work, too.”

Your Purpose, Passion, and Value: Know all Three

We cannot look to others to assign our value. If we do, we find that it is often underestimated, or altogether devalued. Women, especially, must know and own what they bring to the table. “I often say there are three truths you must know,” Sharp said. “Know your passion. Know your purpose. And know your value.” She cautions that if you don’t, you will just end up giving it away.

“We must be really clear on what our worth is in the marketplace,” she added. As of 2020, women are still earning about 20 cents less on the dollar than our male counterparts, all things being equal. “What I don’t think women realize specifically is the exponential impact that has over the course of a career.” According to Sharp, it comes out to something like $900,000 in lost earnings. That’s a lot of value to simply give away.

Sharp mentors young professional women and often tells them, “Knowing your passion, purpose, and value is the perfect recipe for success.” She added, “It doesn’t matter what comes first. Sometimes, your passion dictates your purpose and value, and sometimes your purpose does all the work. But you have to pay attention and own it.”

Stay on Your Path with Empathy

Most people don’t experience a straight and narrow career path. In fact, for most of us there will be roadblocks and unexpected turns. But you have to own the path you’re driving—good or bad—while also sharing it with competing drivers. “I don’t get scared anymore about things like I might lose my job,” Sharp said. “But I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the difference between paying lip service and leading with empathy and kindness. The potential to see the not-so-good side of humanity and treating each other with disregard, that scares me.”

Sharp talked about communication being key, especially in the current business landscape. It’s not only good for the entire workforce, but it can help you as an individual find your strengths and use them to drive personal progress. “We’ve got to work so much harder to communicate effectively and efficiently right now,” she said.

For too long, the business world has functioned through the lens of power and strength. Those who can hack it succeed. And those who can’t, fall behind. “That no longer flies,” Sharp said. Women have always been told that they are too emotional to be strong leaders. But there is a growing call for leading with empathy, and that comes from being emotionally intelligent.

“One of my mentors, who happens to be a man, recently told me that my emotion is my superpower. But most women have this superpower that they’ve kept tucked away in the business world.” She added, “We’ve been taught that there is no crying in baseball. That we’ve got to learn to operate in a man’s world. But what I’m telling you right now that the world we’re living in today—with this pandemic, with social unrest, and cultural shifts—perhaps we all need to start operating in a woman’s world.”

Getting Over the Potholes Together

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the problems we are collectively facing. But in order to get past the significant roadblocks, we need to learn to think differently than we have in the past and share more diverse ideas. That kind of collaboration comes out of first knowing our own strengths, and second, encouraging others to know theirs. “I’m a big proponent of the self-assessment, CliftonStrengths, formerly StrengthsFinder,” Sharp said. “We’re all so eager to tell someone else that they need to improve on something, but I think it’s more beneficial to celebrate someone’s strengths versus telling them to work on something you think they’re failing at.”

Sharp made clear that we should still encourage people to learn new skills, but rather that should happen naturally as an extension of excelling at something they are really good at. “It’s not all or nothing,” she said. “Obviously if someone is making routine mistakes on core parts of their role, then that should be addressed. But the idea is to really understand where someone’s strength is and allowing that to lead the conversation, and perhaps the role.” She added, “if you do this with a group, you’ll begin to know each other better and learn how different people with different strengths can innovate together.”

As we all adapt to this new normal and search for purpose, we’ll find that if we work together, we can accomplish so much more. “If I am true to what I believe is my life’s purpose, which is spreading seeds of knowledge to others so that they can become the best version of themselves,” Sharp said, “then I know I haven’t gone through everything life has thrown at me just to survive and keep it to myself.”

Watch the ASUG Women Connect webcast, “Life Lessons Learned on the Journey to Finding Purpose at Work” on demand. Kimberly Sharp shares tips and best practices to help you find the best version of yourself.