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Prioritizing growth over comfort in my career, with Lauren Keegan

Name: Lauren Keegan

City and State: Dallas, TX

Occupation: Director at AT&T

Tell us a bit about your career path over the past decade.

I have my undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering, and, in 2010, graduated with my MBA. All of my graduate school essays mention me working for an NFL team. But, by 2011, I had found my way into Corporate America.

I started working at AT&T in 2011 after being selected for its Leadership Development Program which consists of three rotational assignments in the span of about 30 months. When I graduated from the program, I wanted to move into a talent development role to understand our human capital strategy. That role in talent development was a pivotal one for me as I met several influential leaders in the company and got to observe people movement and promotions.

The brand, reputation, and network I had built helped me secure a Chief of Staff role in 2014 for a Senior Vice President. This position was another pivotal role in that I got the sponsorship from this leader which led to my promotion to Director in 2016. From there I had the opportunity to lead a sales organization and then a dispatch team before landing my current role working in AT&T’s transformation office.

You've said that when you look at your career, it definitely has theme's based on the decade of life you were in. Will you describe that for us?

When I was in my 20s, I did not care what type of work I was doing. I wanted to make as much money as possible so I could buy the things that I perceived a successful person should have.

By the time I reached my 30s, I had a desire to figure out what type of career would fulfill me and no longer cared about the money. So, I quit my “good job”, went back to school full-time, and explored several different types of positions in a short period of time.

Now that I’m in my 40s, I spend more time focused on planning my future with the end in mind. Time is finite, and I want to spend the last half of my career doing what I love and making an impact in the lives of others. Getting to this place in how I view my career required a lot of deep, painful conversations with myself and others. I also made some mistakes along the way – like when I thought I wanted to work in the budget office for the Department of Justice. But all of these experiences and lessons have gotten me to where I am today.

How have you leveraged your ability to ask for help to build your career?

I ask for help in my career ALL THE TIME. A couple of examples:

1) I have paid for career counseling/executive coaching when I was at a key decision point and needed external counsel

2) I have built a “Lauren Board of Directors” – a group of people that I run most major career decisions by to get their opinions and guidance. This same group of people has also helped me get interviews, provided recommendations, and given me critical feedback when necessary

3) I call on my network when navigating new roles or situations, especially when I'm in unfamiliar territory.

Asking for help improves your knowledge and leadership capability, shows humility, and ultimately helps you further all the relationships you’ve built (even the one with yourself).

You say that you are comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tell us more about that.

I don’t know when it started, but I have this view on life: There is nothing I can do about the past except learn from it. There is nothing I can do about the future except plan for it. The thing that needs the majority of my attention is the present moment. And if you are focused on the present moment, you have little time to worry about anything else.

Being comfortable in my career is a red flag for me. When I feel myself getting through the day easily or surrounded by people who agree with everything I say, I know it’s time to do something new. Something new could be getting a new job, taking on a new project, reading a new leadership book, or rethinking my team approach or strategy. The whole purpose of life is to grow. You do not grow when you are comfortable.

Many women think they "should" follow a linear career path, but yours hasn't always been straight. How has your path recently led you to go back to school? And what's your next goal once you get this master's degree?

All relocations I’ve made since leaving my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, have been because of a job. In December, a mentor of mine asked me where I would live if I did not work for AT&T. I’d never really thought about it before, and I was stumped! This one question led to deep self-reflection.

I have been told several times and by many people that I would make an excellent career/life coach. I have sporadically researched this idea over the last decade. When COVID hit, I researched executive coaching again. In that moment, I realized that my lack of decision making was an indication that I wanted something else. Another mentor suggested I take one class and see if I like it. I started researching Masters of HR programs, and within a week had applied to two schools. I got accepted, received a scholarship, and everything just fell into place.

I should graduate with my degree in 2022. While in school, I will be using my network to help transition into an HR role at AT&T. My future degree and past experiences will help me navigate getting to my ultimate dream job: Chief People Officer.

On top of a badass career, you have always wanted to have a family. What does that journey look like for you right now?

When I was younger, I thought I would be married with three kids by age 24. I wanted to be a housewife – one that didn’t do any of the housework but was free to do whatever she wanted each day. However, I had never put any thought into how I would achieve these goals.

Obviously, I’ve had to adjust my dream. My relationship patterns did not reflect what I ultimately wanted. I have done a lot of introspection to identify the mistakes of my past to prevent making those same mistakes in the future. Additionally, I’ve had to work hard at letting go of whatever conditioning I had received to make me think I needed to shrink myself for a man or downplay my intelligence, attractiveness, and wit. I am currently single and at peace with waiting for the right relationship to come along.

Unfortunately, biology doesn’t let women wait around too long to have kids. For the past couple of years, I’ve been doing research on starting a family in non-traditional ways. I’ve considered adoption, coercing a friend to co-parent with me, and sperm donors. To my surprise, a subset of women from work have been willing to share their journeys with me to help me navigate my own. I lean on these women constantly and they have candidly shared the ups and downs of IVF, pregnancy, and motherhood. My journey to motherhood is just beginning – I have a plan and it’s time to execute.

A question we ask everyone...what do you want to be known for?

Making a difference - especially in helping young women navigate their careers.

My favorite quote is...

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree

Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn.

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