Letting Core Values Lead the Way
Kathryn Finney’s career has taken a lot of twists and turns. She started out as an epidemiologist. Then she started a blog on budget fashion, which led to a book deal from Random House and a correspondent role for NBC’s “Today” show. She then sold the blog and went to work for BlogHer—and then that site was sold, too.
“These are positive exits—people made money. I made money,” she explains.
After that, Kathryn started a conference called FOCUS 100, which brought together Black women in tech. That morphed into digitalundivided, a social enterprise focused on creating a world where women own their work. There, Kathryn created the first venture fund for Black and Latinx women.
Her secret to success? She turns to her mantra: “To thine own self be true.”
“The reason that has helped me a great deal is that it is so much easier to maintain what you do when it is connected to who you are,” the Girl Scout alum explains. “That’s really hard as a woman because we are often taught not to be ourselves.”
Here are some of Kathryn’s tips for defining your own values as a guiding light.
1. Take the time to get to know yourself.
“Really spend the time to learn who you are and what is it that you enjoy doing,” she says. “What gets you up in the morning? What do you believe in?”
For Kathryn, this work came easily.
“Most of us know what we believe in, what makes us tick. Learning that as a woman, and learning that early, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.”
2. Let those values guide your career decisions.
“I have had to say no to some pretty big things—and some of it involved a lot of money,” she says with a laugh. “But at the end of the day I have to live with myself. Is having deep internal conflicts worth a lot of money? Not to me.”
“Telling the truth is important to me,” she adds. “Fashion, style, beauty, and art are also important to me, so I make sure I surround myself with that.”
3. Write down your thoughts and feelings.
“Journaling, particularly when you’re younger, makes a difference,” she says. “Write down ‘this is what is important to me.’ Putting it on paper helps.”
Kathryn kept a journal as a child and discovered, in rereading early entries, that her interest in fashion started with her grandmother, who was a seamstress. She also reflects on her time as a Girl Scout Brownie and remembers the camaraderie she felt at that time.
“The empowerment of women—innately understanding the value of other women—is important to me today.”
4. Consider meditation.
“Reflection and meditation are really good,” she explains, adding that you don’t need to commit an entire hour a day to this practice. “Even just pausing a bit and taking a breath—mindfulness—before saying anything or doing anything helps center you back to your core values. You can [see] Serena Williams pause before she serves. Many of us don’t do that—it’s one second; it doesn’t take a lot of time.
5. Listen to your gut.
“Women in particular are taught not to do that. Many of us have intuition. I read that your gut feeling is your guardian angel, and it’s so true,” she says.
In June 2020, Kathryn stepped down from her role at digitalundivided.
“One of the things I have learned is knowing when to leave, and that it is okay to leave,” she says. “Sometimes women are not allowed the space for growth, and [don’t know] that it is okay to move on.”
Originally her plan was to travel around the world with her family. But then the pandemic hit. She has spent the summer at home with her family and writing a book—but she also has plans for the money that was originally supposed to fund her travels.
“I was able to take that money and start The Doonie Fund. It is named after my grandmother, a seamstress and small-business owner, and it was created to give Black women entrepreneurs investments during the height of COVID-19. In a six-week time period, The Doonie Fund gave out 1,600 micro grants,” she says. “The board of The Doonie Fund is all young Black women under the age of 40—most under the age of 25. Most of them are in tech.”
For Kathryn, this moment has been about an expression of her core values.
“I had been thinking a lot about the disruption of power structures—and I realized that I had the power to disrupt them.”