When I was eight years old, I was determined to be an astronaut when I grew up. Someone even came to my school to talk about space. The words “colony” and “on the moon” were said, and that was that: I was going to live in space as an adult and it was going to be great.
Considering I am not writing this from my sweet loft on the moon that I share with my Swedish-Brazilian boyfriend (an aftershave model), we can all assume how this panned out. As it turns out, the age of eight would be the last time I spoke with any kind of certainty about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
At 17 I moved out of my parents house. I got a full time job working as a paralegal for two San Francisco-based public defenders. On the plus side, it enabled me to coordinate my work schedule around college classes while still making time to write and play music. On the downside, it would put me in an abandoned parking lot waiting for a 22 year old homeless girl with a neck tattoo that said “Marvin’s Wife” to come and sign custody papers, among other menial or terrifying tasks.
Motivated by the fact that I could barely support myself, I eventually moved on to a job as a paralegal for a start-up company. It took time away from playing music, but enabled me to do “big girl” things like pay rent and have insurance / get pap smears. It was both fulfilling and unfulfilling; but also ingrained in me an unfortunate belief that a career meant sacrificing the artist in me, and that I would ultimately have to choose between self-sustainability and creativity.
Then I met Kristine.
The legal department where I was working as a paralegal was looking to hire an attorney on a contract basis. My boss and his boss and myself sat together in a conference room as a sea of lawyers poured in and subjected themselves to our line of questions. The Big Boss would ask vital questions to determine whether or not they were fit to negotiate commercial contracts like “how handy are you around the house?” and “can you change a toilet?” Eventually, when none of the candidates seemed to be the right fit, he called the agency and asked one more question: “can you send over a woman so I don’t look like I’m discriminating?”
Before I had time to be offended by the question, they sent over Kristine. She not only demonstrated herself as an articulate and experienced attorney, but as someone who had figured out a way to work hard and support herself without sacrificing her creative endeavors.
Kristine is a problem solver. To her, it seemed that the best way to solve big problems at an early age would be a career in politics. Accordingly, she got her college degree in Economics before entering law school.
After completing her first year of law school, Kristine felt like it wasn’t quite right for her. Rather than enduring years 2 and 3 with uncertainty, she hit pause on law school and went to business school to obtain her MBA.
With her MBA under her belt, Kristine felt ready to go back and complete law school.
Having always had an interest in international law, Kristine got her first job by opening up the yellow pages, writing down the name of every international law attorney she could find. Her idea was to cold call each of them to inquire about a job, but she didn’t make it far through the list. In fact, the first guy offered her a job on the spot.
Eventually, Kristine found an in-house position that gave her vast experience as a corporate attorney, a steady income and, perhaps most importantly, stock in the company. Though the job taught her that she was a good worker, Kristine would eventually feel the all-too-familiar pang of “life is short” and quit her job. Before leaving, she cashed in her stock options with the goal of accomplishing two things: take a year off and put a down payment on a house.
During her year off, having always had a passion for writing, Kristine partnered with a friend she’d known since kindergarten and wrote a book. The author biographies of Time Off! The Unemployed Guide to San Francisco reads “Both worked in the technology industry during its peak and subsequent bust. They have been successfully unemployed since 2001, pursuing creative interests and attempting to perfect the leisure lifestyle.” The pursuit paid off, and the book resulted in a promotional tour that would land the two authors on TV and radio. The book even became a local best-seller.
During research for the book, Kristine discovered San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. Despite being one of the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, Kristine saw single family homes on the waterfront, and an engaged community. Thus it was in Hunters Point that she fulfilled her second goal and put a down payment on her first house.
Six months into being a new home owner and opening up her own legal practice, Kristine would see that her neighborhood was at a crossroads and she wanted to influence how it developed. She joined every committee and attended every town hall meeting. Getting actively involved in her local community eventually inspired Kristine to run for local office as County Supervisor of District 10 Bayview Hunters Point.
Though she would later describe the experience as “unpleasant”, finally pursuing politics taught Kristine two things: (1) that she isn’t good at being political; and (2) while solving big problems may be what keeps you in office, it certainly wasn’t what it took to get elected.
Undeterred by her loss, Kristine found another way to serve as a voice for her community. She turned to an old hobby of documentary film making, started her own production company and worked on several projects, including a few short films focusing on the outreach programs in Hunters Point. The entire experience not only earned her an acceptance as a resident at the San Francisco Film Society’s “Film House”, which granted her access and exposure to more accomplished filmmakers, but also earned her a trip to Sundance as part of a film she crewed on. Kristine learned that even a short foray into a new field can pay off with exciting accomplishments and experiences.
Kristine’s advocacy eventually extended beyond her neighborhood, and in 2011, after reading an article in the newspaper about an organization that uses technology to match organ donors with recipients, she was inspired by what the article referred to as “altruistic donation” and donated a kidney to a local woman in need. If you ask Kristine why she did it, she will answer with an emphatic and genuine “why not?” To her, it was an “easy” way to give back.
What I find most compelling about Kristine is that she laughs in the face of the idea that you have to settle for one thing in life. Here is a woman that graduated from law school and established a legal career, but not at the cost of other pursuits. She has – and continues to – put herself out into the world to try new things, whether it’s being an author, a film maker, or a politician. She has enjoyed the highs (to this day, she considers the immense satisfaction of opening that first box of books from the printer and seeing her imagination turned into a tangible product as one of the best experiences of her working life) and learns and evolves from the lows.
When I first come up with the idea for These Wonderful Women, Kristine was one of the first people I called. She has always been incredibly supportive of both my professional and personal pursuits, and never once feels or makes me feel that doing one would be completely at the sacrifice of the other. This is a kindness she extends in addition to the positive example she sets. We agree to meet at Flora Grubb, located in Kristine’s neighborhood, for a cup of coffee and a chat.
You might describe Flora Grubb as a plant store in San Francisco; but, with its multi-colored flower pots, succulent clusters, luminous pink chairs and draping, spindly hanging plants, it is more like the Garden of Eden if you are on mushrooms. Outside the cafe, sitting on vibrantly pink chairs, I pick Kristine’s brain.
These Wonderful Women: There is so much pressure, I feel, to find your one true purpose (preferably for forever and at a young age). How did you not get stuck in this philosophy?
Kristine: I would say that I feel that pressure – or rather, desire – acutely; I just react to it with trial and error. I feel strongly that one should be happy with one’s work. If you’re lucky enough to find your calling at a young age, you have so much more time to become truly great at something. That said, I don’t believe in the “one true purpose” any more than I believe in only one true love.
TWW: What advice would you give someone struggling with that same pressure?
K: First, remember that you are not broken. We women are always trying to “fix” ourselves. Self-improvement is great and all, but there’s nothing wrong with just accepting where you are and who you are. If you find your “true purpose” that’s great. The trick is just to make sure you are happy more often than uphappy with what you are doing. You’re the only one who has to live with the consequences of the choices you make, so do whatever you can to convince yourself that you need to live your life for you, not for other people, and practice standing firm about that. People will adjust.
Also, if you don’t know what you want to do with your life or how? Well, you’re like just about everyone else on the planet. Here’s a quote from Christine McVie who just rejoined fleetwood mac after 16 years off: “You don’t often get a chance to do something you love so much twice in your life.” Even famous bajillionaire singers have to struggle with the same thing you’re struggling with. It just makes you normal.
TWW: How do you handle failure?
K: I hide. Sleep a lot. Eventually get over it and move on. I’d rather try and fail than not take the risk. I like risk. The more you try, fail and recover, the more you know that you can reach as high as you want and what’s the worst that could happen? Whatever it is, it’s almost certainly better than not trying.
[In terms of running for office], I did it for practical reasons and I’m glad I got it out of my system. If I hadn’t run, I would have always wondered. It no longer nags at me now.
TWW: Who in your life has been a major inspiration or had a big impact on you and why?
K: My dad, for sure, was my biggest influence. My friend Stacie, who has started 4 or 5 businesses. I had a friend in college who once told me I was “mentally tough.” He grew up in humble surroundings and found his focus in college, got a PhD in education, and became a high-profile superintendent of schools at a fairly young age. I once asked him about how to get started on something and his advice was, “just do it.”
TWW: How handy are you around the house and can you change a toilet?
K: I like working with my hands. I own a table saw, a t-square, a power-sander and hordes of painting supplies. I demo’ed a closet in my house, hung drywall, glazed windows, built a couple fences. I have seen a toilet changed and feel confident I could figure out how to do it, but I’m happy to call the plumber on that one. There’s not a lot of creativity involved, and – it’s a toilet.
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