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Lunch with @KateStoltzfus of @Yinzpiration

2013 was the year of Kate Stoltzfus. Even if you don’t know her personally, if you were in Pittsburgh, you probably heard her name. Kate is a woman who knows everyone. Literally. And her blog, Yinzpiration, has been charming our fine City since 2010. Kate was a 40 Under 40 awardee last year, together with her co-Pilots she has been soaring the entrepreneurial skies with Propelle, she’s brought the Creative Mornings breakfast lecture series to the ‘burgh, and even offers her own “Connectornoon” services. This woman’s on fire!

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Kate was a perfect target for my first “real” Lurk No More interview. I’ve been reading Yinzpiration for ages, and I’ve exchanged friendly “hellos” with Kate at events here and there, but I can’t really say we know each other. We had just enough familiarity to get the conversation rolling, but plenty of uncharted territory to discover.

We met at the mutually-treasured Park Bruges for lunch on an icy January afternoon. Who can resist a plate of moules in wine sauce on a cold day? Although I had the best intentions to write out all kinds of questions in advance, and even send them to her before our get together so she could ponder, these plans all came apart under increased demands of work. I didn’t let my lack of preparation get me down, and sidled up to the table all ready for our friendly chat.

Kate, like me, is a transplant to Pittsburgh. She moved here right after college to take part in the PULSE program, grew to love Pittsburgh, and made it her forever home. The endeavor that likely brings her the most recognition is Yinzpiration. She recalls a PodCamp speaker explaining that it is good career insurance to grab coffee with someone from your network once a week, to keep the connections vibrant. At this point, Kate already had the Yinzpiration domain name registered, she just didn’t have a plan for it yet. And then it all came together: Yinzpiration would be her coffee break. She set out to get coffee with 100 Pittsburghers, with the simple goal of meeting people and showing the world that there are interesting people in their 20s and 30s doing cool things in Pittsburgh.

As Kate delicately enjoys her salad (while I slop through the moules like a St. Bernard at a water dish), it strikes me how different Kate is from the impression I had developed of her. Both are positive—but based simply how well known and well-spoken Kate is, I had assumed she would have one of those loud but friendly personalities that would be thrilled to hug you but may bowl-over the timid. To the contrary, Kate is cheerful and humble. I can’t get over how genuine and gracious she is. “Networking” to Kate Stoltzfus isn’t of the cocktail party and close the deal variety. Rather, she gets to the heart of it—making friends.

Before starting Yinzpiration, Kate did not realize that she had a penchant for, or even an interest in, networking. Once she got a couple of really good conversations under her belt, she realized that there were so many forms of “networking,” and by making these connections with people in her community, life became richer. Yinzpiration was also the entre to her other professional endeavors. Through her interviews, she met her co-pilots Emily Levenson and Carrie Nardini (who recently stepped down from the project). Propelle has been an immeasurable boon to local women in business, fostering both the connections and the skills to get small businesses off the ground.

Given all that Kate has accomplished in just a few years, we talked about the how and why of goal-setting. Like me, Kate seems to have mastered year-by-year goal setting, but does not project further than that. There is a certain flexibility to her goals, and she routinely checks in with them, making sure to listen to her heart, and striving toward “what’s feeling really good,” but abandoning goals that no longer serve her. I asked her how, once she has those goals set, does she get the motivation together to put in the elbow grease to reach them? To Kate, the answer was simple: Her goals are self-motivating, she is inspired by the results. When she works hard to put together an event for Propelle and sees new connections blossom and women take business-leaps that render results, her efforts have paid off. Watching that payoff keeps her inspired to keep at it.

We transitioned into what is easily my favorite conversation topic—fun things around Pittsburgh. Selfishly harvesting ideas for my own free time, I asked Kate “What would you do with a day in Pittsburgh, free of responsibilities?” Her eyes brightened, and she immediately responded “A massage!” Little did I know that Kate is a licensed massage therapist, and she too loves to indulge in a relaxing massage now and then. Following her massage, Kate would spend her day out on the water. In Pittsburgh, there is plenty of water to be had. She would love nothing more than to sail the rivers with good friends, soaking up the sun’s gentle rays.

Our conversation wound down by me picking her brain a bit on her Connectornoon networking services and her well-known networking mojo. We agree that there is a disconnect about how people perceive “networking” and what “networking” really can be. To “network,” one need not suck down wine to suffer painful small talk. Rather “networking” is as simple as meeting people, sharing interests and being friendly. Kate’s advice, which is particularly apt for the shy: Start one person at a time. Find out what they are interested in. Share what you are interested in. Ask if they can recommend 2 or 3 other people who also share your interests. So much is built out of recommendations in this town. Also, become a regular somewhere. It doesn’t matter where—a library, a coffeeshop, a bar, a church or Temple. Even if you aren’t comfortable diving right in to a conversation with a stranger, you will eventually become known to people, and someday break the ice, just by being around them frequently.

As we wrapped up our lunch together, I admitted that I sheepishly felt a little like my “Lurk no More” plans were copy-catting her. In typical Kate fashion, she smiled broadly and replied, “I didn’t invent interviews.” Her response was heartfelt, and so was her enthusiasm. She was thrilled to see her work inspire someone else to take on something new.

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