“Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn”

Q&A with Rachel Sexton

This week’s Working Mom Wednesday interviewee is no stranger to the spotlight. Rachel Sexton’s professional and philanthropic accomplishments have caught the attention of local magazines and news stations over the years.

According to her company profile, she’s been honored as one of KC Business magazine’s “Most Influential Women”; named a “Forty under 40” by Ingram’s Magazine; recognized as a “Rising Star” by KC Business magazine {where she rocked the cover photo}; selected as a “Next Gen Leader” and member of the 2013 class of “Women Who Mean Business” by the Kansas City Business Journal; chosen as one of KC Magazine’s Top 100 People of Kansas City; and recognized as a PharmaVoice 100 in 2014.

While proud of her {many} accolades and the hard work that got her there, Rachel is more concerned with serving others than talking about her own awards. As inspiring as she is to many, Rachel can usually be found telling stories about the patients, friends and colleagues that inspire her. Above all, her biggest honor so far has been the role of mom.

Self-promo time. Tell me what you do.

I run VPR POP, a company that creates patient-to-patient programs so people who live well with progressive or rare diseases can share health education and messages of hope with others who may be struggling with the same condition.

You’ve worked there quite some time. How’d you get started and what’s kept you there?

I started as a writer/producer fresh out of Journalism School at MU. I’ve stayed nearly 18 years because it’s so incredibly rewarding to work with people who have been handed a scary diagnosis but have chosen to live an empowered, purposeful life. It really puts it all in perspective.

If that wasn’t your gig, what do you think you’d be doing?

Move over, Kelly Ripa! I realized during J-School that I did not have the passion or hairstyling skills to work my way up the reporting ladder, but I could totally handle a glam squad, doting audience who would appreciate semi-boring stories about my kids and a parade of celebrity guests.

What is a typical day like for you?

Wake up around 7 with a baby in my arms {I’m a co-sleeping hippie}; thank God for a husband who is a morning person and gets the oldest 3 ready for school before I open my eyes {and brings me Starbucks on the weekends}; go to the office; take someone to basketball/soccer/tennis/ballet/drawing class/STEAM camp; go to a Junior League meeting or out for a run…then do a little dance, make a little love and get down tonight {or just watch some Bravo and go to bed}.

Tell me about a professional set back.

When I started at VPR, we were heavily focused on the advertising/marketing side of health care. When the economy recessed, there just weren’t as many dollars to go into those promotional tactics. Many companies that did what we did fell apart, but we forged a new path and branched into patient-to-patient outreach.

How’d that work out?

It’s the classic lemons to lemonade principal. We looked at what was truly important to the health care industry in this changing time – the patient – and how we could use our core strengths in communication and creativity, plus 30 years of knowledge, to develop something that would help educate and empower patients. The result was something better than we ever imagined.

Rachel Sexton on the cover of KC Business Magazine

Your resume includes VP {VPR}, President {Junior League} and even marathoner, not to mention mom! How do you juggle it all?

I’m glad you brought up the marathon. It was a HALF marathon and I only did one. I did well for a first race {1:47}, but it wasn’t worth it. Training for it was such a regimented approach to running vs. my usual practice of just getting out there after work and blowing off some steam that it actually took me a few months to enjoy running again after it was over. Which answers the question about juggling – I just DON’T do what I don’t enjoy. I don’t love to read, I don’t love to go to the movies, I don’t love to cook dinner. So I don’t. I love my job, I love volunteering and I love decorating birthday cakes. So I do. It gets a lot easier to juggle when you are salivating over everything on that full plate and not trying to pick your way around the icky stuff.

So do you ever find time to relax?

I hate relaxing, but I do love recharging. Nothing motivates me more than hanging with smart, witty women who lift each other up. I am so lucky to know so many who inspire me with their accomplishments between the KC Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business, the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri and my incredible girlfriends.

How has your professional life changed since having kids?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve learned to work smarter but not longer. I used to liberally apply this sentiment to tactical execution: “it will take me longer to teach someone how to do it than to do it myself”. It was really an excuse for me to be a control freak and poor delegator. Once I had kids and had no choice but to share the load, I realized that I was far from the only one who could execute up to my standards and that I was much more valuable to my company when I wasn’t bogged down in the weeds and could focus more on strategic operations. It was a win-win that I might have never realized had I not become a mommy.

They say it takes a village. Who helps you with your kiddos?

My amazing mama who watches the kids at my house 4 days a week, my mother-in-law who watches them at her home the other day, and my husband who does more than his share of everything and doesn’t make me feel selfish for not pulling my weight.

Has there been a mom-moment you’ve missed that you regretted due to work?

Not one specific moment that keeps me up at night, but I know I have short changed a lot of experiences: from being back on email hours after giving birth to working on reports during family dinners to taking conference calls from Animal Kingdom, I’m definitely not always 100% present when I’m with my family. While my family is unquestionably my top priority, after putting 18 years into my career, it’s also one of my babies.

rachel sexton career mom kansas city
Rachel with her husband, Brian King and their four children: Will (10), Grayson (8), Kitty (4) and Bibi (4 months)

What do you hope your children take away from you working?

I hope when they look back, my career is just a side note – “oh yeah, and she did some great stuff at her office too.” I hope I instill my sense of humor, healthy habits and volunteer spirit in them more than my commitment to work. I’m the product of a stay-at-home mom and a workaholic dad. They were both incredible at what they did, and equally inspiring to me. As long as my kids are contributing to society, feeling fulfilled and not asking me for money, I don’t care if they raise a family, run a company or both.

What’s your best piece of advice for other working moms?

Surround yourself with women who validate and inspire you. There’s no room for a vampire who wants to suck the positive energy out of you or the Debbie Downer who wants you to wallow in mommy guilt with her. Whether it’s a volunteer organization, a mom’s group or a professional organization, there are lots of strong, positive women out there and they’re one of the best resources we have.

Also, PLEASE don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. We can’t afford to be humble or modest. Not only are you’re sharing a message that working moms can be successful, you never know when your accomplishments will inspire someone to take that leap outside of her comfort zone.

Tell me about a goal that you’re working on right now.

I’m at an interesting point in my life: after 3 pretty intense years of Junior League leadership that have taken up a lot of my free time, I will become a Sustaining member of our 1,400 member organization this spring. The organization has invested so much into making me a leader and I feel a great hunger and a sense of responsibility to use those skills to benefit the community… but I’m not sure in what capacity. I’m open to ideas!

I’m on a quest to having it all. What does having it all mean to you?

I love your attitude. Too often I read articles about how it’s not possible to have it all or how the pursuit of it can ruin your life. NOT TRUE! For me, having it all means having a career I love, children and a husband who know I love them, giving back to the community and making “me time” to run and recharge with friends. If there was something else I wanted to pursue, I wouldn’t let my full plate scare me from doing it.

You’re right that we don’t have it all at once. “Can women have it all?” is a trick question. It’s like saying, “Can you have Mexican, Chinese, pizza and sushi?” Sure you can, just not all in the same night. Now, I’ve been to some sketchy Las Vegas buffets where you can make that vision a reality, but when you’re cramming it all into one meal, none of it is that enjoyable. With some realistic expectations, thoughtful planning and a solid support system, having “it all” is not only possible, but actually pretty delicious.

I want to sincerely thank Rachel for participating in this week’s interview. Not only did she make me totally hungry {Mexican food anyone?}, but I learned a lot about leadership and prioritizing.

Want to be interviewed for #workingmomwednesday? Contact me to find out how.

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