Kayla Quijas

Kayla Quijas is a project manager by day and a career coach for aspiring project managers by night. 

She tells us that, “Project management is part of who I am. I’ve always been the person to plan the event, make the checklist, and look for improvements in the most minute of daily tasks. I realized that I had a gift for coaching during my time at Puget Sound Project Management Volunteers (PSPMV). PSPMV is a nonprofit that Carmen Leung and I started in 2021. Its mission is to provide free project management services to other Seattle-based nonprofits. We found that we were attracting a lot of volunteers who were “aspiring” project managers, and so I picked up the mantle as a project management coach. I found that not only was I good at it, but I also really enjoyed it! I was making an impact on the careers of budding project managers, helping them navigate tough situations, and transforming their resumes into a recruiter magnet. It was my time with this organization that inspired me to start my career coaching business, Kayla Quijas Career Coaching. My coaching practice’s mission is to empower people from all walks of life to secure fulfilling careers in project management. I believe that no dream is too big and no obstacle too daunting when you have the right guidance and support.”

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your professional journey/venture/initiative and what inspired you to choose this career.

I grew up in a small town in Missouri. I was always highly organized as a child, and I took school very seriously. While I excelled academically, I always felt like I had to try just a little harder than everyone else. For some reason, it felt like it took me just a little bit longer than everyone else to really understand the concepts. Standardized testing was difficult for me, and I really struggled with math. I used organization and structure to compensate. I was also involved in every after-school program and extracurricular activity under the sun. I had to be highly organized to make sure I could fit it all in while still keeping my academic performance high. The inspiration for my venture came much later, which I went into detail about in the question above.

Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.

There have been several turning points in my career, all of which have come out of some amount of hardship. The one that stands out the most is losing my job in 2020, clearing the way for me to get my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, which, in turn, led to my first true project management job. If that hadn’t happened, I don’t know that I would have had the push I needed to truly dive into project management feet first. It was terrifying, and I had to learn how to become comfortable with discomfort. This element, I think, is key for entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, everything is scary and uncomfortable; it’s learning to embrace that discomfort and move forward in spite of it being your true superpower. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit.

Tell us about your goals, interests, and role models.

My goals are simple: to be a great project manager and to help as many people as possible become the same. My interests include board games, running, and tending to my indoor plant collection. Waking into my home is like walking into a jungle. I also have a cat, Artemis, whom I love very much. My career has been heavily influenced by women in the health and wellness space. This includes women like Byron Katie, Brooke Castillo, and Lori Harder. Although I don’t know them personally, these women have taught me to be strong in the face of adversity and to have grace in difficult situations. They have also taught me to identify and manage my thoughts, which has allowed me to harness and use my emotions, rather than letting them harness and use me. It’s my ability to do this that has really helped propel my career. I’m able to stay calm in tense situations, have empathy for people that others may consider “difficult,” and generally have faith that there is something better on the other side of adversity. 

Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?

I love this question! The answer flows naturally from the end of my last answer. I believe in what Brooke Castillo calls “The Model,” or what Byron Katie calls “The Work.” The general framework is that situations cause our thoughts, our thoughts cause our emotions, and our emotions drive our actions. Being aware of this process is incredibly powerful; it’s the difference between “I’m having a bad day” and “I had something (or a few somethings) bad happen to me today.” This is best explained by means of an example. Let’s say I have a discovery call with a client, and they end up not choosing to work with me as their career coach. I could think “oh, boy, I must really suck! This person doesn’t want to work with me. I have nothing to offer the world. I should just quit.” But I also have another option. I, instead, witness that negative thought and then choose to instead think, “maybe what I have to offer this person doesn’t resonate with them at the moment, and that’s okay.” Or I choose to think “Maybe this wouldn’t have been a great relationship,” and then I thank The Universe for choosing what is best for me. By witnessing my thoughts, I can choose to replace negative, non-helpful ones with positive, supportive ones. I’ve experienced a lot of difficulties both professionally and personally. I’ve lost my job, was almost fired from another, lost my home, gotten divorced, escaped an abusive relationship. All of these things have happened to me, and every time there is something more beautiful waiting for me on the other side. This doesn’t mean I’m not sad when difficult things happen – I am! But it also means that I don’t let that sadness get in the way of me taking brave steps forward. Each and every one of these trying times have taught me to be more in tune with what I want and have given me valuable lessons from which I can learn and grow.

What impact do you feel you have been able to create with your work so far and how would you want to grow in the next few years?

I’m a new entrepreneur, so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to make a massive impact. I’ve helped a few people find clarity in their career direction and land jobs that are in alignment with their overall career trajectories. If that is all I accomplish, then that is more than enough. If The Universe sees fit, I would love to hit the milestone of helping 100 people find fulfilling careers in project management.

While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?

As I mentioned, like so many others, I lost my job in 2020. At the time, this was devastating. I was living alone in Seattle, and I knew that there was no end in sight to the pandemic. The job market was, obviously, incredibly challenging at that time, and I saw the writing on the wall. I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain the cost of my home, so I left it and Seattle, and I moved to Missouri to live with my younger sister for a while. This had a huge impact on my life, my sense of stability, and my self-esteem. However, it was this very event that led me to my first project management job. In hindsight, I’m incredibly thankful that this happened to me. It jump started my career and gave me the gift of a little extra time to spend with my sister.

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?

My biggest achievements don’t come in the form of awards or recognitions; they are personal. I believe my biggest achievement is becoming a more calm, loving, positive person. Believe it or not, I used to be extremely negative and cynical. Over time, dealing with difficult situations has made me stronger and has given me invaluable soft skills that have helped me blossom both in my career and my personal life.

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

I would love to see more women supporting women. It breaks my heart to see women tearing others, especially women, down. We’re never going to agree on everything – that’s what makes us all so unique! But we certainly don’t do anyone, or ourselves, a service by criticizing and spreading hate.

What’s the most important thing you have learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?

Everything happens for a reason. You may not see it at the time, but there is a reason.

With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

If you’re going through something difficult, have faith that The Universe has something planned for you, and that there is something better waiting for you on the other side of adversity.