Learning to Surrender Control

After years of hard work and success, Holly Tate suddenly found herself struggling to launch as a New York City professional. An offer to move to Texas led her down a new path where she learned the joy of surrendering control.

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It was a winter weekday morning in 2011. Holly (Hall) Tate (Business Management ’10) stood on the subway platform at Third Ave/138th St. The smell of urine filled the station and Tate, shivering in the winter cold, watched a rat scurrying on the tracks below. She was on her way to one of two part-time jobs, trying to stay warm in a dress with tights, ankle boots she had bought from the Strawberry store, and a thrifted coat. The screeching ‘6’ train pulled into the station, sounding like nails on a chalkboard. Tate wanted to scream. For the first time in four years, she was ready to give up her dream of “making it” in the Big Apple.

This was not the scene she had envisioned for herself a few months out of college. Since childhood, she has always approached life with expectations for success and had attained it. She assumed her professional career after King’s would be the same. Now a 31-year-old Vice President of Business Development at Vanderbloemen, in Houston, Texas, Tate points to the rejection she faced during the years after King’s and the failure to meet personal expectations as the parts of her story that have led most to her success.

As a child, Tate excelled at anything she put her mind to. A naturally talented singer and orator, she often played main roles in her church and high school theatre productions. As an overachieving Girl Scout, she always placed among the top scouts in cookie sales. “I’m pretty sure she was the top-seller of Girl Scout cookies in all of Nashville,” recalls her brother Daniel. “She was a legitimate Girl Scout cookie-selling legend around the city.” In school, she was a straight-A student and played soccer every year from Kindergarten through high school graduation. In high school, she was awarded All-District Goalkeeper in soccer, served in student government, was a part of Beta Club, won Thespian of the Year in theater, and was president of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).

Tate’s success as a student and leader did not end after she arrived at King’s in 2007. She consistently made the Dean’s List, served as Helmsman for the House of Barton, and was the Inviso Visit Coordinator. She also received the Joe T. Ford Award for excellence in business at graduation. She had hopes of working in the music industry after graduation through her internship at The Bowery Presents, a concert company.

She graduated in December 2010, thrilled to start real life in New York. She waited for full-time offers from her two employers: the Admissions Office at King’s or Bowery Presents, but they never came. She lived in a windowless, moldy basement apartment of a brownstone in Mott Haven, Bronx. Her days were dark, literally.

Most days, she woke in the dark and took the ‘6’ train 20 minutes to the basement of the Empire State Building, where she worked for eight hours. When she walked out of the building, it was dark outside. She would then go to her internship at The Bowery Presents, often working ticket desks at concerts until 2:00 AM. Then she would travel home in the darkness to do it all over again the next day.

In April, a fellow student at King’s asked Tate if she would be interested in moving to Texas to sell advertising for Salem Communications, a radio broadcasting company in Dallas where his father was vice president. Tate’s father worked in the radio industry in Nashville, so she was familiar with Salem,
but a job in radio was not part of the plan. However, she began to think that moving to Dallas could not only be an escape from the gloom of New York but the Lord opening a door to a new chapter. She remembers worrying that if she moved to Texas, she might find a husband and end up living there forever. She laughs thinking about this now, realizing that is exactly what happened.

Over the next few weeks, Tate decided moving was her best option. She got in contact with Mike Reed, VP at Salem, and was soon offered a position as an account executive, selling radio advertising. She prayed about the move and her concerns. She feared “getting stuck in Texas,” and didn’t want to give up her dreams of living in New York City and working as a creative professional. Ultimately, she knew she would have to give up her need for control to God. For the first time in months, she felt complete peace. Tate decided to move to Texas in May of 2011.

Culture shock was waiting for her in Dallas. For the first time in four years, she had to drive if she wanted to go anywhere. While her peers sported bleached blonde hair, stilettos, and white dresses, she preferred her urban uniform of jeans and Payless shoes. They showed up in fancy Lexus SUVs; she in her 2003 red Ford Taurus. “I felt like a black sheep.” Looking out at the diverse but segregated Texas city from her car window, she missed the trains full of people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, her breakfast sandwich and coffee from the local bodega, and fried plantains from her favorite South American restaurant in the Bronx.

But she did find friends in Doug and Dennis, two Salem salesmen who worked next to her in the office. Both in their 40’s, they respected and encouraged Tate even though she was 22, one of only a few women on the sales team, and had never before worked in sales and marketing. They were the mentors she didn’t know she needed. One day, when a client decided not to buy advertising space with her, even after a long negotiation round, Tate found herself frustrated and in tears in Doug’s office. A container of Fireball jawbreaker candies sat on the bookshelf. She grabbed one, popped it into her mouth, and sat down in a chair. “I wish I could quit,” she admitted.

Doug listened and after a minute spoke kindly. “Holly,” he said. “What Mike needs you to do right now is stick with it, go back to your office, and keep making cold calls.” Tate eventually trudged back to her desk and did just that. This moment, she now says, taught her a pivotal professional lesson: to let go of failures when they are unchangeable, and move on to the next opportunity.

One of those opportunities was from William Vander-bloemen, the CEO and Founder of Vanderbloemen, a church staffing and Christian executive search firm. He wasn’t interested in buying radio advertising at first, but after weeks of persistent calls and emails, he eventually gave in and allowed Tate to pitch to his team at Vanderbloemen, even though he wouldn’t be at the meeting. When he returned, his team reported, “We don’t like the product, but you really have to track Holly down and hire her!”

A month later, Vanderbloemen called her and asked for an in-person meeting. She arrived, prepared to finish the sale. Instead, Vanderbloemen asked if she would be willing to sit down with him for a formal interview. Looking back he says the decision to hire Tate proved critical for his company. “If we end up having any modicum of long term success at Vanderbloemen,” he says today, “You’ll be able to draw a straight line from our success story back to the day I hired Holly.”

In July 2012, at 23 years old, Tate started her job as Director of Business Development. Over the past eight years, she has been promoted to vice president and been a crucial part of the firm’s growth. The experience has given her ample opportunity to express her positive, “let’s do this” attitude in the face of challenges, one of which has included navigating the landscape of an industry that has certain expectations as to what she should be. Tate, now 31, spends most of her days advising church leaders and board members on staffing and succession planning best practices, many of whom are men twice her age. She is often complimented on her work with phrases like, “you seem like a sharp young lady.” “It feels condescending because they sound surprised, given that I’m a young female, but I try to lead with empathy,” she said. “I know they mean well, and I try not to take myself too seriously.”

Tate has found her stride professionally. She’s now the VP of Business Development, a Forbes contributor, and a sought-out speaker for events and conferences. But she’s still learning to surrender control to God, most recently in January when, at 11 weeks pregnant, she tearfully stared at her unmoving baby on an ultrasound screen. One week prior, the Tates had received a glowing report of a strong heartbeat and what appeared to be a healthy baby. However, three short days later, she got the dreaded call from the doctor that her blood work signaled something was wrong. At an ultrasound appointment the next week, the Tates learned there was no longer a heartbeat. For the first time since her doctor had called four days earlier, she completely broke. She grabbed her husband’s hand and they wept together on the ultrasound room table. The baby had a rare chromosomal abnormality, and there was nothing she could do or could have done to change the outcome. It was completely out of her control.

“I’m a person that likes to have a plan and be in control, but I’ve learned that there’s very little we have control over, no matter how hard we work or how much we plan. I have to trust God.” Tate went on, “The Lord promises that He works all things together for His good. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I cling to how He has shown up in my life over and over again.”

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