Out of Office: Debra Jerome

Debra Jerome, Chief Human Resources Officer at AESC Member firm Witt/Kieffer, has been practicing National Karate – including Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kickboxing and other martial arts – since 2008. Here she describes how this hobby has enriched her personal and professional life.

What made you want to get involved in martial arts?

Martial arts is all about focus, which is also a much needed skill set in the business world. I had enrolled my oldest son, who was 5-years-old at the time, in karate class to improve his focus.  I was sitting in the lobby watching class one day and Master Mazzola suggested I sign up too. The first week I attended two classes and every inch of my body - from head to toe - was sore because of the intense workout. But I really liked the pace of the class and the benefits from such an intense workout.  It was easy to stay involved as I started to make other adult friends, who were also trying karate for the first time.  It felt like a win-win for me.  

Looking back, I am so happy I decided to jump in and try something new. In my role as CHRO at Witt/Kieffer, I encourage my colleagues to do the same.  New experiences, talents, influences can end up being extremely rewarding and make a positive impact on career development and success. Getting involved in a cause or starting a hobby can be gratifying personally, and in turn, professionally.

Are there any achievements that you are particularly proud of?

On my journey to earn my first degree black belt, I was within two months of receiving my letter to be invited to test for my black belt.  I was in class practicing kicks, and I went up to throw a tornado kick and landed wrong.  I didn’t realize it for a few weeks, but after a visit to the doctor I found out that I’d torn my ACL in my right knee.  I had surgery and then went through months of physical therapy. 

I was out of karate approximately nine months between surgery and rehabilitation.  I wasn’t sure that I would make it to graduation, but karate taught me discipline and perseverance.  I had come too far to give up now!  On the night of the exam, when my black belt was tied around my waist, I felt something different: a huge sense of accomplishment.  This past June (2014), I became a second degree black belt and again that feeling rushed back.  My determination and perseverance paid off, and I am very proud of that accomplishment.

In what ways has martial arts enhanced your career/improved your quality of life?

The physical rewards of martial arts are visible, and the focus, discipline and sense of accomplishment have helped in all aspects of my life – including professionally.  

When life becomes more challenging, I think about the journey to earning my black belt and the obstacles I had to overcome.  I think about how difficult it was to bounce back from my torn ACL, and at times very painful.  I remember the mental drive I had in those periods and then translate it to my career and responsibility to run the HR of the firm through significant growth.   The ethereal work/life balance is achieved as I keep sharp focus on my family, which includes my two young sons active in sports all year round. 

Thanks to my commitment to National Karate, I’ve become more fearless in all that I do.  Now, I embrace the bumps in the road as learning experiences, and I know to never give up.  Each day is a chance to learn something new and to positively impact someone else.  

This article was originally published in the fourth issue of Search Magazine, now renamed Executive Talent Magazine.