Confidence Is Key: Your Story Inspires with Christopher Byers
Okta is home to an inspiring group of people. In this edition of Your Story Inspires, we’re excited to highlight Christopher Byers, legal counsel and People of Color recruiting committee volunteer, for believing that confidence is critical and bringing it to work each day. Read on to learn how Christopher channels his confidence into achieving his goals and seeks diverse perspectives through mentorship and travel.
Where did you grow up? What are the most memorable experiences from your early childhood?
I was born in Brooklyn, but moved to the Silicon Valley when I was young. After divorcing my father, my mom considered the pros and cons of moving to the opposite side of the country. She eventually decided that she wanted me to grow up in California, so we packed the car and moved. My mom has always been the biggest influence in my life, and this story is one of many examples she has set about being confident, setting a goal, and working to execute that goal. My mom taught me that confidence is critical because believing in yourself is more than half the battle. It also subconsciously impacts how you carry yourself, which others can pick up on.
I’m inspired by my mom’s confidence and try to emulate it today by believing that I can do anything I set my mind to. I skied down black diamond runs as a kid, ran multiple half marathons without training, traveled the world alone, and so much more. Believing in myself is a lesson I will always carry with me; if someone else can do it, then so can I.
Tell us about your early academic background. How did your education influence your future career?
I’ve always had an interest in learning new things, so I generally liked school, but I hated homework. I had the mindset that I would do what was required of me while at school, but after school was my personal time. After seeing my report cards and receiving calls from my teachers, my mom had some very strong conversations with me. She was investing in my education, but I wasn’t delivering any returns. She drilled a quote into me that I’ll likely use if I have children: “Work hard now so you can have fun later in life, or you can have fun now, but you’ll work hard later in life.” I eventually learned that in order to achieve my personal dreams and aspirations, I needed to focus on my education. I definitely had some bumps along the road, but I tried to always have the end goal in mind.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve known what I wanted to do for as long as I can remember. In order of preference, I wanted to be a professional basketball or football player, an orthopedic or oral surgeon, or an attorney.
I was a decent athlete, but my allergy to homework prevented any scholarship opportunities in high school. I started on the pre-medical track in college, but after a humbling experience in Organic Chemistry, I switched to a double major in Political Science and Mass Communications. Becoming an attorney was now my last resort. I knew I needed to do well enough to go to law school because I didn’t have any other career plans. Thankfully, everything worked out in the end.
How do you approach mentorship? What is your advice on how to find good mentors?
I try to surround myself with people who are more knowledgeable and experienced than I am because if I’m trying to accomplish something, then it makes sense to seek out others who have already accomplished it. I also try to seek the opinion of at least three people who can help me thoroughly think through an idea or situation because talking to an objective party and hearing a new perspective helps inform my decision making. In general, I’ve found it helpful to have a diverse group of mentors because it’s enriched my thinking thus far.
What are some notable personal and professional milestones? Why are they important to you?
There are a lot of milestones that come to mind, but I can narrow it down to three. First, I wanted experience working in Finance because you can learn a lot about a company by understanding its financials. To accomplish this goal, I completed a Corporate Tax rotation at a prior employer. Although it was an extremely steep learning curve, it was an invaluable experience. Second, I want to eventually lead and develop a team. I enjoy taking the lead on group projects, so I think a natural progression for me would be to lead a team. Finally, I want to work abroad. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience different cultures and gain new perspectives through travel, so an extension of that would be to move and work in a different part of the world.
What is your mantra for dealing with difficult challenges?
The first thing that comes to mind is football coaches yelling, “Pain is temporary!” During difficult times, I try to remember that it’s only a temporary challenge, and challenges provide an opportunity to learn something new or prove that I can endure anything thrown at me.
How do you think your gender, ethnic, or racial identity has impacted your professional experiences? How do you respond to the presence or absence of privileges that come with your identity?
While difficult to prove, I’m certain that my racial identity has impacted my professional life in the form of being given or denied opportunities. Like many parts of life, my race is out of my control, so I try not to focus on it. Instead, I try to be impactful in areas where I do have control. For example, when I’m given an opportunity, I try to make my presence felt and offer a perspective that may be missing, which requires understanding what a group may or may not have already. At the end of the day, I always try to remain true to myself and am confident in my capabilities.