Career Q&A with Nolan Church, CEO of Continuum (#15)

The next Career Q&A is with Nolan Church, who is the CEO of Continuum, an executive talent marketplace. Nolan and I were peers at DoorDash and he’s one of the most talented people I’ve worked with. He’s the real deal and someone I regularly go to as a sounding board. In this Q&A, Nolan offers great advice on taking calculated risks, surrounding yourself with people better than you, and the need to constantly push yourself. I hope you enjoy Nolan’s insights as much as I did.

Nolan Church is the Cofounder and CEO of Continuum, a marketplace for executive talent. Prior to Continuum, Nolan was the Chief People Officer at Carta and the Head of Talent at DoorDash.

Nolan graduated from the University of New Orleans and was voted captain of the baseball team. He has two kids, and a wife that is better than him at everything.

What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. I love this book because it perfectly describes the human journey. I’ve had so many moments in the last 10 years where I’ve felt overwhelmed, overworked, and scared of the unknown. But those moments are how we grow and build character. 

I’ve read the book 5 or 6 times. Strongly recommend!

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?

I received a scholarship to play baseball at Kansas State during my sophomore year of junior college. They rescinded the scholarship two weeks before my JUCO season ended.

All of my plans vanished and my world was turned upside-down in an instant. Most D1 schools had allocated all of their scholarship money (I was broke and needed financial aid to continue playing). My JUCO coach connected me w/the coach at University of New Orleans. They offered me a 50% scholarship, but I had to make a decision within 24 hours. I had never made a decision that big, that quick, with such little information. It felt like a huge risk.

I took it, and New Orleans ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. It’s not what happens, it’s how you respond.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I’ve failed so many times it’s hard to pick a favorite 🙂 

My college baseball team set the D1 record for losses my senior year (we went 4-50). At one point during the season, I went in a 0-27 slump. It was painful.

I realized my lifelong dream of playing professional baseball was over, and I needed to figure out a new direction. 

I re-focused on school and I got good grades. Those decisions ultimately allowed me an opportunity to crack into tech post-graduation. 

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Two tactical pieces of advice: 1) Become a concise written communicator and 2) cold email relentlessly. These skills aren’t taught in school, but they’re essential post-graduation.

Advice to ignore: Fake it until you make it. Have confidence and be authentic, but never pretend to be something you’re not. 

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Bad recommendations usually come from people that don’t know something firsthand, but act like they do. My rule of thumb is to only trust the people closest to the ground doing the work. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Make your manager’s, director’s, and VP’s problems disappear. Someone gave me this advice when I first started my career, and it’s helped more than anything. 

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? (while this can include an obvious accomplishment, feel free to include a more personal one)

Starting Continuum. There are very few VC-backed founders with a People Ops background, and I’m proud to be one.

What’s something unexpected that has happened in your career, and how have you responded?

In 4 years, I went from Recruiter, to Head of Recruiting, to Chief People Officer, to Founder. The amount of growth I went through — and continue to experience — in order to keep up the demands of my role(s) was/is insane. 

Early in my career I was constantly stressed. With time I came to appreciate that growth is supposed to feel uncomfortable. Now, I’m trying to enjoy the ride and have more fun.

Since entering the workforce, how have you changed or transformed?

As a kid, my parents always hated their jobs. They thought work was a necessary evil. It took me a few years post-college to realize that work could be fulfilling, fun, and a healthy part of my life. 

I learned that work becomes magical when you fall in love with what you’re building and who you’re building with. Life is short. Only work on things you’re passionate about.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

I hit a learning plateau after my first 2 years at Google. Nobody around me was pushing to get better, grow, or do big things. It was a very complacent culture.

I realized that I was playing it too safe. I needed to take a risk and push myself outside of my comfort zone. I left to join an early-stage startup (DoorDash), and I haven’t stopped growing since. 

Who is one person, dead or alive, who you admire? Why do you admire them? 

Teddy Roosevelt. I have the ‘Man in the Arena’ speech on my office wall.

Roosevelt experienced significant adversity. His wife and mother died on the same day. His son died in WW1. He became the youngest president after McKinley was assassinated. 

Yet he kept pushing forward. He’s remembered as a trust-buster and conservationist. He’s a model of perseverance. 

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? (the more specific you can be, the better)

Working out every day. Usually running (HIIT sprints on the Peloton Tread) 2-3x/week, strength training/climbing 3x/week, and yoga 1-2x/week. It’s the only way I stay sane.

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