My Journey to Authentic Leadership
On the first episode of the Authenticity is Contagious Podcast, leadership coach Kathleen O’Grady embraces her nerves and her authenticity by letting Weddings for Real host Megan Gillikin ask her questions on her journey to leadership. And then Kathleen goes into coach mode with Megan, as the listener gets an inside glimpse into what a coaching session sounds like.
On the first episode of the Authenticity is Contagious Podcast, leadership coach Kathleen O’Grady embraces her nerves and her authenticity by letting Weddings for Real host Megan Gillikin ask her questions on her journey to leadership. And then Kathleen goes into coach mode with Megan, as the listener gets an inside glimpse into what a coaching session sounds like.
Founder of Raleigh Coaching, LLC and Raleigh Coaching Academy, Kathleen O’Grady is a visionary leadership coach and fearless leader. She supports driven individuals and organizations to achieve the impossible. Her ability to act as a catalyst for people to discover, rediscover, and embrace their unique genius is what makes Kathleen one of the most sought-after global executive coaches. She is a two-times past president of the International Coaching Federation Raleigh Chapter, and her work is featured in web articles by the NYTimes.com, Huffingtonpost.com, Forbes.com, and eFinancialCareers.com.
Voiceover: You’re listening to the Authenticity is Contagious Podcast with Kathleen O’Grady, where she and her guests discuss what it means to choose your authentic self –to remove negative energy, to live a calmer life, and to become more – a more heart-centered person, a stronger leader, a better partner, and friend. Come join us on this journey of creating the life you’ve been missing out on, one intention at a time. Here’s your host, authentic leadership coach and founder of Raleigh Coaching and Raleigh Coaching Academy, Kathleen O’Grady.
Kathleen O’Grady: Welcome everyone you are listening to the very first episode of the Authenticity is Contagious Podcast. I am your host, Kathleen O’Grady, founder and CEO of Raleigh Coaching and Raleigh Coaching Academy, where we focus on authentic leadership in all areas of business and life. I am so excited to share some of my journey with you today as a kickoff to lots of other amazing tales of authentic development and transformation with the guests that I’m excited to have on in the future.
And, in the spirit of authenticity, I am quite nervous since this is the first time I’m doing this. So I’ve invited a friend, Megan Gillikin, who is going to act as my interviewer today. She is a seasoned podcast owner herself. the Weddings for Real podcast, check it out on iTunes and all the other places.
And so Megan, thank you so much for being my interviewer today to make me a little bit less nervous.
Megan Gillikin: Oh, of course. Thanks for having me on. I’m so excited to be here. This is a podcast that I would definitely want to listen to. So I’m excited to be your first episode and just learn a little bit more about you.
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay. Great.
Megan Gillikin: So Kathleen. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got to the path that you did? What is, what’s your story?
Kathleen O’Grady: Oh, boy. Uh, well, as I shared with you on your podcast not too long ago, the story is I think a true of most people who don’t really know what they want to be when they grow up. I became an executive assistant in the Northeast and supported at a lot of different diverse leaders in financial industry and research and development and leadership is one of those things where I started to see when it was done well, and when it was done horribly wrong. And it wasn’t until much later when I found coaching, just by way of sitting in on a meeting one day, my boss had an executive coach come in to talk to his team about doing some leadership development.
And I just had this visceral reaction and I got really excited and I couldn’t understand why. And it was kind of my soul saying to me, this is it. This is what’s next for you. And so I went to my cubicle and I started Googling business coaching and leadership coaching. And before I knew it, I found the program that I would eventually attend for my own training in 2007 and 2008. Created my coaching business in ’08 while I was still working full time. By the end of 2009, I was sailing out on my own to be an entrepreneur for the first time in the financial crisis and it was quite an ordeal, but one that I felt, even though it was terrifying, it was less terrifying than continuing to be inauthentic in my day-to-day life.
So there’s so much more to it, but I think that’s the high level answer I’ll give you for right now.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah, that’s an amazing story. And kind of scary to leave what was comfortable and known in a set paycheck and go out on your own. That’s a huge leap of faith that you took so I am inspired by your story.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. And you and I are on similar timelines, if I remember. We left around the same time.
Megan Gillikin: I did, I was in a full time job and had just gotten married. I was working as a venue coordinator at the time, and I actually went into what I thought was a job interview, so I wasn’t really looking to take that leap of faith. I was hoping to go work for someone else and came out of it with a business offer to take over an existing business that was kind of an interesting state of needing a rebrand and a refresh and yeah, I ended up leaving my full time job too.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, you know what, it’s like, it’s, it takes a lot of courage.
Megan Gillikin: Well, let’s get back to you. So what is the meaning behind Authenticity is Contagious?
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay. Well, I’ll start by giving you my definition of authenticity. Words get thrown around with a lot of different interpretations. And so I’ve had many conversations with people and even Ted talks where people talk about being authentic means being true to yourself, right? That’s kind of the catch phrase. Well, then which self are you being true to? And, and so there’s this whole notion of, well, can we just, if we’re acting a certain way, can we just say, well, that’s just me being authentic, and then it becomes kind of like an excuse or a scapegoat. For me, the definition of authenticity is not finding who you are. It’s choosing who you are from one minute to the next. And so with life experience comes wisdom. It comes pain and learning and making choices to let go of a version of ourself that is no longer serving us or no longer someone we’re proud to be.
I’ll tell you a funny story that when I moved to North Carolina from New York, when you’re a New Yorker, it’s kind of accepted that being impatient is just part of who you are. It’s kind of in your DNA and we pride ourselves on being impatient, like the whole, ugh, I don’t have time for this. And you know, on my way here this morning, I saw someone actually get stuck in a ditch trying to make a left turn because they were trying to get around the cars that were blocking the left turn lane, but they got stuck.
Megan Gillikin: That was the universe totally.
Kathleen O’Grady: A poor woman’s probably still there. But I was that person. And so when I came to North Carolina, I felt like everything was so slow and people just talked really slow and they wanted to have friendly conversations.
And I’m like, can’t you see there’s five people in line here? Like hello? And so I decided consciously I chose, I said, I’m going to practice what it is to be patient. And the reason the catalystic moment was when I saw a woman at CVS ahead of me in line, and I could tell that the cashier was brand new to the job and she was fumbling and she was taking a while and she was nervous and basically shaking.
And the woman was basically yelling at her and she’s like, you know, is there somebody else who can help? And, and you know, I’m late for a meeting, and, and all of that. And in that flash of a moment, I, I saw the version of myself that had been that person to other cashiers or to other situations in life.
And I thought, that’s not who I want to be. So I’m going to choose to be patient. And so it took a while, especially when it came to driving, but eventually I got there and I remember feeling so proud of myself when one of my coworkers, this was back when I was working as an executive assistant. She said you know what I love about you Kathleen?
She’s like, you’re just really patient. And I laughed out loud. And I’m like, so it’s working. And so when they, when we talk about authenticity, it’s not this pre-baked version of ourselves that came with us. And you know, there’s part of that, there’s an inherent personality trait that we all come with that’s unique to us, but we can’t make excuses to say, that’s just my personality.
And so when coaches do personality assessments and like Myers Briggs and things like that, those are helpful to give us almost like a tarot card. Something to look at to say, you know, do I see myself in this? Is this true for me? But at the end of the day, we also have to have the ability to consciously choose, even if this report says that I’m an extrovert, I’m a coach, and that requires me to be introverted when I’m listening to my clients because it’s all about them doing the talking and not me, which is why when we started this podcast, I almost immediately went into coach mode and wanted to make it about you, which I’ll probably do if you’ll allow me before the end of this recording.
Megan Gillikin: That’s funny. I know.
I found you did a great job because I just felt very comfortable. I was like, you will hear I’m to opening up. I’ve got all these things to say, and then I thought, wait a second, this is. This is not where I want it to go, but I get where you’re gifted at that.
Kathleen O’Grady: Thank you.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah. So you’re right. I do feel that there is a lot out there about authenticity right now, but when you’re going in the direction of Authenticity is Contagious, what is that contagious part mean to you?
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay.
Yeah. Well, I think. I’m going to give a little bit of a spoiler for my book. As we’ve seen, especially now, fear is very contagious.
So when we watch the news and we talk to people, and we hear about all the divisions of, you know, political ideology, and even just the way in which we value certain things in our lives, it gives us the idea that we’re separate and that we’re, there’s a zero sum game and it’s if one person wins and the other person has to lose and so on and so forth.
And so when it comes to leadership, if you’re leading from fear, you’re leading from a place of being self-protective and looking for power over somebody else versus being collaborative and compassionate and supporting like a win for all solution. Right? And so. If fear is contagious, then I believe that the counterpart or the antidote is also contagious, which is authenticity.
And so underneath authenticity is a love for ourselves. That puts us in a position where we don’t even care to engage in conflict because we love ourselves so strongly and so deeply that it doesn’t bother us if someone is different from us. And so when I say authenticity is contagious, we’ve all seen that person that might be in a restaurant or in a college class or wherever you hang out, where you just look at them and you’re like, wow.
They just clearly look so comfortable being exactly who they are. And I wish I could be like that. And so the more of us that are unapologetically unconventional and really don’t care what other people think because we only care what we think cause it’s our life and nobody else’s, then other people are inspired.
And so, so much of the people that I’ve drawn into my life, they look at me and sometimes they want to put me on a pedestal to say, how did you create all of this? How do you just wake up every day and do things your way? And I say, it’s a constant choice. It’s easier to go with the flow and let other people tell you who you should be and what you should major in for school, and what kind of job is going to make you the most successful when it comes to retirement and stock options.
But at the end of the day, if you get to be in your late fifties sixties and seventies and you look back and you realize that you weren’t even 20% of your authentic self, how is that going to make you feel? And so my mission is to show people through my own journey and through the coaches that I train and the clients that I work with, that the only way other people are going to lead with love is if you start leading with love first.
Megan Gillikin: That’s good. I’m thinking about what you’re saying with authenticity and fear and how you can lead with fear or you can lead with authenticity. And I think about my own journey, and I find myself floating pretty quickly back and forth between the two of those worlds.
And I want to be in leading more with authenticity, but it feels that my, most of my life, it’s been from fear. So how do you, if I were to come to you. What would that look like? I guess every person that comes to you, it would be a different journey or a different sort of session, but people can relate to wanting to change, like wanting to lead a more authentic life, but not even knowing where to start. And I know what I have done to make small changes, but I see so much room for growth. And then I’ll have a few days where I think like, this is great, like, look at me, look at these things I can be proud of.
But then I quickly sink back into a place of inadequacy or fear, or very intense judgment.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. Well, first of all, I want to normalize that and just say that that’s what we all experience. With your permission, I can show you what it’s like by just going into coach-mode for a moment.
Megan Gillikin: Oh gosh. Okay. I trust you.
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay. Um, so I would love for you to just take a minute and transition from being my interviewer to being my coaching client.
Megan Gillikin: Okay.
Kathleen O’Grady: And if you imagine the biggest tragedy as getting to the end of your life and meeting the person you could have become, what is it that you are most challenged by right now in terms of holding yourself back?
Megan Gillikin: It’s probably fear of failure. That idea that, um, and judgment, I think I care too much how others view me. So putting myself out there, I feel, or I fear, how people will view me. Yeah.
Kathleen O’Grady: And so if we were to just take a minute and put that judgment aside and imagine you operating a day in your life without any concern of judgment, what would be different?
You know what I want? I want you to be as authentic as you can be and forget about the podcast.
Okay. Cause for right now, the podcast is, you don’t have to worry about it. You just have to be you. Okay? Okay. Now, Megan, you mentioned that you have a fear of judgment and that it oftentimes makes you paralyzed to do things differently. I’m wondering if you were to imagine a day where fear of judgment just didn’t exist for you, how different that would that look?
Megan Gillikin: It’s hard to even picture that because I feel like I’ve lived so many years. Looking for outward, either approval or disapproval, just signs of it that it’s honestly hard to be able to visualize that.
I would say there would be freedom and it would feel lighter.
Kathleen O’Grady: Was there a specific moment in your life where you felt your most free?
Megan Gillikin: I would, I would say, honestly, it’s, it’s more so recently as, I have had this planning business now for 10 years and every, every wedding, every review, every weekend that goes well, I have checked that and add it into some sort of box of success and accomplishment. I’ve even said, this business is my baby.
This is my first baby. And, for the last three years, I found myself starting to, to really not enjoy it, to go through, a feeling of stuckness that I, I don’t love what I do, but It has made me feel successful and feel loved and get that approval that I seek from others. And so, the freedom has come in realizing that that part of my life has to change.
And instead of staying in it, making a conscious effort to be open to other things happening. That has felt as free as I have been.
Kathleen O’Grady: What do you want to be open to happening?
Megan Gillikin: I , I don’t know the answer to that. I want to, I want to have a bigger, I don’t want my legacy to be being a great wedding planner. I struggle a little bit with some of the things in the wedding industry that I don’t necessarily agree with. So I think legacy is something I’ve been thinking more about lately as I get older with every year. It’s like where, sort of what you asked me at the beginning. It’s like when I get to the end of my life or if I were to die tomorrow cause I’ve had some close friends, past clients, family members, I’ve had a fair amount of loss. And I think if that were to happen to me, would I be happy?
Would I be proud of that person that I am at the end of the day? And, If you asked me that a couple of years ago, I don’t know that I would have been. So that scared me. It scared me that I wasn’t necessarily like having a great wedding planning business? Like, that’s not what I want people to talk about after I am not here anymore.
Again, I hear myself talking and I think, gosh, I still feel so tied to how people view me and I want to care more about how I view me.
Kathleen O’Grady: That’s lovely. And thank you so much for being vulnerable to admit that to not just me, but everyone who’s listening. That takes a lot of courage.
And I imagine it’s something that everybody else who’s listening is either dealing with in their own way or will in the future. And so when you talk about choosing to care more about how you’re experiencing your life versus how other people are experiencing you.
Strip away the title of wedding planner. What are you wanting to create as your legacy?
Megan Gillikin: I want to create a legacy of being someone that listened and cared about what someone was feeling and was a safe place for people to feel like they could be themselves. And, I feel like there’s a lot of selfishness in the world. And there’s a lot of really negative things going on. So I want to be someone that is spreading love and acceptance.
Yeah. I w I want to have a conversation with someone and I want them to, to feel heard and seen and bring some brightness to their day. That’s, that would be a good legacy, that would feel good. Yeah.
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, I remember our very first conversation and that’s exactly how you made me feel.
Megan Gillikin: Oh, thanks. You did the same for me.
Kathleen O’Grady: And so I, another piece of this perhaps is in many ways you already are being that for people, it’s just not. You’re not fully experiencing it for yourself.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah. I think I’m so focused on the negatives of myself, so I think we had a great conversation. I felt it too, but then I think you don’t see all the bad mom moments or the times where I chose myself over my husband and I, you know, I, I was lazy or I didn’t get up and do that workout. Or I, I see all the negatives throughout the day. Just I’m constantly like adding them to a list and I’m verifying for myself that I’m not good. But then outwardly, I think people see a better version of me than I really am.
- I still see a lot of myself that that isn’t great. So if I feel very inauthentic.
Kathleen O’Grady: What is the kindest thing you could say to yourself in this very moment?
Megan Gillikin: I’m struggling on this one, Kathleen. Um, you are a good listener. People can count on you.
Kathleen O’Grady: Now I want you to eliminate other people from the equation. Say something else, kind to yourself.
Megan Gillikin: You are enough.
Kathleen O’Grady: What does that feel like?
Megan Gillikin: I don’t know. I don’t believe it.
Kathleen O’Grady: You’re like many people. You’re saying what you think you want me to hear.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah, totally.
Kathleen O’Grady: You’re saying what you think I want to hear.
Megan Gillikin: I think I am thinking, you know what should I be telling myself? What should I be feeling? I should be feeling that I’m enough, but I don’t.
Kathleen O’Grady: And you’re not alone with that, Megan. So just for the sake of one more try, third time’s the charm.
Megan Gillikin: Oh gosh. The failures. Feeling. I’m feeling real. Like I’m not hitting the mark here.
Kathleen O’Grady: I’m going to, I’m going to pull out a little trick that I use. Imagine that you’re your own parent and you want to reassure your precious daughter that she’s enough.
Megan Gillikin: I think of my oldest daughter, and I see a lot of myself in her, and I see the struggles that she has ahead of her that I, um, find myself in still. But yeah, I mean, I would just say, you are loved, you are loved, but that feels still tied to other people. It feels that it has to be external validation.
So I don’t know.
Kathleen O’Grady: This is a good place to start. And what we have uncovered, which you already knew, is that you’re tying your value to what you do for other people. And that’s okay. That’s normal. But what we want to see more of is is you being that love for yourself.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah. That seems like a hard thing to break.
I bet we can all I know. I can look back on like that. I can tell you right now, like where it comes from, I think, I’m curious, which you would say, but it’s like, I feel maybe you’re born with it and then maybe something happens and I think mine is a combination, but sometimes it feels like you can do a lot of things, but it’s so ingrained in you, like how do you break? How do you break that?
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, would you like to shift gears now from the coaching? And I want to thank you again for being so vulnerable. What you just exhibited is pretty much what everybody feels, whether or not they admit it to anyone or not, from your most senior executive to a single mom.
I mean, we all have this fear that we’re not enough. Yeah. And what I would say to you is it’s all part of the journey of life. The part of us that is fear wants us to be in pain all the time. That’s our ego. And so the ego is the part of our thoughts that is saying, you’re never going to be enough.
You have to be perfect. And if you’re not, you know, you might as well just hang it up. And you’re going to, you know, live by herself in a van down by the river or whatever, you know, SNL joke. but then there’s the part of us, which is our authentic self, our soul that knows that we’re always going to be okay because we wouldn’t be here.
And yet that’s, it’s such a fleeting aspect of human life, those moments of pure joy and peace and bliss and exhilaration. And so the way in which you access those moments is, believe it or not, taking time to be by yourself because the more you develop a relationship to yourself, and I’m not just talking to you, Megan, I’m talking to everybody.
Our relationship to ourselves is the relationship that informs all other relationships in our life. And so that’s the relationship that we have to put the most energy into. And yet the ego considers that counterintuitive because the ego says no. That’s selfish. That’s egotistical. You know? Like the ego is the part of us that tricks us, that we’re wrong for wanting to care for ourselves.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah. You said something on my podcast about sort of telling the universe that you want something different? I really loved that. You made reference to the idea that if you go to a restaurant every day and they know that you will eat the same thing, they’ll bring you your regular meal. But at some point you have to maybe stop and say, Hey, I want to try something different.
So are there things that you would tell people listening to this, like what are those things that just to start that shift in their life? Maybe they’ve gotten into a mindset, kind of like me, where it feels very set. Where do you even begin to make a change?
Kathleen O’Grady: Well, I mean, if you think about how popular diets are, or like Orange Theory and all these different ways in which people are taking care of their physical body. That’s just one part of our experience. And a lot of times you can have someone who eats really well and exercises, but inside they are dying of self hatred. Some of the most fit people are struggling the most internally and I know because they are clients of mine.
And so my recommendation would be to see it as a non negotiable part of your life. We wake up in the morning, we take a shower, we brush our teeth because we know if you don’t do that, you’re disgusting.
You’re not living a sanitary life. Eventually people won’t want to be around you.
And so there’s a sense of like consciousness sanitary, you have to clean your mind of all the bad beliefs and all of the nasty thoughts that are in there creating like mold and cobwebs. You’ve got to be intentional about cleaning that stuff out. And so what I do, because if I don’t have my sense of inner peace, that’s going to affect my job. I’m going to be more easily triggered and I’m not going to be able to manage the emotions of my clients cause I’m going to have my own emotional tailspin going on. And so I listen to audio books that remind me of the concepts of mindfulness and self love and self-development.
I listen to a lot of inspirational memoirs. I watch movies, I listen to music that uplifts me. I keep a gratitude journal of all of the things that I’m grateful for on a daily basis, and I have spent a lot of time eliminating relationships and things from my life that are no longer serving me. And so if I know that I’m not the best version of myself when I hang out with this person or that person, then I have to make the conscious choice to stop spending time with that person.
Or if I find that when I don’t get up an extra hour early in the morning to do my journaling and a little bit of just silence, you know, meditation intimidates a lot of people cause it’s something that they want to do correctly, right. And which is so counterintuitive to what meditation actually is.
And so for me, meditation is as simple as putting my phone as far away from me as possible and just sitting still for 10 minutes, 15 minutes. You can close your eyes. You can just look at a candle or at the floor or a spot on the wall. But just that point of sitting still has a way of recalibrating your mind so that it’s not constantly running from one thing to the next.
So if you think about your mind also as a computer. Imagine a browser with like 27 tabs open all at once and like all these different programs running in the background and then eventually you get the blue screen of death. Well you have to, you have to take moments throughout your day to say how many browsers are open?
Which ones are they? Which ones can I close? I mean. The iPhone or the Android interface is a really good representation for how we’ve allowed our own minds to get, so like oversaturated with information and constant notifications. Yeah, that’s true. And so you just have to be intentional about, like, I mean, there’s apps for that now, right?
Megan Gillikin: Actually. And there’s, there’s podcasts too. Yeah. Jason, my husband was giving me a hard time cause I said I said that I wanted to practice meditation and I am, I’m one of those people that the idea of sitting still stresses me out because I know when I’m in the shower or when I am driving in my car, or any moment of time where I’m not talking to someone or being a mom or a business owner or looking at my phone, if I’m just there ,that’s when I feel like I get the most stressed out because the browsers go into overdrive of analyzing, what do I need to do from a mom standpoint? What have I not done that I wanted to do for work? That’s where I found that even a podcast or an app that guides me through it tends to help me, maybe as a novice to figuring out how to, to sit in a moment without like redirect my brain a little bit.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. I mean, start with where you’re comfortable, but I would also say that it has to get worse before it gets better because a really great book, that’s one of my favorites. I, I listened to it probably six times a year, over and over again. Just cause I love it so much is “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. And he is a TV anchor for Good Morning America, 20/20, and those sorts of shows. And he takes you through his whole journey in the book. But one of the parts of the book is where he goes to a 10 day silent mindfulness retreat and all of what he has to endure and the first few days, and he says it was the greatest high of my life.
But the hangover came first, and so you have to get through that rug burn and phase of just unpleasantness and in some cases like, this is ridiculous. Why am I wasting my time? You have to let the ego basically scream at you until eventually, just like a toddler that’s over tired after a while, they’re just going to conk out.
So you’ve got to let the ego have its meltdown and then conk out. And what is on the other side of that is peace.
Megan Gillikin: I have heard that, so I’ve heard that about meditation, and I think I made it. That was one of my new year’s resolutions. I made it about two weeks. I think I made it to like January ish, two weeks in and, and then, yeah, I stopped.
So this is inspiration to try again.
Kathleen O’Grady: And as a mom, especially for all the moms out there, this is even more of a challenge because there’s the guilt of not spending as much time as possible, especially if you’re a working mom. It’s like, well, if I’m not, you know, since I’m working that I have to spend all of my other waking moments with my children to make up for the fact that I’m working.
And so you’ve got this kind of double sided coin of overcompensation. Like, I’ve made a sacrifice to do this, so now I’m going to overcompensate to make up for it by doing this and that and whatever. But some of the most solid and grounded moms and dads are ones who know when it’s time to go and take a weekend by themselves to just be with themselves.
And when they come back, they’re a better spouse, they’re a better parent, they’re a better leader in their business because they took time to recalibrate and just do like a control alt delete. Because if not, before you know it, three years has gone by and you’ve just been, living on adrenaline basically.
Megan Gillikin: So I think that it would be helpful for your listeners to hear a little bit more about your journey.
I feel like we should dive a little bit deeper into that.
Kathleen O’Grady: Okay. I’m happy to. Would you like me to start?
Megan Gillikin: So you mentioned that you were working as an executive assistant, you had this job and then you took this leap of faith during the recession. You shared a little bit about the CliffsNotes version of how you ended up where you are now, but I think it might be helpful for your listeners to understand that you have had struggles too. Like you’ve overcome things in life that have led you to this journey. Would you be willing to share any of those?
Kathleen O’Grady: Of course. Yeah. I’ll go as far back as high school. When I was in high school, on Long Island, pretty interesting place to grow up in New York.
I was very much in, I guess you could call it like a party phase, and we all just kind of hung out and you know, did things that were, you know, irresponsible. And my grades were so bad senior year that I almost didn’t graduate with the rest of my class. Another part of that was because I had so many absences from being physically ill, from anxiety.
So I had like a psychosomatic illness that made me physically ill, and I think I was underweight and really just unhealthy. So when I, when it came to my high school graduation, my parents, they had to actually negotiate to get me to pass so I could graduate. And then, at the time they were so concerned with how I was emotionally that they had me start talking with a therapist.
And so that therapist basically saved my life. And one of the things that she said after. I mean, she was just this like North Shore Jewish hard-ass woman from New York, like love her to death.
Val, if you’re out there listening, Valerie, you’re amazing. Still thank you for everything. After I spent a good three or four sessions lamenting about how my parents favored my sister and that I was just the black sheep of the family and there was nothing I could do to change it.
She looked at me dead in the face and she goes, you know what your problem is?
Megan Gillikin: Oh gosh.
Kathleen O’Grady: Just like that. You know what your problem is? And I thought, ah, wait, aren’t you supposed to be nice to me? And she said, your problem is you’re absolutely brilliant. You’ve just never been properly challenged. And I started to cry, and I was like, really?
I said, well, how do you know? Like, how can you just know that? And she said, I just know. And so what she did was she wrote down the name of a woman who was in charge of the honors program at the community college where I was taking maybe three classes and basically just going through the motions in my first year after high school and she said, go see Carol and tell her I sent you and tell her that next semester you need to be signed up for honors classes.
And I said, what? Are you kidding me? I mean, I almost didn’t graduate from high school. You’ve, you’ve gotta be joking. And she said, no, I’m serious. She said, I believe in you. I’m asking you to believe in yourself. And so I walked into the office shaking with my little Post-It note with her name on it, and I said, I’m here to see Carol Farber.
And Carol was just as much of a hard-ass as Valerie was. And she said, come on in and sit down. Which classes you want to take? I was like, I don’t know. So you know, long story short, I got registered for one honors course and then the others were all non honors. So I got an A in the honors course and B’s and C’s in the other.
And so from that next semester forward, she put me in all honors courses, and when she did that, I got a 4.0 every semester thereafter until I transferred to my four year school. But that was a major turning point of the earlier part of my life, which stemmed from an almost complete stranger seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself and feeling a sense of obligation to follow through on a leap of faith that I had to take. And then fast forward to when I was working as an executive assistant. I learned so much from those years, so I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t change a thing, but what I started to feel once again was that I didn’t… I felt like I was failing a part of myself because I wasn’t operating in my genius.
I was just operating in what was right in front of me, like in high school. And so once again, I had a series of experiences where I was so disrespected by the people that I was supporting, that I felt like my dignity was in question. And so I said, well, nobody’s going to make this change for me. I basically have to do it for myself.
And so as I mentioned on your podcast, there was a day where I was just looking down at my keyboard on my computer, and I had this realization that if I put as much time and energy and passion into something that I’m actually really good at into something that I’m not like I was competent. I excelled at my job because I made it so, but I thought, what if I could excel even more so at what I’m truly gifted to do?
And that’s when I decided to just drop out of stability and go into the unknown of my business.
Megan Gillikin: Is that something that if someone were to come to you in a job currently, that they’re very unhappy that you would help them, you know, feeling that, that feeling of stuckness, whether it’s a job or a relationship or whatever that stuckness is.
Is that what comes from your coaching? Cause I have never worked with you in that capacity. So trying to understand, I would be that person that’s understanding what, what someone comes to you looking to get out of it.
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. A lot of people who seek coaching for a career change, for example, they think it’s just about getting a different job.
And so there are plenty of career coaches out there that will coach specifically to the steps they need to take to find themselves a new job. But guess what? When they get into that new job, they’re just as unhappy as they were when they were in the previous job, because wherever you go, there you are.
And so my approach is not about satisfying the goal of getting the new job. It’s asking the deeper questions of, who are you not able to be that you want to be in this current job? And what would have to change in order for you to be that version of yourself? So a lot of times it’s not even about switching jobs, it’s just about them giving themselves permission to identify what’s missing, whether it’s the ability to be creative or innovative, within the function of their job.
And it just comes down to having a conversation with their supervisor to add something into their roles and responsibilities that will check that box for them. Or it’s the industry was never right to begin with, or the industry is right and the job is right, but the culture of the company is all wrong.
And so there’s so many different ways in which you have to help the person identify, What are their core values? Who are they? Who do they want to be that they’re not being? And then identifying that you know, ideal authentic version of themselves that they want to live into. And then understanding, can that occur in the current job, or does it, does it require a change of, of industry or company altogether?
And so I think it’s irresponsible of coaches to just go through the motions of helping people find new jobs if that new job is just going to be as depressing as the one before it.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah. Well, I’m thankful that you found this job. I was in a moment of just, I could, when you said, pretend like we’re not recording this podcast I thought no way, there’s no way that I can not be aware, especially maybe you hearing a little bit about me and my journey and I’m so thankful that you have found the calling that you have, and in this podcast you have the ability to reach a large audience, people that haven’t met you face to face and haven’t worked with you one on one. So I’m curious if there’s anything that you would want to share with your listeners?
Any words of wisdom, parting words of wisdom in this first episode?
Kathleen O’Grady: Yeah. I would say don’t let the conventional rules of society guide your decisions. Because if you had told me back in 2008 that 12 years later that I would be the CEO of my own business and not only be coaching, but training other coaches in a model that I developed.
I still have a bachelor’s degree in terms of conventional education. But then with my coaching certifications, I’ve excelled in my area of genius to the point where I am now coaching the same people that I used to bring coffee to. And so I am an unlikely success story in the fact that I just didn’t let anybody else force me to climb their ladder. I created my own ladder to climb. And so I would just encourage people, don’t assume that you can’t do something just because everybody else says the statistics say otherwise. Just give it your best and see what happens. Because If I even try to think about another 10 years from now, I’ll freak myself out.
So just take it one day at a time and surround yourself with people who encourage you to take risks instead of dream killers.
Megan Gillikin: I love that. Whatgood wisdom, thanks for sharing your story.
Kathleen O’Grady: Thanks Megan for making this so easy for me.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah.
Tell me that I’m ready for things, that I will talk myself out of saying, you know, it’s already been done by someone else, or I’m not good enough. Let’s do it. This is your good stuff. I know you’re right. How the goals not to cry.
Kathleen O’Grady: Oh, come on.
Megan Gillikin: No, it’s cleansing.
This is not waterproof. Mascara.
and then you took this leap of faith during the recession. I got that part of it, but where, where did it, where did something, there’s a dog
Kathleen O’Grady: barking.
I hear it.
Megan Gillikin: Yeah. Okay.
Kathleen O’Grady: We need a panic room.