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Ep. 130: Kathy Parry

Kathy Parry is a recognized authority in personal energy, productivity, and resilience as she is a keynote speaker, trainer and author of The Rubber Band Resilient Leader. She is the caregiver for her daughter and has a passion for those serving seniors. She explains the necessity of personal productivity and resilience as industry leaders are being stretched during COVID-19 challenges.

Caregivers Resilience Tool Kit

Contact Kathy Parry here.

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas with a great episode today on a very relevant topic regarding trauma in the workplace. We’ve got on Kathy Perry. She’s a speaker, author, trainer, and founder of Corporate Energy Expert. She’s a resilience expert who helps professionals stay energized and engaged and effective, especially during disruptive traumatic events. Kathy, welcome to the show.

Kathy: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be with you.

Lucas: Kathy, there’s got to be a personal connection around trauma that would lead you into being an expert in this field. Tell us more about your story.

Kathy: Sure. So I actually have a background in banking and finance but of course, like many people who have gone through something, you kind of pivot when that something happens. And my something was my fourth child. My youngest child was diagnosed during her first year with a degenerative disease, mitochondrial dysfunction. And we got that traumatic news one night to only expect her life to be two years or less. And you do that pivot, I had at the time, a seven year old, a five year old and a two and a half year old. And your world kind of comes crashing down when you hear that news. So it takes you a couple of years to reframe that situation. That’s a word I like to use. And maybe we can talk a little bit more about what reframing looks like. But I did a lot of work. Did got a lot of new education about what is a mitochondrial dysfunction worked with a lot of different people and Merritt Joy. Her middle name is Joy. I had no idea what that would mean and how joy would take on a new expression in my life, but Merritt Joy turns 19 this month. So it was the work I did with her and the people that came into my life because of her that turned this business into what it is. So I just really reach out to the caregivers and those who’ve been through an event that has shaped their lives.


Lucas: You know, Josh, we’ve talked many times on the program just about the work that frontline people are doing all across the spectrum on this industry and the stress levels and the stretch points that everybody is at is so, so important. And we’re going to talk about that today on the program.


Josh: It is so important and even in normal non pandemic circumstances, the work that the teams do on the front lines is such a stressful and taxing sometimes traumatic situation that they’re also committed to, but living through the months that we have recently lived through and hopefully starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you know, you have to wonder, well, how do we respond now? And so glad to have Kathy on the show to help walk us through some talking points and how to deal with that and how to cope. 


Lucas: So Kathy, let’s walk through a couple of the things that people need to understand as it’s related to unexpected trauma.


Kathy: Well, the curve that I have developed and I call it the resilience curve, and some people are familiar with the change management curve. This one looks a little different because there’s a few more ups and downs in it. And because when we’re trying to build this resilient attitude over a traumatic event, it’s not just, Oh, we’re going to go down and then we’re going to go up. We’re going to be on a roller coaster for awhile. So I like to say, we’re going to be stretched. And from that stretch, we’re going to gain some momentum. But the very first stage of that is reacting. And I think that’s the stage that we’ve all, hopefully take a deep breath are coming out of. We’ve had big reactions. We’ve had emotional reactions. We’ve had reactions of anger or frustration. Anyone who is not admitting to some of that is probably keeping it in because we’ve all gone through that in this time.


And so what I’d really like to address is what happens after all that reaction, where do you move next? And on that resilience curve, the next frame, the next stage is reframing it. This is where we get to say I get to, instead of, I have to.


So I love to tell a story about my kids going away to camp. And when they got done, I said,I was like, ask them all about their morning activities. And I said, well, didn’t you have to clean the cabin because I wanted them to come home and clean their rooms. And they said, Oh no, mom, at camp, we get to clean the cabin. So their counselors had done the Ninja mind trick that we all kind of need to start doing is just changing the language of how we look at the situation. So that’s kind of step number one.


Josh: I love that you said the Ninja mind trick. Cause I need some Ninja mind tricks right now. And so walk us through some of those, how we reframe the situation that we’re in right now.

Kathy: Perfect. So after we kind of have a little bit of that work of, okay, I don’t have to, I get to, because at that point you’re admitting this things on my plate. It’s not going away. I have to deal with it, but you get to deal with it. So I like to say the very first thing is break down the situation. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed with what this thing looks like, we forget to break it down. And in this, I like to use the example of paint by numbers, anyone ever do? One of those, I heard, I heard that during this pandemic, they got real popular. Again, people are going to do their paint by numbers or do something artistic. But if you look at that it’s broken down and you paint all the number ones blue and you paint all the number twos, red and all the number, threes, orange, look at your situation that way. 

Once you start to kind of break it down, it feels so much less overwhelming. So number one is family. What do I need to do with my family today to make sure they are good? And number two is your work. What’s my work. What are three things that I just want to accomplish? My work, don’t make this huge task lists where there’s no way you’re going to get through it. And you’re gonna be frustrated. You gotta break those tasks even further down. So there’s small manageable tasks. The number four might be your extended family. How are they doing? What are just a couple tasks you could do to check in on them? So really looking at the big overwhelming thing, breaking it down into as small a piece as you possibly can. So that is a coaching model. Although I don’t coach individually anymore you break it down. So you feel like you’ve accomplished it. So it’s kind of a first step after you’ve acknowledged that you’re going to break it down.

Josh: So that sounded super simple. But in reality, I’m sitting here thinking, gosh, myself, so many of our listeners, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, all of our listeners are facing daunting challenges and every one of those different categories or those different buckets and those different groups where there’s situations in your personal life, there’s situations in your work life and in relationals and all those kinds of things. Is there any tips because what I think I heard you say is don’t be unrealistic and make this comprehensive list that you’re not going to be able to get done. So if we break down just that task, that seems like that could be really difficult. Do you have any advice for what look or how to approach making that short list?


Kathy: Well, the very first thing you have to do is commit to it that it’s going to be a daily ritual. I use a planner. I’d love to show it to you. It’s the first thing that has pulled out every single day. Actually, I pulled it out the night before too. It’s a nighttime and a daytime. So keeping structure, especially during this time, when we do feel overwhelmed is really important. And it’s actually an hourly planner. I know we get sidetracked and like, oh, an hourly planner. How could I possibly do that when this interruption and that interruption, but being intentional, I guess would answer your question. It can’t just be like, okay, today in my mind, okay, I’m going to do these three things, pay attention to these three things, I’m going to have to put a little time to the task and say, okay, this is where I want to focus. And what would be a win by the end of the day is if I got these three done.

We set such high goals and caregivers, especially in people who are serving others. We don’t want to disappoint. We want to make sure everyone is handled, but we also have to do a little inward looking and say, are we okay? Are we taking care of what we need to take care of? Because at the end of the day, you know, you’re not going to take care of anyone else unless you are taken care of. So being intentional would be my answer to that. Really get clear on starting your day and ending your day with intention.


Josh: So we’ve kind of recognized and started reframing the situation that we have an opportunity to be part of reshaping things, right? This problem that we’ve been through or that we’re in now, we’ve made our list that’s realistic. We’ve put capstones at the beginning and the end made realistic kind of expectations on ourselves. What’s next?


Kathy: Okay. A couple of next steps. One of my favorite next steps is find someone smart. You don’t know everything. Reach out to other people. People, especially during this time are helpful. I’ve actually been interviewing everyone from operators to frontline managers, everyone in this industry. And they’ve been so generous just saying, well, what are some tips? What have you done? What have you been successful with? Because that way when we’re sharing, and I love it on social media, when someone posts a success like we did this and our residents loved it, but actually reaching out to smart people is one of my things. I knew someone that at the beginning of this, he said, I’m going to reach out to a smart person every single day. And you’d be amazed what you learn and how generous people are. So gaining knowledge either through education, through other people is a step. Then start applying it by getting creative. Creativity would be my next thing on there. And something where like, I’m just not creative. My mind doesn’t go that way and have a few prompts that you use. So I’m gathering people who have different perspectives. And then just start asking, what if? What if we didn’t do that this day? What if instead we did XYZ and then just keep drilling it down. What would it look like? 


Let your mind really go to places that it hasn’t gone before and again, using outside resources, like smart people, new education, it’s going to get you to thinking that way. Picasso had a great quote, the famous painter who really thought outside the box a lot, and it was all arts of creation. Our first art of destruction. You have to just kind of destroy that mindset of this is the old way and really get into it.


And if you aren’t creative, look for those people who are often the military uses a concept to build creativity by getting new enlistees. They put new enlistees on teams because they’ve got an outside perspective. And when they come in, we’re trying to force them to this way, but it’s not working all the time. So that’s a tactic that actually the military uses by getting new people. So even frontline people ask them, what are you seeing? What are your creative ideas? Just keep asking. And those, they start to bloom. It’s like, maybe we could do this and don’t shoot down any new ideas.


Josh: So I can only imagine that in this process, when you’re coming off of maybe traumatic life experiences, work situations, things that you’re responding to, and you’ve reframed, you’ve made your lists, you’ve gathered some support systems, some mentors, some people that you’re bouncing ideas off, you ever find in talking with people like they have these minor setbacks when they’ve gotten on the road to let’s call it the road to recovery or however you would refer to it. And that rubber band, it’s got all this energy in it as you talk about, and it’s starting to be channeled in the right direction, but maybe there’s these trigger points and something in the day just comes on and messes up your plan. Like, do you have any advice for that?


Kathy: Absolutely. So on the curve, it’s funny, you mentioned that. So we get to this really high point in reframing, and then we dip back down and you know what causes that dip? Fear. We let fear sneak in and that’s perfectly normal, but it’s acknowledging the fear. So when you feel so stretched and you have that dip where, Oh, I thought we were on the right track. What’s happening: fear sneaking in. And is it fear of failure? Is it fear that this just isn’t going to work out? Is there a personal fear? So when I work with organizations to help them understand why things might not be moving forward, it’s because somewhere on that team, fear is snuck in. And usually it’s a fear of failure or a fear that it’s not going to work out, but we do an exercise where we kind of dig out and mine those fears, and it’s crazy what comes up.


Sometimes it’s just a fear of looking bad in front of a team or a fear that someone a resident, a client is going to be affected and what if it goes wrong? And then it comes back on us. So we work through some of that fear by first, acknowledging it. That’s what we’re feeling. Anger can sneak in. That can be one of those depths because you just, everything becomes so overwhelming that if things aren’t working out anger, sneaks in, so it’s really kind of doing that assessment. At a corporate level, it’s doing that as a team assessment. Cause you can just get one person on a team that’s fearful or angry and it starts to bring that whole, everyone starts slipping down the curve where they’re getting to a bad point. So those are the two things to out for.


Josh:  That is so good. And Lucas, I want to pause here and just say, have you ever been in church and the pastors talk and you feel like, oh my gosh, he’s looking right at me talking to me right now. And then you feel someone beside of you like nudging. You like, yeah, you needed to hear that. I’m not feeling that right now, but I’m also feeling like you might be feeling that right now, you might need to lay on that couch That’s behind you and just listen right now. 


Lucas: Hey, you’re calling me out on the show. Yes. Okay. Fine. I admit it. Yes. Fear. Yes. It’s such a destructive thing. Because I’ll so many times you know, Kathy, it’s not based on reality, it’s based on a perception or something that’s happened in your life could be tied to trauma. And you just want to avoid things, these difficult conversations, these difficult events when you know, when you feel like you’re stretched too far, right?


Kathy: Yeah. And for me, it came with my daughter. She had surpassed that two year Mark where they said, you know, look out for the two year mark something’s going to happen. And I was actually in the car driving. I just had her, the other kids had been dropped off at their schools and I just burst into tears. And at this point, man, I’d been good. I was helping other people with special needs children. I was on a task force, you know, with the children’s hospital so that people could call me for resources. I just burst out crying. And I had to pull over before I could get out of the car and had to ask myself the really hard question. I had to say, what are you so afraid of? And it blew my mind and it framed my life for the next, you know, however many years I was afraid of being sad because when I walked in places with my daughter, I got sad eyes.


People looked at me and you know what it is. We’ve all done sad eyes during this time. How are you doing? How’s your mother. I heard you lost your job, you know? And it’s sad eyes and that’s perfect. We need to be empathetic. We need that. But I’d had it for over two years and it’s like, is this it? I’m just going to be this sad mom. Like people are just going to look at me. So I had to do my own mindset shift and let other people know I was okay and say, Hey, I’m good. We’re not sad. We got Merritt Joy. I go, her name’s Joy. And we’re going to find this. And as soon as that mind shift happened and I let people know it happened, my fears went away. It’s like, I’m not going to be sad. So, but that’s a weird thing. I didn’t, I would’ve thought my fear would be losing my child, which at some point it was.


But that particular day, my fear was you’re going to be a sad mom and I’m afraid of that. So that’s what I mean by really getting to the point of what is that underlying thing it’s causing? You to dip that’s causing you not to bounce back. That’s causing you not move forward. Because the part that we haven’t talked about is the next phase on the resilience curve is reenergizing. And that’s where good stuff happens. Really good stuff happens when we get to that point.


Lucas: So just before you talk about the re-enter energizing point, when you talk about trying to isolate, what are you really afraid of? What are some things, since you’re having conversations with people in senior living and healthcare? What are some of the things that you’ve heard?


Kathy: What are their biggest fears? Number one, fear I hear a lot is we don’t have enough people to take care of our residents. I’ve heard that one a lot. Just that people are fearful to come in. Another fear I heard from an operator last week is we don’t know what’s happening when our people leave, we can ask them not to go to gatherings. We can ask them to follow the protocols when they’re not here, but we still don’t know when they come back, if they’ve actually done that. So there are fearful around that. You know, just the continuing regulations. That’s going to be the next regulation that falls upon us or the fears that the families are expressing to them. We can’t see mom. Can’t see dad lots of those types of things, especially around the care.


Lucas: So now we can take a deep breath. Like you told us to in the beginning of the interview, let’s move to reenergizing.


Kathy: So that’s where some really good stuff can happen because we’ve done some of this reframing work. And so what I like to say during this reenergizing time, get those people around you. I would say, gather your people, gather your people who you know are going to keep lifting you up. If you’ve, if you’re with a group and there’s someone who’s really bringing you down and I’ve got that fear and they’ve got that anger and you’ve done everything, you can help them address it. It might be time to step away. It might be time to say, I think you should go honor your mental health. You might need to seek a professional, which is another stage in reframing that if you can’t get out of that fear, you can’t get out of that place. I’m a big fan of seek some professional help. I tell people all the time, don’t think you have to do it on your own.


And I like to bring it up when I speak. So if it’s you or if it’s someone on your team who can’t get out of that place, direct them that way, but then build yourself up with those people who can energize you. You got to have those people around you. You know, you say a few, if you, the closest five people around you are the people who are going to inform you through your life. So build yourself up with those people. Another thing is you’re going to have to decrease that stress. You’re going to have to find those ways to personally energize. So personally energized looks like you know, different for different people, but whether it’s exercising, whether it’s getting your diet under control. Back before I did a lot of this work, I, because I was working with my daughter and a disease where cells don’t turn food into energy, actually have a certification plant based nutrition. And man, it’s so important that we have to personally energize and take care of ourselves. So whatever that stress reducing activity looks like, put that into your life, put that into your schedule because when the bears are chasing us, we’re good at running from him for a certain amount of time, but eventually they catch up as our health suffers.


Josh: I love it. So, you know, one thing that just kind of struck me and I’ll ask this question to you, Kathy, and maybe you can give us some wise advice, give it to me. Cause I’m sitting here thinking we’ve either been there. Are there going or going to be there. And I have to believe that there’s at some point on this resilience curve, that we should have a focus, not just on our own self help and reaching out for help, but we need to be just extremely aware that everyone else as a human is going through the same type of emotions and things and stretching that we are. So where is the most ideal point during this situation that we’re going through, that we should be cognizant of that?


Kathy: Yeah, that’s awesome. So of course speaking to an audience of caregivers, we want to help. We want to be there for other people. And that is during that reframing stage after you look for smart people, I like to say, be somebody smart. And honestly the perfect place to come in is throughout the whole curve. We’re empathetic creatures. We are caregivers for a reason. It’s also understanding our role though, that we can’t solve the problem for everyone. I like to say during that reacting phase, which is the very first phase, that’s when empathy shows up, that’s when you reach out to people. Cause that’s when they most need it. But during this reframing stage, when we’re trying to get to a better spot, that’s when we want to be somebody smart for someone. So empathy comes kind of towards the beginning of the curve.


If someone is ready to move on and is looking to say, how can I help? I had an organization that I’ve worked with before and I’ve spoken at the state level association and I actually called them up during the first month or so coming. And I said, how are you doing, what’s going on? Just talk to me, tell him what’s going on. And he said, you think you’re the first person in who’s worked with us before that actually called me up and asked me that I go, I’m just worried about you. And I think we don’t do that enough because we’re afraid that they don’t want to be bothered or maybe they have it all figured out. Maybe they look like they have it all figured out, but just asking those simple questions, Hey, how could I be a resource for you? You know, we went through that. If you did something exceptionally well within your organization, reach out to those people who I talked about, who are your people that you want around you and say, Hey, this worked really well for us. Would you like me to share it with you? Do you want to have 15 minutes so I could talk you through it? That’s being someone’s smart in a good way for somebody sharing what you know.


Josh: Oh man, that Lucas, that is that’s good information, man. And I just have to believe our listeners right now are, I hope they’re not driving. And if they are, I hope they’ve pulled over to take those notes and not trying to do it on their phone while they’re actually driving is all I know that’s right.


Lucas: You know, Kathy is very powerful what you’re saying. And so as you’re rounding out this thought process of these lists of things to help address trauma, what have been some of the conclusions that you’ve seen as you helped people in this industry kind of walk through this?


Kathy: It’s interesting you say that because it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Usually when I go through this, the fear piece is the big one that comes out especially during the reframing stage that I didn’t realize my fears were keeping me at this point on this curve that they weren’t allowing me to get to the reenergizing phase and letting people know that it’s perfectly okay to have a fear. We’re, we’re trained not to admit them or trained to just say, hold it in. You don’t want to show a fear. It’s a sign of weakness. But even in my own example where my fear wasn’t actually what I thought it was, but doing that deep work, because once you get through that, you can start saying, okay, what’s the worst that can happen. What’s the worst that can happen?


And we move through that and we move on to what’s the best that could happen. That’s when we were moving out of reframing and we’re moving into reenergizing, what’s the best thing that could happen out of this. And maybe your listeners should start asking that question as we’re moving further along, okay. We went through this thing, we got through some of our fears and now what’s the best thing that could happen. It’s the best thing that could happen for my residents today. What’s the best thing that could happen for my team because of this? What’s the best thing that could happen for my operations because of this? That’s all part of that reframing. And then I’d have to say that that final thing is people realize they’re not taking care of themselves when we start into that reenergizing phase. So that’s kind of a big wake up call to say, okay, I’m going to have to really remember that I do come first and all this, we hate saying that but you’re not going to help anybody else unless you’ve helped yourself feel well. So that reenergizing personally, as a big knock, knock, wake up, take care of yourself.


Lucas: I’ve heard the analogy said, you know, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help somebody else. So great points, Kathy, very, very helpful to especially the world age that we’re living in right now, where there’s so much fear and many of the healthcare workers and the frontline staff and the people of senior living have been working tirelessly for weeks and months to help care for older adults. And so wonderful message. I know that our audience is going to want to connect with you to learn a little bit more. You’re an author. So you have a book and some resources that will connect into the show notes. How is the best way for people to connect?


Kathy: I’m really easy is It’s Kathy with a K and Perry with an a as I like to say, it’s not Katy Perry. I don’t sing and dance, but a full website there. Also in LinkedIn, I post resources every single week and a lot of them specific to caregivers in senior living. I have resilience assessments. I have how to care for a caregiver resources. So lots of things, they can connect with me there.


Lucas: Well Josh will tell our listeners right now on their iTunes or wherever they’re listening on Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher. Any of those things just scroll down in the show notes. You can connect with Kathy and also you can connect with us at, get all of our resources as well as a transcript of this episode. If you’d like to highlight and bold out some things for you to study. But Kathy, thanks so much for taking time today.


Kathy: Thank you. It was wonderful to be with you and thank you for your mission. It’s just great what you’re doing to help those caregivers at all levels take care of those seniors.


Lucas: It’s our privilege. Thank you, Kathy. And thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridges the Gap.

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Ep. 130: Kathy Parry