Humility, understand that you’re here to serve and that being of service doesn’t mean you’re a servant, it doesn’t mean weakness. One of my previous clients, a local craft beer company, let their head brewer go recently. I was moved to coach the brewer and help him build his own business. I was a non-judgmental sounding board, I introduced him to key people in my network including but not limited to my attorney and accountant. He recently got all the funding he needed from one Instagram story post and now he wants to promote me to his network, because I served him. I didn’t do it for anything other than the joy of serving and supporting him.
It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Meerbott.
Kelly Meerbott is a transformational leadership and business coach who works with clients worldwide. Not only has she revolutionized America’s top CEOs’ personal and professional lives and hand-crafted profitable business strategies for thousands of international corporations, she has also coached senior-ranking officers in the US Military to heal underlying trauma and build effective leadership skills.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My father was a professional golfer on the PGA tour, which meant my early life was spent traveling around America surrounded by both incredible athletes, and titans of the industry. Having access to those kinds of personalities and conversations made a huge impression on me, even at such an early age.
I saw my Dad working with coaches and trainers and I understood the positive impact of having a strong support network. I think I truly realized the power of mindset during the 1981 US Open at Merion, where my Dad was leading the tournament three days in a row. My mother sequestered the three of us during the tournament and only a very small number of people knew where we were staying, family didn’t know, his agent wasn’t supposed to know (and remember this was a time in history when smartphones didn’t exist). However, one evening my Dad’s agent showed up unannounced to talk to my parents and I eavesdropped on the conversation. They sat down at the dining room table. His agent pulled out a legal pad and drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper, he said to my Dad “if you win, you get column A.” Column A is a long list of everything my Dad would get as a result of winning a major championship. Then his agent says if you lose, you get column B, and column B is empty. The next day he lost by two shots.
The way I have interpreted what happened that day was that my Dad was in the flow state, my Mom had helped him block out all the external noise and he was just focused on the game. Then his agent’s presence interrupts that state and suddenly he feels all the outside pressure, hears the external noise and distraction. My Dad allowed those external circumstances to impact his state of mind and his game. Witnessing the power of the mind/body connection at such a young age, and seeing how powerful your state of mind is, was a huge defining moment.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
It was both working in and getting fired from a corporate role that inspired me to pursue my career in coaching, it was almost a reverse inspiration. All the toxic and bad managers I experienced during my corporate career and finally my own coach, Charrise McCrorey who was the exact opposite of toxic, made me want to go out and make a change in both myself and that world.
I was talking to a nurse who worked for Main Line Health the other day, and she never met her CEO in 13+ years of working for the organization. She’s an experienced nurse and unfortunately she injured herself on the job. In the organization’s eyes, she was no longer valuable because now she’s a liability but they still have to pay her, so suddenly she starts getting written up for silly minor things. These nurses and a lot of people working in the corporate world are just viewed as a commodity rather than a human life and that has got to change. It was the same thing that happened to me, I complained to HR for the first time in my career, and not long after I was laid off.
Those are the things that inspire me to do what I do, those are the reasons I talk about bringing the heart and soul back to corporate, because there is the capacity for change. Corporations really do have the potential to do better and be better stewards of the communities that they are part of and that they serve. They’re just choosing not to.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My husband Brian. He has always had an unwavering belief in me from day one, and no matter how crazy my ideas are he tells me to go for it. I’ve worked from home for almost 13 years now and he tells people how he is my best case study because he hears bits and pieces of me coaching that he’ll implement into his own life and career, and it has transformed him. I have endless admiration for Brian. His enduring belief in me gives me enough courage to do what I do. It’s the kind of love and partnership that comes once in a lifetime.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I had a client inquiry through LinkedIn a few years ago from a woman who was struggling with her confidence and wanted to work on that. I always gift an initial session to establish whether people are comfortable enough with me to be vulnerable. I should have seen the red flags straight away because in this session she told me she had canceled like eight contracts and I felt that pinprick of discomfort telling me not to work with her but I ignored it.
In my contracts at the time, it said my clients can have unlimited text and email access — I have since had to change this because of what happened. On Sundays I usually go to a spin class in the morning and then meet friends for lunch, that’s my time to decompress from my work. Anyway, this client starts texting me every single Sunday morning (even though we had our sessions on a Monday morning), she was even angry at me for not answering the phone on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Finally, it got to the point where I had to ask that my client respect my boundary of not contacting me after hours or on Sundays, which is also an important part of her understanding her own boundaries. It didn’t go down well, apparently she was in the car with her husband, she crushed the phone in her hand and threw it out the window. Then several weeks later she breaches our year-long contract and leaves me with an outstanding invoice of 10,000 dollars.
The takeaway is to make sure your contract is specific because once it’s out there you can’t go back on it. I was in a position where I was going to shut down if I didn’t go against what my contract stated and ask my client to respect my out-of-office time, which resulted in me losing 10,000 dollars.
The bigger lesson is that you’ve got to distinguish between your gut instinct and your ego. I felt that pinprick of doubt in my gut about this client straight away but my ego told me I was a great coach and I could handle this client. I am a great coach but I realized this client needed support that I was not equipped to provide her. Not a funny story but an interesting one that I learned a lot from!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have been working with high-ranking officers in the US military for a while now on emotional wellbeing and emotional intelligence. I also do the same thing within Biotech, Pharma, Tech firms and with many of the senior leadership teams in the Federal Government. I definitely think this is the most fulfilling and important work that I do!
The main focus of our work is mitigating burnout by improving their emotional wellness and ability to recognize what triggers their emotions. It’s fascinating because a lot of people assume that this isn’t even being addressed within the military or government agencies. Yet, it’s the place where it is most needed!
I noticed when I began working with military leaders almost two years ago, that a lot of these humans were lost and adrift. A huge factor in their disconnection was a need to feel like they belonged. These are men and women who are conditioned to dedicate everything to this family called “the military”. They sacrifice their minds, bodies, hearts, souls, and sometimes their families. After saying “Yes, I will protect the blanket of freedom that covers the US”, these soldiers often witness or participate in horrific events which results in trauma that breaks them physically and/or mentally. Suddenly they find that due to their trauma they are no longer part of their military family and they feel abandoned and betrayed.
I am trying to make sure these people are whole and well in order to protect them from breaking. It’s mind, body emotion, spirit, heart, making sure everything is stable and regulated. That’s what I focus on, inspiring leadership through energy management and emotional regulation.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Resilience — I’ve lost clients, especially through the pandemic I thought we were done. And here we are! It’s important to remember that everybody gets knocked down in their career, but it’s about getting back up and getting back up quicker every time.
- Humility — Knowing that I don’t know everything. In my experience, first in corporate America for 11 years and now for almost 13 years as an entrepreneur, humility is a crucial piece of leadership because it validates and authenticates a person’s humanity. When leaders are vulnerable enough to show their people the human side of them it brings people closer and teams become more cohesive as a result.
- Intuition — I’ve had very large companies approach me when I was building my business and ask me to provide a lecture on sensitive topics but yet they have claimed they had no money to pay me. I’ve had that situation occur and it’s difficult to not be swayed into thinking you should take an opportunity just because a big name asks you to. I had the intuition and the self-worth to know my value and turn down those kinds of offers, because there are companies out there that will pay you what you are worth.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
Because I’ve lived both ways, I’ve lived with it and I’ve lived without it. It is much easier to choose to live with it. Joy feels like liquid love running through your veins and the opposite feels like heaviness and drudgery. It’s always much more fun to play and embrace joy. I have built my career on successfully showing people this and I have hundreds of testimonials that speak to that!
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?
It’s the idea that we constantly need more and more and more — bigger home, nicer car, the trendiest clothes by the best brands, etc. — it breeds discontent and is the central tenet of capitalism. Capitalism pushes the “American Dream”, which encourages the idea that if someone has more than you, then you have less. In short, it is the consistent reinforcement of the scarcity mentality. Steven Covey said about the scarcity mentality, “Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there was only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.”
Going a little deeper I think it’s not dealing with our shame around the fact we’re living on stolen land, we still deny and won’t make peace with that. America is built on a false narrative and we can’t all live joyfully if we can’t live authentically. It’s an open wound that’s being passed down from generation to generation. If you know about epigenetics, you know if you don’t heal your trauma it will permeate five future generations. We have to stop denying our truth, stop living in a warped reality of the past and heal our collective trauma so that we and future generations can embrace authentic joy and live collaboratively.
What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
That it’s external, that it’s not a choice. Because it is. You can choose to be miserable or you can choose to be joyous. It’s a simple mind shift, but you have to work hard for it. I have a client who has become more joyful in just three weeks by shifting her mindset. She’s got into what I call a flow or a groove that feels like play, it feels like bliss. You can choose hard, you can choose to struggle or you can choose to relax and get into the flow of things. Once you choose that, more joy will come into your life because life is an echo, and energy matches energy. Like this client, since she shifted her mindset, she’s had a new job offer, she’s had a bunch of people refer her for new professional opportunities. Sometimes it happens slowly but if you’re consistent you’ll begin to notice abundance comes in waves. It’s like clearing a blockage, clearing all the crap that is muffling your joy. Once the obstacle (real or perceived) is removed, everything starts moving because the floodgates are now open.
In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
Focusing on the superficial, the most miserable people I’ve met are wealthy. I used to have a friendly acquaintance that I am no longer in touch with because she was a clout chaser. Her husband was a raging alcoholic who was in and out of rehab. One day he was pulled over in the car, drunk, with their 5-year-old in the back seat. After that, she said she would have left him a long time ago if it weren’t for the money. It was crazy, she was prioritizing wealth over happiness and over the safety of her children. If she had slowed down to see that she had the power to create whatever she wanted within herself, she would have realized she didn’t need him or the money. It’s another reinforcement of the scarcity mentality within America.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
1. Know everything about yourself. I know I have a short temper. I know I get irritable when I’m tired or hungry. Having that self-awareness and knowing where your gaps and blind spots are will allow you to implement mechanisms and systems to help you cope.
Have people in your life who will lovingly call you out when you’re not being you, when you’re out of alignment, and hold you accountable to the best version of yourself. In the build-up to the 2020 US election, I frequently felt anxious and nervous. I don’t routinely watch the news, but leading up to the election I had it on every waking moment and my husband and best friends said to me, we can’t live like this. You cannot live in fear. You have got to stop obsessing over the 24-hour news cycle. Those people helped me bring joy back into my life and stopped me from being engrossed in something that was draining me.
2. Have a purpose. Stay focused and anchored in that purpose. Find your why. Live and breathe that why every second of every day and let that be the fuel to your engine. YOUR driving force. For me, my why is “focus on creating a sense of belonging wherever you go”. That means belonging to yourself, being comfortable in your skin. From that place of wholeness and healing, you can then lead by example to inadvertently give permission to others to do the same. As an example, I started a diverse coaching cohort. I followed my intuition and my why. I’m focused on serving and creating belonging in that cohort and attracting a group of diverse world-class coaches who have the power to transform the world through their work. That effort drowned out all external noise and distraction. This has been the calmest and most grounded time I’ve had in my career, despite it being in turbulent times, because I have stayed focused on my purpose.
3. Humility, understand that you’re here to serve and that being of service doesn’t mean you’re a servant, it doesn’t mean weakness. One of my previous clients, a local craft beer company, let their head brewer go recently. I was moved to coach the brewer and help him build his own business. I was a non-judgmental sounding board, I introduced him to key people in my network including but not limited to my attorney and accountant. He recently got all the funding he needed from one Instagram story post and now he wants to promote me to his network, because I served him. I didn’t do it for anything other than the joy of serving and supporting him.
4. Prioritize your time and be careful who you spend that time with. I had a friend that every time she would come around I felt I had to energetically scrub her up and dust her off. During the pandemic, I would Facetime her every morning and we would have our coffee together and chat. We did that for about 12 months. Then she met a guy and I stopped hearing from her. Then they break up and she comes back to our relationship. I loved her so it was easy to forgive her and pick up where we left off. Then she meets another man and she’s gone again.
I had to take an inventory of myself at this point because this is where my responsibility comes into play. I looked at my role in the situation. What I realized was that I was repeating the same mistake and internalizing my feelings rather than addressing them internally and then expressing them to her. I became aware that I had been giving my time and energy to someone who didn’t reciprocate it. Be careful where you spend your time. Time is a human’s most valuable currency, be selective about who you spend it on.
5. Pray, and I don’t necessarily mean religion. Find your connection to a source, whatever that source is. Connect to your power, your loving essence, the thing that we all are at our core, the thing that connects us all. Recognize that your ego will smother it, cover it and try to block it out. Stay connected to yourself and understand that connection to self. We’re all conditioned to believe being selfish is a bad thing, but sometimes you need to give to yourself. People will call you selfish because they will say, hey wait a minute you want to give to yourself before you give to me? Well yeah, I do, because my cup is always full and that’s how I can help others.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
Listen, love them, and don’t judge them. Love them as much as possible and remind them of the power within them to choose. We can’t force anyone to do anything, but gently suggest resources such as therapy, self-care, meditation. They may get angry at your recommendations at first and push back, but then one time they may listen and it could save them.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Share, share what you can. Is it time? Is it a piece of clothing? Share your excess, share your overspill, whether that’s energetic, physical, tangible, share, share, share, because we all have something we can share.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would be so nervous, but I would say Dave Matthews from the Dave Matthews Band. I want to know what inspired certain songs that they wrote and how they made him feel. I want to know what it was like to come here from South Africa and what his views on the division within this country are now. And of course, I would want him to play for me because I love his music.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can also find me on Instagram: @kellymeerbott and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kellyameerbott/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!