Coffee With A Stranger Cup 113 Kelly Geary

Cup 113: Kelly Geary – Business owner, talent matchmaker and gratitude practitioner.

Coffee With A Stranger Cup 113 Kelly Geary

The Place: Starbucks

The Cup: Regular, old coffee for both of us. To which, we each added a little this and that.

The Background: A few weeks back I had the pleasure of speaking for the Austin Entrepreneur Speaker Series, which is hosted by Misty Funk. Misty sent me an email a while back to let me know she had a few people she thought I’d enjoy knowing and asked if she could make an introduction. I was thrilled. Kelly Geary was one of those wonderful Misty connections.

Kelly is an accomplished business owner, a devoted mom and a loyal friend. She has a core group of friends that she’s had since grade school. Which I find quite impressive, but the fact that they still get together regularly is what I find most notable. Kelly is deeply reflective, open, and sitting down for coffee and conversation with her was like getting together with an old friend.

We’ll dig into Kelly’s interesting story shortly, but first, a few:

Common Grounds:

  1. What’s your guilty pleasure? Being on Facebook. It’s so pointless. I took it off my phone. It’s not even pleasurable. It feels kinda like a chore.
  2. How did you make your first buck? Giving my brother back massages. Probably literally a dollar. Then it was baby-sitting.
  3. What is the best place to eat in Austin? Such a hard question. A place I would always say yes to is Second Kitchen and Bar. I like the vibe, the energy, the food. I like being downtown. I’m also a big fan of Zen. It’s healthy, it’s fast and it’s affordable.
  4. What is the best way to unwind? Working out. I do lots of different things. Bikram yoga, cardio, weight training and I always love a walk around Town Lake. For me, unwinding isn’t about relaxing. It’s about letting go.
  5. What is the last thing you fixed? The toilet in my children’s bathroom.
  6. What’s a food you can’t live without? Hummus. It’s healthy. It’s delicious. I love it and I’d be sad if I couldn’t have it.
  7. What’s the best gift you ever got? I just got it. Actually, there are two. I just turned 40. My mom’s birthday is a few days before mine and she turned 70. I wanted to give her a gift that had meaning. I bought a box from the craft store and painted it all these different shades of blue — her favorite color. It had a spot on top to put a picture and I put a silly picture of me with a unicorn balloon on my head. I put all these pieces of paper inside that me and the kids wrote things we love about her on. So it’s a little love box. Every so often we write a few more and mail them to her to put in her box. My sister flew out for my birthday and she brought a matching box — but painted in my favorite color which is green. My mom put my all-time favorite picture of me on it, which is from when I was three and I was going to pre-school for the first time. The smile on my face is huge. My mom, dad and sister all put things in there that they love about me. So that’s one. Tied for that is that my boyfriend is giving me 40 birthday cards. I’m on birthday card 12 now. I’m getting them randomly throughout the year. They are so sweet.
  8. Who is your celebrity doppelgänger? Annabeth Gish. {Personally, I think she looks a lot like Anna Kendrick}
  9. What is one of the best books you’ve ever read? A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller It’s a story about how to reinvent yourself. I heard about it when I was on a plane and the guy near me was writing in a journal. I asked him about it and we started talking and eventually we talked about books. He kept naming books and I kept writing them down. It’s a great book.

Random

A phone call from a random stranger. That’s the beginning of the story of how Kelly got to Austin. She was in NYC, minding her own business, when out of the blue she got a call from a man who said he had her resume in front of him and he wanted to talk to her about a job with his start-up. They talked for a bit — long enough for Kelly to realize he was calling about a legitimate and exciting job opportunity, and that he wasn’t a crazy person. She flew out to interview and just a few weeks later she was laying roots in Austin.

Backing Up

Kelly grew up in Virginia, the youngest of three. Perhaps one of the most defining decisions her parents made was sending Kelly to a Catholic, all-girls school. Kelly shares some incredibly fond memories of her school years and explains that the four years of high school were the most formative of her life. Equally lasting were the friendships she formed during those years. A sisterhood, really. Kelly says there were just 56 girls in her graduating class and they are still quite close. Two of those girls are her best friends and the three of them take an annual vacation together to some music festival or another. This year, they turned 40, and enjoyed a girls’ trip to Napa.

Plan B

After studying government and drama in college, Kelly set her sights on making a life in New York City. But soon after arriving, she became disenchanted with the world of television and decided she needed a different focus.

A friend who was in the staffing business said, “You should be a recruiter.” Kelly looked into it, and decided it was a surprisingly great fit. While her study of theater hadn’t prepared her for a career in business, it had developed incredible human resource skills in her that made her a natural at connecting people with opportunities.

I ask Kelly one of my favorite questions, “If happiness were the national currency, how would you make your living?” Her answer is “I am making my living exactly how I want to. I have felt alignment for so long. It’s a gift to be at the intersection of when a person is making a decision about changing their life, and a company is making a decision about how a person can change their business. I get to be in that middle seat and it is a gift to be there! And it’s a gift to help people within companies make better decisions. And help people have great careers and fulfill their dreams. I could not ask for it to be any better.”

I want to know more about the business model at Get Geary (whose awesome tagline is We Get People) and what sets them apart. Kelly explains, “What I do is not unique or innovative. It’s not rocket science. Recruiting is like real estate — very little barrier to entry. My industry is inundated with… not the smartest people. Not the most business savvy. That allows people like me to look great. When in fact, all I’m doing is applying business acumen to a business problem.”

“My model and approach is different because I like to work with people who share similar values. I don’t care about making a ton of money. I care about making a connection. And that’s what matters to me. That’s when you’re putting good into the world and you’re putting good energy out there.”

Darkness Falls

I ask Kelly about the most significant thing that’s happened in the last 30 days and she says, “My dad tried to commit suicide.” After a pause, the gravity of her statement sinking in, I asked how she was doing. She said, “It’s not easy — it’s a ‘getting through’. If you’re me, you just pray a lot about it. I think most people feel surprised because you don’t think people will take the action. He’s been in a severe depression for two or three months.”

“My dad isn’t well. Part of that is the nature of the beast. He’s struggled with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. He was hospitalized the first time, I think, when he was 15 years old. So mental illness has been a defining feature of his life and growing up with that in a parent, our lives. But this is the only time we’ve seen our dad in a depressive state. He’s been bat-shit crazy and he’s been manic out of his mind.”

We talk more about coping and helping and Kelly shares, “There are no words and there are no drugs. It’s a combination of a lot of things that have to happen in order for a person to climb out. It’s not about will. It’s not that simple. It’s not something you can “snap out of”. It’s a very misunderstood illness. You can look at a person and not see it. That’s what makes it so hard. You can’t look at a person and tell.”

Kelly and I talk some about the misperceptions out there about the illness. She says, “Part of the problem is the usage of the word ‘depressed’ that  people use to describe feelings. There’s a difference between a disease and a feeling. The disease stays.”

When I asked how her mom is handling it, she tells me she is doing the best she can. Kelly adds, “Her best and my best look a lot different. She’s coping. I can’t expect her to be anything other than who she is. It’s hard. There’s nothing I can do. I can build a spreadsheet. My sister can make chicken noodle soup. We all do what we can do.”

I wonder if Kelly lives in a state of worry. She says, “Right now, he’s in a psychiatric hospital so he’s at least safe. With suicide, there is a heavy feeling of shame. People are very judgmental. But I have a really great group of core friends. It took me three days to figure out how to reach out. I’m not a big “reach out” kind of person. Once I did, massive care came flooding in. Two are friends I’ve known since childhood, so they understand my family.”

Kelly shares with me a book she read that she feels is a must-read for anyone trying to understand the illness. Darkness Visible by William Styron. She says, “It gives you insight into what it’s like to have depression. Maybe it can help people not be so fast to go to judgment. First, try to understand.”

Something New

We switch gears, and I ask Kelly what she’d try if she had a year to get really good at something? She says, “Writing. Maybe poetry. It’s a way to get out of my head and out of rational thinking. It’s a chance to play with words and be more lyrical instead of just sensical.”

What is the biggest issue facing society today? Kelly says, “The treatment of women. I make 78 cents to a man’s dollar. I’d check the insane box on that. The work I do is equal, if not better, than some dude sitting next to me. Also, I can’t think of many companies that actually support a woman and her partner’s choice to have children. Support, meaning provide incentives that make it okay.”

“There are direct and indirect costs of women leaving the workforce. It’s shameful that our society doesn’t seem to understand the long-term benefit of changing policies, and changing how we talk about this. It’s not a women’s issue, it’s an American issue. I’m very passionate about finding ways to employ stay-at-home moms in meaningful work. When I started Hired Better (the first recruiting company Kelly started and sold), that’s all I hired, were stay-at-home moms. I started it to give them work that mattered. You have to have a very innovative business model and a truly flexible work schedule.”

Day Dreams

Kelly’s perfect day looks something like this: “My children will sleep past 6am. Just give me 6:30am. The weather would be like today (the sun is shining, but there is a cool briskness in the air). It would include a cup of coffee, time for reading, reflection, and journaling. There would be a movie at Violet Crown, which is my favorite movie place. It would include some live music in an intimate setting. Good food. Brunch! Dinner somewhere cozy like Justine’s. My boyfriend would be a part of all this. And my kids. Maybe a bottle of wine at dinner. And a little dancing somewhere in there. My kids and I do a lot of kitchen dance parties. A lot of Motown. Oh, and there’d be a little bike ride in there somewhere. Not a serious bike ride. Very casual. In fact, I might even have a beer in my hand.” Wow, that’s one fabulously perfect day!

Gratitude

The thing in her life Kelly is most grateful for is her health. She adds, “Without that there’s nothing. The first thing I do when I wake up is to say thank you!”

I want to know about a habit, ritual or practice Kelly does daily that she feels contributes to her overall success, happiness and well-being. She tells me, “A very important person helped me build my morning routine and it changed my life. I get up early — before my munchkins. Turn on coffee. Then I do my gratitude practice, which I do on an Excel spreadsheet. I’m almost at 3000 lines after starting just over a year ago. I write 8-12 lines a day. I do it in a spreadsheet instead of a journal because I love looking at it — scrolling through, and going back and seeing what I wrote. I strive to think about what I’m grateful for in the moment, versus memory or projecting into the future. By doing this, you can kind of see your life in front of you. Then I read Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening {Which is also a very important part of the morning routine for my hubby Dave and me. Terrific book of daily readings!}. Next, I read from a book called Jesus Calling and another seasonal devotional. Then, I write in my journal for about 10 minutes. After that,  I go back to my computer and read through my definite purpose statement and then I have two prayers I read every day. The whole thing takes about 30 minutes. Once or twice a week, I look through my vision notebook.” This is where Kelly has her long-term goals written out, in the categories of physical, spiritual, fiscal, emotional, and mental.

Kelly and I talk a little about what she calls, “the prosperity landscape”. In that category you’d find books like The Secret, or Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Kelly says, “Some people use it to make money. For me, it’s more about putting intentional goodness out into the world. My children and I do a gratitude practice before dinner. We get the table set and the food ready, but no one eats until we’ve shared what we’re thankful for.” What an important ritual and lesson for the kids!

Given 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, Kelly’s message is this: “I think we all, so many times every day, have the ability to choose between love and fear. I feel like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The more you can choose love, the happier you will feel, and the more content you will be with whatever is going on. The fear isn’t real. Love is riskier, but it’s where our happiness resides.”

“Things happen all the time. Things that are bad. Things that are inexplicable. Things that make you feel the darkness that can be there. But things are always going to be happening and it’s about how you choose to look at them. The more you can choose to be on the side of love, the easier everything else becomes.”

During our time together, I was reminded of many important lessons I’ve learned over the years. Perhaps the thing that struck me most was the idea of gratitude and the impact a gratitude focus and practice can have on our lives. So much of what happens around us is completely out of our control. Kelly reminds us that the one thing we do have control over is the one thing that matters most: our internal reaction to what’s happening externally. It sounds so simple. But it’s the most powerful lesson I’ve learned, repeatedly, in my life. Every moment is an opportunity to make a choice. For Kelly, it’s a choice between love or fear. For me, the choice is about opening or closing. It’s not always easy, but the choice to stay open, to stay present and to move forward, will always lead to growth and create an expansive life.

The choice to stay open is certainly easier during the good times. In difficult times, the best we can do, is the best we can do. Which I’ve found to be a tough pill to swallow at times. You spend a lot of time dealing with a range of emotions and riding the roller-coaster of highs and lows. But eventually there’s the realization that everyone has limits to what they can hold. And then it’s about letting go. Letting go of expectations and letting people off the hook. Starting with yourself.

My prayer for each person on this planet is that no matter what’s happening around us, we can all find a way to move forward, openly, toward love. Thank you Kelly, for being a shining example of courageously doing just that. Onward!

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If you enjoyed this interview, “Like” the Coffee With A Stranger Project Facebook page and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming interviews with new strangers and other fun stuff. If there’s someone in Austin you think I need to have coffee with, let me know and I’ll do my best to sweet talk them into having coffee with a stranger.

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