Cup 117: Anne Grady – Communication expert, curveball dodger and cake lover

ThCoffee With A Stranger Cup 117 Anne Gradye Place: Starbucks

The Cup: Skinny cinnamon dulce latte for Anne, and a regular old coffee for me. Boring by comparison!

The Background: Cup 115 Maura Thomas and I had a follow-up coffee a few weeks after our original chat. She insisted she needed a chance to ask me some of the questions I had asked her. Gotta say, that was a first and wow, my questions are tough! :-)

During our visit she asked how she could help the project along and I told her I’m always interested in meeting new people, but they have to meet certain criteria. Lightning bolts and sunshine — that’s who I’m looking for. I explained that if she knew someone who lights up a room when they walk in (like a ray of sunshine), or who are such a powerfully bright force they can’t be ignored (lightning), that’s what I was looking for. The truth is, I decided after about 100 coffees that I definitely wanted to carry on with the project, but I wanted to be very deliberate about the people I met with. This is my yardstick. Maura instantly thought of Anne and she made an email introduction soon after. She hit the nail on the head!

Before we get into what makes Anne a beautiful mix of sunshine and lightning, let’s cover a few:

Common Grounds:

  1. What is the best gift you’ve ever given? My husband Jay is the best gift giver. His gifts are always very thoughtful. We have a weird way of giving each other the same gifts, but different. On our last anniversary, I gave him two tickets to see two different comedians and a leather messenger bag. He gave me tickets to see two different comedians and a leather purse. For Christmas he gave me a massage table (I love massages more than anything!) and I got him a gift certificate for a massage. Tops on the list of incredibly special gifts I got from Jay is my stepdaughter Rylee (who is now 14). She’s beautiful, smart and sassy and I love her dearly!
  2. What is the best way to unwind? Traveling with Jay. He’s my best friend.
  3. What book should be required reading for all human beings? Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. We’re taught our whole lives to figure out what we’re not good at and try to get better at it. It was an eye opener for me to figure out how working in your strengths makes you so much stronger. That’s a really good lesson for kids. I spoke at a high school recently and they had this big banner up in the hall that said ‘Get Better At What’s Holding You Back!’ And in my mind it was like, “No! Figure out what it is and avoid it! Figure out what compels you and energizes you and go after it. Chase it!”
  4. What’s a food you can’t live without? Anything cakey with frosting, any kind of pizza or cheeseburger. I’m not the kind of person who says, “I love cauliflower. It makes me happy!” I love bad food! I dream about Chuy’s. I get excited about Italian food. I love any kind of bread. Butter. Carbs. Sugar. {Mmmm!}
  5. Who is your celebrity doppelgänger? I’ve been told I look like Gillian Anderson, but I’m not sure I see it.
  6. How did you make your first buck? Babysitting. Then when I was 16, I was a shake maker at Whataburger for two weeks. Apparently polyester wasn’t for me. Then I started working at HEB and did that through college.
  7. What’s your guilty pleasure? Every night when the kids go to bed Jay and I watch mindless television and laugh until we can’t laugh anymore. I might even have a cocktail (or two).
  8. What’s the most amazing book you’ve read? Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is my all-time favorite book. I’m reading another great one right now — it’s Rising Strong by Brene Brown.

East Coast to Gulf Coast

Anne was born in New Jersey and then lived in Connecticut until her parents divorced and she moved with her mom to Corpus Christi, TX. Anne tells me the culture shock was just what you might imagine it would be.

A desire to spread her wings and get away from home led her to set off for college at The University of Kansas. Like many young people, Anne discovered the shocking truth that home isn’t actually so bad. She was soon feeling pretty homesick, so she came back to Texas and finished college in Kingsville. After that, she moved to San Marcos for graduate school and during her last semester, began working in Austin at Janus Mutual Funds. The job wasn’t perfect and she realized she was not a technical person. It was a good learning experience and got her to Austin, so all was not lost.

Clear Vision

When I ask Anne what she studied in college, she tells me she was one of those “weird people” who always knew what they wanted to do. She majored in Speech and her graduate degree was in Organizational Communication. She not only knew what she wanted to do at a young age, she has always had a knack for it — explaining, “I have always loved speaking!” Later in our conversion the topic came back up when I asked her to tell me something she’s ridiculously good at. Her answer: talking. Anne explains, “My naturally strength is that I can talk, about anything. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been just naturally great at. If you told me I had to give a speech about making beer I could gather everyone in this Starbucks around and give a 30 minute speech that’s pretty well-organized.” This being Austin, I can imagine that would go over quite well! And I have no doubt Anne would have us all leaning in and engaged.

Anne tells me her next job taught her another valuable lesson — “I wanted to control my own destiny and work for myself so that I could own my time. So I thought, ‘What have I always wanted to do?’  I wanted to go out on my own, but I was 26 and not ready. So I found a guy who had a company and joined him doing consulting.”

Everything Changes

Anne was busy juggling consulting, teaching, and being a wife and then she got pregnant and, as she says, “My whole world changed.”

Perhaps every first time mother says the same thing — and for good reason. Being responsible for the health and well-being of another human being is a huge change. But for Anne, it was far more complicated.

Evan was born via an emergency c-section. He was very colicky and Anne tells me the nurses said they’d never seen a baby cry so much. To complicate things further, Anne’s marriage crumbled under the additional weight of the difficulties with Evan. Anne raised him as a single mom for a long time. She says, “No one really believed me, but I knew something was wrong. At 11 months I started taking him to therapists and trying to get answers. When he was three he first tried to kill me with a pair of scissors. By the time he was four, he was on antipsychotic medication and I was exhausted. ”

“I met my now husband when Evan was four, almost five and he (Evan) was first hospitalized in 2010 in an inpatient children’s psychiatric unit for two months (he was 7 years old at this point) and we lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Dallas. He was hospitalized again in 2014, and while we checked him out I was diagnosed with a tumor, and had surgery two years ago on Feb 26th, 2014.”

“The tumor was the size of an avocado in my salivary glad. The facial nerve got stretched so far, the right side of my face was totally paralyzed. So I had a speech impediment and my face hung down. Also, I couldn’t close my eye, so a few days later I scratched my cornea and the doctor said I was going to have to get a gold weight inside my eyelid and stitch my bottom eyelid so I could shut my eye. And they wanted to do that before I started radiation. So my surgery for my eye was set for April 21, my birthday was April 22, my radiation was scheduled to start April 30 and I was scheduled to speak in India the second week in July and my book was supposed to come out that month. So before I had my eye surgery, my mom tells me and Jay to go have a weekend by ourselves and offers to watch Evan. So we went to Las Vegas and as we were walking toward Caesar’s Palace, I was telling Jay how I finally felt real and human again, and I fell down the stairs and broke my foot in four places.”

“So I came home with a broken foot, had eye surgery and then radiation. It was like everything all at once. I finished radiation, my book came out, I was a trooper and went to Bangalore and trained for Dell for a week and I came home and it’s just been go, go, go ever since.”

Holy smokes! I’m awestruck listening to all of this and can’t even imagine how Anne found the energy and drive to push on, long after many people would have thrown their hands up and said, “ENOUGH!”

Whatever Works

I ask Anne (who you can see from the photo is the picture of symmetrical beauty) how she recovered and she explains it was a mix of time passing and a little nontraditional therapeutic assistance. She explains, “I have this girlfriend who is into alternative healing and she had a shaman. She told me she talked to him about me and he said I was cursed — and this was before Vegas. I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d heard in my life but then I got back from Vegas with a broken foot and I said, “Call your shaman”.  She did and Anne tells me about the phone call she had with the shaman where he did chants on the phone as she laid in the bed with the phone by her. After a few more chants he says, ‘All right, it’s been lifted.’ At the end Anne admits, “I thought he was full of it.”

“Two days later I got sicker than I’d ever been. I had this horrible flu, a 102 degree fever, and my broken foot was still in the boot. So I called him the next week and said, ‘This doesn’t work!’  He tells me, ‘No, that was supposed to happen. It’s working it’s way out of your system.’ A week later my smile started to come back and life has been amazing since. So, I don’t know. I sent the guy a check!”

I ask Anne what’s the most significant thing that’s happened in the last 30 days and she says, “We went to Las Vegas to have the trip we were supposed to have. We went to a comedy show and saw Ron White and laughed until we couldn’t laugh anymore. We went back to the same stairs and walked them successfully.” What a great idea! A do-over!

Increase the Peace

I ask Anne what she wants less of in her life and she tells me, “Drama and anxiety. Raising a special needs child is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.   It’s hard because he can be the most sweet, thoughtful, considerate, funny, witty, awesome kid one minute and the next minute he can be violent and aggressive. I want more stability and less adrenaline rush. Some days parenting feels like an extreme sport.”

Something Anne wants more of in her life is peace and quiet. She says, “I am a very busy person — mentally and physically. I’m trying to learn how to be more mindful and not having to have something to worry about all the time. I take notice when I’m trying to fill my time or I’m worrying about things I don’t need to worry about. But I’d like to do more meditation. I also wish Evan were better. When he has a good day, I just try to savor it. You find what you look for. I make an effort to catch myself when I’m in a negativity cycle or it’s starting to feel overwhelming and I make a concerted effort to start looking for the good things.”

Real Life

What is something Anne believes that she suspects everyone else thinks is crazy? She says, “I just tell it like it is. I get on stage and I tell our story. I don’t sugarcoat it. I don’t think many motivational speakers go up there and say the word ‘shit’ or tell you about their morning where they got their ass kicked by their child. I think it’s better to be honest. I’m just myself wherever I am. ”

A ritual/daily practice that Anne feels contributes to her overall success and well-being is a heaping dose of vitamin canine. She tells me, “My dogs are therapy for me. I love to take them for a walk. It just makes me feel good. I also I enjoy swimming 2-3 times a week. The thing that really grounds me is that Jay, Evan, Rylee and I have family dinner every night. We talk about our day, we laugh and share stories.”

How about a lesson Anne learned last year that is making this year better? Anne is quick to respond sharing, “That I will figure it out. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like I can’t manage it all. Last year I realized if I can make it through tumor and facial paralysis, and Evan, and being single and being alone – I’ll figure it out. There’s not a whole lot that can get thrown at me that I can’t figure out.”

If Anne had 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, her message is this: “You find what you look for. Stop looking for all the reasons life isn’t fair and horrible things happen. Start looking for the right things, and you’re more likely to find them. Don’t be a victim. It’s really easy to blame everybody and everything around you for the things that aren’t right in your life. It’s another thing to say, ‘Here’s where I am. Here’s what I have to work with. Let’s make it move in the right direction.'” And then, as if in summary, Anne adds, “Get off your ass and be grateful.”

Anne has proven herself to be both a lightning bolt and a ray of sunshine. But beyond that, her life is a cascade of examples of the importance of cherishing each moment, finding the strength and resiliency to carry on even when the road is dark and lonely. She hasn’t been dealt an easy hand, but she’s played the cards she’s been given and understands the futility of cursing the cards. She makes time to be grateful for all she has and she gets up on stage and courageously shares her story so that other people can learn from her example and be inspired to look for the good in their own lives. Anne is right, we find what we look for. It seems the world is in need of a ‘get off your ass and be grateful’ role model, and I think we just found her!

To learn more about Anne, check out her business website, take a look at her book, and watch her TEDx Talk!


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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