Mary LoVerde: Connection – The Organic Path to Work/Life Harmony
In this episode, world-renowned speaker, author, and frequent Oprah guest Mary LoVerde shares a foolproof recipe for regaining our footing when life turns us upside down. Spoiler alert: it’s only three words—and it works professionally and personally. Mary discusses two pivotal times she followed the advice in her own life. One case leads to the kind of adventure of which most people only dream. The other involves some hard, bittersweet choices about what matters most in life.
“Connection is what creates balance. Connection with yourself, with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your community, your God. If you feel overwhelmed, look at something on that list.”
Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible with support from Brighton Jones, helping clients, colleagues and the global community live a richer life. To learn more about how you can live a richer life, visit brightonjones.com.
Mary: I had made lots of decisions based on what was a good school district and what could I afford and I had a house full of kids and all those kinds of things. I realized all of those things had gone away and I was still living as if I was a dog with this electric fence, only nobody told me the fence had been turned off.
Manisha Thakor: Hello and welcome to the true WELLth podcast, where we speak with a wide range of experts in social, emotional, physical, and financial wellbeing to learn from their distinct disciplines about various ways to create lives with the way we spend our money and our time is in direct alignment with what matters most to us in life. My guest today is Mary LoVerde, an incredibly energetic, vibrant woman in her sixties.
Manisha Thakor: Mary is a wife, mother, grandmother. As such, she’s a variable font of wisdom about what it takes to navigate the joyously messy path that is cultivating a family. Yet her insight does not stop there. Mary has had two very successful and very distinct pioneering careers and is now embarking upon her third chapter in life.
Manisha Thakor: Mary grew up in a very small town in Iowa, the daughter of the local bank president. One of the lessons her dad had taught her early in life was “save half.” She said it didn’t matter if she and her siblings were bailing hay, mowing yards, or babysitting. All chores were 50 cents an hour and you put 25 cents of it in the bank. He told her that the economy and the markets will go up and down, but a regular habit of savings would enable her to live the life she wanted on her terms. This lesson has served her well.
Manisha Thakor: Mary’s life journey, which I would argue is a beautiful example of what it is like to be on the ever-evolving path to your own true wealth, has taken her on quite the odyssey. To kickoff Mary’s story, let’s fast forward to the 90s.
Manisha Thakor: It’s 1994 shoulder pads are in, we’re all buying hairspray by the gallons, and Mary LoVerde gets a life changing call. It’s from Oprah.
Mary: When the Oprah producer calls and my daughter answered, she was 16, and she put her hand over it and said, “Mom, it’s Oprah. Don’t take too long because Jenny’s on the other line.”
Manisha Thakor: Now for all our millennial listeners, the early 90s was a time in history where Oprah Winfrey quite literally ruled the airways. She controlled an hour-long time slot on one of only a handful of national networks. Appearing on her show, more often than not, caused her expert guests’ careers to catapult to new heights.
Manisha Thakor: Mary has written a number of books on finding personal and professional harmony, such as I Used To Have A Handle On Life. And then it broke. Mary’s message about how to joyfully juggle the various components that compels a life of meaning was instantaneously broadcast to millions of people. This was not a one-time thing. Mary went on to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show four times. This is not so far off from being the Lindsey Vonn or Michael Phelps of the author-speaker world back in the 90s.
Manisha Thakor: So, Mary, what were you thinking and feeling after that fourth appearance on Oprah?
Mary: Well, I was feeling very lucky. I think you have to be careful to think that just because you’ve got on Oprah that you’re now going to be famous. Just like if you publish a book or you become the VP or you, whatever, that sometimes we overestimate what the impact is going to be. So what you get to do then is redirect what really happened, what really happened as opposed to did you sell a million books, did your fee double, is lots of people got impacted.
Manisha Thakor: How did the resulting fame impact your life?
Mary: Well, I think that’s a really good question that does the fame change your life if you go on Oprah. It can if you want it to, but I set up policies, which is one of the strategies that I teach. Having policies, which means management and wisdom, and I set it up saying what’s really important to me? What do I really want to stay connected to? I knew, for example, because offers poured in, most professional speakers give about 100 speeches a year. I had a very strict policy to limit to 50.
Mary: Now that seems like a little bit of career suicide, but here was the thing. I could go out and talk to people about how important it was to connect, but my family was home feeling very disconnected. So I knew intuitively that about 50 was going to be enough for me to have a fabulous career, live my mission, and feel like I was really doing a good job with the rest of my life. More than 50, everybody got cranky. Less than 50 not everybody was going to get to go to college. So I think for each of us ,we have the risk-benefit ratio. What makes sense and what is fame really going to give us?
Manisha Thakor: Now Mary’s professional odyssey didn’t start with being a fan favorite on Oprah. As I mentioned earlier, May has been a pioneer in many ways. Prior to her Oprah-induced national fame, she spent 15 years on the faculty of the University of Colorado School of Medicine as the director of the hypertension research center. In this capacity, she studied various aspects of wellbeing, long before focusing on that concept, and work-life balance was part of the common vernacular and a goal considered socially acceptable to strive for.
Manisha Thakor: Mary, what did you learn during those 15 years on the faculty of the University of Colorado School of Medicine?
Mary: Well, two things. You know, this was 25 years ago and we were still in the idea that you should go as fast as you can, do two things at once, don’t sleep, make 50 meals on the weekend, and exercise at three in the morning. That was life balance. So when I saw I was going through that … I had three little kids, I was working, I was trying to use those strategies … I saw my patients come in and at some point, they got sick. Most of the time, we find hypertension serendipitously. They come in because they have migraines or they have abdominal pain or diarrhea or whatever, something stress related, and in the course of it, we find out that they have hypertension.
Mary: It was also very early in the mind-body connection and now everybody knows that, but at the time it was a little bit of voodoo medicine. We used to believe that managing, organizing, delegating, prioritizing, and simplifying were the solutions to keeping your life in balance. My thought is we’ve been doing that for a long time and those things were going to work, they should have worked by now. They’re invaluable strategies. But if you take time management for example, you can manage every inch of it and you’re still going to end up with all kinds of demands for every hour that you save.
Mary: So when I first started, I researched the people who were thriving. What I noticed was that they did not ask the question, “What do I need to do?” Because it’s a very long, very overwhelming list that nobody will get done. What they asked is, “With whom or what should I connect?” Just like when I did my medical research, I applied those principles to this. You know, what is the symptom? The symptom is disconnection. What is the cure? Well, the only known cure to that is connection.
Mary: So these people were asking, for example, “I’m really overwhelmed. What part is disconnecting me?” Then they would use strategies to solve that. That is how I came up with, when I’d ask people, “What’s your biggest life balance issue?” They would say, “I can’t keep up.” So it became clear to me, well, when you can’t keep up, connect. And so my whole 25 years now is that connection is what creates balance. Connection with yourself, with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your community, your God. If you feel overwhelmed, look at something on that list.
Mary: So it was a perfect segway for me when I finished that part of my life to understand that you’re going to have to take care of your health in every way in order to live a good life. That became my, my new passion, helping people stay connected to what was really important.
Manisha Thakor: I’d like to return to something Mary said, “When I finished that part of my life …” From the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado, Mary moved into the next chapter of her life, that of being a nationally and internationally sought after keynote speaker on the very topic that landed her on Oprah, the concept that connection creates balance. But like any good book, there was yet another fascinating chapter to come in her life, a chapter many people dream of, but few ever do. Mary sold her home and gave away all her worldly goods to travel around the world, and here’s the real kicker — without a plan.
Manisha Thakor: So, Mary, when exactly did this idea pop into your head and how long did it take you to actually execute on it?
Mary: Well, it was one of those light switches. So I had gone to … I lived in Denver, I had gone to Hawaii to write, I was working on another book. I came home and I walked into my beautiful dream home and I looked around. It was gorgeous and I had decorated it within an inch of its life. A very calm, clear voice said to me, “All the reasons that you needed and wanted this house are complete. Go.” The voice did not say go where. I argued with the boys because I had just refinanced. I had it exactly the way I wanted. People called it a sanctuary because it was kind of spa-like, and Zen-like, and I was never leaving. Never. I was 57, I’d found it, I was single, my kids are gone, and this was my nirvana.
Mary: The voice argued back and it said, it’s not too big, too far, too lonely, too expensive. It’s not too anything. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s complete. So I put my house on the market and this was back in 2010 when big fancy houses were not going to be selling. I had a big party, invited my family and friends to come. I had almost all my belongings from the art to the furniture, to the barbecue grill, to the China, the silverware, everything out. I gave everybody an envelope and said there are little pieces of paper in there. If there’s something that you would like to have, I’m giving all of it away.
Mary: Then when the house sold for way, way more than anybody guessed it would, that was one of the many miracles. The furniture people came, the big vans, and I got in and we spent 13 hours driving around the metro area delivering things and people were standing at their front door waiting excitedly. Then I went back to the house and I went on the day of closing, I went to each room and I thanked it for all the memories and love that I had experienced. Then I got to the front door and I sobbed so hard I thought I’d lose a lung. Then that proverbial piece comes over you and you know you’re taking the right steps, and I went and closed on the house and I headed out without a plan.
Manisha Thakor: Okay. Now by this point in your life, you had had two very successful careers and careers that don’t blossom without planning. Did you ever have an urge to plan as you were traveling world?
Mary: Did I have an urge to plan on my trip? If I had an urge to plan, I beat it down. At the very beginning … again, I tried to take the principles I’ve been teaching for 25 years and apply them to me. So I thought, “Okay, what do I value and what are my policies about those values?” I decided one of my policies was, I’m not going to take the trip, the trip is going to take me. So for me to go from massive to do lists and agendas and exhaustion and all of that and just simply apply those principles to doing it sort of barefoot wasn’t going to help. I had to really teach myself to trust that whatever I need, whenever I need it, for as long as I need it, will always be at hand. I recited that phrase every day.
Manisha Thakor: How did you know that it was time for this wanderlust chapter of your life to come to a close and embark on yet another pathway?
Mary: Everybody goes, “Oh, when did you decide you were going to stop doing this? What happened?” You know, like there had to be some precipitous event. Well, they were right, there was a precipitous event. I had been single for eight years, divorced, and I really was interested in Mr. Right and I’d kind of gone all over the world with, with my eyes open to see if he was around. My daughter lives in Denver and I went in to visit her, and a friend of a friend introduced me to this gentleman. Ironically, he goes to the same grocery store as my daughter does.
Mary: So I’d gone from Biloxi to Bangkok looking for Mr. Right, and he was in the same neighborhood. He asked me out and our joke was we instantly liked each other, but you know, he was a little uncertain. I was some crazy woman living without a house, running all over. About 10 months after we had gotten serious, he said, “Why don’t you stay?” I said, “Well see, here’s the thing. I don’t stay anywhere. That’s why people invite me in because they know I’m going to leave.” He said, “No, I want you to move in with me. I’m in love with you.” And I said, “Well, that’s a whole nother program.
Mary: So it was Cupid’s arrow that got me to change my mind, and here’s initially the funniest part about all of this. I have a beautiful dream home. Everything I gave away, I have it back. It’s beautiful. It’s at a different form, it’s a different style, it’s ours. But our thought that if we change, if we make a decision, it’s irreplaceable. It can never be that again. Because when I sold my house and left, I thought, I don’t know that I’ll ever buy a house again. I like this freedom. But that was then, and this is now. 14 years later, we’re happily married, We have a beautiful life, and I’m ever the richer for having had that experience. I know I can live with next to nothing, and I know that I can enjoy each and every beautiful thing I own.
Manisha Thakor: AH, Cupid’s arrow can be such a beautiful thing. Listening to Mary’s story, one could easily think her life was all rainbows and lollipops, especially when she tells us that everything she gave up when she sold her house and gave away her possessions to travel the world came back, albeit in a different firm. More on that in a moment.
Manisha Thakor: It almost sounds too perfect, as if everything always works out in the land of Mary. Those among who may be more cynically inclined are perhaps wondering, there must be a catch, right? Well, there is.
Mary: Yes, I did have to make some big decisions when I decided to move in with him. Sometimes we think that people’s lives are just all neat and pretty and those people must not have any problems like I do. Well, I went from really being footloose, fancy-free, not having very many problems, and now I’m in a relationship with a guy that I’m crazy in love with who has a … let’s see, he was eight-year-old grandson who was profoundly hampered with a serious mental illness as well as the daughter with mental illness. It was sticky. Sticky sometimes means that there were days it felt really crazy. So people would say, “Are you sure you want to be in this?” And I would say, “You know, you don’t pick love relationships because they’re all tied up in a bow. We’re going to know that we can get through the tough times.”
Mary: So what are the other parts of the tough times was, because there was a lot of things to deal with, if I traveled as much as I did either because I was footloose and fancy-free or to go give speeches, and Greg, who’s a airline captain, he had a very strict schedule of flying three or four days a week, it was going to be impossible. So just like I made the decision, I’m going to give it all up and go be free, I made the decision that I was going to give up lots of freedom and focus on what I valued most, and that was the love for this man and his family. So using my money that I had sold the house and I had saved it, you can live pretty cheaply when you don’t have anything. So I had a substantial sum and I spent a lot of it. I spent a lot of it investing in a relationship that I’ve thought was the love of my life.
Manisha Thakor: After engaging in a lifelong habit of saving, I wondered if actually spending down that savings scared her. Mary’s answer is blunt, honest, and faces fear straight on.
Mary: The financial practicalities scared me. You know, we all know the stories of, you know, you think it’s going to end up happily ever after and it doesn’t. When you’re not married and you have kind of put all your eggs in one basket and you’re spending some of your life savings, probably more than you should be spending given the fact that you’re not that old yet … and you know, when you step off the stage, you lose business. One of the big reasons you get work is because you’re working. You get up there, you inspire them, and people in the audience want to hire you and you get articles and your name is in the lights. If you’re not there, the phone stops ringing sometimes. And it did. I was not an idiot. I could see that if I do this for several years and we end up not making it, I’m the one that doesn’t have a house. I’m the one that doesn’t have a pension. I’m the one that’s not working. How would I start over again? So yes, that crossed my mind more than once.
Manisha Thakor: How did you justify or overcome that fear?
Mary: Well, I sat down and got really clear about what I could afford to lose. I could afford to lose money and I could afford to lose my status and my fame. I didn’t want to lose the profound love I felt, and that would have been the greater loss for me.
Manisha Thakor: Reflecting back on this wide ranging conversation with Mary, three themes jumped out at me. Number one, chasing fame and prestige, often a key indication of success in modern society, isn’t nearly as satisfying as using your work to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. In our conversation, Mary told me that in retrospect, the most personally meaningful thing that came out of her four Oprah appearances were the notes from people sharing with her how her advice had changed their lives for the better.
Manisha Thakor: While I’ve not been on Oprah, I have done my fair share of media over the past decade wearing my hat as a financial literacy advocate for women. To be brutally honest, in the beginning, it was my ego driving me to do more and more national TV, radio, and print interviews. Seeing my name out there, and even more importantly, I’m embarrassed to say, hearing other people tell me that they had seen me out there made me feel well, important.
Manisha Thakor: But over the ensuing years, I came to see the wisdom that Brighton Jones CEO John Jones highlights so beautifully. He says that early on in life when you are young, you think things happen to you. Then as you move into the work world in your early days, you think things happen by you. Finally, you get to a point where you realize that the really important things happen through you. That’s where the true magic begins.
Manisha Thakor: This is the lesson Mary brings to us that connecting to others, through a message or a random act of kindness or even just a smile, is the ultimate and optimal energy to have flowing through you.
Manisha Thakor: Number two, while it can be terrifying to chuck it all and totally change directions, such a dramatic action can often leapfrog you to a place of peace, joy, and contentment. [inaudible 00:23:49] all of us need to sell our worldly goods and travel the world for three years without a plan like Mary did. Boy, I have to say that sounds like a lot of fun.
Manisha Thakor: To hearken back to our episode with 1440 Multiversity founder and Juniper Networks chairman Scott Kriens, for others of us, it may be leaving a relationship or a job that is producing toxic energy and replacing it with situation producing what he calls generative energy. For others, it’s pushing boundaries and starting a new hobby or goals such as taking up ballroom dancing, running a marathon. Oh, did I mention? Yup. Mary did that too and became a Colorado state ballroom dance champion at one point in her various life iterations.
Manisha Thakor: After speaking with Mary, I finally decided to act on a terrifying, joy-filled leapfrogging decision in my personal life, a decision that will lead to much more connection on all levels, and I hope this episode has inspired you to think if there are any moves that you may be ready to take in that direction.
Manisha Thakor: Finally, we come back to what for me was hands down the most powerful message from Mary. Connection creates balance. From her years working at the College of Medicine at the University of Colorado, directing the center for hypertension, Mary gleaned what may be one of the most powerful insights that can help us all. As she says, when you can’t keep up, when you feel overwhelmed, it’s time to ask yourself, “To whom or what do I need to connect?” She suggests we start by looking at something on this list — self, family, friends, colleagues, community, your God. This passion, helping people stay connected to what really matters, has become not only her professional mission but also the guiding principle of her own life. From this, there is much we can all learn. For as Thích Nhất Hạnh says in two powerful quotes, “We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.” “Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us.”
Manisha Thakor: I’m Manisha Thakor and that’s it for this episode of true WELLth.
Announcer: For more information about Mary LoVerde, visit our show notes at trueWELlthpodcast.com. At Mary’s episode page, you will find both the link to her website, maryloverde.com, and a six-minute video in which Mary shares her lessons learned along the way.
Announcer: As always, we would not be a self-respecting podcast if we didn’t humbly hold our hat in our hands and ask for your help in sharing, either by leaving a review on iTunes or even just telling two other people about our show, every little bit helps get the word out.
Announcer: The true WELLth podcast is made possible by Brighton Jones, a wealth management firm founded 20 years ago in Seattle. Today, Brighton Jones offers wealth management services that go beyond the balance sheet, service clients and offices from coast to coast.
Announcer: Today’s show was produced and edited by Stan Hall with help from Holly O’Reilly, Michael Stubel, Mark Asmus, Chris Sylvester, and John Dougherty. To get in touch with the team, visit truewellthpodcast.com.