Another way to listen. As you are asking yourself better questions, pay attention to your intuition, and carve out time to reconnect to that inner guidance. Everyone has an inner guidance system that knows what’s best, where to focus and what to let go of. With a dry-erase marker, draw a heart on your bathroom mirror and rearview mirror to remind you to check in and listen to what your intuition is saying to you. Your inner guidance is for your highest good and can lead you to finding more joy, fun and contentment in your life.
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 Karen Pohlman.
Karen Pohlman is an author and creator of the Live Another Way™ process, outlined in her award-winning book, Be Unmessable: Navigate Any Stressful Situation, Conversation or Crisis. She shows people, who are ready to quit letting life’s circumstances get in the way of their light shining in this world, the essential steps to reconnect with the vision for their life and get what they really want most. Karen teaches and inspires them to become unmissable and resilient no matter what life throws at them!
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?
Thanks for the invitation! I grew up the youngest of three sisters in a middle-class suburb of Chicago in an English immigrant family. My mother was a proper lady and stay-at-home mom, and my father was a hard-working entrepreneur. Both knew what it was like to survive a world war. I was raised on warm smiles, Monty Python wittiness and the belief that a hot cup of tea was the correct accompaniment for any challenge. A sensitive child, I was aware of my mom’s anxious internal strife, so when my parents struggled financially and couldn’t afford the extras, I embraced a compliant “stay off the radar” attitude so that disapproval wouldn’t be directed at me. My enjoyment of performing showed up at home, with demonstrations of gymnastic and ballet tricks, along with fashion shows in the living room. Dad said I was chatty like my mom, and my report cards indicated the same thing. But my sister would lovingly poke fun at me for being a deep thinker. A smart child, I loved learning and noticing how people related, and I was excited to join any activity where I could spend time with friends.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’ve been an owner in multiple businesses in my adult life, including real estate development, public insurance adjusting, general commercial contracting and personal development. I would say my ability to try new things comes from my parents’ encouragement when I was a child to try whatever I wanted and from having multiple family members who were entrepreneurs. If they could figure it out, so could I. My mom was very industrious, and when something needed to get done, she did it. In that respect, I would say my original family inspired me to have an “I can figure this out” attitude. And then I married a man who had that same philosophy.
As a child, I always wondered what other people were thinking. I was acutely aware of my own thoughts and very curious about whether other people had the myriad of things going through their heads that I did. My mother and I were very close, very communicative, and I was her little buddy. I unconsciously adopted many of her beliefs, both positive ones and challenging ones. She was a champion of underdogs, always wanting others to feel loved, and at the same time, she had difficulty accepting a compliment because she wasn’t aware of her full value.
My personal development company has been a spiritual inspiration rooted in a lot of struggles. From the age of 19, I began to research how I could help myself as I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. After getting married and having children in my 20s, I dealt with depression, addiction and relationship struggles. My husband wanted out of our marriage in 2003, which led me on a journey of very intentional personal reflection and action. That journey enabled me to figure out what was driving my inability to speak my truth, my desire to please people and my reluctance to ask for what I wanted. That personal development enabled me to change my life. When I discovered how different life could be, how human brains become unknowingly programmed in childhood, and how people live their lives unconsciously, reacting to all sorts of circumstances, I couldn’t keep my newly found knowledge to myself. That’s how I discovered the path of helping other people. Starting a personal development company seemed like a natural progression as I reached a time when I realized that life was short, and I wanted to focus on why I was here, tell the story that only I could deliver, and help as many people as I could before it was time for me to move on.
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?
You are so right. There are many people who have helped me directly and indirectly in my journey of becoming who I am today. Counselors, family, trainers, authors, consultants, friends, and even those who were super challenging, unaware of their contributions. My husband has been my biggest challenge and my biggest cheerleader. For years I was a people pleaser and wouldn’t tell people what I really thought, fearful of judgment and shame. It hindered our family and our businesses. He’s always believed in me and been a constant proponent of the phrase “who cares what they think.” His consistent love, pushback to my excuses, and occasional annoyance has been what I needed to commit myself to uncovering who I was created to be. He’s been a blessing to me, although sometimes in disguise.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
The most interesting mistake would have been miscalculating the global financial crisis of 2008. We were spread too thin with real estate investments, our construction company, and the building of what we thought was going to be our dream home when the economy crashed. The house was no longer worth the amount of money we had put into it, customers weren’t able to pay us what they owed us, and we didn’t have enough in the bank to wait until the economy would recover. We lost it all. We sold what we could, gave back cars and equipment to lenders, filed for bankruptcy and suffered foreclosure on our home. My husband and I rented a storage unit to keep a portion of our belongings. And we rented a Chevy Impala for a month so that we could drive with our three children and dog to Arizona. We went there to live in the national forest in tents for free until we could figure out our situation. We were homeless and quickly spending the 2,200 dollars we left Illinois with.
My marriage struggled, and at the time I couldn’t imagine the profound journey of transformation this crisis would send me on. I eventually crawled out of the dark hole and committed to teaching the steps I took to transform my own life.
In 2015 our daughter Jade, by that time 21, wrote an email to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” describing our adventure, and the producer invited Jade and me to Burbank to see the show. Ellen surprised us by inviting Jade on stage to read the letter she sent to the show and then presented our family with a check from Shutterfly for 20,000 dollars.
We learned many lessons from those experiences: Home is where you make it; how to stay in alignment with your vision; and how to stay resilient while navigating stressful situations. These lessons became the foundation of my personal development company and are now in my award-winning book. Mistakes don’t have to be considered mistakes.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am passionate about relationships, especially the one you have with yourself, and equipping people with the mindset to face the adversity of life, with all its joys and sorrows, so they can be courageous and live a life that is good for them and others. I want people to know they don’t have to live in reaction to circumstances, and I want to show them how to do that. I’m creating a community of women who show up in a very intentional way, with classes, trainings and retreats so they can shine their light and have what it is they really want most in life.
In the coming year I’m super excited to host Be Unmessable in-person retreats at our property in New Mexico. The retreats will focus on creating a unique process that aligns and continually refocuses people on the vision they have for their life. The untouched nature of our property is magical and allows people to get creative and in touch with their truest desires and aspirations.
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?
Perseverance. Losing everything in 2008 was the most difficult thing I’ve had to overcome in my life, and even though it took many years, I stayed in alignment with my vision to own a home again, have money in the bank and establish a thriving business. I wanted to show our kids that you must keep going; giving up is not an option. Last year was our best year ever for our construction company, despite a global pandemic. We were able to solidify and complete multimillion-dollar projects, buy our property in New Mexico and enter the completion phase of our new home.
Authenticity. You need to be yourself. Some people will like you, and some won’t, and that’s OK. People can sense inauthentic energy, and when it comes to business, people buy from people they trust and like. How can someone trust you if you don’t trust yourself to be you? If you spend so much time and energy pretending to be someone you aren’t, you’ll still end up with some people liking you and some who won’t. You might as well save your energy and be all of you, all the time!
Gratitude. I talk about this in my book. Researchers have shown that thoughts of gratitude change physical circuits in the brain and lessen the amount of the neurochemicals cortisol and adrenaline while increasing dopamine and oxytocin, the ‘feel-good’ neurochemicals. As a family, whether we were homeless or not, we made a habit of talking about what we were grateful for on a regular basis. We practiced thanking God for all that we had, even when it didn’t feel like much and especially when we didn’t want to be thankful. It changes your brain, it puts you in an abundant state of mind, and it enables you to see more of what you have, which leads to feeling better and attracting more of what you want, like joy.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
I’m an authority on finding joy because along with being a strategic Intervention coach, I’ve also faced and overcome many difficulties in my life, including panic attacks, depression, divorce, homelessness and financial ruin. I’ve become an expert at navigating difficult challenges and over time have come away from challenges quicker, more resilient and with a strong ability to find joy in any circumstance.
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 U.S.?
I believe the low ranking is because most of us don’t directly learn how to navigate difficult circumstances, how to train our focus, how to ask ourselves great questions, or how to communicate with ourselves in a way that supports feeling great most of the time. I only remember having one class in junior high, called Human Relations, that touched on emotional awareness and how we relate to ourselves and others. I absolutely loved that class! But I only had one class in that area in 12 years of public education, and I was fortunate to live in a school district that was well funded.
My parents’ generation wasn’t aware of emotional intelligence or its own lack of knowledge in that area, so it wasn’t something I learned directly or indirectly at home.
Interestingly, I had some difficult times that awarded me the opportunity to find support groups. Even then, many support groups focus on the problem and the symptoms people display versus focusing on how to change your mindset, get to the root of your beliefs and shift when you feel stuck. I believe many people look outside themselves for the answer to their unhappiness.
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?
There is a misconception that happiness is out there somewhere. People believe that they can find joy or happiness in another person’s behavior toward them, in a commodity that can be purchased, or through some sort of control of situations or power. That’s not where you find happiness and joy. It’s much closer than that. It’s in your soul right now. You only need to express it.
I love that we have the freedoms we do in our country. Our society, however, too often operates out of a paradigm whereby there is a belief that when we have “fill-in-the-blank,” we will be happy, joyful or content. Happiness and joy starts within us, with whom we choose to show up as, who we are, whom we decide to be and what we choose to focus on. It is our choice.
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?
I can share a mistake I made myself. I know for my husband and me, when we were building our dream home in 2007, we were operating out of the paradigm I was just describing. We thought that when we had a 6,500-square-foot home with all the bells and whistles, we would have what we needed for our family to be happy and content. We were looking outside ourselves. The house did not deliver happiness; it delivered a whole heap of challenge, heartache, difficulty and stress. To top it off, it cost us everything we had worked so hard for.
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.)
The five things that are needed to live with more joy and happiness are part of my Live Another Way™ process.
- Another way to see. Start with a vision. You need to know where you are going! If you don’t, who knows where you’ll wind up. If joy is what you want more of in your life, then you need to stay focused on it, aligned with it, and committed to being joyful. And you need to look for the opportunities to experience it. We often get sidetracked with everyday challenges that come up; they act like shiny objects catching the attention of our eyes. Staying intentionally focused on your vision (joy being the focus here) is a must. You need to notice when you get off track and when you are stuck focusing your attention away from what you want. It’s a continual intentional practice of refocusing back to your vision and what you really want most.
- Another way to think. Your brain is an incredible tool that you can consciously program to your advantage. Often, though, your brain interprets stress as an attack and puts you into fight-or-flight or freeze-or-appease mode, which is when you operate out of autopilot. To interrupt the autopilot pathways in the brain and get to joy, you need to do something different. The best way is to pause and then turn your thinking to gratitude. Researchers have shown that thoughts of gratitude cause physical changes in the brain — less of the neurochemicals cortisol and adrenaline are released while more serotonin and oxytocin, the feel-good chemicals, are released. Once you feel your levels come down from decreased stress, you can connect with your feelings of gratitude for something in your life, and then you ask yourself questions that refocus you to your vision.
- Another way to communicate. The way you talk to yourself internally is vitally important to getting what you want in life. Be gentle and kind, patient and encouraging, and give your brain an intentional destination. When things seem turbulent, ask yourself questions that align you with your vision. What is great about this? What am I learning? How can I feel joyful while this is happening? How is this going to help me or someone else?
- Another way to listen. As you are asking yourself better questions, pay attention to your intuition, and carve out time to reconnect to that inner guidance. Everyone has an inner guidance system that knows what’s best, where to focus and what to let go of. With a dry-erase marker, draw a heart on your bathroom mirror and rearview mirror to remind you to check in and listen to what your intuition is saying to you. Your inner guidance is for your highest good and can lead you to finding more joy, fun and contentment in your life.
- Another way to empower. You can empower yourself by taking radical responsibility for your experience and staying committed to aligning your experience with the vision you desire. You have the option of choosing what to focus on, taking or not taking something personally, accepting or rejecting opinions, and deciding what things mean. You get to decide. It’s like putting on a pair of glasses. You get to choose which lens to look through. Do you choose a lens of fear and frustration or one of joy and compassion? If you choose to focus on what you cannot change or have little influence over, you’ll feel frustrated. Notice all the joy around you, and focus on what you can change — you. I promise, if you look for the joy already there, you’ll find it.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
When I was homeless and feeling depressed, I would reach out to friends and family on the phone to connect. Be present for the people you care about and don’t try to fix them; it’s not your job. Ask the person struggling how you can provide support. I wasn’t looking for advice, solutions or sympathy. I only needed to know that people were present and that they loved me. Sometimes an ear to receive a venting of frustrations is the best medicine.
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.
Especially in the climate of divisiveness in social media, I’d love to inspire people to lean in and get curious about one another. Ditch the right-wrong paradigm in conversations, and intentionally look for understanding, common ground, and how we can work together for the greater good. This will require people to look past automatic judgments, to open their minds to see what else could be going on, and to take some time to get to know one another better
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 U.S., 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 love to have lunch with Reese Witherspoon! She has done so much to elevate women’s voices. I would love to chat about how we could collaborate and inspire more women to speak their truth and let their light shine.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Subscribe to my newsletter on karenpohlman.com
Facebook: @BeUnmessableCommunity and @KarenPalinPohlman
Instagram: @BeUnmessable and @LiveAnotherWay
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!