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Katy Kvalvik: “Be a student of whatever game you are playing”

Anytime you can share your knowledge, wisdom from experience, and expertise with others — specifically those who are passionate about the same topics as you — there will always be opportunities to empower and support each other. My life purpose is to create global impact by empowering leaders and people with advanced skill sets to fulfill their missions and […]

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Anytime you can share your knowledge, wisdom from experience, and expertise with others — specifically those who are passionate about the same topics as you — there will always be opportunities to empower and support each other. My life purpose is to create global impact by empowering leaders and people with advanced skill sets to fulfill their missions and live their own life purpose. I believe if I can share what I’ve learned with leaders, they will be inspired to create a positive impact and greater consciousness in their organizations, and in society at large.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katy Kvalvik. Katy is the creator of the Harmony Method® — a blueprint for work-life harmony — and the founder of Southwestern Empowerment, a company that provides personal and professional development services to transform and inspire today’s leaders. She has been inspiring women and men all over the world to be empowered, leads their best lives, and achieve optimal, lasting results since 2009.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Katy! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Over twelve years ago, my life was going exactly according to plan. I had graduated from UC Berkeley, was thriving in medical device sales, and was competing in triathlons. My life was completely focused on sports, medicine, and science — and I loved it!

One afternoon, while training on my bike, I was suddenly struck from behind by a car! I had a concussion, a partially torn MCL and ACL in my left knee, my hips were thrown out of alignment, and I had two herniated discs in my spine. Beyond the pain, the doctors told me I would need to relearn how to walk properly, and I would never be able to run again. In great pain, and heavily medicated, I went back to work and began a strict regimen of physical therapy (PT).

Three months into physical therapy, while driving to work, my car was hit from behind. Though I was wearing my seatbelt, the impact of the crash was devastating. My head smashed into the steering wheel, giving me severe whiplash. The doctors had trouble truly diagnosing my injuries this time because I had injuries on top of injuries. They recommended physical therapy several times per week and surgery on my left knee and spine.

Since I couldn’t work out like I used to, I gained a lot of weight. I was also diagnosed with PTSD and started seeing a neurologist and psychologist to deal with my anxiety in the aftermath of my concussion.

Regardless of the pain, I continued to work, concealing my injuries and my therapy from co-workers. The stress of this deception and the PTSD made daily life very difficult. I was medicated, caffeinated, and running on adrenaline. On the weekends I would crash, spending most of my time alone in bed.

In my weakest moments, when I couldn’t walk that well and it hurt to breathe, I began my journey inward towards self-healing and my future was born.

I quit my job, reclaimed my power and, for the first time, took charge of my recovery. I refused to sit back and take pills that were prescribed. Instead, I turned on my curiosity and sought out sage advice from ancient healing traditions, traveled around the world, and went back to school to learn more about holistic and integrative strategies. I healed more in the next two months than I had in two years.

This journey of self-discovery took years, a significant amount of money, and tremendous energy.

What I got in return was priceless: I was healed! Not only could I start training again, I now work as an executive coach and facilitator. Most importantly, my business was spawned out of this life altering tragedy.

The result of this journey is The Harmony Method®. It is a total lifestyle system that provides a step-by-step customized blueprint for work-life harmony. From there, I created Southwestern Empowerment, which helps executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs find integrative leadership performance strategies for themselves, their teams, and organizations. Southwestern Empowerment takes them from functional to high-performance, which creates optimal results in their business and their life.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I am an authority in preventative integrative healing and leadership performance strategies. I believe the experience of healing my own body, seeking out knowledge in the forms of formal education and real-world experiences in the fields of health and science, creating curriculum on how to manage the healing process, working with CEOs and executives, and working with thousands of people — empowering them with tools to shift their results and well-being — have been huge factors in bringing me to the level I am today in my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of my most interesting experiences was walking with a client as she worked through the challenges she was facing as a leader in her career and also discovering that she had been covering up and struggling with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). By uncovering the deeper and greater problem she was struggling with, we were better able to find ways to help her process, integrate, and fully express herself in her life. We were also able to get on top of her nutrition, self-care routine, and integrative health step-by-step strategies. Once she was able to release the emotional baggage, get the clarity she needed to start consistently working a strategy, and be in full alignment (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually), her symptoms started going away within a sixty-day period. With the structure of her new routine and learning the high-stakes communication and leadership skills needed for her career, she was able to confidently land a promotion and to reverse the effects of MS.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most time-consuming mistake I can remember is when I first started filming video content for my website. I was so caught up with trying to make that first video perfect that I spent all day on it, starting over and over again. My biggest problem? I was trying so hard to stick to the script instead of just being myself. I got so frustrated and angry. Then during one take, I randomly started laughing hysterically. (I think I may have been exhausted by that point!) After I calmed down and started the next take, I tried to keep it simple and just have fun. As you can probably imagine, it worked, and it was the take that made the cut. Now, whenever I feel myself feeling frustrated or getting stressed out, I try not to let it ruin my whole day. Instead, I remember that sometimes it’s okay to just laugh and let go.

In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader has wisdom of experience, depth of knowledge, and education in their specific field of expertise. I believe a thought leader has a deeper curiosity, passion, and determination to learn about their topic — all the attributes necessary to go through the self-organization and awareness processes needed to inspire, influence, and support individuals or groups of people who are also interested in their field. They are also usually known for their results and innovation in a certain subject matter along with a love of service, giving back, and mentoring others.

A typical leader can be on a spectrum of wisdom of experience and knowledge. They might have more strength in one area of leadership than another. It might be more of a job than a life purpose.

An influencer is someone that has influence and/or relationship over a demographic or group of people. They might or might not have any formal training, education, or concrete experience of the subject matter they speak about. The term influencer has been popularized in recent years due to social media.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I believe investing in yourself is one of the most beneficial things you can do in your lifetime. Being a student for life, deepening your knowledge and experiences, allows for self-reflection, integration, and evolution. It also can allow you to discover your deeper truth and to align to it in order to create more clarity and congruence in your life.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Anytime you can share your knowledge, wisdom from experience, and expertise with others — specifically those who are passionate about the same topics as you — there will always be opportunities to empower and support each other. My life purpose is to create global impact by empowering leaders and people with advanced skill sets to fulfill their missions and live their own life purpose. I believe if I can share what I’ve learned with leaders, they will be inspired to create a positive impact and greater consciousness in their organizations, and in society at large.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

I am an authority in preventative integrative healing and leadership performance strategies.

  1. Believe in yourself:

You must believe you can do first before others will fully believe you can. You must take the first steps to create momentum towards manifesting the life and the results you want. I remember when I was healing from my injuries and trying to lose the last 10 pounds. I kept comparing myself to how I was before and over-criticizing myself every time I looked in the mirror. One day as I was being hard on myself, I realized I needed to shift my mindset and I had to start small.

First, every time I looked in the mirror, I said one positive acknowledgment to myself. Then, when it came to my physical abilities, I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t do and instead focused on what I could. Anytime I could walk around the block without pain I said to myself, ‘You did a great job today walking one block. Let’s try for two next week!’ This mindset tool is how I physically and mentally overcame my injuries. Step by step, little by little, I was able to create momentum and eventually able to achieve big results. This experience created a greater sense of resilience in me that allowed me to better navigate challenges in the future. It deepened my self-awareness and helped me create the mindset of healing and high-performance I use to this day.

2. Be a student of whatever game you are playing.

The healing process is an excellent opportunity to slow down and to learn about yourself and life. During my healing process, with my background heavy in modern science and working in the medical field, I decided after exhausting all my options that I would be open to learning new strategies on how to heal. The more I learned, the more curious I would become. I first became a yoga instructor; then a certified health counselor. I became further interested in how our mind, body, and life are connected. I started studying energy work and went to get another certification in executive coaching and another as a Neuro-Linguistic Programming trainer.

It’s not about learning new things just for the sake of putting more information in your head or simply keeping your hands busy. You can’t always be starting and stopping without having a bigger mission in mind. Being a student of the game is about always learning so you can ultimately become the teacher and give the gift back of experience, wisdom and knowledge that you have been given. It’s about learning new things that build on the knowledge you’ve already acquired, continuing to hone the skills you’ve already developed, and mastering the gifts that will lead you to live out your life purpose. Going through this process makes you stronger and creates structure so you can stress less and get the results you’re looking for.

3. Don’t think you can do it all by yourself — seek out wise teachers and mentors:

Make the decision to learn from the best. This journey personally led me across the globe: India to the Amazon, Kyoto to Bolivia, China to New Zealand. I have sought out and worked with many teachers and leaders. This has allowed me to change my belief systems on what is possible. I learned what it means to see beyond your limits and how to grow and learn with support.

I believe one of the best ways to gain knowledge and wisdom is to seek out leaders who have already achieved the results you want. It is so important to be careful who you listen to and make sure they are worthy of modeling. Make sure you surround yourself with people who support and believe in you and who believe in the same things you do. Creating support systems is key for increasing resilience, healing, and leading yourself and others through life’s challenges.

4. There isn’t one right way:

During my journey of healing and learning that eventually lead me to coach, I discovered I am able to study multiple systems of information and not be attached to only one. I became a translator to people, helping them locate and interpret the information necessary to get the results they were looking for.

I also became curious to discover what was the consistent message of all these systems, rather than trying to decide which one was better than another. Instead of having a “one way fits all” mentality, I started to see them as a flexible blueprint. This, in turn, helped me look at life the same way. I have traveled to over 60 countries and realized there isn’t just “one way” to live life. I realized that we all have choices every moment regardless of what is going on around us. This concept of choice liberated me, and I set out to share the knowledge and wisdom gained to liberate and empower people around the world.

It’s important to remember that your goal should never be to find the “right way.” Your goal should be to find a way of life that works best for you and create structure around it. Giving yourself flexibility allows you to jump back after a hard time or when a certain expectation isn’t met. This flexibility allows you to be adaptable in life so you don’t get stuck in stress and you can lead from a more heart-centered approach.

5. Walk your talk

In my own healing, all the trials and tribulations were a blueprint for what I can do for others. I speak from a place of truth having overcome so many health and life obstacles, so I can empathize fully with my clients. I would never be as effective as I am with preventative integrative healing and leadership performance strategies for the people I work with, had I not endured the journey I took to get where I am now. Walking your talk is about awareness of congruency, clarity, and consistency with your values, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, actions, and behavior.

When I work with clients this is one of the areas we examine; the pursuit of alignment where actions and behavior are congruent with our thoughts and the words we speak.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Pat Summitt, the late women’s basketball coach, and Olympic silver medalist embodied so many leadership qualities that I respect. Upon her retirement she not only had more than 1,000 wins and eight NCAA championships, but she also graduated 100% of her student-athletes.

Her leadership principles — also known as the “Definite Dozen” — include concepts like “Learn to be a Great Communicator,” “Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart,” and “Develop and Demonstrate Loyalty.”

Pat was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and bravely battled Alzheimer’s disease. She was and continues to be an amazing role model for women and people of all ages.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

We are meaning-making machines based on our experiences, the images in our minds, or the perception of our reality. On a conscious level, I feel that we put labels and meanings on words or phrases to give definitions based on the context of that reality and what resonates. When it comes to defining thought leadership, it is about getting beyond the label or meaning we have created. We are in a time of great need — of showing how to be a leader through our actions and results versus just our words. Through being consistent in both word and action, we can better stand as examples for future generations to model.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

The key to thriving and avoiding burnout is creating a method and structure that will allow you to achieve sustainable results no matter what is going on in your life. This is one of the main reasons I created the Harmony Method, an integrative total lifestyle system for work-life harmony.

One of the strategies I always recommend is establishing morning and night routines for self-care. I believe it is vitally important to build time into your schedule to slow down, connect to your breath, and be present — even if it is only for 5 to 10 minutes as you transition into and out of the day. Most of us already know how to work hard and play hard. We must also learn how to rest hard to be on a consistent level of well-being. I also encourage my clients to use a variety of tools to stabilize their blood sugar so they can have consistent, all-day energy and sleep well at night.

Another lifestyle habit I encourage people to evaluate is how often they turn off. It is so important to take breaks throughout the year to truly disconnect and give yourself permission to turn off your social media, text messages, and emails. This shouldn’t be something you plan spontaneously. I recommend planning a time in your calendar every year during which you take a trip (or home vacation) to create a master vision for your life. Going through this process of reflection in a quick space allows you to access deeper areas of intuition and clarity in order to have total alignment in your life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would create an empowerment movement — one in the field of health and wellness. This movement would empower people with the foundational skills for how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and achieve sustainable results throughout their life so that we can live in a society of prevention and wellness versus a system of disease management.

The other one would be in leadership, specifically in self-leadership skills, so we can influence the next generation of leaders to have more self-awareness, ownership of their results, and to lead from a more heart-centered approach.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Slow down to speed up.”

This is a quote I still use almost daily. To move quickly in life sometimes we have to first slow down and meet ourselves where we’re in a situation and to see what is happening from a holistic view. When we do this, we are able to be in tune with our emotions and thoughts, observe the environment, and recognize our current resources in order to more efficiently build a plan to take intentional action consistently.

In my personal experience, and in my experience working with people, I’ve found the best way to get clarity on goals, decisions, and desired results is to first have a clear vision and a step-by-step strategy for how we will reach our final destination. Instead of only focusing on the goal — or the gross — we need to first slow down and look at the subtle, small steps that are going to help you create the results you want in both your personal and professional life.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Melinda Gates

How can our readers follow you on social media?

  • Instagram: @Katy_Kvalvik & @SWEmpowerment
  • Facebook: @SouthwesternEmpowerment

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