Welcome to the Emotions Matter Podcast. I’m pleased to have our guest today, Kerry Wekelo. Kerry is the founder and visionary of Zendoway, where she shares with you her life experience with wellness. Though Zendoway is her passion, she also supports other organizations, hence her self-proclaimed title, “Jill of All Trades.” Kerry serves as the director of Human Resources and Operations for Actualize Consulting, for which she spearheaded and runs a successful wellness program. After years of personal exploration, Kerry has discovered that focusing on overall wellness replenishes energy, creates healthier relationships, and provides excellent insight into life. It has become her passion to share this with others. Kerry’s trademark program, “Enhancing Your Day,” teaches the nation’s top executives on how breath and movement throughout the day improves relaxation and creates deeper levels of awareness. In addition to wellness and leadership articles, Kerry has also authored “Audrey’s Journey,” a children’s book series focused on living with compassion and joy. She also has a “Pile of Smile” activity book which she gives away free for children who are undergoing treatment. And of course, her award-winning book, “If It Does Not Grow – Say No,” which teaches kids about having fun with nutrition. And now, I’d like to welcome our guest, Kerry Wekelo. Welcome, Kerry!
Thanks for having me!
Absolutely! We’re thrilled to have you today. There’s so much information we’d love for you to share with us today. You have lots of interests in your life, and you’re involved in several activities. Are there any that you would like to give us a bit more insight on or that you are particularly proud of?
Yes, I would. The one thing that’s a bit newer is that I’ve developed 11 different cubes – they’re a stress ball material, but they’re cubes. Each side has a different prompt, and I initially developed them because I wanted to get breathing into my kids’ school. I thought that if I donated the cubes, that would be a very easy, assessable way to have the kids use these cubes in their classrooms, and have them pause and take a breath in more challenging scenarios. Once I made the breathing cube, additional ideas kept coming to me. For instance, I have one that is the daily principles that I believe everyone should be doing. How are you? Are you breathing each day? Are you nourishing your body? Are you moving? How are you communicating? How are you dealing with your daily challenges? I’m really excited about the cubes and that idea, because I’ve never developed an actual product before. That’s what I’m proud of right now!
What does the cube look like? Is it the size of a stress ball?
The child can just hold it in their hand and squeeze it?
Yeah, and I have all of them on my desk and they’re very good reminders as well. For instance, I might be dealing with a challenge and a side of one of the cube says, “Pause. Notice your current emotions, allow what you are feeling, and then pivot to a positive possibility.” They’re just little reminders. They are used for kids, but can also be used up to a corporate level. Counselors and therapists have also been using them in their practices.
Is it like a physical app?
It is! And I’ve been told I need to have an app, but I’m holding strong on physical.
Good for you! We do rely a lot on technology, and sometimes you lose out on that somatic and tactile experience that allows us to connect to our world on a more physical level – especially when we always rely on an app to do it for us. So, they squeeze the cube, then ask themselves what they are feeling at this moment? What does “pivot” mean?
The Daily Principles cube is more for an adult, although you can still use it for children. What the challenge side of this cube says is “Notice your current emotions” – so that’s step number one. Basically, how am I feeling right now? Pause and just allow. If you’re angry, allow that feeling; If you’re happy, allow that feeling too. A lot of times we try to stifle our emotions, whether they be positive or negative. I’m a big believer in allowing yourself to feel however you do. If it’s a challenging situation and you’re be angry or upset with somebody, try to pivot that emotion to a more positive possibility. I also believe that we all have a role in every single situation, so while I used to be “blame, blame, blame,” now I ask myself how I’m accountable.
Have you had any kind of therapy or counseling classes? That’s beautiful. That’s exactly what someone might hear in a counseling situation.
That’s funny! I just have a minor in psychology. I’ve been going to these counselor and therapy conferences to sell the cubes, and everybody thinks I’m a counselor or therapist. I’ve just been doing so much work on my own mindfulness and being super aware. It has really helped me and it’s been a process for sure.
When you give, or when somebody buys these cubes from you, does it come with an instruction book? Do you give them a list of emotions? I’m curious because I wonder if people might not be able to identify how they are feeling.
Right. As I’ve been using the cubes, whether it’s in a corporate setting or a classroom setting, and as counselors have been using them, we’ve been coming up with different one-pagers on how you can use the cubes. That’s something I need to have a little bit more formalized; Once people buy the cubes, I’ll usually email them different ways based on how they’re going to be using the cubes. If they’re a parent, I’ll send them how I have personally been using them with my kids. If they’re a school counselor, I’ll send them how my school counselor friends have been using the cubes.
I could see how helpful this could be to my friends who have children with autism. Something tactile like this to channel their emotions into an object, and sort of let it speak for them. It’d be very valuable.
Absolutely, for sure. My initial thought was more at a child setting. It just kind of spawned into adults as well. But yeah, in a school setting was initially what came to me. You know, kids passing around this breathing cube – so, instead of getting in trouble, take a breath. That was my initial vision.
Tell me again what sparked this creation?
When I was a kid, I wish somebody would have taught me the importance of breathing, and how powerful taking a few breaths is. If you just take 5 breaths, you can calm yourself down. It can save you a lot of conflict. I’m very passionate about teaching children how to breathe. Just simple breathing – not anything complex. The cube itself is fun: one side even says “Try to smile for a minute.” One side is taking a breath in. It’s very simple, but I wanted to give that tool to the teachers to be able to use in the classroom. Once I had the idea and created the cube, I gave the prototype to the principal. I said, “I’d like to donate these to the school.”
How many cubes are there?
In total, 11. One led to 11.
Can you give us the names of each one and what their objective might be?
Sure! I have “Breathing,” “Daily Principles,” “Play,” and “Coping Strategies.” Actually, one of my friends who is a school counselor and her pyramid of 20 other school counselors helped me develop that one. There’s “Feelings” and “Yoga Poses,” because I am a yoga teacher on the side. My kids came up with one that’s called “Stressed Out.” My son came to me one day and was like, “Your cubes are very positive and I appreciate that,” - he was eight at the time, and he’s nine now. He told me, “People get stressed out. You need to have that on the cube.” I was like, “You’re so smart!” So, my son and my daughter came up with and are very proud to have their own. I even gave them credit on the cube! It says that it was designed by them. I have one that is “Questions,” and it has questions like, “Where and how can I be more loving?” That one works very well with kids up to adults. A lot of therapists think it’s also great for couples counseling. Another one, called “Nourishment,” goes with one of my books “If It Does Not Grow – Say No.” The last one, which is my newest one, is “Chakras.” Chakras are the different energy points in your body that I learned from yoga, and each side along with the chakra has the color and an affirmation. For instance, the navel is in the center of your stomach, and the affirmation is “I am beautiful and strong.” I was a little bit concerned about this cube from a therapist perspective, but I was just at a conference last week and it was a big hit, so I was happy about that.
If somebody would like these cubes, do they go to your website?
All 11 of them are on the Zendoway website, and I also have four of them available on Amazon.
What if they get the cubes and they are confused or lost?
They can contact me!
Oh, wow, that’s even better! They don’t have to just figure it out, they can get some coaching and guidance from you! I think that’s wonderful. I could talk all this time just on the cubes! I find them very fascinating! I’m going to move on here though: You mentioned one of your books, which was “If It Does Not Grow – Say No.” You have another book as well, called “Audrey’s Journey” – or is that a series?
It’s a series.
Can you explain that one a little bit more for us?
Sure. When my kids were younger and I had started teaching yoga as an afterschool program, I wanted to have simple ways to teach more about mindfulness. My daughter’s name is Audrey, so she has a book, and my son’s name is Blaine, so he has a book; It was to give them a memento as well. For instance, one is called “Loving Kindness,” and it’s about loving ourselves first. Then, after we love ourselves, we can love our family and give love to all beings. I think a good lesson to teach kids is about loving yourself first and foremost. We’ve talked a lot about that in my classes, and that was why I created that book.
Do you think that not being able to love oneself is the root to a lot of adult issues?
Yes, for sure. I’ve had a lot of issues with loving myself, and I’ve had to work through it in my adult life. I think that’s why I’m so passionate about working with kids, giving them the tools, believing in them, and teaching them. My son, when I get flustered, will say, “Let’s take a breath together.” And he’s right! I never would have said that to my mom or dad – I didn’t know. I didn’t know I could breathe, so I can see it in my kids. They were three and five when I began this path and started teaching. For the last six years, we’ve been doing yoga as an afterschool program, and now they can teach class. It’s amazing! It’s been a beautiful thing to share with them. I just really focus on the kids – I’ll do privates with adults, but I’m just passionate about kids and teaching them these tools.
What about us poor adults who didn’t have you as a mom? What kind of advice can you give adults in trying to identify that lack of self-love is at the root of a lot of adult issues? Loving oneself and being overconfident – those aren’t the same thing, correct? Or are they?
Correct. Typically, if we’re overconfident, we don’t love ourselves, at least in my experience. You’re covering up. That’s why I like my tagline for Zendoway: “Enhance Your Day.” I believe in “one step at a time.” I think what happens is people are like, “Okay, I’m going to love myself.” Then they’re like, “How do I do that?” I say start simple. I say start each day by doing one thing that you love. Doing one thing just for you, because we’re busy as adults and parents. You often have so many people – aging parents, aging grandparents; We’re big caretakers right now. Many times, I’ll hear my coworkers, my team, and my clients say that they don’t have time for themselves. I’m busy too, but I make time for myself. That’s where I have more capacity, because I am taking accountability for my own personal happiness. And once you spend time on the things that you love, you’ll get more confident and you’ll begin to see your own self-worth.
Give me an example of something somebody might do for themselves. I know that might sound crazy, but for example, I like ice cream. Yet, if I have a weight problem...
That might not be a good choice, correct.
Wait. what are you saying?! Just teasing.
Well, you’re talking to somebody who is a recovering ice-cream-aholic.
So that’s not what you’re saying. You’re not saying to make yourself happy by doing things that, in the long run, might make you unhappy. Give me an example of something that someone might do for themselves.
I think the easiest thing to start with is what brings you joy in a more in a physical sense. When I’m coaching people, I’ll ask what they did when they were a kid. What did you do to have fun with your friends? Did you play games? Did you like to go out in nature, like hiking? Get creative. Start with the play and movement side of the house. Do those types of things for yourself first and foremost.
Oh, okay. I can see what you’re saying. For me, I like to walk, and when I do get to walk, I just feel so much more relaxed and at ease. My thoughts can come and go. Sometimes, when you’re sedentary or isolated in a room, your thoughts and stress can build. When you are moving, you’re right, your thoughts can relax. It makes it easier to handle everything else that comes into your mind when your body is more relaxed. I thought I might get approval on the ice cream thing here, but I guess not.
Everything in moderation. That’s my motto, too. I don’t like to say no.
Here’s a good question for you: What do you think makes parents give away so much to their children? Is it instinct? Is it rooted in pure love? Obviously, you’ve done a lot already for your children, and they have influenced you and inspired you to do what you’ve done as an adult. What do you think helps parents understand why we do what we do for our kids, so they don’t think of it as an obligation?
I think a lot of it has to do with love. They tell you before you have kids that you’re going to love your children like you’ve never loved anything else. At first, you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Then you have kids and you’re like, “Wow, you’re right!” Love is a basic emotion. If you start to look at our more complex emotions, like for example, as a parent, I’m in awe of my kids. I’m amazed by how they show up each day, bringing a new life into the world, and seeing how they progress differently each day. Every day they’ll teach me something. For me, it’s wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow. How are they going to show up? What are they going to teach me? I look at it a little bit different; It’s like this experience for me. I love it so much - It’s more of a complex emotional state than only love. Of course, on the flip side, they are going to annoy you and cause you to be angry. That’s when you take one of my cubes and pivot to a positive emotion! I think it’s that contrast because you love them so much, but they can also make you so angry and get under your skin. If you love them, you can pivot and get back to positive things with them.
Let’s talk about how we can do this in a work environment. In human resources, for example, how do you help someone who doesn’t feel like they’re in the present? Someone who just wants to get the day over with? Is there any way to help the employee who feels like they’re just punching in and punching out? Is there something other employees or colleagues can do if they sense that? Is it even necessary to do that?
That’s one of the things I focus on at Actualize Consulting: Our culture. How do we show up each day, be ourselves, and work together? You spend most of your time at work, so I think it’s important to bring those principles into the work place. I’ve been doing that successfully, and I’ve been really focused on it for the last seven years that I’ve been at Actualize. I’ve been with them for 12 years, which is crazy. As I’ve grown and evolved, I’ve brought that into the workplace. I’ve actually customized the daily principles cube for Actualize Consulting. When we have a new hire, we give them a cube. It goes in their computer bag with their computer. We really infuse that into the culture, so when someone first starts, and even in the recruiting process, we emphasize that we do care about them, and that we do want this to be a good experience for them. They need to take accountability for their actions, but we also need to take accountability. I make sure that everybody on the team understands that they do have a say in what is going on. If there are conflicts, which there are on a regular basis, we bring them to the table and we don’t let them fester. My team jokes that if a team is having a conflict, they must go to the “Principle’s” Office. I’m always like, “I promise I won’t bite.” I use a technique where we start off in gratitude, and everyone says something that we’re grateful for. Then, we go to “Is there something you regret doing?” Everyone has an opportunity to say how their feelings were hurt. But when you start with gratitude, what we’re finding is that by then they’re not angry anymore. It’s worked well, but it’s a lot of work to keep everybody on that same page. You should lead by example. We work on that. I’m very proud of this: We didn’t have anyone leave the firm last year. First year ever! I think that’s a big testament.
Why do you think that is? What was different or special about that past year than other years?
I think it’s just how strong we are with our culture, and how people really do feel like we care about them on an individual basis.
So, it just took a little time to get through to everyone that you’re serious about this? That it’s not just a feel-good technique or method of the current times, but that it is something that the company wants to emulate and be committed to?
Have you ever encountered somebody you’ve been interviewing for a position be totally shocked, or see something that clicks in their head of disbelief? Or joy? That’s not a normal thing you would hear on an interview.
I’m finding that when I’ve shifted my conversation to that, generally, if I give somebody an offer, they’re going to say yes. They want that, and they might not have known that they wanted it. Even how we structure our performance evaluations is very different than a lot of companies. If I say I’m going to take accountability but you also need to take accountability, it seems to be a universal thing.
So, it’s a partnership?
Yes, absolutely. And that’s what people want. If you go to our basic human needs, people want to feel safe.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He’s still floating around, but it’s different.
Exactly, but it is different. It’s not safe as in not being chased by a bear, it’s safe as in emotional security.
I would imagine, in the turn of the century, Maslow was probably thinking in terms of safe at your job – you know, like I don’t have to worry about being sucked in by machinery.
Right! In most cases, you’re safe in your job, so now it’s safe in terms of “Will I be emotionally supported?”
In your workplace, what would people see on people’s desks, besides the cubes, to determine that this is a culturally different atmosphere? Is there anything like Google who has their Fussball? Is there anything different that I would notice if I took a walk through?
Well, we are a consulting company, so we are mainly at our client’s sites. That’s why I had to give them something mobile, like the cube. We do give out cubes to our clients, and we’ve had our clients ask for more cubes to give to their employees. It’s different, and that’s also a challenge, because you have such a remote workforce. They’re always at different places, so having a strong culture is extremely important for our success.
Keeping that connection going no matter where they are, and especially keeping that visual reinforcement! That way it’s engrained. That sounds great!
You have so much going on in your life; you’ve already mentioned your children, aging parents, aging grandparents, yoga, the conferences, the business – so how does someone manage to have time for these things and still feel good and not overwhelmed? Do you ever feel spent or are you at peace? How do you achieve that?
I allow myself to feel all the different emotions on the emotional spectrum, and sometimes I do feel spent. I think the secret is pivoting back to being at peace, being calm, and not spending a lot of time on that negative emotion. For me, I do that in taking time for myself. It’s that quiet time where I’m journaling or working on affirmations for my yoga practice and my meditation practice. Each day I am taking that time for myself. I might have to back into it: I might have to get up at 4.30 just to have that time. If I don’t though, and I just go straight into my day without that time for myself, those are the days where I don’t feel good at the end of the day. If I don’t feel good at the end of the day, then maybe I need to take time for myself at the end of the day. Does that make sense? I think it’s really taking that time. People always say that they are so busy, but I’m busy. I also feel very balanced because I like to have the different areas. The owner of Actualize is my brother, and he’s very supportive. He says the more that you focus on your creative side, the more it feeds back into Actualize: It keeps things fresh within our organization. I have been able to balance this because I have chosen to show up to my life, no matter where I’m at, in this more balanced state. If there is conflict or there are challenges, I try to resolve them very quickly. Ten years ago, I felt way busier, and way more stressed than I do now - and I wasn’t even that busy. I have more space now because I’m not staying upset as long, and I have the tools to get back to that balance.
Where did you find these tools?
I started when I received my first yoga certification. That’s when I started taking a journey inward and healing the pieces that weren’t so good. I’ve just simplified it. I don’t think it’s overly complex. I think that people feel overwhelmed, so that’s why I break it down into those principles too. Are you breathing? Are you moving? How are you communicating? How are you dealing with those challenges? Are you taking time for yourself each day? Are you nourishing your body? I have found that if I’m focusing on each one of those areas every day, I’m doing great. If there’s one day where I just eat ice cream all day, I probably don’t feel that good – but that’s okay. I allow myself to do that and then I begin again the next day. I allow myself to fall off the wagon and then I get back on.
Dr. Phil once said, if you’re on a diet and you open a bag of chips, look at that one chip and you think you blew it. He calls it the “woodchipper” foods. It’s like you said: Maybe I’ve spent a day eating ice cream, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up.
Exactly. It’s allowing yourself not to be perfect. One of the affirmations that I use is “I am perfect as I am today.”
How does someone begin to work through that? Do they go to someone like you to help coach them? It should be a mindful journey.
I’m going to give you my basic consulting answer: It depends. It depends on the individual person. I’ve grown the fastest when I put my hand up, understood that I do not know all the answers, and that I need support. For me, that support was working with people individually. Even when I was going through yoga teacher training, it was in a big group and I wasn’t getting that individual attention I needed. That’s why I’ve started doing coaching, because I’m a big believer that we need those advocates to just listen to where we are today. I could tap into a bunch of different coaches: One more focused on the holistic Kerry, one on the business Kerry, and one on my relationships. I have people that I can turn to when I have a bad day or a bad month, and they help me get back on track. My advice would be for people to seek out some support that feels comfortable to you as an individual. There’s not a one-size-fits-all. One of my biggest pet peeves is programs that claim they’re going to change your life. Maybe these programs will start out working well, but if something else happens, like a family member passing away, you might need something different.
It takes a whole village.
Yeah. If you can raise your hand and admit that you need support, that’s when the right people will come to you.
What did this start with? Did it start with the yoga?
It did, and the reason it started with the yoga is because I’m a Type-A personality. I’m always go-go-go, and yoga made me be still. It made me stay on my mat and do the poses. I basically had to wear my body out to relax myself. I used to be a runner, and that was very meditative for me in a sense. While I still love to get out and walk or run, the yoga was a series of poses that opens things in your body. Then, at the end, you’re taking this quiet time, and it was during that time that knew I had to fix myself. I acted like I was happy, and I looked like I was happy, but I was not. I’m in a much better place now because I’m more myself. I joke that I’m a “recovering people pleaser.” I was always doing what people wanted me to do. Then, one day, I woke up and realized I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. It was being courageous, taking a step back, and realizing the things that I wanted to focus on. What I’ve found is that the more honest I am with myself, the better my life is and the better my relationships are, too. I always admit that I’m not perfect. Sometimes I have bad days and bad months, and sometimes I gain ten pounds, but that’s okay. I get out my toolbox and see what I need, and I work on it. I’m committed to being my best self.
Here’s a question from one of our listeners: How does a parent deal with the fear of doing something for their children that will not turn out well in terms of education, manners, or the whole growing up process?
Fear is a tough emotion. Life is like a play: each situation is a scene, and it’s a lesson from which we can learn. Parents should realize that you can’t shield your kids from everything. For example, my son came home from school at the beginning of the year and said he wasn’t happy with his teacher. I have a lot of friends that would have gotten their kids out of that class. I told my son he’s going to have to deal with people like this in the world, and it’s up to you to make nice. Now, he loves her, and she loves him. If I had pulled him out, I wouldn’t have been teaching him that lesson. I think we try to shield our kids from things instead of letting them learn their lesson.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working on a book called “Culture Infusion,” and it’s about how I’ve incorporated everything in my personal life into a corporate setting, and some behind the scenes stories about what’s been going on at Actualize.