Episode 237 – Kathy Lawless

Kathy is a Life Story Curator & Volleyball Player

After 25 years in corporate executive leadership roles, Kathy is now a creative coach helping people capture and celebrate their life story or career legacy. As a Life Story Curator, she combines photos, thoughts, interviews, custom artwork, letters and memorabilia of people’s lives creating an heirloom quality book that captures important events and life experiences.

Kathy Lawless talks about her 30+ years in volleyball and how a company-wide extracurricular activity encouraged her to be more open about her passion during her time in the corporate world!

Episode Highlights

• Getting into volleyball
• Winning regional championships twice in Colorado
• Hosting the national tournament in Colorado
• ‘The Corporate Games’ and how they encouraged her to be more open in the workplace
• Learning conflict resolution skills through playing volleyball

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Kathy’s Pictures

(click to enlarge)

Kathy spiking the volleyball (women’s 2-person beach volleyball)

2005 USAV Nationals Volleyball Tournament (6-person hard court; 2nd place finish!; Kathy in green uniform, played libero position which requires wearing contrasting color jersey for easy identification due to special substitution rules)

Kathy playing defense (coed 2-person beach volleyball)


Kathy’s links


  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Welcome to Episode 237 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing professionals who, just like me, are known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. If I put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” the things above and beyond your technical skills, those things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know my book’s being published in just a few weeks and will be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all of the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it. Please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes of the podcast because I love sharing such interesting stories each Wednesday and with Follow-up Fridays. This week is going to be no different with my guest, Kathy Lawless. She’s the owner and chief storyteller at Life Story Curator. Now, she’s with me here today. Kathy, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Kathy: Very happy to be here, John.

    John: This is going to be awesome. We hang out in Denver periodically. It’s just fun to finally sit down, hit record and let everyone in on the magic, so no pressure. They’re going to be so disappointed. They’re going to be like, “That’s what it’s like to hang out with John? Oh boy.” But we have rapid fire questions right out of the gate. These are things I’ve never asked you. I’m excited to just hear what the answers are. First one, favorite color?

    Kathy: Red.

    John: Red? Oh, wow. Okay. How about a least favorite color?

    Kathy: Probably black.

    John: Interesting. Okay.

    Kathy: It really depends on what thing I would be wanting a color for, but yeah, I just love the color red.

    John: Yeah. Yeah. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Kathy: Star Trek, man. I am a next gen star trekker. Oh, I love it.

    John: Okay. All right. Pens or pencils?

    Kathy: Pens.

    John: Pens? All right. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzles?

    Kathy: Neither. I would go with Word Search. I like the jumbled words.

    John: Oh, word search. Okay. Okay. That works. That works. How about on an airplane, window seat or aisle seat?

    Kathy: Window because I have to sleep. That way, I can just lean my head over.

    John: Yeah. Leaning on the person next to you is weird, right?

    Kathy: Well, if they have to get up, I’m irritated.

    John: Right.

    Kathy: But if I had to get up, I’m very like, “If you will, I had to get up.”

    John: Right. That’s what you get when you sit in the aisle. That’s what happens. It’s part of the gig. That’s awesome. How about on a computer, more of a PC or a Mac?

    Kathy: Gosh, I have both. I’m a reluctant Mac. And I actually treat my Mac like a PC, so I’ve got to go PC.

    John: On your mouse, right click or left click?

    Kathy: Right.

    John: Right click where all the options are. All right. How about diamonds or pearls?

    Kathy: Diamonds.

    John: Diamonds. There you go. How about a favorite sports team?

    Kathy: Wow.

    John: It could be any sport.

    Kathy: I’ve got to go with volleyball. I’ve got a thing. It’s Kerri Walsh and Misty May.

    John: Oh, okay. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Kathy: Right now, it’s Cherry Garcia.

    John: There you go. Ben and Jerry’s, absolutely. How about cats or dogs?

    Kathy: Oh, I love them both, but I don’t have any pets.

    John: Yeah. Both works. Do you have a favorite number?

    Kathy: Seven.

    John: Seven? Is there a reason?

    Kathy: I was born on 77.

    John: Oh. Well, hey, there you go. It has to be. How about prefer more hot or cold?

    Kathy: Hot.

    John: Hot. Okay.

    Kathy: When my body runs cold, I feel like I’m always cold. So I’m always looking for warmth. But then again, if I get too warm, then I freak out.

    John: Right. So somewhere in the medium warm. Oh, that works. Two more. Early bird or night owl?

    Kathy: Lunch owl. I love lunch.

    John: Lunch owl? Sleep in bed early? That’s great. I love that. That’s perfect. Last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Kathy: I have a beautiful grand piano.

    John: Oh, nice. That’s very cool. And you play?

    Kathy: I do play.

    John: Very Cool. That’s awesome. Yeah. Going back to that volleyball answer, which I’ve never gotten for a favorite team, which is great that you had that because I mean it goes right with your passion, did you start when you were young?

    Kathy: Pretty young. I started playing in junior high. And only because I got hurt as I was a gymnast. I broke my foot. I grew up in a small town, Elizabeth, Colorado. We didn’t really have formal gymnastics in our school. There was just a coach. She ended the program at the same time I broke my foot. Then now, I’m in junior high and there’s more sports available. I’m like, “Oh.” In gymnastics, you do a lot of jumping obviously and bouncing, et cetera. So I had a pretty good vertical, and then I found I was pretty dang good at volleyball.

    John: That’s incredible. I didn’t even thought about how that would translate over.

    Kathy: Unfortunately, my size, I would’ve been a giant as a gymnast because I’m 5’6”.

    John: Right. In volleyball, right? That’s really funny actually. Yeah, because you went from being the giant to, “Hey, are you even on the team or what’s up?”

    Kathy: I feel like in regular life and as a normal person, I’m a good size, right? I’m a good height.

    John: Totally.

    Kathy: Taller than a lot of people, even a lot of men. But not in the volleyball scene; I’m short.

    John: Yeah. So then you’ve been playing through high school, college, yeah?

    Kathy: I’ve played through high school. I did not play in college. I did not go to college right out of high school. After I got into the workforce, I participated in tuition reimbursement through my company. I tried out for one team in college and I was told, “Well, if you’re not 5’10”, you’re not going to play Division One.” I’m like, “You should’ve told us that before we drove all the way up to Greeley.”

    John: Right. Exactly.

    Kathy: I thought it was good. Maybe it was Fort Collins. Fort Collins would be more Division One I think than Greeley.

    John: Right.

    Kathy: Then I found two-person volleyball. So I’ve been playing — in high school, it’s all six-person. But a lot of adult leagues like at rec centers and stuff, it’s six-person. Then throughout some adult leagues, I got connected with a gal and I started playing two-person —

    John: Oh, there you go.

    Kathy: — which is super fun and which I really love and exceled at because I was an all-around player because of my height. In two-person, you’re doing everything, so you do have to be that all-around player.

    John: Yeah. And it levels the field a little bit for the teams that you’re playing.

    Kathy: Well, you do if you were a mid-sized player or even smaller. You could dominate. But now, I’ve got to tell you that all the players are like six foot, 6’4”. And these are women. We are just super athletic.

    John: You have fun doing it. So it’s all good. It’s not like you’re trying out for the Olympics. You’re doing it because you love it.

    Kathy: I do. The other thing that really helped me with was I competed at a pretty high level six-person adult and then also two-person. Then I wanted to work out more so I could compete at that level. Sometimes, you get caught up in the workforce or in your work life and you find that time to work out. And I made the time because I was an athlete. It was just part of me that I needed to be in shape and I needed that physical release. So it was a positive in so many ways.

    John: Really cool because I mean you have to be intentional with it like you said or it just slips through. Yeah. Before you know it, you’re just like, “I’m about to retire. I never got around to playing volleyball that I wanted to do 40 years later.” But yeah, that’s cool. Do you have any favorite games that stick out to you or matches, I guess, they’re called? I don’t even know. Are they matches?

    Kathy: They are matches. It’s funny now. They’ve changed the language. There’re matches. There’re sets and games now. It’s very similar to tennis.

    John: Oh, okay.

    Kathy: They really tried to make volleyball more commercial so that the people understand it from a public sense. Obviously, the two-person with the beach volleyball for the Olympics really has become very popular. Some things that stand out for me is in adults, I played here locally. We won the region here in Colorado twice —

    John: Sweet.

    Kathy: — and got on to Nationals, which means nationals would be hosted in various cities. The year we went, it was in Memphis. Another year, it was in Massachusetts. The organization is called the United States Association of Volleyball, USAV. That’s actually the feeder organization to the Olympics. It’s pretty cool to be part of that whole scene, but you’re at so many levels away.

    John: Yeah. I mean you’re not in the back of a bar.

    Kathy: Well, I do do that too.

    John: Exactly. Yeah. But I mean it’s cool to up the game a little bit and be like, “Wow. This is legit. It’s not just wearing a certain colored t-shirt. We have real uniforms and stuff.” That’s great. To twice get there, it’s a huge accomplishment.

    Kathy: I did get there a third time but it wasn’t with the team that I was on. In the volleyball scene like in a lot of sports, there are age divisions. They usually call them something really cool versus, “This is the old people.” They actually hosted the national tournament in Denver in 2004, 2005. I was able to play on a 40s team at the time. They have five-year increments. They have 40s, 45s, 50s, 55s. They have that for women and men.

    John: Nice.

    Kathy: There was a longtime friend that had moved. She assembled a team that was players from California, Texas, me from Colorado. There was actually about three or four of us from Colorado because obviously, it’s in our state. It’s easier for players to get there. They allow you to compile a team versus just – you have to be a set team that won your region kind of thing.

    John: Yeah. I mean you’re the home team. It’s like the World Cup where the home country you’re in no matter what. That’s really cool. Now, you have a slightly different career with the storytelling curator and things like that. But when you worked in the office, was talking about volleyball something that you did or was it more of, “It has nothing to do my job, so I’m not really going to share it.”

    Kathy: Well, John, it wasn’t until I met you that I really started pondering that question.

    John: Oh, boy.

    Kathy: Because when I look back on my career, I started in corporate life back in the ‘90s and ‘80s. At that point, I felt like there was a certain image I had to uphold. I was in a leadership role. I had natural skills for that. I remember being very clear, “I can’t socialize with my employees. I have to be over here.” I kept the professional and the personal very separate with my teams. Now, at the same time, I worked at First Data for 20 years. It was a really great environment. They invested a lot in leadership and management training. They had employee activities at the time. They actually were the tuition reimbursement. That’s where I got my college degree. But in the early ‘90s, there was this thing called the Corporate Games.

    John: Oh, right.

    Kathy: You remember that?

    John: Yeah. I think they still do that, yeah, where different companies have like — it’s like Olympics for white-collar nerds like us.

    Kathy: At the time, it was First Data. Then I remember Excel had a team. Two were Storage Tech. There was a lot of big divisional organizations and field of teams. We fielded a volleyball team, a tennis team. We actually had a track and field team. I think we had a softball team. I mean it was amazing. I was actually part of the employee activity group at that time. I said, “I’ll take on this organizing all the teams.” I had a group of people help me obviously. We all each found our team. I was running the volleyball. I had to recruit the people.

    In a way, I didn’t really talk about my volleyball with my direct team and direct reports. But yet within my company, it must’ve been really well known because I was trying to recruit these volleyball players from all these departments. I was talking to all the other athletes that were around the organization at the time so that we could feel the strongest teams within the Denver communities. It was pretty fun. It benefited the Special Olympics. I have some medals that we want. On one side, it says Corporate Games. On the other side, it says Special Olympics.

    John: I think that’s great though that something like Corporate Games accidentally made you share that passion that you had for that sport. I would have to imagine that people immediately know how much you care about it. But also, the relationship that you had with the people that were on your team, I’m sure it was a little bit different than just other people that work at the company.

    Kathy: Yeah, it was. In fact, once I got to know other volleyball players at the company, of course there were some scrutiny about, “Were you the picnic player or have you played competitively,” kind of a thing. So there’s another level of leadership that’s going on as you’re trying to coach and assemble a team that are your co-workers. The only authority I had really was because I was self-appointed in a way about assembling the team. A great environment. A lot of those folks, we have very fond memories. I know them in the volleyball circle because I’ve played with them or competed them in that way too. I think the corporations were accomplishing what they had hoped, right, which was, “How do we have activities that employees can get involved in and then they grow and learn and work is greater as a result?”

    John: Yeah. I mean that’s such a great way for people to get to know each other on a different level. I feel like when you’re outside the office, for some reason, we let our guard down more. We’re more authentic than when we walk into the office. So I think that that’s a great way for people to get to know each other, having fun together and especially if it’s something that’s competitive like that on another level. Yeah. Now, all the sudden, instead of some random person in another department, it’s all, “Just go ask my teammate, my Friend.” That’s really cool. By any chance, did it give you a skillset or anything that you could use at work?

    Kathy: At the time, I don’t know they really recognize it. But like I said, after meeting you and hearing about your whole philosophy about this “What’s Your “And”?” I started really looking back and going, “Of course, it did.” I mean I was always in — I’m part of high performing teams on the volleyball court. I mean obviously, we wouldn’t have gone to Nationals if we weren’t successful, right? So there’s that aspect of it and recognizing the high performing teams.

    The other part is in volleyball, I was always getting certified as the referee because we are self-officiated. I was a referee. There’s an up top official. Then there’s a down below official that stands on the court. Then of course, there’s the line judges. We had to learn all of those aspects and get tested and certified every year. There’re rule changes. Then of course, there’s handling the conflict or adversity that comes up. Should you make a bad call, someone else misses or makes a bad call, how do you deal with that? And how do you keep the players in the heated competition? How do you keep them under control and in the event that one of them go off the rails or something?

    I think that probably influenced me some, too, in terms of dealing with conflict in the workplace. I’d say I’m pretty calm under pressure in the office and always was. I was called the voice of reason or I just brought the calming effects. I think part of that is that when you’re on the court, you’re dealing with stressful situations. It’s game point. You’re down by two. How do you come back from that? You’ve got to stay focused. What’s the real goal or what’s the real next thing we need to do?

    John: Putting emotion to the side to be able to think clearly and perform at your highest level, yeah, which you’ve been doing regularly since junior high. I mean that’s a huge skillset that they certainly don’t teach you in school at all.

    Kathy: Back to, I guess, where I talked about working out, I would say it also brought balance to my life in that I made sure I leave Thursday — Thursdays are my volleyball night. Sometimes people can, “Well, they’re burning the midnight oil.” Or you’re on this team or this project, you’re like, “Well, we’ve got to get this done.” I’m like, “Well…” Sometimes, you really have to — you can become an extreme worker in such a way that you just work all these crazy hours, which is not, I think, a good role model, nor is it healthy. There’s also something going on where, “Why is there so many hours? Are you understaffed? What’s going on that that many hours needs to be put in?” Coming from a leadership perspective, right, that I get that you’ve got to put in the hours when it’s necessary, but I create a good balance for me, a good reason to get out. And I totally would unplug, right? You go play volleyball.

    John: Right. Exactly. You’re like, “If I wanted to get hit in the face, I would’ve stayed at work.” I think that that’s great, all those different benefits that just come from doing something that you love. And you didn’t play volleyball because it gave you these skillsets or mindset to be better at your job. You just did it because you loved it. But then it actually has all of these benefits. Yeah, it’s so true that we can always work more. It’s never enough. It’s never enough. You work 60 hours a week. All of a sudden — well, you could’ve worked more. At some point, you have to be able to be like, “You know what? This is my time. Thursday evenings, that’s my volleyball time. I’ll get my work done. But I’ve got to set my parameters.” So good for you. I think that’s great.

    Kathy: It’s such a great point because you bring up the, “When is it enough? When is it done?” I remember a real impactful point for me is I was talking to a woman one time. She says she didn’t learn until she was in her 50s that her tendency was she didn’t know she was done with something until she was exhausted and that it was a family trait and almost this badge of honor that you couldn’t be done with something until you’re exhausted. I really started thinking about it. I go, “Wow, I tend to overthink things. Is it good enough? Am I done? When am I done? Well, I’m done because I’ve got to leave at five because I’m playing volleyball and the teams rely on me.” So it’s not just me headed to the club which can always be moved, right? It’s, “Oh, there’s three other people relying on me. Oh, by the way, we have a sub this week, so I need to make sure they know where to go and what to do. And I might need to buy them a beer.

    John: Right. There you go.

    Kathy: You see a thing here.

    John: Yeah. Yeah. Hey, I would have played volleyball if, “Hey, let’s do this Thursday night.” “All right. It’s on.” No, I think that’s really fantastic, really fantastic that it accidentally happened. And it’s cool that now you look back and you’re like, “Oh, I guess I was doing it. Just not intentionally, but still, the benefits were there.” So how much do you feel like it’s on an organization to create a culture where it’s okay for people to have a life outside of work and to share those hobbies and passions with each other? Or how much is it from a leadership perspective the tone at the top?

    Kathy: It’s super important. I think it’s those organizations that excel if they do that. In my corporate world, I was in First Data for 20 years. A side car career for me was I joined a Women’s Leadership Organization very early on. One of my bosses said, “Oh, you’re high potential, high performer. We want to get you on the fast track. I’m like, “Oh, I’m all about that.” So I started going into these programs. They had senior leaders, a table with one senior leader and five or six up and coming leaders. There was this ability. It was like group mentoring. It was a great opportunity to learn from leaders outside of your organization.

    I’ve also spent quite a bit of time studying leadership. I think where I am today is so different than how it was when I first started out. When I first started out, as I told you, I had all those barriers and mindsets about, “Here’s personal and professional, blah, blah, blah. Keep that separate. You’re here to do a job. I’m not here to be your friend.” Then I think that for me now, fast forward 20 plus years, I really see myself as a leader that it’s my job to create an environment where people will do their best. Then the key word there is people, right? These are people. These aren’t cogs. They’re not machines. So how do you get people to do their best? I think you get to know them. You allow them to come as a whole person to the organization and not just compartmentalize them.

    John: No, that’s awesome. Yeah, it’s a little trickier to manage, but I think the reward is so much greater because people have different expertise. And it’s more than just the degrees and their certifications and the letters after their name. That expertise that you had from volleyball was different than expertise that other people had. To be able to let that out and as a leader, to be able to know who to call on in the right moment is great. And the only way you know that is if you actually get to know them and genuinely care. So that’s cool. That’s really, really great advice for everyone. That’s listening. It’s a really great takeaway.

    Kathy: Probably, my favorite co-workers, bosses or those — I guess I say favorite, but I’m saying that those that I’ve stayed connected to or those that I will go work for should they call me are the ones that we had that kind of relationship. We had great trust. I think also, if once you get to know people at a certain level, you have better trust. Then it’s that trust when you go through a shared experience or when you go through stressful times. Your first thought is, “That doesn’t sound like that person. I need to go check out what’s going on,” which is you seek for understanding first before you jump to conclusions. If you haven’t invested time with that person or you don’t have a relationship or an understanding of who they are, then many times, it’s easy to just stereotype, “Oh, well, they always do X and X.” That sounds like what they would have done versus the whole, “No, I’ve got to take this out.”

    John: I mean the benefits are so many. And that also goes back to your referee conflict resolution. Also, it’s in your DNA. Before I wrap this up though, it’s only fair that I allow you to question me. So I have my seatbelt on and I’m ready.

    Kathy: Okay. My turn, rapid-fire back at you. Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher or James Bond?

    John: Okay. I’ll go James Bond. He just has cool gadgets and there’s a style to him.

    Kathy: I guess that whole series is just — it’s so corny. You’ve got to love the classic, right?

    John: Exactly. And there’s like — one of the arch nemesis’ jaws, this guy with this metal jaw. How can you not love that? I mean come on. It’s funny and good at the same time.

    Kathy: Yeah. But I do also love the Austin Powers spoof on the whole thing with Dr. Evil.

    John: Oh yeah, for sure. For sure.

    Kathy: Okay. Summer or winter Olympics?

    John: I’m going to go Winter Olympics just because there’s sports that I don’t regularly do or be able to watch. So it’s just crazy cool to see them do stuff.

    Kathy: Bobsledding comes to mind.

    John: Bobsledding, exactly. No, totally bobsledding. Who wouldn’t want to do that if you could? I mean golly, that would be so cool.

    Kathy: If you could, then go through it.

    John: Yeah. Like, “Oh, wow.” Everyone’s like, “I could do that.” It’s like, “Yeah. No, you couldn’t.” You’d be flying off the side on one of those turns. But just cool sports that you don’t see regularly.

    Kathy: Then what’s your favorite Mexican restaurant?

    John: Yeah. Wow. I don’t know. I’m a total sucker for those generic ones where you just go in. There’s like one through 100. They’ll have the same picture. But it’s like two burritos or two enchiladas, which are probably just two burritos with red sauce on them instead of nothing. I’m a total sucker for that with the refried beans and the rice. I don’t want it complicated. I don’t want to have to understand what you’re trying — yeah, some total lame sauce like that. You know what I’m talking about though? Those kinds of restaurants?

    Kathy: Yeah. I do. Well, actually my most favorite restaurant is Los Dos Potrillos. I just ate there Monday, which is why I was thinking about this, I think. But their menu is that way, man. I swear there is a hundred items on their menu. And I just go with my favorite because I don’t want to think about it.

    John: Exactly. And you order. Then it’s like right when you said the number, there’s someone bringing out — and you’re like, “How did you know?” Maybe they’re all the same. I don’t know. Then we all just think that we ordered something different. And it’s the same plate. This one has cheese on it. This one has red sauce on it. This one has blank. But I love those places. I’m a total sucker for that, easily. Thanks so much, Kathy, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This was really, really fun.

    Kathy: Well, thank you. I had a great time. It was just a good exercise to reflect back on some of these experiences. Thank you.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Kathy in action or maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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