Finding Hope in Purpose with Maryann Kerr

S09 | 5 – Finding Hope in Purpose with Maryann Kerr

Lindsay Recknell Hope, Podcast Leave a Comment

What would you do differently if you knew you were going to die soon?

Today’s guest is Maryann Kerr, and she posed this question for you as a way to evaluate if you’re on the track you want to be on in life. Maryann says that now she would change nothing, but this wasn’t always the case and she’s here to tell us her story and what she’s learned about hope from her experiences over the years.

After experiencing tremendous grief, workplace trauma, and now a recent ADHD diagnosis, Maryann has been able to find hope through purpose. By showing up and sharing what she’s gone through, she’s been able to help spread hope to countless others around her, allowing them to feel heard as they face their own challenges.

Tune in to hear more from Maryann’s story and how you can find purpose in the face of trauma and big life changes.

*Maryann would like to note that she misspoke when talking about her brother, and he passed at the age of 37 when Maryann was almost 34.

About Maryann Kerr:

Maryann Kerr is Chief Happiness Officer, and CEO with the Medalist Group. Maryann has worked in the social profit sector for 34 years and helped raise over $110M for small to mid-sized organizations. She has led at the local, provincial, national and international level and is passionate about her family, feminism, and continuous learning.

As a governance, leadership and culture specialist, Maryann knows successful organizations create and nurture a climate where everyone understands their role; politics are minimal; engagement is high and turnover low. Environments where employees co-create the roadmap to mission delivery. Compassion, kindness, and a deep commitment to collaborative and productive workplaces are core to her work.

Maryann has participated on many social profit boards and committees and her first book Tarnished: Let’s rethink, reimagine and co-create a new social impact sector was published by Civil Sector Press in 2021. Maryann earned her master’s in organizational leadership.

To learn more, you can connect with Maryann on LinkedIn.

Mentioned In This Episode:


Lindsay Recknell 0:03
Welcome to another episode of The Hope motivates action podcast. I’m your host Lindsay Recknell. And I am so looking forward to hearing this week’s episode with Maryann Kerr.

Lindsay Recknell 0:12
Maryann is the chief happiness officer and CEO with the medalist group. Maryann has worked in the social profit sector for 34 years and helped raise over $110 million for small to medium sized organizations diagnosed with ADHD at 59. Maryannbelieves workplace trauma triggered the diagnosis of a condition she successfully managed for decades. As a governance, leadership and culture specialist. Maryann knows successful organizations create and nurture a climate where everyone understands their role. Politics are minimal engagement is high and turnovers environments where employees co create the roadmap to mission delivery, compassion, kindness and a deep commitment to collaborative and productive workplaces are core to her work. Maryann has participated on many social profit boards and committees and her first book tarnished, let’s rethink, reimagine and CO create a new social impact sector was published by civil sector press in 2021. We’ve linked to the place to buy Maryann’s book in the show notes.

Lindsay Recknell 1:10
As a reminder, if you’re interested in any of the books, resources and tools I mentioned in this episode, all the links you’ll need can be found in the show notes of your favorite podcast player, or head to the blog and pod page on my website at and you’ll find them all there too. I truly believe that the future will be better than today. By taking action over the things we can control conversations like this really reinforced that hope. So without any more delay, let’s get to it.

Lindsay Recknell 1:37
Hello, Maryann, welcome to the show. I am so excited to have you here.

Maryann Kerr 1:42
Hi, Lindsey. It’s great to be here.

Lindsay Recknell 1:44
It is been my pleasure to get to know you over the last little while, both professionally and I feel like I’m fortunate to get to know you a little bit personally as well, which is why I’m excited to have you come on the show and share with us your story of how you use hope to motivate action in your life.

Maryann Kerr 2:00
Well, thank you for inviting me. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you a little bit too. I hope there’ll be many more opportunities that had, you know, there have been a few times in my life when I have felt truly hopeless. And I think back to a time when I lost three family members in fairly rapid succession. So my brother died in April, my stepmother in October of this particular year, and my dad in in February, so And at that point in my life, they were the three most important people to me, I was super close to my brother, my stepmother had raised me since I was 11 years old, in my dad and I were particularly close in my family. So it was just like a devastating sense of loss, not just when they died, but all of the losses that kind of lead up to every one of those deaths. You know, my brother was bed ridden. He lost his eyesight, all kinds of things. So I felt like this. I said, you know, what, why? Why me? Why is this happening to me, right? And I did this thing that I think as I got older, I probably wouldn’t do the same way. But then what I did was I said, Okay, try to think about people whose whose whole families are wiped out in a car accident, or, you know, I read a lot of books about the Holocaust, both, you know, as a young woman, and still today, and I think think about what that was like. And I, I think that came from a place of being young and thinking, what I need to do is frame this around how, you know, it could be so much worse, my life could be so much worse. That was where I went as a young as a younger woman. But I think ultimately, what what gave me hope was being able to use what I’ve learned, learned through all that loss. And and what I learned, first of all, was that it was such a privilege to sit with people when they die, you know whether you’re there in the exact moment of their death, or you’re you’re just a part of their their dying. It’s really an incredible honor and in so so I really reframed that way. And then I found an organization that was that was brand new and trying to start out in Toronto called Gildas Club. And I channeled a whole bunch of my energy into that. And I said to myself, you know, my brother Mark died. He’s 34 years old. He won’t live another day. So I am going to live every day really well. I’m going to give as much as I can to the world because he can’t so I’m doing it for him. So I sound hoping that I found hope in purpose I think is what I would Say,

Lindsay Recknell 5:01
Maryann, let’s beautiful. I’m really sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine having having people that are close to me one, let alone three in less than a year. That’s not it’s incredible. And to come up the other side with a with an attitude and a, you know, a mindset that you do is pretty phenomenal. And I appreciate you sharing that with us. A number of things that came up for me, besides the chills actually hearing you hearing you talk about the privilege, I mean, what a mindset shift just that is, and we’re going through something not even remotely related, but as resonating with me is something that we’re going through at home. And reframing that grief into a privilege of being close enough to somebody or two people to have the experience of being with them at their most vulnerable moment is an incredible thing to say. And I appreciate you sharing that with us.

Maryann Kerr 5:57
No, no, you know, I just think my you know, each of them died. You know, they died differently. They, but they brought something, they brought something to each of us in how they died. We all we were all enriched by their deaths as much as we lost as a result of them being gone. Right. So, yeah, I I and I and I know there are people out there who become I think it’s called a death doula. It’s like a mechanic. Right. And I’ve thought that’s, that is such a, like, I totally get that I can understand, right, because I had an opportunity to say goodbye to people right into, to ask my dad in particular things that, you know, I knew he was dying, right? So I knew that I needed to ask him, were you happy? You know, what was it like being a young man? Tell me about your parents. So I want to understand more. And and with my brother Mark as well. You know, he wrote poetry. And he shared that with us. And he talked about how it felt to be dying. Wow. Right. He said to me, just, you know, maybe a month before it was it was less than a month before he died. I was having relationship issues. And he said to me, if you knew that you’re going to die in three weeks, or die in a few weeks. What would you do differently? And I went, he lived in Ottawa, I lived in Toronto, I went back to Toronto and I, I put my boyfriend stuff out in the hall and had the locks changed. Right? Because that’s what and I think about it a lot. When I have really tough moments in my life. I think about that question. And I know I’m on the right track. You asked me that question today? What would what would I do differently? If I knew I was going to die? Soon? I would tell you nothing. I would tell you nothing. I would I spend as much time as I can with the people I love. I tell them I love them at every opportunity. I feel like I’m doing meaningful work. So it’s a great check in right. It’s a great check in of around whether you’re on the track you want to be on in life,

Lindsay Recknell 8:06
what a gift. What a gift now. Yeah, I also think what you said about taking that opportunity to have those important conversations and it can be it can be incredibly uncomfortable and incredibly awkward, especially if they are not conversations that you’ve traditionally had in your family or into that relationship. But what a cool opportunity to learn as much as you can.

Maryann Kerr 8:32
Yeah. Well, you know, my probably the hardest one for me was my stepmother. Because she was she was actually she was a person who did not want she and my dad were no longer together. So there was all all of that kind of tension. But also, she was a person who didn’t want to impose on other people, and particularly her family, and she actually ended up dying in the home of a friend of hers. And so I actually, you know, I felt a little robbed around her death isn’t that weird? Like I, I wanted to be able to do more than I was able to do and, and even that was it was a piece of framing that helped me because I remember a conversation with a mother and a daughter when I was at Gildas Club and the daughter was having that exact experience and the mom couldn’t get it and I and I told my story, right? I said, here’s, here’s what happened to me. I want to help your daughter wants to help. It’s a privilege to help you know, it’s not a burden, and you’re not a burden. And I wouldn’t ever have at 34 or whatever I was I would never have had that thought is not for the experience of having lost my my stepmother as I did.

Lindsay Recknell 9:40
It’s interesting. You know, we always talk about how hope is contagious and we never know what kind of impact our words our stories are going to have on another person because we don’t know what’s going on with them. You know what’s going on in their lives even if we think we do. Just you never know how you can stop other people from maybe having as difficult an experience or As long of a path to walk down by sharing by sharing your own stories,

Maryann Kerr 10:05
yeah, I agree. I think it’s such a powerful thing. It’s the reason why, you know, I talk on LinkedIn about having been fired three times, I talk about having been bullied at work, right? And if you know me, well, you know, I am no Wallflower by any means. And so, you know, it took me a long time to be able to reconcile this idea that I was a person that could be bullied, how did this happen to me, I’m not a person who can be bullied, right? And, and I had for 25 years really excelled in my work. So suddenly to find myself being fired. This was like, totally not who I was like, so I really have to grapple with that. And part of the way I did it was to say it out loud. And, and and I remember saying to my husband, what is wrong with me? What is wrong with me? And in you know, he just looked at me in his kind way, and said, Well, you know, maybe it’s not you, dB. It’s not you. And that was a powerful moment. And that was that was that was hope generating. Right, he provided hope, by by providing a different frame and a different perspective.

Lindsay Recknell 11:15
One of the other things that you mentioned in your opening story was this sort of comparison on other, you know, other people have it worse. And I think that is such normal human behavior, to try to cope by comparison, whether we’re comparing right or, you know, good things or bad things. I think that that’s something we do, normally. And it’s something I talk about a lot on the show that if it matters to you, it matters. And we get to sort of sit in those feelings and feel those things, regardless, because somebody is always going to have it better than you and somebody is always going to have it worse than you. Yes. But if it matters to you, it doesn’t matter how trivial quotes, air quotes, nobody can see me make. It doesn’t matter how small or large it is, if it matters to you, it matters.

Maryann Kerr 12:03
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I just finished reading a book called The choice by Dr. Eager who was a concentration camp, survivor. And the thing that most resonate with many things resonated with me in the book, because it is a book about hope it is a book about how she had hope and hope is what saw her through hope is why she believes she survived. But she also, you know, she became a psychologist, and she tells some of the stories of some of her patients. And never never does she have this perspective of, Oh, poor, you, you know, let me tell you what happened to me, things are so much worse for me. Right? She there is no hierarchy of trauma. Right? trauma is trauma, and it is, you know, your lived experience. And that’s, that’s the part that matters. You know, we all we’re all experts in our own experience, and and my trauma may not have been traumatic for someone else, but it was for me, right? It was for me and I and I think there is more, more common ground around it, then then there is a lack of commonality. I think that and I have certainly again, I with social media, I have seen that because when I talk about being bullied, I get people writing privately to me saying thank you, you know, I read that post and I saw, I felt seen, I felt heard, I felt understood. I felt believed, you know, and and that is that is why I do the work I do on social media, which has nothing to do with my business, and everything to do with wanting people to feel hopeful, right?

Lindsay Recknell 13:44
Yeah. I love the way that you write on social media. And I know that you have had quite the time in the last six weeks or so on social media and in the public eye for the for the books that you read. And listeners, Marianne and I recorded a mental health in minutes episode, podcast episode, earlier this week, and we talk a lot about her book on the show. So please tune into that we’ll link to it in the show notes as well. But this idea of being very public, and but with the intention of showing up so that other people also feel heard and not so alone. I think that is I think that is beautiful. I mean, for all the evils of social media, and it is it can be very evil. I think there is some good to be done there as well, even if it’s just so other people can feel hurt. Yeah.

Maryann Kerr 14:37
And and you know, I think what’s interesting with social media is there are a lot of good news stories that we don’t, that we don’t tend to share. And I I have met I mean people who I would now call some of my closest friends who I’ve known for 10 years and never met. But but we have had deep and abiding and thoughtful intentional conversations. Not on social media, but as a result of having met through social media. So I, I’m a, I’m a fan for the most part. And I think there are ways it can generate hope. Right? It can generate hope to see and see yourself in others, right? Telling people I’d been fired three times. I mean, that was scary. Right? Because, you know, that was a scary thing to say. And then suddenly, people Oh, yeah, I was fired four times. You don’t know anything about being fired? Right? It was kind of funny. But because we there are things we just don’t talk about. Right. And, and lots of times, you, you can sort of sense a reaction, because I did have people call me right and say, really, don’t think say that on social media. You shouldn’t tell people how old you are, you’re never going to get another job. And I said, I gave up on on getting a normal job the day I decided to be authentic and vulnerable on on LinkedIn. So it’s okay.

Lindsay Recknell 16:03
I think that’s a cool, that’s a cool byproduct. I don’t know, of living a truly authentic life as well, and living a hopeful life is your priorities change, right? Your intentionality around putting up walls tend to change and your Yeah, your perspective or what you’re trying to do or say,

Maryann Kerr 16:27
the approach changes. Yeah. And you you realize that, I mean, I think, I don’t know if it’s a thing that comes with maturity or not, I really don’t, yes, there are days, I feel very immature. But I do feel as though I have nothing left to I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. Right. And when you when you let that wall go, right, when you say, you know, take it or leave it like me or don’t, whatever, right? It’s very freeing. It’s very freeing.

Lindsay Recknell 16:55
I was in this workshop once and I will never forget it, it was easily five or six years ago. And we were going around the room and introducing ourselves and, you know, saying who we are and what we do and this lady, you know, mid career mid to late stage career. And she said, You know, I am in my truth telling decade. She says I am at the reach the place in my life where I’m going to tell you the truth in a kind respectful way. But I am not going to Candy Coat anything. You are going to get the truth for me. And I hope you can hack it.

Maryann Kerr 17:30
I love it. I love it. And you know what, the same way the talking about ADHD because I and it’s mostly been mums I’ve heard from of young younger boys, who has said, I read I read what you write about ADHD to my son? Because I want him to know it’s not a deficit. It’s not, it doesn’t he doesn’t have to see it as being something wrong with him. Because I simply won’t see it that way. I don’t see it that way. And and and then I have other people who write me and say, you know, you probably don’t really have it and you’ve probably been misdiagnosed. I’m like, what? Whatever you want, you know, if that works for you, that’s okay. I’m good. I you know, go go for it.

Lindsay Recknell 18:17
Would you mind if we talked a little bit about your ADHD diagnosis? Because I know what a truly what a game changer it’s been for you and your life and your perspective. And I know your story is a very hopeful one. And I know that there are people listening who would resonate with that if you don’t want to share,

Maryann Kerr 18:32
I don’t mind at all. I mean, I I was diagnosed at 59. And I’m 60 now. So it’s very new for me, it hasn’t even been the whole year. And I recognize that maybe I had this issue, whatever we want to call it because my daughter was diagnosed. And I’m allowed to say that because she is public about it. And she she didn’t want to read the books about what it was to have ADHD. So I was reading them all. And as I’m reading all of these books on my check, check, check. This really sounds a lot like me. My older brother was dying had been diagnosed the year before. So I went, there’s a place in Toronto called the possibilities clinic. I love the name. And I went through this series of tests, you meet with a whole bunch of different professionals and I was diagnosed and it was life altering because I do take some medication and i i noticed an immediate difference. And it was like this. It was like all of the information that was in my brain that I’d had trouble accessing. But I knew it was there. I knew I’d read that book. Right. I knew I taken that course. And it was as though it had all been poured into a filing cabinet with files and labels and I could actually retrieve information out of my brain in a way that I never had before. Now it’s not perfect by any means. And I think the initially euphoria of being on a medication that isn’t is elevating, right? eventually wears wears down. But what I came to realize was that, you know, one of the authors, one of the ADHD authors talks about a for that when you have ADHD you have a brain, a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. Okay, and, and it was absolutely true. So what I would often very often do is, I would say, you know, Lindsay, why are you wearing that sweater. And really, what I meant was, Lizzy, that’s a really pretty sweater. But it’s not really quite the right one for you. But what would come out of my mouth, right, and assuming you’d asked me to tell you about this, what would come out of my mouth would just be blank, like I was throwing up all over the page, and, and that, that caught me in a lot of trouble over the years. But at least now I understood and the medication what the medication does is it ramps up the brakes. Right, so now I have brakes that match the rest of, of what’s happening in my brain. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. Right. And it’s helped me make sense a lot of things in my life, a lot of things. And, and the most important thing for me, I think, was the doctor, the specialist here in Canada, one of the most renowned doctor ADHD doctors in Canada, he said to me, you know, very often two things can be a play for women entering menopause, which I’ve long since been through, and trauma can bring the symptoms to the surface. So I may well have had it for a very long time and managed it really well. But workplace trauma, I really believe brought the the difficult parts of it to the surface, though,

Lindsay Recknell 21:57
incredible. It is incredible. And I imagine that it’s resonating with some listeners that are on the show, or listening to the show, because it’s resonating with me, I don’t, the symptoms don’t resonate with me, but the experience of feeling validated, really resonates the, you know, an accurate diagnosis or not, you know, blinked in people, just the feeling of being heard and recognizing yourself, and then a treatment to follow whether it’s medication or tools or whatever that I mean, how can that be bad for you?

Maryann Kerr 22:32
Right? And that’s the thing too, right? I mean, for now, I’m trying, I’m now trying my second kind of medication, I may not stay on it, I I’m I’m experimenting, right? But it’s this, it’s just, you know, I find it fascinating. I’ve always been a person, I love taking tests, I like personality tests, I like strengths based tests, I like I want to learn as much as I can, about who I am and how my brain brain works, so that I can be better do better. Right? So this was just another was just another piece of data that’s been really exciting to learn about,

Lindsay Recknell 23:10
when it’s really neat. So if I combine sort of this aspect of your life with what we what you shared about your grief, journey and the perspective, have you always thought in this hopeful way, if you look back on your life, if you always sort of characterize yourself as a hopeful person?

Maryann Kerr 23:27
Yes, I would say. And it’s funny when my husband and I got married, I remember the the minister saying that Steve saw the teeth saw the glass half full, and I saw the glass half empty, but it actually was the complete opposite, right? Most of the time, I am the person that sees the glass half full, and I am cautiously optimistic about almost everything. You know, I am I’m a big critic of lots of things. But I come at my criticism and my critiques from a loving, loving place and a hopeful place. So So yeah, I think I have always been this way. And I have found hope, in books and in reading and in, in connecting with characters on the page.

Lindsay Recknell 24:19
Yeah, absolutely. Well, people often think or believe or understand hope and optimism to be sort of interchangeable language. And I really liked what you said here about, I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s it’s language I use as well. And I think cautious optimism is that hopeful piece of it. So you, you know if if optimism is that unwavering FAITH that it’s all going to work out in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, you know, just that blind faith, if that’s optimism, hopefulness is that same kind of belief that it’s going to work out but with action to make sure that it does You know, or action to get us to that, to closer to it being to being real. That’s that caution piece. I think, you know, hopeful people are for sure optimistic but optimistic people are not often hopeful, because they don’t like sometimes those optimists don’t take the action to make it to move us closer to that hopeful future.

Maryann Kerr 25:20
And trusting. Yeah, I’m learning so much from me.

Lindsay Recknell 25:25
Vice versa, Sister vice versa. This has been an amazing conversation I so thank you for bringing your brilliance to the show. Usually, at this part of the episode, I always ask the same question. And that is what gives you hope. But I feel like you’ve answered that one for us. So I have a different question for you.

Maryann Kerr 25:42
Oh, cool.

Lindsay Recknell 25:43
Where do you see hope? around you.

Maryann Kerr 25:50
I think the place I see hope the most is when I see demonstrations of the kindness of strangers. And again, not to harp on LinkedIn, but for me. But very often strangers come respond to something I’ve written and and and say, say something really kind. I don’t know how else to put it reach. They may reach out privately. There’s just I find hope in the kindness of strangers. I think that’s a hopeful thing.

Lindsay Recknell 26:23
It is a very hopeful thing. Right? Yeah, I totally. I totally agree with you. We have a good community. We have a great community of people. I think, kind people are in the majority. And I I’m with you, I continue to look for those kind, hopeful people. Thank you so so much. It has been an absolute pleasure. I look forward to continuing our conversation. And yeah, it’s just been

Maryann Kerr 26:48
Wonderful. Nice to see you, Lindsay.

Lindsay Recknell 26:51
Nice to see you all. So I’ll talk to you soon. I hope you enjoyed this latest episode of the hope of motivates action podcast. These episodes are a labor of love inspiring conversations with hopeful people make my heart happy. If you also love this episode, it would be amazing if you could go to Apple podcasts and leave a review five stars if you’re into it. It’s these reviews that encouraged Apple to promote this podcast to their network and the more people that listen, the more hope we can spread into the world. Don’t forget to check out the show notes of this episode to find all the links to my guests books and other resources referenced in this episode. You’ll also find the link back to my website where you will find additional support and resources for you, your team and your community.

Lindsay Recknell 27:33
I truly believe that the future will be better than today. By taking action over the things we can control and hearing from these guests on these episodes. I know that even more hopeful future is totally possible. I’m always looking for inspirational guests so if you or anyone you know would like to be a guest on the show please reach out you can find me on the contact form of my website at or by email at Lindsay@expertinhopecom. When I was a teenager, my sisters were leaving the house to go out for the night. I always made it a point to remind them to call me if they need me. It was my way to tell them that I cared and would always be there for them. I’d love you to know the same so all of you listening out there. Call me if you need me. Again. Thank you for your love and support of this podcast my work in hope and you’re intentional focus on making your future better than today. After all, hope without action is just a wish

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