Figure Out What's Next

#7: How to Use Curiosity and Play to Find Your Way

with Mary Hendra
February 2, 2023 | 59 Minutes



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On "Inside-Out Career Design" this week, hosts Nicola Vetter & Peter Axtell speak with Mary Hendra

Do you think play is only for children? This feeling of awe when you see something amazing or realize that you just discovered “gold”? Would you like to learn more about how to invite play into your life? Join us in this conversation with Mary Hendra to see why having a non-linear career and stepping aside is not suspicious but can lead to you having agency in your own life. Learn how to invite curiosity into your life so you can arrive at more ideas that will result in choice for your life and career.

In our conversation, we talk about…

  • how living in the Soviet Union dramatically affected her view of the world and different cultures,
  • why she deliberately stepped off the career ladder, which offered her a secure retirement and certainty and instead followed her curiosity,
  • how she figured out what's next, when she had no idea how, and the methods she used to make decisions about what to do next,
  • how curiosity with a little bit of play, and listening deeply, will help you figure out what to do next,
  • how you can learn to visualize and nurture curiosity and play.

About Mary Hendra

Mary Hendra is a mission-driven executive and an entrepreneur, a podcast host, and a creator. Defying traditional expectations of career paths and specialization, she operates at the intersection of non-profit, education, corporate and government spheres with the consistent goal of building a more compassionate, engaged community. Her first women’s network was over tea in what was then the Soviet Union, as women negotiated contracts and marriage unions with equal dexterity around a kitchen table with rationed sugar. She has deliberately stepped off the “career ladder” multiple times. She brings drive and passion to building a team culture where individuals are seen, valued, and raised up, and has served on multiple non-profit boards and leadership teams. Her playful and curious mindset has contributed to her entrepreneurialism, to the creation of programs serving individuals across industries and across the nation, and most recently to creating and hosting the podcast series, “Lead with a dash of Play.” She regularly speaks, leads discussions, and facilitates workshops for professionals to build clarity, take action, and move forward with grace.

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About the Inside-Out Career Design Podcast

This podcast is obsessed with answering a single question: Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career?

Join Nicola Vetter and Peter Axtell, co-founders of the Career Insights platform and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment, as they follow their obsession with answering this question by sharing their insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talking with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches -- anyone and everyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of “what’s next for me?” and “what should I do with my life?”

They seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers.

Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are and what you are meant to do with the time you’ve been given.


Mary Hendra  00:00

I heavily recommend curiosity and a little bit of play because I think it is in those activities where we are being super curious. We're asking questions, we're learning, we're not trying to forge something, but we're listening. That can be really insightful.


Peter Axtell  00:21

Welcome to Inside-Out Career Design. In this show, we're obsessed with answering a single question. Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? My name is Peter Axtell, and I'm here with Nicola Vetter. We're co-founders of the CareerInsights platform, and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment. Join us as we seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers. We'll share our insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talk with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches, anyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of: "What's next for me?" and "What should I do with my life?" Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are, and what you're meant to do with the time you've been given. 


Peter Axtell  01:36

Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life, to figure out what to do with the precious time you've been given on this earth? Or to figure out what only you as a remarkable and unique individual can bring into this world? If you are, please join us for one of our live and completely free online workshops, where we cover different topics to help you figure out what to do with your life and career without wasting precious time, taking wild guesses, or risking it all. To save your spot in our next live and free workshop go to We can't wait to see you there. Again, that's

Nicola Vetter  02:31

Our guest today is Mary Hendra. Mary is a mission-driven executive, entrepreneur, podcast host, and creator. We were curious to hear why she deliberately stepped off the career ladder multiple times, and how her playful and curious mindset has contributed to following what she loves.


Peter Axtell  03:01

There are many ways to explore the idea of designing your life and career from the inside out. And one way is to nurture the idea of curiosity and play. By exploring the things that you are curious about and asking yourself, why am I curious about x? you open new doors you probably didn't think about before. And by visualizing the ideas you have, and the questions you're asking yourself, in a fun way, you get a new perspective outside of what you're thinking about.


Nicola Vetter  03:38

And that's why we couldn't wait to have Mary on our podcast. In our conversation we talk about how living in the Soviet Union dramatically affected her view of the world and different cultures. Why she deliberately stepped off the career ladder, which offered her a secure retirement and certainty and instead followed her curiosity. How she figured out what's next, when she had no idea how, and the methods she used to make decisions about what to do next. How curiosity with a little bit of play, and listening deeply, will help you figure out what to do next. How you learn to visualize and nurture curiosity and play. And now it's time to listen and learn from Mary.


Peter Axtell  04:43

Mary, one of the big questions we're trying to answer here on the Inside-Out Career Design podcast is what's next? What's next for my life, for my career, or even the bigger question, what should I do with my life? So, we're curious about you, Mary, what were those moments in your life and career where you really had to sit down and had no choice but to figure out what's next for you? We call them What's Next moments.


Mary Hendra  05:15

Well, I've definitely had quite a few of those in my life. And I can start with one, the typical one during college. As I was graduating for from college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, first thing was like, oh, well, I should do some of the interviews that were happening on campus. None of them quite fit. There were a lot of businesses and financial industry and finally Teach for America came and I was like, oh, maybe this will be good. And I kid you not within 30 seconds, the recruiter looked at me and said, do you like kids? And I went, I don't know, is that a prerequisite. He's like, you know what, you should not be a teacher. You know, let's talk about what you might do. And we spent the rest of the 20-minute interview talking about other professions. Now, I'll come back to that later, because I did actually become a teacher at a later point, but it was a really interesting conversation. And the recruiter was right, that it was not the right time for me to be a teacher, I was not in that space, nor was Teach for America the right program for me. So, when I was getting my graduation, my number one thing that I was thinking about for what's next, were to join the county of Los Angeles, their management training program, or to go to South Africa for a program that was with a nonprofit. Unfortunately, that one started a little bit later and there were all sorts of caveats of we cannot guarantee your safety. And I had spent one semester of my senior year in college in what was then the Soviet Union. And so, I had great compassion for my poor parents who had spent four months unable to reach their daughter, and decided that I would save them, me immediately going to another country that cannot guarantee my safety. During the time that I was in the Soviet Union, it was fine. But it was in that mixed in between period when the Soviet Union had invaded what was then the Baltic Republics, when they first tried to secede, and tanks were still very present. It was shortly after I left that the country completely fell apart, and the Soviet Union no longer existed. So, my parents did have cause to have a little bit more concern than just their daughter going on a study abroad program. So, I did decide to at that point, save them the angst and stay very local, and started with the management training program for Los Angeles. So that was the first time that I considered a what's next moment.


Nicola Vetter  08:11

So why did you choose the Soviet Union?


Mary Hendra  08:18

So, this goes back to high school, because I do not have any Russian blood. It's not something that was ever part of my family or something that we really talked about. But when I was a junior in high school, and taking US history, my teacher at one point echoed what President Reagan was saying at the time, calling the Soviet Union, the evil empire. And my little 16-year-old heart said, I can't believe that people are that bad. And I decided I wanted to go there and find out for myself by actually knowing the language and being able to live with a family. Now this was in the late 80s. So, it was very uncommon for a study abroad program in the Soviet Union to allow you to actually live with the Russian people. Because it was so guarded, what information could be shared, especially with Americans. So, I chose my college based on a college where I could study Russian. I spent the first summer between my freshman and sophomore years, studying Russian at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, which shared Russian teachers with the Defense Language Institute. They were very well regarded for the Russian language program. I lived in a house where it was all students who were studying Russian, where we had a Russian tutor who lived with us, who taught us how to make borscht, who really looked at the culture as well as the language. And I worked hard to find a study abroad program where I would live with a Russian family. So, by the time my Russian was good enough, and my research had panned out, it was my senior year in college that I spent in what was then the Soviet Union.


Nicola Vetter  10:25

Wow, that's really something given where they are at today. Mary, how has living abroad in the Soviet Union changed your worldview or the way you view the world?


Mary Hendra  10:41

It's a great question and there are probably many ways that I'm not even as conscious of, but some of the ways that it has affected me. One is really living life with the humility that I may not understand everybody, and the culture and the experiences they have had. And so, I need to ask, I need to be humble, I need to listen, and I need to be curious. So that is something that I bring in to wherever I'm working. And definitely, whenever I'm managing a team, or collaborating with others, ask lots of questions. I'm curious, I really try to listen for the experiences that others have had. I will also say that, in the Soviet Union, there was a very matriarchal society and there were strong bonds between women. And that was really when I started developing stronger bonds with other women professionally. I went back a few times to Russia. So, the first time was fall of 1990, it was the Soviet Union, I lived with a family that was mother and daughter. And then grandmother and great grandmother were living nearby. There were no men in the picture. It was four generations of women. And when I went back in 93, I was working for the Russian American Bureau on human rights. I was working on a master's degree in international public administration. So, I was comparing local government in Los Angeles with local government in Russia shortly after the Soviet Union had fallen, and there was a new constitution. And I lived with a bit of a crazy family in Moscow, but then returned to the family, my original host family in St. Petersburg. And in both Moscow and St. Petersburg had very close relationships with other women. Much stronger, actually, then the first professional settings where I had been working in Los Angeles, where women were not always as nice to each other. But this was now in 93 in Russia, like there were these strong bonds, where women were helping each other out in really substantial ways. Even escalating from the strong bonds between women that I experienced in the fall of 1990.


Peter Axtell  13:28

Did you have a sense that you are on the right track, you are doing the kind of work that you wanted to do, that things are going in the direction that you wanted?


Mary Hendra  13:39

I think at that point, I did. And I will say that I later shifted, and to me that's part of career progression is that we can change direction because we changed our minds, because we've grown in a different way. I mentioned the teaching. I did become a teacher. I left the county of Los Angeles after six years, which was unheard of at that point because they were like, no at five years you are vested in a county retirement and you're a lifer. People don't leave after five years. So, I've broke all sorts of norms when at six years I said, I'm leaving and I want to get another Master's because, right, we can just stack them up on the wall. I decided I wanted to go back to school, get a teaching credential. I got a Master's in education. But at that point, I had decided that I did want to become a teacher. And it was for different reasons than people joined Teach for America. It was a different point in my life. I had shifted. I would have been a horrible teacher right out of college. But six years later, with some different perspectives and different experiences, including having become trained and certified in mediation and leading victim offender mediations I was ready for a classroom and for being a substantial role in young people's lives at that point.


Nicola Vetter  15:16

So you deliberately stepped off the career ladder, as you always say, right?


Mary Hendra  15:22



Nicola Vetter  15:22

Now what preceded that moment that you chose to deliberately go another path?


Mary Hendra  15:33

That was an excruciating one, I will say, because I was not sure what I wanted to do. I had at about year five recognized I was not going to be a lifer with the county, and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. I had done the certification in mediation, I was doing victim offender meeting mediations, I actually considered the probation department and some of the justice work that is so important in this country. And I've been volunteering in various different things. I volunteered actually, for the Teen Abuse Prevention Project. We taught about unhealthy relationships, how to identify them, how to get out of them, how to start healthy relationships. So, I had all these things going on, but honestly, no idea what I wanted to do next. And I can still remember my dining room. I had all of the leaves in the dining room table. I had books from the library and the bookstore, the What Color is Your Parachute, and you know, all of the career advice you could possibly get. I had flip chart papers around the dining room, every wall was plastered with these flip chart papers. And I had yellow lined papers with Pro-Con lists, I had all of it. And I was just miserable, trying to figure out what to do.


Peter Axtell  16:54

If I was in the room looking at the papers, what was written on there, what did you think to write?


Mary Hendra  16:59

I wrote about different professions and what I liked, what I didn't like about it. I wrote about what skills I had and what kinds of things I'd done. I wrote what other people told me, I should do. I don't remember what all of those are right now, but there was definitely advice from other people. And eventually, I started writing jobs that I applied for, and tracking what other jobs that I might do that way. I will say I had negotiated a shift along the way into a position where I really was managing a team because that had been something I really wanted to do when I worked for the county, when I went there to work, and I had not yet done it directly. So, at a certain point, I negotiated that. And I will say I loved managing. I still love the opportunity to really lead a team. In that case, it was probably the funniest of my negotiations, because I was young, you know, early 20s, I didn't quite know what I was doing. But I had impressed a few people in a different county department. And they were impressed because I could both speak numbers and words. So, I could do budgets, and I could tell people what they meant, right? The numbers meant something to me. And I am a little bit shy, I'm very much an introvert, but I am nice to people. I like people. And so, I listen to people, and I connect with people. So, this assistant director of the department had decided she wanted me to come back. And in retrospect, I'm so honored because she was one of the highest-ranking female executives in the county of Los Angeles at the time. And she appreciated what I was doing. So, she knew she could hire about half a position. And the administrative division director could hire about half the position. And so, they came and said, you know, what would it take for you to come work for us? And I said, well, I want to manage people. I started with the management training program, I want to be able to manage people. And so, they said, Okay, we can do that. And they literally pulled three different people for me to supervise from other people who did not want to supervise those individuals, I recognize that now. But I had asked for management, they were gonna give that to me. And they said, well, there's certain things we want you to do. And so, we talked about that in different ways. This negotiation was happening at lunch in a booth. So, we were sitting in this booth, and they had positioned it so I was in the middle and they were on each side. So, I could not have gotten out of that booth if I had wanted to. But I was young, I didn't really know what was happening or where they're going. But they had positioned so that they were blocking the booth. I sat there, and we talked through as much, you know, as we could.


Peter Axtell  20:19

What did the conversation sound like? What did they say? Do you remember?


Mary Hendra  20:24

What I most remember is that first question, what do we need to do for you to come and work for us? Which is such a lovely question to get. Yeah. The negotiation tactic that I did not realize I was doing was that when all was said and done, I was like, Okay, great, let me think about it for, you know, for a day or two. And I did that for myself. I think slowly sometimes, I wanted to have a few minutes to think, to catch my breath. And then, as I was thinking about it, they came back, how about we raise your salary? And they did that I think twice, because that's what they thought was happening. Now, it wasn't, I just wanted time to think. But apparently, I've come to learn since that it is a really good negotiating technique.


Nicola Vetter  21:18

It's not always about the money, though, right?


Mary Hendra  21:22

No, it wasn't about the money.


Peter Axtell  21:24

And what you didn't mentioned mention was, these two guys had, I mean, they had big overcoats, they looked like refrigerators with the head on either side, they probably didn't have a lot of choice. That's a little-known detail about Mary's story.


Mary Hendra  21:38

One was a woman, she was one of the top ranked female executives in the county.


Peter Axtell  21:44

Okay, I made that story up for anyone who's listening to this. I admit that, yes. You talk a lot about negotiation, and how did you get involved in negotiation, get interested in that?


Mary Hendra  21:59

So, I mentioned mediation. The salary or the career change, going to the department was a negotiation within that, but I mentioned mediation. And so mediation, the area that I practiced, was really conflict resolution, victim offender mediation, where young people under the age of 18, had actually committed a crime that had a negative impact on other people. And as a way to divert them from permanent records, getting in juvenile hall, ending up in County institutions, and really as a way to treat them with human dignity, and recognize that each individual, like we make mistakes, and we can learn from mistakes, and we are stronger as a community together. Mediation was a way to be able to bring the victims and the offenders together in the same room, and very deliberately create the space for them to hear each other in ways they had not previously done. So, it takes a lot of listening, and it is creating that space for everybody to come to a resolution that they all feel good about.


Peter Axtell  23:27

So Mary, the main question that we're trying to answer on this podcast is, is it possible to find an authentic, meaningful and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? How have you navigated those two parts finding meaning and paying the bills?


Mary Hendra  23:54

So for me, it hasn't usually felt like a conflict between the two. I have found things to do that are meaningful, and that get paid, they are employment. No, not the highest paid professional but my career has included working for county government, working as a teacher, working in nonprofit management. I do now have my own business as well. But I am really helping individuals and teams who are struggling through a painful transition, find greater clarity so they can take action. And all of that is meaningful for me. So, I am so fortunate that I've been able to each time, follow my curiosity and make sure that I'm looking deeply for the ways that I can contribute, that I can show up in service. And have some kind of compensation for doing the work that I want to do.


Nicola Vetter  25:10

How do you suggest that people that are searching for what's next in their lives could build that clarity and take action and move forward with grace, that's your tagline, especially during stressful or painful transitions?


Mary Hendra  25:31

So, there are a few things. One is I heavily recommend curiosity and a little bit of play because I think it is in those activities where we are being super curious, we're asking questions, we're learning, we're listening, we're not trying to forge something, but we're listening. That can be really insightful. And recently I've been doing a lot more research around play in professional spaces. And it is so consistent that when we allow ourselves to be in it with a playful mindset, when we allow ourselves to play a bit at work, or with work, play with ideas, play with scenarios, right? That's part of where we show up as our authentic selves. And that is, for me, what is most important in making a transition that you can be happy with. Because if you're showing up as your authentic self, you are more in tune with who you are.


Peter Axtell  26:40

So, let's imagine there's a person who wants to make a transition, they want to move up, or they want to advance their career. Let's take a look at how you would take a case study to incorporate this amazing idea of play and curiosity, with some of the anxiety of making a transition or experimenting. How would you take somebody through that? Put me inside your world, that'd be really fun to know.


Mary Hendra  27:08

I can share one thing that's been really fun. So, for me, play and curiosity are in part, like visual and I call it kinesthetic, using your hands to create things. So, if you were to peek inside my journals, you would see pages like this, that are thick paper and words written together.


Nicola Vetter  27:29

Oh, that one's a fun one.


Peter Axtell  27:31

Well, for those who can't see it on the video, there's a beautiful large 8 by 10 journal with all these drawings and stuff, that's amazing.


Mary Hendra  27:38

Yeah. So, I have found that one of the things that I have actually done, the doctors Amelia and Emily Nagurski talk about in their book Burnout, is that when we are experiencing stress, we are actually experiencing two things, there is the stressor that is causing us anxiety and discomfort and then there is the physical stress that gets caught up in our body. So, for that person that you described, who is experiencing the stress of knowing they need to move, and not knowing what to do with that, I recommend starting by literally physically ripping paper up. It can be your junk mail, it doesn't have to be anything precious, but ripping paper apart physically helps your body get rid of some of the stress. And then even if it is that junk mail and being able to do what Ethan Cross talks about in chatter of distancing from your thinking, right, you can take those physical pieces, you can paint them if you want to, you can just crumple them up, whatever it is, but then rearrange them on that paper. And then on your journal. And you've seen my journal, I have all sorts of stuff stuck in there, I'm just gluing stuff in there, rearranging, letting your mind wander away from that stress, because you've let go of the stress in that in that cycle lets you distance enough to notice different things. Where is your eye gravitating towards? So, if even if it was the junk mail, there might be a word that you gravitate towards, a word you notice, a phrase you notice, phrases that come together once you reposition them on the paper. And that's color you may have realized, like, oh, I picked all of these really bright reds, or I picked greens. Why did I pick greens right? What is that showing to me? Or how do I feel about that? Whether it's color or words, that distancing from your thinking, and then observing it in a different way lets you tap into your own kind of intuition and your own understanding in a different way. And I mentioned that for me, knowing those two planking managers in that seat, or in other times knowing what was important to me was the most important way to be able to move forward. But when we don't know that we need some kind of strategies to help us get to that point where we are, so we are more in touch with what it is that is important to us. So that's one concrete way that I sometimes will do even, you know, now if I'm stressed about something, let me just start with ripping up some paper. Let me move stuff around. Let me try and figure out what's going through my head.


Peter Axtell  30:38

I have never heard that before. That's a fantastic strategy to turn off your fearful, logical and get access, I assume a whole different part of your mind. What has play said about what's happening with the stress chemicals, cortisol and other stuff, the fight or flight? What's the research on play, how that helps people to reduce their fear, I guess is what I'm trying to say?


Mary Hendra  31:09

There's a great question. And there are a number of people who really dive into the neuroscience of it, who could tell you more on all of the different chemicals and what's happening because there is a chemical process. For me, what I know is that play allows us to be in a space where it is much lower risk. So, we think about all of the cortisol what's going on and the different chemicals in our body when we are highly stressed. Part of it is it's shutting us down because we feel so risky, we feel so vulnerable in that place, or in that moment. When we are successfully in that state of play, we're curious, we're open to learning, we do not feel that same level of risk or vulnerability, we can fail, because we're just playing. Right. And that is a great space for actually learning.


Nicola Vetter  32:08

And you've called this transformational journaling.


Mary Hendra  32:12

I do.


Nicola Vetter  32:14

How has it transformed your thinking?


Mary Hendra  32:20

So, I will say that, for me it has been what allowed me to reclaim my own voice. When my father passed on, I was not expecting it. I had been in a pretty good state, like professionally and personally lots of good things going on. I've been writing a lot, I was really enjoying a lot of different things. And when my father passed on, I honestly felt like I lost my voice. So, I'd open my journal to write and stare at an empty page for half an hour and then I'd close my journal and I'd put it away. I was doing everything I could to help my mother and my husband and other people in my life. I was continuing to work full time and manage a team and do all of that. And it took about six months before, I was like, you know what, forget the writing, my dad and I had painted together, let me paint. That means, rip up paper. When I do finally write, like the first times that I wrote, I literally, as soon as I was finished writing, I crumpled it all up, tossed it. And that was how I reclaimed my own voice at that point. And it was what then allowed me to make next career transitions, what allowed me to really listen to the team that I was managing. At the time, I was teaching about some really difficult subjects for other teachers. And it's what allowed me to stay centered in joy and in love and in the humanity of people, even when teaching about really difficult topics. So, I believe you asked what changed my thinking and I will say one of the things that I believe is that we think not just in words that we think in imagery and color and physical movement. And it helped me tap into all of those more fully. And it allows me to think in all of those spaces where I'm able to create and enjoy and move and listen.


Peter Axtell  34:58

I think this idea of play has got to be very important for the current crazy world that we are living in, which seems so overwhelming and fearful. And it does seem like a whole bunch of events all happening at the same time. I really like this idea about play to help us all be a little more optimistic. What do you think about that?


Mary Hendra  35:22

Yeah, I think that it definitely can help us be optimistic, it can also help us build empathy. And I think we really need that in today's world. Because so often, we see people as opponents or as competitors, or we see them as inhuman because we don't understand their opinions or their beliefs. And when we play together, we see each other in a different way. We see a more authentic, we fail together, we can celebrate successes, we can try things in different ways. And play helps us understand the stories of people. Play isn't just physical play, or a game, play includes storytelling, it includes travel, it includes really just living with that mindset of curiosity and creativity. And you really get to know people in a different way and build empathy, when you are creating together, being curious together, learning from somebody. So, I think it's powerful for today's world.


Peter Axtell  36:40

How do you teach somebody to be curious?


Mary Hendra  36:47

I think we are naturally curious. So, part of it is tapping into maybe the natural curiosity that we've forgotten about. When we think about young kids, questions just come forth, right? Why, why, why, why, right? As adults, we sometimes get jaded. We sometimes think we know. So, surprise, is one of my favorite things for helping people learn that curiosity, how do we create the conditions to be surprised?


Peter Axtell  37:25

How do you create the conditions to be surprised? I want to know this.


Mary Hendra  37:35

So sometimes for me includes like putting prompts in with a surprising ending, a story with a surprise ending. Or it may include stopping in a story, saying what do you think is going to happen? So that we recognize our assumption, before we get to the end, and are like, oh, yeah, I knew that was gonna happen. And so that can be the case with it. I love helping people be surprised and curious at their own creations. So, I tend to work with people who do not consider themselves artists, or artistic, or creative. I love those people, because they are all creative, in their own ways. They just have bought into the notions we give in our society that only professional artists do art. But really all of us play with these artistic tools if we let ourselves and so taking somebody who thinks they are completely uncreative and not artistic and putting an art supply in their hand. I love Gelatos because they're kind of fancy crayons, and they're really fun. So, I put a Gelato in somebody's hand, not the ice cream, the crayon material, and I say, just draw, just choose a color you like and just draw on the page. And we mess around with like little moist wipes and a little bit of water or just blending with our fingers, and we create different colors and see you're not creating an art piece to put up in the Louvre, you're just drawing, just like squiggles. And soon enough they're laughing, and they're surprised at something and often it's someone who's like, I didn't think it was gonna look that good. And it's not that they created a masterpiece. Honestly, it's that they created something. They use color in a different way. Their journals are usually black and white and now they have this like burst of color and it brings up a different emotion for them. And anytime we have that little pause it gives us space to breathe, to ask a question, to be curious, to be surprised.


Nicola Vetter  40:09

How important is community in that whole process of creating, of being curious? You are very big on building compassionate and engaged community. So, I'm wondering what's your take on that?


Mary Hendra  40:26

Yeah, for me, it is integral in the process. Although I will say there are times when having a little bit of alone time and individually creating can be very centering. But the community serves a different purpose. Community is where we can surprise each other, we can encourage each other, we can celebrate together. I love books, you can tell. So, I will mention another book. And that is The Extended Mind. Annie Murphy Paul wrote that book. And one of the things that I love is she talks about how, just as I said, like thinking is not always in words, she said the mind and the activity of the mind, the activity of thinking is not just in our head, it's in part in interaction with the things and people and places around us. So, when I build community, in part what I'm doing is building a more creative, thoughtful, thought-provoking space. Because I'm creating this space, where you can think with an extended mind, not just with your individual brain inside your head.


Peter Axtell  41:50

Okay, I'm imagining our audience now. And they're asking the question, I think, well, how do I even find a community? How would I build a community? Where could I get the support I need? Where would I even start? What would you advise people?


Mary Hendra  42:08

Start with who and what is around you. And it's interesting how I think especially in today's world, we think we have to go out there and find a particular community, whether it's the community we want to network with for a future profession, or industry or, you know, some other achievement we might be looking to make, or a community of peers, or a community with a common hobby. People are all around us. And if we start to notice the people around us and listen to them, who are they? What do they need? What do they care about? We start to build those bonds of community right with us.


Nicola Vetter  43:01

You are a big proponent of volunteering as well, which is also doing work in community. When did you first volunteer in your life? And how has it changed you?


Mary Hendra  43:16

It's funny, because I do volunteer a lot. I don't think I've ever phrased it as I'm a big proponent of volunteering.


Nicola Vetter  43:26

I've read it everywhere.


Mary Hendra  43:29

Clearly, I volunteer a lot. I honestly don't remember the very first time that I volunteered, although I know it has been in my family. I remember my dad volunteering to coach soccer when my sister and I were little and he had never played, he didn't know anything about it. He literally had to go to the library and check out a book to figure out how to play the game. But he had already volunteered to coach my sister's soccer team. So, it was what we did, right there part of community we said yes to things, we volunteered to support other people, it was part of being in service. And as an adult, I have to evaluate a little bit more carefully how much can I volunteer because it's too easy for me to say yes. So, I really try to look for where can I contribute something that is uniquely me and we'll make a difference in whatever I'm contributing to. During the pandemic, I realized that I had been a member of a network for a number of years called Elevate Network for Professional Women. And they were honestly struggling a bit in the early months of the pandemic to figure out how do you create spaces for professional women to connect when you can't gather because all of their events had been in person as was true for so many of us. And at that point, I thought about my own skill set, I had done a lot online, I've done a lot on Zoom, I knew it better than most people at the beginning of the pandemic, before everybody gathered a Zoom account and started meeting virtually. And so, I felt like this is something that I could do that I could give back. Because I felt like I had gained a lot by being part of this network, I had grown in different ways, that this was a way I could give back to the community, to help them during this time. And I started hosting events regularly online for Elevate Network and joined the LA leadership team. And it was a lovely time to be connecting with people differently that way. But I think what surprised me was how much fun this leadership team had together. And this is a group of women from all sorts of different industries, and they had different beliefs and practices and experiences. And many of them were not used to connecting virtually. And yet, we connected in these really fun ways. And as an example of something that I didn't expect, I'm usually the least competitive person in the room. But at a certain point, they had a challenge for all of the regions and said, can you as a leadership team try and post regularly about this network, which makes a lot of sense. They were trying to grow the network. And I put this little email out to the rest of the LA team. And I said, hey, I think we could win this. And immediately one of the other members of the team was like, yes, let's do it. And so, it was so funny, to me it was a surprise, because I'm usually not competitive like that. But there is something about the playfulness of this leadership team and the way that we had connected for a few months, and probably a little bit of, like wanting to get some energy out, because we were all cooped up, and we needed something to do. And we just encouraged each other, and we totally won the competition. But it was really more just like it was so fun to see each other's posts and to encourage and to see others who also were not always competitive, jumping in, and saying, you know, this is something that we can do, because we are all enjoying it, we enjoy this space together, we can laugh together and smile together. And even if we are in completely different industries, and it's not that we are helping each other with the next promotion, we are connecting as women and as professionals, and being able to move our work forward.


Nicola Vetter  48:18

At this point, some of our audience might really think well, but how do I do it? How do I find a community or a volunteer situation where there are like-minded people?


Mary Hendra  48:38

For me, it has been by starting with what I want to do. And if I'm in the spaces where I want to be in connecting with people, then I will see where there is a need for help. So, with Ellevate, I had joined this network of professional women, I decided that I liked it, and I was going to be there. And then I was able to step into a leadership position. I also will share I volunteer, facilitate book discussions for the Next Big Idea Club. And that I just signed up for a book club. I was not signing up looking for volunteer activities. But I liked it. I liked the ideas. I liked the people who had posted online. And so, when they put out a call and said, hey, would anybody be willing to facilitate book discussions? I'm like, well, that's something I can do. And this is a group and an idea that I like. So let me try it. A different example was when I was volunteering for the Teen Abuse Prevention Program. That one was, I was not already part of the group. It was organized by the LA Commission on Assaults Against Women, which does tremendous work. I was aware of them, but I had never participated in any of their activities or really knew anybody who worked there. But at that point, I was just curious, I was looking for other things to do. And that was in part during the time where I knew I wasn't going to be a lifer with the county. And so I was just looking for what other activities might I do. And again, the call was put out there. In this case, it was both a need and a learning opportunity. Because they needed people to get trained in going to classrooms and helping young people with this. And for me, being able to serve and learn, oh, that's a golden combination.


Nicola Vetter  50:46

Yeah. So, we've spoken about community, creativity, and now there is a third point that you like to stress on your website, move with grace, it is stillness. So, give me an example of how stillness helps someone trying to figure out what's next.


Mary Hendra  51:14

Stillness is what allows us to hear our own voice. For me, like the art journaling, you know, those kinds of things, that physical movement, even the ripping up paper, in part is to get the other stuff away so that my heart can beat at a normal rate instead of that stress anxiety level. And I can listen to myself think. I think some people find it in yoga or with walks or playing sports. My earliest memory of finding it was in playing music. I would play the piano my mother had us learning from a young age because her mother was a concert pianist. And being able to just immerse myself in something so completely, that all of the chatter in your head just goes away, that was piano for me when I was young. So, I find it different ways now but it always is that moment when you don't have all of the other stuff around and you can hear yourself think.


Peter Axtell  52:40

You teach people that their voice makes a difference. Let's talk a little bit about what that means? To someone in the audience, I wonder what my voice is, how do I know what my voice is? Let's talk about voice.


Mary Hendra  53:01

Beautiful question. I think a lot of us don't tap into or listen to our own voice because the voices of society are so loud around us. Think your own voice is where you find contentment, think your own voice is when you share an idea or a request or a question, and it is genuinely you. Not the expectations of you.


Peter Axtell  53:41

Reminds me of what Julia Cameron teaches in The Artist's Way. Is that one of the main ways that you find your voice, you start to write? Is that the practical way that you go about finding your voice?


Mary Hendra  53:55

At some point I should read The Artist's Way.


Peter Axtell  53:59

I think you already do it, Mary. I have read it, I can tell you, I think you pretty much do The Artist's Way.


Nicola Vetter  54:06

Except for the ripping paper.


Mary Hendra  54:11

I'd say for me my voice often starts with color, paint, or paper rather than with words. I eventually get to words, but words aren't always the first thing that comes into my journal and into my head.


Nicola Vetter  54:31

Okay, I think we are at this time. Is there anything that we didn't touch on that you would really want our audience to know, Mary?


Mary Hendra  54:41

Yeah, I will say this just because you are on video, I will share, and you can decide whether this is relevant or not. The room that I'm in, my office, is actually what my husband and I call my playroom. And if you were here, you would see that there is the bookshelf on one side, there are two desks facing each other in the middle. One of them is a beautiful, like very functional work desk that my father actually built that has all these cubbies. It's the old-fashioned kind. So, it has all these little cubbies for things. And I write there, and I sit at my computer there. On the backside of that is a beautiful craft table that has all sorts of things visible under a glass. So, there's a glass tabletop and the drawers underneath are visible. So, you can see all of these fun little different things that have creative inspiration and color, paints, and Gelatos, and ribbons, and washi tape, and all sorts of stuff. And then the wall behind that is a green wall that has one of my mom's beautiful needle points on it, it has some things that I painted on, it has my other kind of paints and paint brushes, and I can from there, see one of my father's paintings. And so when I come in in the morning, to my office, to my playroom, then I can choose which desk to go to. And when I really need inspiration, when I am feeling unsettled, I am better off if I don't go sit down at the desk with my computer. But if I go to the craft table side, and I stand up and I just play with paper and mess around in a journal or are trying new art supply that I don't know what it's going to do and have paint like all over the place. But whatever that is, is usually a much better way for me to start the day if I'm feeling stressed or anxious or just like that, I need a little bit more of an inspiration or a boost to my energy.


Peter Axtell  56:56

And there you go. I think that's a great place to end.


Nicola Vetter  57:01



Peter Axtell  57:02

Beautiful ending.


Nicola Vetter  57:04

Well, Mary, this has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on.


Mary Hendra  57:11

Thank you, it was really a pleasure to be in conversation with both of you.


Peter Axtell  57:14

We hope you enjoyed this conversation with Mary as much as I did. My biggest takeaway is how much fun it could be to gather books from the library, articles, flip chart pages, yellow legal pads, and colored pens, and magazines, and just play with different ideas about what to do next. And how exploring with art supplies helps us access the creative parts of our brain and allows new ideas and solutions to evolve. Also, what a great reminder of how essential it is to ask how you can contribute and help others and how that can result in a job you love and a good paycheck.


Nicola Vetter  58:01

Yes. And I learned about how transformational journaling can help to find or reclaim your own voice. How writing can be so helpful in processing difficult life events and answer questions, clarify ideas, and reduce confusion. And of course, how to keep curious, ask lots of questions, and listen deeply for useful answers. I also love the idea that play can help us be more optimistic in our sometimes-difficult journey of Insight-Out Career Design.


Peter Axtell  58:51

Yes, let's play. To learn more about Mary, head to, where we share the transcript, links and more. Again, that's


Nicola Vetter  59:15

And if you like what you've heard, share it with someone you care about. And subscribe, rate, and review our Inside-Out Career Design podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode. Thanks so much for joining us here today. We'll see you next week for another episode. Same time, same place.