Redefining Leadership: Q&A with bnourished CEO Katie McDonald

The second time I met Katie McDonald, CEO/Founder of bnourished and self-care strategist, she said something that I know will stick with me forever. I was lamenting the fact that I am not very spontaneous or go-with-the-flow. “I am extremely Type A and controlling and like there to be order,” I explained.

Katie stopped me, asking if I was OK with her giving me advice. 

“Always!,” I said.

She said, “You are describing being Type A and controlling as negative things when they are actually a superpower. Stop apologizing for being ‘Type A and controlling,’ and stop accepting others’ labels for you. The rest of the world is just envious of your focus. Let’s redefine controlling as being fully engaged and intentional in your life.” 

That is the type of person Katie is; an individual who can flip your mindset in an instant, a self-care coach who reminds you of the importance of being your own biggest advocate, a powerhouse leader who so selflessly and generously gives her time, talents and knowledge to others. With Katie as the featured speaker for the Feb. 1 Women in Leadership Nexus event—an introspective letter-writing workshop—I couldn’t wait to get to know more about this trailblazing woman. 

And let me tell you, she is definitely badass.

Check out a glimpse of our conversation….

You started your own company bnourished seven years ago, committed to helping your clients believe that real change is possible. Tell me about your reasons for starting bnourished. 

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I started bnourished because I had a debt to pay. Before bnourished, I worked for Time magazine and sold advertising and marketing solutions in 45 national publications, from Sports Illustrated to Fortune to BusinessWeek. I was working in San Francisco, Seattle, upstate New York and Toronto… all over. 

There were so many warning signs that I was neglecting myself, but I was too busy to deal with them. They were like gnats in my life, doing flybys to knock me off my feet. I was sick all the time; I was crying; I was depressed. I was really just absolutely driven beyond human expectation to have a place at the table. I felt like by simply being born I hadn’t earned a place, and so through my work I fought and clawed to earn it.

I was one of the top performers in the company over and over again, and one of the core ways I got there was through the great relationships with my clients. I sincerely cared about them. What I didn’t do was care enough about myself. That’s when I started circling the drain. I was deeply, suicidally depressed, and I decided I couldn’t do this job. Every time I hit a sales quota they would double it; that was my reward. And, I am not someone who can ever say, “I have done enough.” 

My husband was the one who said, “Enough is enough. This is not doable for you.” That was January of 2001 and I made a commitment that I would quit that May. When my son was born on August 31, 2001, I said I am not going to work, but I then did the same thing all over again; all the energy, all the vitality, all the focus and intensity that I put into my career I then directed into my son. Five years later, my lining of my colon started to fall out. I still hadn’t learned. It was as if my body and spirit decided to up the game to say, “Oh yeah, you didn’t get this message about the danger of self-neglect? Let’s crank up the volume and see where you go from there.” 

How did that profound, impactful moment—and journey up to that moment—lead you to starting your own company?

I had cured myself of a number of conditions that were caused by self-neglect, and I vowed that if I came out the other side still standing that I needed to teach other people how to intervene in their lives on their behalf and start advocating for themselves in a powerful, empowered way. While I was sick, exhausted, depleted and not fully functioning, I realized that as a whole, we tend to operate on borrowed time. We keep using the credit card of our life, buying things on future energy and it is always going to come crashing down. That practice is not sustainable and when it does come crashing down, it is a really difficult place from which to recover and restore yourself. 

I wanted to reach women who just felt a little off… the ones who say, “Gee, I can’t keep doing this anymore.” I suffered mightily from constantly doing and never getting to the end of the to do list. I thought, if I suffered in this way there are others suffering as well. 

Though I had studied self-care practices for three decades, I never devoted the time to implement it. Knowing and understanding self-care intellectually is very different than implementing it into your life on a consistent basis. Years of neglect called me to the mat and forced me to pull it altogether. I was motivated to stay alive, to keep my colon alive and to be there for my five-year-old son who needed a mom. I wasn’t going to go down that way. 

It’s such a cliched thing to say but I had to tell myself, “My self-care is not an obstacle or a nuisance. It is my job. It is my primary responsibility, and everything else needs to fall around that.” That’s the moment I changed my life and determined I would help others to do the same. 

How did you begin helping people?

I discovered this self-care thing works. I cured myself in six months and I decided to help other implement what I had studied all those years. I knew bnourished would be a very intimate business and that this work had to be the purest, cleanest reflection of everything I valued—that every priority, every lesson learned had to reflect that. 

I started bnourished first out of a yoga studio and then in my home. From the start it is one-to-one coaching and a six-month approach because I realized that so many people look for quick fixes and six weeks later they bail and haven’t transformed their life in a meaningful way. Six months is what is required to transform in a lasting way. Over the years, the majority of my work has remained one-on-one coaching, but I also do corporate presentations for wellness programs and speak at a variety of conferences.

My work is about what we think, what we do and what we eat. And it all starts with what we eat. Often, we put convenience above all else when making our food choices. We are grabbing what’s there and not being intentional about how to fuel our life. This needs to be a priority instead of an obstacle or a distraction from the real stuff we want to get done. Food is the foundation that everything else rests upon. I always start with food because when we get the food clean, the thoughts become clean, and the actions become intentional.

Who is your typical client?

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I typically work with two types of clients. The first is somebody who is taking care of everybody else. They are the reliable one and the one everyone counts on. They say “yes” to everyone over and over again except themselves. Their to do list is suffocating them, and they are usually fueling themselves with sugar to get through the day. They have digestion problems; they literally can’t stomach the pace of their lives.

The other is typically the executive and entrepreneur who is giving everything they’ve got to their professional life and not taking care of themselves. They understand things are starting to slip and know they can’t keep doing this for the next five years. They experience a lot of guilt that they are not tending to their families. They are usually just depleted, and it’s really affecting very aspect of their lives. They know they have to do better.

Universally, my clients are super accomplished, brilliant powerhouses, but they are not showing up for themselves in a consistent way. 

Do you find that gender plays into the struggles your clients face?

Totally! The majority of men do not feel like they have to justify their fun. Men struggle with slowing down and making the healthy choices, but they don’t struggle with creating time for themselves. That is typically not a cultural issue they have—just ask any wife! 

I inspire my female clients to recognize that being a woman does not mean throwing yourself under the bus. To be a woman today means to role model for exceptional self-care—one of the greatest gifts we can give the people for whom we care.

Did you always know you would start your own company or can you point to a critical moment that made you take the leap? 

I didn’t think I had a courage to do it because I had always been working for a massive corporation that had endless resources and I like endless resources! I like being able to call the tech guy and the marketing team. I was nervous that if I ran my own business I would have to do the things I don’t know how to do.

I had to get over myself and realize that the things that were hugely frustrating in my corporate life—feeling like the standards weren’t high enough, that there wasn’t a clear vision and strategy—were the very things I could fix within my own business. It became clear to me that I need to run the show. I had to be bold, unapologetic and badass and had to take risks when the old me would have said, “Play it small.”

What has been one of the most profound lessons you have learned about entrepreneurship along the way? 

I still struggle with this but I have to take care of myself. My default is to put productivity and other’s needs above all else. I am 100 percent of this business and if I go down this business goes down. Our businesses are such personal expressions of who we are, and if we are doing it right, it’s even more important that we are the walking, living, breathing representations of our best selves.

A second piece I have learned is recognizing that though I had left the corporate world and chose to build my own business, I didn’t have to bring the corporate world model into bnourished. I get to do this my way. I get to decide when and where I see clients, how I want to live my life, and how I want to run my business. I decided on the life I wanted first and built my business around it and began to trust that it would all be OK.  

Finally, I have learned to remember to have fun. I can forget that because I am so focused and immersed in what I am doing and it’s a bigger calling and mission. But, I choose to remember that I get to pursue opportunities because they meet my criteria of fun.

Describe a good day at work. 

Every day is a good day at work. It always starts with my morning routine which is extensive and a non-negotiable, and that’s why I don’t see my first clients until 9. I have a clear routine that I follow that allows me to be present for my clients. My work day starts the moment my eyes open because it’s a devotion to my own self-care and an investment in my career as well. A good day is seeing four consecutive clients and adding a day where I have a corporate presentation to give to a community. I love that part of my job; I love disrupting their thoughts and what they thought was fact. 

To watch my clients wake up is breathtaking. That moment when they recognize they must pause their life long enough to understand what they are doing. We are asleep at the wheel. We are unconscious and we wonder why we don’t feel agency in our lives or a sense of mastery in our lives. It’s because we turned it over. I want my clients to be fully functioning and to be able to bring their best to the world because there has never been a better, more important time, to do so.  

Much of your line of work helps clients tap into their leadership potential or think about leadership differently. What does leadership mean to you? 

For me, leadership is about intentionality. It begins with the relationship we have with ourselves. Are we leading our lives or reacting to our lives? The majority of my work involves asking my clients to take those same visionary leadership skills they apply to their business and apply it to their personal well-being, which is often foreign to us. 

Leadership is being unapologetic, deliberate and being willing to take a stance even when it inconveniences someone else. Leadership says this is my path and though it may not be your path, I choose to walk it regardless of what is happening around me. I take me with me because me knows what me needs to do. It’s about showing up for yourself and having your own back.  

What is one quote you live your life by?

Enough is a feast. 

For me, too much is typically how I used to roll—too much food, too many thoughts, too much to do, too much showing up for everyone else. Too muchness. We are suffering from too muchness. The way out is to abandon the definition of our lives by human doing and replace it with the human being and that’s when we experience “enough is a feast.” 

What was happening for me, and I see this with my work all the time, I didn’t think I was enough. On a good day, I wasn’t enough. On a bad day I was too much. That is what drove me constantly to work. So now at 51, I am focused on what does enough look like and realizing that I am enough.

And if I could offer one more, it would be this:

Self-discovery and self-care are not only our birth rights, they are our responsibilities, and they are responsibilities that we shirk over and over again. And time’s up. We can’t do this anymore. We need to liberate ourselves through intentional and nourishing habits.

Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as Marketing Principal for Trilix Tech. Carrie was named to the 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” list and is a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.