Viewpoint: Begin with the End in Mind

Kathryn Kemp Guylay 92C asks, what do you stand for? And have you crafted your own personal vision?

By Kathryn Kemp Guylay 92C

Kathryn Kemp Guylay 92C

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When I was in management consulting in my mid and late twenties, I was more in a mode of surviving than thriving. I was climbing up the ladder of promotions, moving from consultant to senior consultant to unit manager to senior manager. I was in no mood for relaxation, but (my husband) Jeff made me take a short vacation. I threw a book into my suitcase, not realizing that it would soon change my life and my career. It was Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I found myself nodding in agreement through “Be Proactive” (Habit 1). Then I got to Habit 2, “Begin with the End in Mind,” in which Covey asks the reader to picture his or her own funeral. Three people stand up to say a few words about you, the deceased, the type of person you were, what you stood for, how you lived, and so on. One family member, one community member, and one work colleague would speak.

“Kathryn was great with numbers and planning. She kept our family vacations on time and on budget,” I heard my sister say.

“Who was Kathryn? I’ve only ever seen a black Audi that pulls in around midnight and leaves before dawn? Nice car,” added the community member.

“Hard worker. I regularly got emails with complex attachments at 3 a.m. She sure did not need much sleep!” said a former client of mine.

Was that it? What about good daughter, sister, wife, mom? Jeff and I hadn’t had kids yet, but I always pictured myself as a mom someday. Hadn’t I contributed enough to be well known—beyond a black car moving through the darkness—in my community?

Okay, I thought. I work hard, but so what?

Mountain Mantras by Kathryn Kemp Guylay
Mini Mantra: Do what you must do; know that you can’t take it with you.

The Beginning of a New Ending

Over the next few years, a dramatic shift occurred in my career. We had our first child, Elena, and I continued to plug away at work, even while knowing something was off with my life balance. Then, as I was pregnant with our second child, Alexander, I was assigned to a tight-deadline project while my big belly bumped up against the desk. I had to pull two all-nighters within a week’s span of time. As I was sitting at my desk wearing the same ugly maternity clothes from the previous day, I made the decision to leave the world of consulting.

“Great idea,” said my mentor when I told him my news. He rubbed his hand across his smooth head. “Now that all of my hair is gone, I think it’s time for me to leave this firm, too.”

I cleaned out my office and happened to pick up my Stephen Covey book, which, by then, was sacred. What did I want my funeral to look like? What were my next steps? Needing a new mentor, I went up to South Milwaukee, Wisconsin to visit my 92-year-old grandma, who was in a retirement home. She was a beautiful, sage creature and a devout Polish Catholic. She fingered her rosary as I explained that I was at a crossroads professionally. She asked me the simplest, most profound three questions.

1. “What are your God-given gifts?”

2. “What are you passionate about?”

3. “What is a critical need in the world that is waiting to be met?”

That conversation birthed Nurture, which would grow into an important player in the national movement around nutrition and wellness education. Since I was a kid, growing up in the house of my biochemist dad, I was fascinated by the role that nutrition plays in our overall health. When my dad would take my sister and me to work, we would dive into the bookshelf to dig out the best picture books on pathology. We flipped through the pages of these medical tomes with the same engrossed attention that you see in people leafing through the Guinness Book of World Records.

Thinking through my grandma’s prescription, I thought:

  • God-given gifts: Work ethic and organizational skills.
  • Passion: Nutrition and wellness.
  • Critical need in the world: This answer would soon be uncovered through discussions with my dad, another sage family member and mentor. 

Mini Mantra: Listen to words of the wise; find your passion, they advise.

Action Items:

  • Pick your head up and take in the world around you. Put down your phone. Enjoy the scenery.
  • Begin your projects, and life in general, with the end in mind. Determine your vision and frequently revisit it: See it, feel it, taste it—know it viscerally through your mind and your heart. 
  • Write your vision down to give it even more clarity and power. Let the universe help you out along the way. 

Guylay with Michelle Obama

Guylay (right) collaborates through Nurture with First Lady Michelle Obama on the Let's Move campaign. Pictured here with her daughter Elena (left).

Editor’s Note: Kathryn Kemp Guylay 92C is a speaker, certified nutritional counselor and coach with a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin. She is the founder and executive director of Nurture, a national nonprofit that provides nutrition and wellness education to children and adults. Kathryn also collaborates through several health initiatives such as Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Wellness Council of America.

As a sought-after wellness expert, Kathryn is often interviewed by leading media such as ABC, CBS, and NPR and hosts her own radio show on wellness at KDPI-FM in Ketchum, Idaho. Kathryn was named a 2016 “Woman of the Year” by the National Association of Professional Women. Kathryn is also an award winning and bestselling author of two books, Mountain Mantras: Wellness and Life Lessons from the Slopes and Give It a Go, Eat a Rainbow (a children’s picture book). Kathryn credits her family for her continued passion for nutrition and healthy living. Kathryn’s interests include running, skiing, yoga, music and sustainable farming. Kathryn is honored to be a member of women’s alpine skiing and Nordic skiing teams. Learn more at: makewellnessfun.com.

This Viewpoint article is an excerpt from her book Mountain Mantras: Wellness and Life Lessons from the Slopes.