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Cultivating Relationships With Mary Engh

FIF 25 | Cultivating Relationships

The skill of cultivating relationships isn't as intuitive as some people who are naturally social creatures might make it seem. The ability to build bridges and nurture connections is one that's important not only in business but in one's personal life. However, people tend to press forward, unaware that what they're doing might in fact be doing them more harm than good. Mary Engh is a former executive at a multi-billion dollar international company, and co-founder of eight/SEVEN, a nonprofit. Mary speaks to Robert "Fireman Rob" Verhelst about her ongoing work and experience at eight/SEVEN, specifically honing the abilities of people to cultivate and grow their relationships. It's time to take a look at the way you build your relationships and evaluate if what you're doing is truly working.


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Cultivating Relationships With Mary Engh

I have an amazing guest, Mary. She has much fire in her. She got back from this amazing conference put on by Kaizen Coaching which I'm a proud member of. Your background is amazing. You’ve worked as an Independent Contractor for Radio Disney and you are a Senior Director at Mary Kay. You're also the Director of Operations for Kaizen Coaching. Mary, it is amazing to have you on the program. Thanks for coming on.

I’m honored. Thank you for asking.

I wanted to start off with probably one of the coolest things that I was looking at for you. You started a not-for-profit organization focused on creating real and raw friendships. It's called eight/SEVEN. Tell me a little more about that.

I have to say we still have a lot of work to do on our website, but I appreciate you giving the little nudge to head over there. One of my friends and I started a nonprofit a couple of years ago and we thought that there was something special in our relationship that we haven't experienced elsewhere. The more we talked about it, the more that we researched friendship and relationships. We found that both men and women are lonely. I'm sure you have seen this all over Instagram and Facebook that there are many means that talk about our gang, our tribe, but I don't think people know what that means. It looks good on paper and it looks good on social media, but there is still a lack of intimacy and depth. A lot of relationships are still surface level so we wanted to bring back that authenticity that they're lacking.

It might sound cheesy at our age. When we were little kids, all we wanted to do was make friends, play outside and see who our BFFs are. We still want that, but it misses that childlike innocence and we're jaded. We judge easily and we want to see how that other person can bring us value rather than seeing what we can do for them. It takes time to build great relationships, but we're willing to go into the trenches and bring that back to the forefront of our relationship focus.

If you think about it from a business sense, even friendships correlate to networking. If you're able to create that deeper bond, almost that childlike friendship where you feel like you would be able to do anything for them and they'd be able to do anything for you, that's a huge component. You're bringing that in on that basic level.

I've been talking to a lot of people, especially because this is such a focus of mine. I've been traveling a lot and I meet people that say they're lonely. They can meet, network, go to conferences and pass out their business cards, but they're still going into the relationship. They want them to give them something to bring value to them rather than trying to form something that can be basic in the beginning and cultivating a relationship. We have a funny saying that we want our friendships to be HOT, which is to be Humble, Open and Transparent. We feel our relationships are missing that humility. The openness isn't there anymore. Transparency isn't there anymore. It comes down to lots of communication and intimacy. I like to think that intimacy also stands for, “Into me you see.” We want friendships to be HOT again.

Is that something that you are going out and speaking about? What do you speak about besides for this stuff?

We hold several events. Our first one is called the 8/7 Gathering. Specifically, we do cater mostly to women, but our gathering is a one-day event. At this event, we come together and our theme is always, “You're not alone.” With friendships, we want to be able to be relatable and even if you're not relatable, there's someone out there who's maybe going through the same things that you are as well. My co-founder, Michaela Parlett, and I speak at these events, and we also bring in a lot of amazing badass women in the community to come and share their stories and what's going on in their lives. Also, to speak about their own testimonies.

We speak at our 8/7 Gathering. We also have something called the 8/7 Trips and this was intentional. When my friend and I first started this, we had never met in person. We were Facebook friends because of the work that we were doing. We had been Facebook friends for several years liking each other's pictures and maybe commenting. We felt like there was maybe a kindred spirit between us. Long story short, after she reached out to me, our friendship grew from talking daily through text message in an app called Boxer and the app called Marco Polo. We’re FaceTiming and then something beautiful grew. In those conversations, we were talking about how we wish we could go on a trip together to meet each other for the first time. That's what sparked this whole idea of eight/SEVEN.

eight/SEVEN is an opportunity for women to retreat, disconnect so that they can reconnect. We take care of every single thing from the moment they land to the destination to the moment they head back home. Everything is provided for them, food, fun excursions, time to relax and be still, all the time to connect with other women and be vulnerable. We're busy women. We have work. We're mothers and we have responsibilities. We all do, men and women. We wear a ton of different hats. We want them to have an opportunity to have time for themselves. We think that self-care is not selfish. We think self-care is a form of stewardship and when you can take care of yourself, you can better take care of other people in your life.

Making sure that you take care of yourself is probably one of the biggest things and that leads us into the Kaizen Coaching. You're the Director of Operations. I am an honored member of Kaizen Coaching. Tell the audience a little bit more about it. Mike Smith, the President, has been on the show already and he's told a little bit about it. What’s your input as to what can Kaizen Coaching bring to not only business but to individuals?

I want to say we're honored to have you in Kaizen Coaching. We have an amazing team. I do truly feel like we are the Kaizen tribe. We had our mastermind in Utah and to see everyone collaborate to see the transparency and the vulnerability, plus the respect that they had for each other willing to come together and create something so beautiful. Kaizen coaching is not about how we can make money. We want to be able to help individuals have much success in their life and because of the income, they can make amazing choices for their families and for themselves. It's also impact-related. We want to be able to make an impact. We are contribution-focused and to see individuals like that, like-minded coming together with great character. Character is definitely something that I look at. I was able to look at every individual and I had so much respect. That's why, Robert, I can't wait to meet you because if Dr. Mike introduced you to us, that means you’re a great person.

I did not know what Kaizen was before coming into the company. I'd never heard of the word. Kaizen stands for continuous improvement. The moment I heard that, I fell in love because first of all, we never arrive. Even if we are getting better and we're constantly in the form of transformation, we never arrived to the point we think because there's always another level of getting better, that continuous improvement. The philosophy and the heart of what we do is to pull out the best version of ourselves. When we do that, we're able to also provide that same for other people. Personal growth leads to professional growth. I believe that. When you can focus on yourself, the self-care, it's great stewardship.

It's not a grand brand new concept but a lot more companies are focusing on the individual instead of the end product. The individuals are the people that build up a company brand and are the ambassadors of what that end product is, even if it's a widget. If you have employees that are great all the time, in their community and to each other, it speaks volumes about that. Kaizen Coaching provides that service to these individuals with great stories.

When you have amazing people who have such a bigger purpose and they're aligned together, we're able to make that type of impact. Also, the stories that we bring in is a powerful tool.

Your backstory is great. You’re an Indiana University graduate, which I'll let you get by with because I’m a University of Wisconsin person. You’re a Hoosier then?

Yes. I’m pretty much raised in Indiana all my life and I have to say Indiana is not the school that I wanted to go to. I started off at DePauw University. It's a small school in Greencastle, Indiana and my parents wanted me to go there because my brother did and academia is wonderful. It's a great school but I had a love-hate relationship. I was ready to go. All my college friends are still from DePauw and grateful for my experience there, but Indiana was an easy way out for me. I needed to get out of DePauw and it’s not somewhere I wanted to go, but I got there and it was amazing like everyone says. It was probably the best experience that I had.

FIF 25 | Cultivating Relationships

I'm from Wisconsin but I was always a big Hoosiers fan, Bobby Knight and whatnot. I like Indiana so I'm not going to look down on you too much here. You did independent contract work for the Disney Company with Radio Disney, engaging customers and building that trust and interest in the platform.

I started my junior year of college and I went to a job fair because I wanted a part-time job and get something going for my resume. I was in communications and culture, specifically with telecommunications. I also wanted to do everything and anything related to media, and that was my first media job. I went to a job fair and the woman absolutely fell in love with me and I fell in love with her. It was a perfect match. I started off as what we call the Disney Road Crew. We would go to these live events and we would dance with kids all day long to Radio Disney. It was much fun and we had choreography with them. I felt like I was a Disney girl.

I saw that there was so much more of an opportunity to reach out to people and connect with the community. I asked if there were any other places I can serve more than dance with the kids. Not that that's not an admirable job as well. I knew I could do more for the company. Their ICs, Independent Contractors, were the ones who were on the mic and announced the next promotions and what the company was working on. We worked closely with the community, local businesses, organizations and families. That was a great opportunity for me to not only practice some media skills that I had learned from learning in college but also networking with our community.

A takeaway from your story is the more opportunity you have to be in front of people, the more that you can contribute at the end of the day because it's learning how to, in essence, dance with people that you may not even know. At the other end of the spectrum, it's going to build who you are as a person and that's such a great thing about your story. You are a Senior Director at Mary Kay and that's an industry that's extraordinary. You're building networks with people.

Direct sales, in general, is tough. They think leadership is not for the faint of heart. Direct sales is not for the faint of heart. The mindset going into it because you are your own boss and you may have a lot of support. We did at Mary Kay and I'm grateful. I had the most amazing training and some of the most incredible mentors. I have nothing bad to say about Mary Kay but still, even with the support, you have to go in with the mindset ready to work and be willing to fight for what you want. You're going to get noes, people talking behind your back, and people kill your dreams. You have to know what you want and have a strong why to back up your activity.

I always talk about your passion and it's such a huge foundation. A lot of times, people don't understand that when they look at you and go, “Why would you do that? Why would you take on such a challenge and make much effort to get what? What is your passion? What drives you every day?”

My faith is you’re probably important to me. I’ve done many things in my life because of my faith, the blessings and favor that God has in my life. I got to share my story with these few individuals at the mastermind. Many of them are like, “Mary, your life sounds blessed.” I don't want to say that there was no hardship. There was definitely hardship, suffering and challenges, but I welcome challenges because of my faith. I welcome hard. I love the quote, “I can do hard things,” because I partner with God and my faith. I always thought that I would know exactly what I was doing with my life, but I find myself asking, “What am I going to do when I grow up?”

I'm working for an amazing company with Kaizen Coaching and everything that they're doing to make an impact on people. I have a nonprofit that supports women, relationships and authenticity. I would say even then, I feel like God continues to have a great purpose for my life. I can't honestly say that I know what that is, but my favorite verse is, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I'm not saying that I'm the best thing on earth because definitely not. I have my issues, but I know we all do. I truly believe that God has blessed me with talents, gifts, support, resources, and time. What do you do with all that if you keep it to yourself? I want to be able to also contribute and I feel like much is expected from me. Wherever I'm at and may see then I want to be able to serve as much as possible.

That's a wonderful saying and a wonderful way of putting it because it's important to have everybody understand that they’re an authentic individual. They have much promise. In Kaizen Coaching, there are a number of different people that you got to experience their life stories. I was looking through a lot of your bio stuff about the next level leadership and the mentorship. Talk to me a little bit about how important mentors are in our life. Who were the important mentors that helped you?

For different reasons, I've had different people speak to me in my life. I also have to go for specific things as well. At the end of the day, first and foremost, it's definitely my parents. They have such an impact in my life, not only because of being my mom and my dad but their story is incredible. I'm Korean so my parents both immigrated to the States for that better life, that American dream life. Even though they may have not experienced that in the eyes of most people, they're able to experience it through their children. I have three brothers. I was the only girl and I grew up as a tomboy. I'm a tomboy at heart. I'm tough and I like challenges because I grew up with three brothers.

I have to say that we have to redefine what success means. For my parents, it wasn't elaborate vacations and ridiculous income. My dad was the pastor so it was preaching God's word, the love and transformation through being saved and I got to see my dad's leadership in the church. My mom was an entrepreneur. She started an alterations business. Both of them didn't know any English, but they came over here in the States for a better opportunity. My mom had $20 when she came here and knew the simple words like, “Goodbye. Hello. I'm hungry. Thank you.” We are born in the States. We know English perfectly and yet we have many fears. I see my mother who came to America not knowing anything at all and yet, she was able to have a successful business, raise four children, build a home, have a career with my father and raised for successful independent children. They're my mentors.

I heard a saying, “It's not what's taught, it's what's caught.” Although they did teach me a lot, it's also what I saw from their example. Definitely my parents are huge mentors to me. I would also say the woman who brought me into Mary Kay was a huge mentor and she was also a great friend. She's also a spiritual mentor. Her example is the way she lived her life. It wasn't what people said because anybody can say something that sounds great, but it's how you live your life. Mainly, there are three people, my parents and this woman. I'm going to say her name because she's that wonderful. Her name is Allison Davis. She's in Indiana and she's fantastic.

I love what you're talking about because there are many people that struggle with success because they see it. You see a lot on social media that success is defined by the number of likes or the number of hearts or whatever it is you get on social media, but that's not reality. There was a great quote one time and it was interesting when you're talking about your parents. I was thinking about that quote because it said, “Don't try to live a life of success. Strive for a life of value.” It's true in what you were saying about your parents. A lot of people may not see their life as successful, but they had a lot of value. Look at how you turned out and look at all of the great things that you got. That's such a great message that you're extending out to people. I was looking on your LinkedIn. One of the big things is I have three children and having them learn through actions like what you said. You had a likely quote and you put this down, “Grittier kids are more likely to succeed and grit equals growth mindset.”

It came from a grit TED Talk. Her name is Angela Duckworth. She talked about how she did a study where she took elementary students, medical students and wanted to see why they were successful. Kids in the spelling bee, kids with IQ and all these things and it didn't come down to how smart they were. It came to how gritty they were. It came to their experiences at home. I thought about that a lot. That's why my brothers and I are extremely gritty and successful. We didn't have parents who handed us everything because of their language barrier and not being able to communicate with us, with our schools and our organizations that we were a part of. My brothers and I had to figure out a lot.

When you have to do that, you grow up fast. You're not spoon-fed and you don't have this sense of entitlement anymore. Nowadays, my husband likes to joke about this all the time, but students always get a participation trophy. I don't think there's technically anything wrong with that but when you are getting a trophy after every single season, even if you didn't win anything at all, you're always looking for someone to validate your activity. If you're not doing well, you're still going to look for that validation. When you know how to fight for what you want, persevere, endure and don't give up, that comes from how you grow up and how your parents allow you to fall and get back up. My parents allowed that for us a lot.

When I look back, I was born at the time and I was always the girl among my friends who were like, “My parents can't do that much for me. I wish my parents could help me with this and that,” but they helped me much because now I'm extremely independent. I feel like I'm well-functioning and there are a lot of friends who I absolutely love dear to my heart, but they lack a lot of those skills because they always had someone do it for them. That's what I think of and you can chime in on that. Let me know what you think of the whole idea of grit but it's being allowed to fall, get back up and not have someone do everything for you.

It's allowing that ability. We look at success and failure in this society as the greatest people are successful and the people that suck are failures. That's true in some respects and it's false in other respects. Yes, success is great but at the same time, think of how many failures those people went through to be able to get to be successful. Were they allowed to learn? You have to fall down to get back up. I've done that many times in my life and a lot of people that I've talked to on this show, some military guys as well as Mike. He's candid in saying, “I fell down face first and I didn't know if I could get back up.” The more that you hear that from successful individuals like yourself being vulnerable, that community that you’re starting with your non-for-profit will have that ability for individuals to be vulnerable.

When I think of grit, to go with everything you said, IQ is not what makes us successful. IQ is definitely not what helps us in our relationship either. It’s EQ. It's our Emotional Quotient and how we're able to persevere and push through things. It's not only with business. You need your EQ in business, but you need your EQ in friendships and relationships because people are hard and difficult. People are difficult in business and they're difficult in relationships. I remember one of my mentors always said to me that your business is 90% heart and 10% skill. We need the IQ part, maybe in the skill part, to learn but it's how we can push through. It's our heart and our mindset, but you need that for friendships too because it's easy to find people nowadays and throw away friendships because one little thing happened. They couldn't understand it or they say, “Maybe it wasn't meant to be.” Maybe it was and you need to learn something from it.

FIF 25 | Cultivating Relationships
Cultivating Relationships: Success doesn't always come from how smart you are, but how gritty you are and the experiences you have at home.

It seems like we deal with things a lot and we always say that you have to live in the right now, but you also don't have to make decisions in the right now. You can wait and figure it out and consciously think about it, then make decisions instead of throwing things away that may be influential in your life later on.

Maybe some people are too quick to act when sometimes we need to slow down. You need to listen. Have a little bit of discernment. We're not a patient society. Everything is fast.

We've gotten worse with social media because it's a quick influence and a quick de-influence. You look at a lot of different people and this is probably one of the biggest things.

I was watching The Kelly Clarkson Show. She's one of my favorites. I do love her. She had this guest on the show and his mission is to connect every single day. That's what he does. He'll walk up to people, he'll ask them questions, and get to know them. She had him on the show and he connected with every single person who was in the audience. He would point to one person and he would say what their name was, who they were, and fun facts about them. It was incredible. For him to take the time to want to meet people, get to know them and where they're at, that was encouraging because we don't do that right now.

We don't have that extended conversations but the real conversations. It's a lot easier to do it online and not have to look somebody in the eye when you say something. It has been such an honor and pleasure to be able to have you on the show. Anybody who wants to find out more information, There's a lot of information on there. I got a lot of information on it. If you're looking for something that's going to help you with friendships and with yourself, it’s a great website to go on to. I always end these shows where I'll ask you three questions. There’s no right or wrong answer so don’t worry about it. What’s one thing that you haven’t done, but is outside of your comfort zone?

We’ve decided that we want to do twelve different things every single year. One thing a month for the new year to get us out of our comfort zone. They're as simple as taking a hip-hop class. I’ve never done that before.

You didn’t do that at Radio Disney? I thought that was what Radio Disney was.

That's not quite hip-hop. I would say that's a one-step, two-step. I want to take a legit hip-hop class here in LA. I am Asian, I can’t dance very well so you can imagine how that would look like. I'm also going to take an improv class. That will definitely take me out of my comfort zone. I will also take a singing class and I am doing a Spartan Race. That's definitely going to take me out of my comfort class. Also, I'm dying my hair blonde so I'm doing crazy things. I'm going to be journaling and blogging about it so stay tuned.

Where can they follow your crazy journeys on?

I have not started my blog yet. That's another thing that's on the list of twelve things.

That needs to be the first one so we can follow you.

That one keeps me out of my comfort zone the most. That’s why I’m procrastinating a little bit. You're right, Robert.

Second question, which is your favorite quote and why?

It comes from Luke 12:48. To summarize it, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I think about each time I come to a point of adversity, hardship or even how I'm supposed to serve. When the Bible says, “To whom much is given,” it's not talking about financial resources. I do think it's also our talents and our gifts. It can also be in our mindset, attitude and joy. I feel like if God is blessing you in certain areas of your life, much is expected. Don't keep that to yourself and be able to extend that grace, forgiveness, joy or wherever may be in your life to be more than that to others.

Whether I am checking emails and helping someone to organize their calendars, I know how to do that so I'm going to do it well. If I am having a hard relationship with a friend, but I know that I can extend grace and patience to her, I'm going to do that well. I truly believe for every individual, whatever that God has gifted you with or the talents or resources that much is expected. Sometimes people might see that as a hard or strong request because they may not feel like they are in that place or they feel too much pressure. I would ask that you boldly step into it. Ease up into it and take that courage to show up and show God that you're being obedient in that area of your life.

Last question here. If you could pick to have coffee with three people, they can be living or deceased, at a firehouse coffee table, that means that nothing is off the table, you can ask them anything, who would it be and why?

Because my faith is important to me, it would be Mary in the Bible because she got pregnant through the Holy Spirit and I have some questions about that. That's her son so I have all types of questions for her. I’d also love to meet with Mary Kay Ash. She was named number one female entrepreneur next to Henry Ford and what she built is incredible. In the several years that I was at the company watching her videos and seeing her leadership passed on to the other national directors in our company, I'm impressed with her grit. I read her autobiography and her book was the first one I absolutely balled to. I was crying and I couldn't get enough of it. It was the first book that I read in one day. I like to read but it takes me a long time to read. I couldn't put the book down and she's a phenomenal woman. I would love to meet her and know how she started Mary Kay. She had quite the story.

FIF 25 | Cultivating Relationships
Cultivating Relationships: It isn't your IQ that helps you in your relationships, but rather, your EQ or emotional quotient.

What’s that book?

It’s her autobiography and the book is Miracles Happen.

Who would be the last person? You've got two good ones already.

I absolutely love Amy Poehler and I want to be her best friend. She cracks me up. I loved her in Parks and Rec. Have you ever seen her TV show Parks and Rec? She plays a character named Leslie Knope. She’s funny and everything about her character is in some form or fashion someone I aspire to be like. I loved her on SNL and all her movies. She's secretly my best friend so I'm going to make that happen one day.

You put it out there and things will come to you. The last part is this is a rapid round of questions. All you got to do is tell me which one you choose and they're off the wall but it's not a psychological exam. Paper or plastic?


Soup or salad?


McDonald's or Taco Bell?


Camping or hotel?


Fly or drive?


Wake up early or wake up early?

Wake up early.

Run or walk?


Partly sunny or partly cloudy?

Partly sunny.

Fire or water?


Porta-Potty or continue to run or drive to the next physical bathroom?

I’ll use a porta potty.

Coke or Pepsi?

I don’t drink soda, but if I did, Coke.

Go big or go home?

Go big all the way.

Mary, it is such a pleasure to learn more about you as well as to have my readers learn much from your life story and what you're trying to accomplish. Thank you for being on the show.

Thank you. I appreciate your time as well.

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About Mary Engh

FIF 25 | Cultivating Relationships

Mary is a former Senior Director of a multi-billion dollar international company with almost 10 years of experience running a successful organization and reaching the top 2%. Her background is in recruiting talent, training hundreds of sales professionals and entrepreneurs, speaking, training, and coaching high performers.

She considers herself fortunate to be trained by some of the best coaches in the industry, and due to the influence it has had in her life, Mary desires for others to also receive the same impact in their own personal and professional growth journey. Director of Operations at Kaizen Coaching.

My nonprofit I co-founded/started with a friend called eight/SEVEN. It's quite different from the hustle and bustle of direct sales. It's a nonprofit that is passionate about helping women create, cultivate, and appreciate authentic friendships. Women (and men) are quite lonely. Some say they have a tribe, a community, and friends, but these so called gangs lack intimacy, depth, transparency, vulnerability...relationships seem to be very surface level. We want to be a catalyst to help change the friendship/relationship game. And as cheesy as it may seem, I have found in my research that men and women of all ages suffer a great deal from loneliness.

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