The Next Step in Cathy Lewis’ Career will Galvanize a Movement of People for a Better Community
By Betsy DiJulio
If you haven’t been there yet, you likely will be: riding the wave of a successful career but wondering about your third act. About three years ago, Cathy Lewis, the 23-year veteran host of award-winning “HearSay with Cathy Lewis” on WHRO, hit the 20-year milestone and asked herself, “What’s next?”
“So few people get to 20 years in my business in the same gig,” she reflects. Having arrived at that point, she found herself wondering, “How do I freshen this up a bit?” Still on air three days each week, the answer to that question emerged both by design and by pure accident, a result of her “paying attention to the messages around me.”
To begin with, she realized she had gotten more courageous in her career. “Nothing Churchillhian,” she asserts, but generally “braver about social justice.” This increasing willingness to “put it out there for people to consider” was driven in part by the Episcopalian covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Reflecting that it is “a great gift to sit in front of a mic,” she was forced to ask herself what she was going to do with that gift and responsibility.
Alongside the recognition of her growing intrepidness was a growing concern about “our inability to talk to each other.” A couple of years ago, she noticed from her unique perspective an increasing “assumption of malintent” within the populace and a corresponding decrease in civility. Both left her “stutteringly speechless about where we are today.”
The third leg in the three-legged stool of her third act was her “extraordinary opportunity to understand leaders up close,” through her involvement with the Civic Leadership Institute. There, she describes, “successful executive level folks are inspired to care about larger issues in the community.” The organization’s equation is simple: connection plus service equals improved life in Coastal Virginia.
Photo courtesy of Kim Brundage Photography
Lewis defines her Act III as something like this: “developing my own ideas about what leadership looks like,” i.e. the vision and the support—including accessing resources and clearing obstacles—that allows others to “get to the next place, to arrive at their vision of success.” So far that will take two new forms: Gallup CliftonStrengths coaching and a free podcast called “PodCath.”
Seeking a new model for how people can work together successfully in their places of business—with true connection and without fear-based anger—she found the answer a few miles up the interstate. Lewis’ daughter, a not-yet-30-something professional living in D.C. attended a Gallup CliftonStrengths session. “She was on fire about this stuff,” Lewis recalls. Lamenting that “lots of professional women have a crisis of confidence,” she found remarkable how her daughter, being able to identify and embrace her top five talents—out of 34 in four different domains—had given her much-needed empowerment.
Lewis was all in. She took the training, earned her certification and joined forces with Heidi Anderson, a colleague who was also certified. Together they have begun offering business coaching and short-term, small-group coaching with the goal of helping others achieve both personal and corporate goals, as well as solving community problems. Though individuals can take the quiz online, Lewis finds the discovery and the “living into it” to be the most valuable and transformative when it is explored through group dialogue. And it is rife with surprises. As a radio talk show host, there was no question in her mind that “empathy” would be one of her top five strengths. Wrong. It was No. 34.
Though everyone knows there is no silver bullet for improving communication or community, Lewis has found that her work with the CliftonStrengths has made her more patient with people. “I don’t necessarily agree with everyone,” but through patient listening, civil discourse and understanding her and others’ strengths, “I can come to 100 percent understand how they came to their conclusion.” If we can understand and respect how people arrived where they are, she believes, “we have a platform for moving forward.”
Lewis views her new podcast as a platform for presenting strong content and fostering connections. These 25-minute digestible chunks will take on “the stuff that interests me that will interest others.” What Lewis calls the “humanitarian crisis at the border” is sure to be a topic. But it won’t be couched as yet another political discussion. Rather, she will find and present the people and ideas that will help “the average person do something meaningful in response,” instead of feeling impotent.
Simply put but not so simply done, Cathy Lewis’s next act will “galvanize a movement of people for a better community” in ways that are genuine and effective. “Empty nest” women, she is coming for you; she sees you as perhaps our greatest untapped resource in creating a better community and world. But she is not letting anyone off the hook.
Learn more at CathyLewis.com.