Debbie has nearly 20 years of investigative experience and journalism on topics of insurance, mortgage, and financial advice.

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TDD 110 | Thrive With Change

Dr. Kozhi Makai: How To Thrive With Change

TDD 110 | Thrive With Change


Each and every one of us has a plan for our life. What happens when unforeseen events take the wheel and make unwanted changes in our narrative? Business and personal coach, Dr. Kozhi Makai, joins this episode to share his knowledge, experience, and expertise on how it’s still possible to get the most out of these changes. He explains the behavior of people with respect to the changes being applied in their lives that are outside of their plan. Learn what circumstances do to people, how you can become a better adult, and how your perception can play a critical part in making sure that the story of your life remains positive despite everything that’s happening around you.

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Dr. Kozhi Makai: How To Thrive With Change

I’m speaking with one of my greatest friends. Dr. Kozhi Makai, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

You have written several books and I’ve been a big fan of all your books. Tell me a little bit about you and the books that you’ve written and what you’ve written for us now.

I began writing when I was about eighteen. I’ve always enjoyed the process of writing. I discovered in the process of it being cathartic. It was also helpful for other people as well so my process has always been, if I can write one book and one person is touched, my work is completely done. Fortunately, we have a wonderful fanbase of people that constantly support the work and all the books that we do. The title of one of the books is Disrupted! It’s interesting because I started writing this book in 2019 and it was based on some research that we had done. I wanted to highlight the aspects of the research that made sense. For a lot of people, they deal with disruption every day at work. I wanted to put it in the context of disruption at work. People are dealing with disruption on a regular basis. How do we help them take that disruption and use it as a tool for them to develop resiliency? It’s about helping people understand stress and adversity from a different perspective.

I didn’t have any idea. I thought 2020 would be weird because of the elections. I knew the interest rates would be different and things would be more difficult. I had no idea this was coming. When you wrote your book, you didn’t know this was coming either.

I had no idea. When we started working on the book, it was in 2019 during the summertime. I wasn’t even thinking that we’re going to release this book until 2020 in the summer. With everything that happened at the end of 2019 with November and December, we’ve been hearing about this, but most of us didn’t think COVID-19 would impact us here in the States. We assumed it was going to impact travel to China and Asia. We had some projects that we had going on that we’re going to involve work in China and in Thailand. None of those were things that we considered at that time. We sat down and thought to ourselves, “People are struggling both from a personal and professional perspective. We need to speed up this release so that we can have a tool that people can use for them to develop resiliency in this season that is unprecedented. A season that is not anything anyone could have planned for and have thought ahead of time about.” That’s what we did and the book was officially released on April 16, 2020.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? You and I have known each other so well and I know all about the things that you do. You do a lot of corporate coaching, but tell us how you got into all this.

I got into the work completely by mistake. I was an international student at North Harris College minding my own business and my boss said to me, “We have incoming freshmen. I want you to come in and tell them about your story.” Severo Balason was one of the directors in the admissions office where I worked, and he wanted me to go over there and talk to the students. They were high school seniors and they were considering coming to North Harris as their first stop. He wanted me to share my story, what were the things that I liked about the campus and everything else. I said, “I’ll take care of it,” because I liked Severo. I still like him and we’re good friends.

People tend to thrive based on two things: if they’re using their strengths and when they're in the right environment. Click To Tweet

I was going all the way to the back of the office to go sign out and he says, “No, you don’t need to clock out. You’re doing this on our time and you are representing the admissions office.” A light bulb went on for me thinking, “You’re going to pay me to talk?” That’s how it all started. Severo paid me to talk for about 1 or 1.5 hours with the kids and I completely enjoyed that process. It so happened that the next semester I was taking up public speaking class and all those things started to snowball. I’ve been speaking in public since and that’s translated from public speaking, presentations at conferences and so on to executive coaching, assessments and several other things that we do now for our clients.

What you help people do is an overall life assessment. It makes us think about things that we normally don’t think about, why we’re here, how we’re here, what we need to do now that we’re here and help us find our purpose.

One of the central components of everything that we do is encapsulated in this idea of pro personal. We believe that when a person develops personally it should impact them positively in their professional life. If they develop professionally, it should impact them directly in their personal lives. Most people don’t get the opportunity to walk into an office, swipe their badge in, they get into the office and all of a sudden, all their personal problems disappear, or people leave the office, swipe out, come into the house, and all of a sudden, all their professional issues or concerns disappear. We want to touch the whole person.

We want to develop that person from a pro personal perspective. That means we impact you personally and professionally because you are the same human being. Being the same human being, if you’re nice and if you’re kind to people at home, you should be able to be nice and kind to people at work. I tend to prefer people being the same in the sense that I would rather know who my jerks and the nice people are, but I want them to be consistent. Part of that is helping our clients develop that love of consistency so when they are communicating, they’re communicating in a way that is helpful, engaging and connects with people. It also does the same thing when they’re talking to their spouse or their children as well.

I work with a lady here in my office. Her name is Carmen and she teaches Hebrews. She was saying that the problem that I’ve had in my life is I am sincere and I find others that aren’t. I’m like, “Everybody’s sincere.” She goes, “You don’t understand. In the Hebrew language, sincere means you’re the same on the inside as you are on the outside. The problem is you’re the same girl through and through, but you find people that aren’t. You assume, coming from the place you come from, that they are exactly what they say they are.” I have found out time and time again that they’re not. You and Carmen helped me with that. In the mortgage business, people give you what they think you want to hear and you find out otherwise sometimes. It’s the same way for your coaching. We need to know who we are and how we operate in order to find our best and highest calling.

TDD 110 | Thrive With Change

Thrive With Change: When a person develops personally, it should impact them positively in their professional life. If they develop professionally, it will impact them directly in their personal lives.


One of the things that you have pointed out clearly is at the center of our work, your first pit stop is an assessment. That assessment is not for us to know, whether there’s something wrong with you necessarily.

We all have something wrong with us.

Someone in our office says it best. They said that every single person needs to determine how much crazy they can handle. All of us have our own issues and because we’re a strengths-based organization, we want to discover what the strengths are that person brings. Every single human being has a certain amount of strengths. We’ve been working with Gallup for years. They have a tool that looks at the 34 strengths that every human being has, and then you’ll get a measurement on all 34. What they focus on the main report are the five strengths that you have. There’s an interesting viewpoint and the research bears it out that people tend to thrive based on two things. Number one, if they’re using their strengths and number two, if they’re in the right environment.

I can’t control the environment that people are in. Sometimes I’ve advised people to leave the work environment that they’re in. The one thing I can do is to highlight what their strengths are. What are their strengths and are they using them on a regular basis at work? The research bears it out that when people get to use their strengths every day, it changes the dynamic of their relationships at home and at work. It changes the dynamics of the way they look at themselves. I personally look at two areas. Your interpersonal communication, which is what you and I are doing right now, but also your intrapersonal communication, which is us doing communication within ourselves. Thinking is an example of intrapersonal.

What we say to ourselves has a lot to do with how we view ourselves. The way we view ourselves and the way we view other people is strengthened and tightened when people are using their strengths every day. It’s about helping people get to the point where they can name their strengths and we can use and develop a language of strengths, whether it’s for the individual or on a team or inside the whole organization.

With this whole pandemic that we have going on, we’ve got people out of their comfort zone. I’m still in my office. I work from a small office or I can work from home or in my car. You can work anywhere. A lot of people find comfort in their place and knowing exactly what’s going to happen. You and I thrive on lots of changes. We like the stuff going on and different jobs every day. That’s why we’ve gravitated to what we do. Some people like consistency and they’re the ones that you’re writing this book for that have a tough time.

Here’s the biggest challenge. Every single human being is built around routine. All of us are. We love our routines even if our routine is the fact that things change on a regular basis. I have a certain routine whenever I’m not traveling. I cannot do most of that routine right now because of all the restrictions. All of us have to learn how to adapt. In the book, those are some of the concepts we talked about. How do you work through an adaptation? Every single one of our experiences has been disrupted. It has disrupted the dynamic between spouses, parents and kids, bosses and the people that report to them. All those dynamics have changed. Some of them are good, some of them aren’t necessarily good. As a culture and as a world, we all have to make these adaptations. If you don’t make those adaptations, then you won’t thrive today and tomorrow.

What we say to ourselves has a lot to do with how we view ourselves. Click To Tweet

The goal here is how do we take that disruption that’s happened to us, mix it in with all the changes that’s going on and create this brand-new smoothie of a new life that we have to deal with, which is working from home, partly. The other part of it is now you’re a teacher as well. You and your significant other are around each other much more. That could be good, bad or indifferent, depending on the relationship, but there are all those things going on. For a lot of people, that level of change is extremely uncomfortable and it’s too much because it completely disrupts the way we do our daily life. There’s a script that every single human being has. There’s a way we think about ourselves and we have a running script of how my Monday, Tuesday or Thursday goes.

Most people’s scripts have been completely disrupted. All of us have to go through this process of rewriting the script. That’s not easy work because you had a perfect plan. You designed this months ago and all of that has been erased. You’ve been told, “Your script is not going to work because you can’t go to work, the movies, travel for vacation. You can’t do so many different things.” All of us now have to rewrite our scripts. There’s a concept called post-traumatic growth. The concept of post-traumatic growth is about changing your narrative. It’s about narrative transformation. We have a running narrative every single day. The key now is how do I change my narrative so that it remains positive?

We can turn this into a great thing. We’re learning new skills and Zoom calls. We may have to order new lighting or whatever. We’re learning how to deal with our kids and our spouses differently. If you approach it from a positive standpoint, it’s much better than coming out with, “This is crappy. I didn’t ask for this and I don’t want or like this.” You can go a lot further if you stay positive.

It’s a choice. Every single human being on Earth has to make a choice. Normally, we can get away with not making the choice because life will happen and other people essentially make the choice for us. When it comes to our attitude, it’s a choice we get to make. There’s a simple definition of attitude. It’s a learned predisposition to respond to something in a positive way or in a negative way. The keyword right there is learning. We have to learn how to respond to things differently. We can’t go out and go do all the things that we used to be able to do. We can’t go out and generate the sales that we hoped we were going to generate. We may not be able to keep everybody in a company. I get all of that. It’s painful and difficult. As a CEO, I understand that and those are difficult things to deal with.

Here are the facts. I have to have the right attitude in the middle of all of this and it’s an attitude I get to choose. What we’ve done as an organization is we’ve decided to meet more often because we already meet through Zoom and my team is virtual. We meet more often and our conversations have changed. We’re asking ourselves, “What is it that we need to do differently and in what ways do we need to do it? What types of plans and goals do we need to set that are more in line with the realities of life?” Most people are trying to keep everything the same, which is making them pretty tone-deaf to the situation.

TDD 110 | Thrive With Change

Thrive With Change: All of us need to gain a little bit of perspective. We may not have anything to do with what is going on with us right now, but we do have control of what happens in the next moment.


It’s crazy. You can’t keep it the same.

The situation has changed, so as an organization, we have to change. We’ve always loved the fact that when we get to January, we think of ourselves as a startup. We start a business over as we’ve never been in business before. With everything that’s going on, we’ve decided that we’re going to be a start-up every single first month of the quarter. January, we did that. We’re doing that again on April and July. We’re going to continue doing that because we have to repurpose and retool on a regular basis. Life is only getting more complicated and much faster. We might as well get used to the fact that this type of turmoil and disruption is normal and will continue. At this level of challenge, this is not normal but if we can make it through this disruption, I’m not sure there’s any disruption that we won’t be able to face effectively.

My daughter, Preston, came home from college and not wanting to. My son, who was further away at college, both of them are back home and they don’t want to be here. It’s hard for them to concentrate and they miss their friends. They look at their classes and it’s all online. Some of the teachers aren’t teaching. They’re only saying, “Read this stuff and take a test.” It’s been hard for them to adapt. Kids are no easier at this than adults are. We should set an example but a lot of adults are having huge trouble figuring out how to adapt and change. A lot of people don’t like this at all.

Here’s the crazy thing. Being an adult has nothing to do with having kids or being older. Being an adult is a choice. Most of us, if we were to go with our gut every day, we would all be children. We would throw our tantrums and have our moments where we didn’t have to have responsibility. It’s like the choice we talked about earlier, being an adult is about making a choice. Every single one of these young people and every single one of us has to make a choice every day that these are not the circumstances that I chose. This is what I have always believed about circumstances. They are neutral. The only thing that makes them positive or negative is a choice and the attitude that I take. I also believe that circumstances come into life to reveal who we are.

You never know who you are until you’re under pressure.

No, you don’t. I’m a tea drinker. I love hot tea and I’m still trying to get over this abomination called cold iced tea that we drink here, but I’m a hot tea drinker. I think of circumstances as hot water and me as a teabag. Me being put inside of that cup and water being poured over me does only one thing. It reveals the flavor and the aroma of a tea. Every single one of us is being tested. We’re in the middle of serious hot water and we have two choices. We can complain about the fact that this is scalding hot water or we can say, “This is not the situation that I would have chosen for myself, but this is a moment for the best parts of my flavor to come out and it’d be a benefit to my neighbors, community, team and to the world.” We get to make that choice but every single human being has to be able to make that choice on their own.

Being an adult has nothing to do with having kids or being older. Being an adult is a choice. Click To Tweet

We don’t have to pitch a fit because we don’t like it. None of us like it. We wouldn’t choose this if we had the choice, but now that it’s forced upon us, you get to see people’s flavor.

For the record, people have every right to pitch a fit. The only problem is it’s a terrible strategy. There’s a post that I saw and it says, “Complaining is not a strategy.” Most people are going to complain about how difficult things are. For the record, things are difficult. Even in the financial industry, you understand that a lot of people do not have money saved up to deal with this for another month or another week. I get that but there are components to this whole situation where we still get choices.

Either you fix it or find ways to not let this happen again. I’m hoping this is a wake-up call for some of my clients to go, “This can happen.” The economy has been going well for so long and no one thought this could happen and they’re like, “We didn’t see it coming.” I see that in long-term care when I talk to people about that. They’re like, “I don’t need that. I’m not going to need that.” Based on all that I see and all of the clients that I see, you do need that. You just don’t know you’re going to need it now but you’re going to need it when you’re 70, 80 or before something bad happens. I don’t think anyone ever thought anything bad was going to happen. They thought things would keep going along as usual and that’s not the case. It’s been a huge wake-up call.

There’s a concept in psychology that we talk about and the best way for me to explain it is most people assume that it won’t happen to them. When I hear a statistic like 90% of people or 9 out of 10 people fill in the blank, most people assume they’re within that 9 out of 10. Statistically, they are but they forget that at least one person is going to be one of those people out of the ten where something potentially could go bad for them. We happened to be in that situation where the vast majority of us are experiencing what that feels like to be that person who does a good job at work but has been told, “You can’t come to work. We can’t afford to keep you. You’re great at what you do but we’re going to furlough everyone. We’re going to lay off everyone.” Those are hard things to deal with.

What advice would you give to someone if they’ve been told that? What is the first thing they need to go to rather than their gut reaction, which is whine and complain? What’s the first thing that they should do?

First of all, all of us are going to go through some version of the grief process. People are going to be angry that this is going on and they’re going to find some target of their anger. They’ll blame the president, the governor, their neighbor, their boss. They’ll blame someone first because they are angry. There’s nothing wrong with being angry. You just don’t want your anger turning around and hurting your relationships and so on. People are going to be a little bit angry, disappointed, disillusioned. All those things are normal and healthy. What people need to do is to be able to take a step back and gain some perspective. That’s the keyword for me, perspective.

Thrive With Change: Every storm ends. Some of them take a few years, but they all end. The most important question is, who are you going to be when the storm ends?


I believe that my job as a coach isn’t to tell my clients anything new because the vast majority of people already know what I’m telling them. What I do is to help them gain perspective. All of us need to gain a little bit of perspective. We may not have had anything to do with what is going on with us right now, but we do have control of what happens in the next moment and then the next moment. We need to help people find ways to make everything make more sense. The best way to make everything make more sense is to face the reality of where we are and ask ourselves, “What is it specifically I can do? What are the things that are available to me for whatever stressor I’m dealing with?” Let’s say it’s financial stress, I may need to file for unemployment. I need to find those benefits that are available to for me to do.

If you have to check your pride in the meantime, go ahead. It’s a financial deal.

You absolutely have to. I have worked every menial job that you could potentially think about. When I left those jobs, my goal was to never have to go back. If I have to go back, then it’s something that I have to do. I will go back. My point is it’s easy to think that I don’t want people to think of me in one way or the other because I didn’t do what I could have done. Most of us, there’s not much we could have done based on what’s happened. You and I are both business owners and as business owners, there are a lot of things I couldn’t have controlled in this situation.

If a client has to furlough their staff, it usually means that they can do quite a bit with me. I have to make adjustments. For us, that’s what we’ve had to do. How do we turn the messaging around so we can focus on different areas of our business? Those are some of the pieces that you get to do. What are my skillsets? What are my strengths? What can I do that will allow me to try to weather this storm as long as I can? It’s not everybody that’s losing jobs. There are a lot of people who’ve lost jobs, but there are other industries that are absolutely flourishing.

FedEx is doing a great job and other toilet paper manufacturers. Everybody’s busy. It also gives you some perspective and time to say, “What can I do to improve me?” That’s what we’ve always talked about. As you improve, your outlook on things improves. When you feel invincible, this doesn’t get you down because you know you have something else to give.

One of my clients said something to me. She said, “With me having to work from home, I’m now working out twice a day.” I joked with her and said, “By the time this whole situation is over, you’re going to be buff.” My hope is that people’s minds will be as buff as their bodies. If there’s anything that we can learn, it is things have slowed down enough that you can start to develop yourself. It doesn’t have to be something that requires you to have money to do, but there are some people who see this as some long-term vacation so they’re spending the time binge-watching whatever show it is that they want to. I have no issue with people binge-watching shows. They can do that, but you have to be able to balance that with your growth.

There's nothing wrong with being angry. Just don't let your anger turn around and hurt your relationships. Click To Tweet

How am I going to grow so that I can be ready when all these things turn around? Eventually, this storm will end. I have yet to experience or see a storm that lasted forever. Every storm ends. Some of them take a few years, but they all end. How am I going to be when that storm ends? Probably the most important question is, who am I going to be when the storm ends? All of us have to make that choice. This situation has happened where we’re going through a disruption. We can resiliently reintegrate from this disruption if we look at stress and adversity through the right lens and gain a little bit of perspective.

How do we find out more about your book, your website and the things that you teach? We tend to talk on long car trips when I drive somewhere to see somebody. I always call you and we chat and you straight me out with whatever I’m thinking at the time. This is the time to do that so how can we find out more information about you and a way you can help us?

The best way is to go on our website, which is We have some resources there that people can take advantage of that doesn’t cost them anything. There are some books that they can read partly before they have to purchase one. There are resources there and we certainly want to hear from people and see how we can help them as they go through this difficult and trying time.

How do we get the book? Is that available on the website as well?

The book is available on the website. We’re doing pre-orders until April 16, 2020 and every book that is pre-ordered will be signed. We’re covering shipping and taxes as well. On April 16th, that deal will end and all the books will be exclusively on Amazon.

Congratulations on the book that’s out and it’s timely. I’m glad you took some time to write about this. You’d be able to help us through this situation.

When it comes to our attitude, it's a choice we get to make. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much, Debbie. I appreciate you for having me on the show.

We’ll see you soon. We’ll talk again. Thank you.

Important Links:

About Dr. Kozhi Makai

TDD 110 | Thrive With ChangeYou’re a leader. You’re passionate about your field, and display the skilled precision of surgery as a technical expert but your human skills – the ability to work with, understand, and motivate other people – aren’t quite where you want them to be. Even so, you persevere and remain results-driven and oriented.

The innovations we enjoy (and sometimes take for granted) — such as technology that allows us to text “1-4-3” (“I love you”) to our children and they respond: “8?” — the security of having a steady job that we hope will become a career, the culture we enjoy at work as we spend close to 66% of the 8,760 hours each year working…all these have been fostered by you…
The fearless leader who’s not driven by being right, but by being righteous (doing the right thing).

You’re “flawsome”!
(adj.) an individual who embraces their “flaws” and knows they’re awesome regardless.
But, truth be told, you’ve been bitten by the same bug of perfectionism, focusing on weaknesses, and sliding in and out of hubris that got many leaders before you. Your own strengths could use some sharpening, but you say there just isn’t any “time”. Your team, though passionate about their work, seems to be fostering a culture of doing just enough to get by. They’re slipping into disengagement, and it’s beginning to show in sales, profits, and lack of motivation/teamwork. And you, the flawsome leader, bear the brunt of the responsibility for this sliding performance…

That’s why you need ME!

If you want to improve your performance and/or that of your team, optimize your abilities as well as the abilities of your team for increased organizational effectiveness, it’s quite likely we’re a good fit. There are personal and organizational synergies between us worth exploring.

Feel free to add me to your LinkedIn network.

ALSO, send an email to [email protected] for a link to my free audio recording titled:
“5 Things GREAT Leaders DO”

Can’t wait to hear from you!