PHL The Hathaway Group
Embracing Vulnerability and Talking About our Mental Health

In this episode of Palm Harbor Local, we have the privilege of hosting Sharon Fekete. Sharon shares profound insights into the interconnected worlds of mental health, business, public speaking, and the importance of vulnerability, authenticity, and self-expression. Join us as we delve into the topics of mental health support in the workplace and the vital role of the community in fostering emotional well-being.

Listen to the podcast episode here!

So Sharon Fekete is back on Palm Harbor Local (Podcast). Welcome.

Thank you so much for having me back.

The third time’s a charm. Love it. None of the other episodes were good, but it’s always good to connect with you.

For anybody who hasn’t listened to any of Sharon’s previous episodes. One, pause this one go back, and listen to them now. But you’re an author of Broken Road to Mental Health in Life and Business owner, founder of The Doctor Whisperer, and owner, and founder of 13th Ave media. Yes. And now you’re a public speaker.

Yes. A keynote speaker. And I actually dissolve the Doctor Whisperer. So did you think now Okay, . I quietly do things. So some people make big announcements. I just go what, if you come and dissolve this, so I’m a DBA?

I’ll always be the doctor whisperer. I have a podcast called The Doctor Whisperer, but I don’t go in and restructure medical practices anymore.

Okay. So we’re just speaking.

We’re just speaking, consulting. 

If I were to paint my design for my business right now, it would be to do my podcast because I really do enjoy the conversation. So rich and fulfilling speaking, because then I can help more people instead of on one.

I’d rather reach the masses versus trying to just help one person at a time. But if we help one person, it’s all worth it.

Right? Is that where the idea to start speaking came from? To reach more people and make a bigger impact?

Of course, I did a vision board, Donnie, doesn’t everybody do a vision board? Well, it’s very intentional. So the work that I’m doing is very intentional. And at the end of December, it was actually on December 31, 2022. I did a vision board because it was raining.

So it’s Hmm, maybe I’ll do a vision board. And you’ve never done one before. You said before, if you want to know about the rehab thing, go back to the other episodes, or read the book or read the Bucher, but is a big thing in the recovery community to do that.

So, I mean, it was, I’m 51 next month. I think the last time I did it. So I just made a vision board of what I wanted. And it was all about speaking about mental health in the workplace. And it felt very intentional. And so I set the intention. And then, as a result, that’s what happened.

Nice. So it works?

Oh, it works. So I have a vision board. I’ve dabbled in it. I say, I love that. Because I put mine on my phone, actually.  So I can always kind of look at it, right? But I took a picture of it. I gave it created a vision board and then took a picture of my son, my home screen, whatever. But the visualization part is always been I think kind of a challenge, right?  You just kind of kind of find your groove and do what works best for you. But I definitely think they help.


Well, I wrote a chapter about manifesting. And I don’t just think it works. I know it does. But it’s a practice, everything is practice. So if I really want to be intentional about the work that I’m doing, I have to not only speak it, I have to see it and visualize it. So putting it out on paper and putting images along with it.

And speaking about it, and then doing it. I mean, you can’t really question that method. Especially if it’s come to fruition, but you have to be intentional about wanting to do it. And then you back it up by doing all the work, the hard stuff.

So I brought you on here. And I mean, When we talked the other day, the idea was, we all know, somebody who is, is battling some sort of mental health, struggle, anxiety, depression.
Whatever it is, I feel everybody knows somebody. And whether we know it or not, let’s start off with, my thought was, how do we, how do we interact with those people? And how do we interact with them to help them? Kind of improve their lives?  Is there anything that we can do to kind of support them and be there for them?


Yes, that’s, the first answer is yes. I was asked this morning if I really thought that there was such a thing as suicide prevention. So why don’t we start there? Because that just happened. And I said, yes. But along with that very heavy topic, there comes a lot of creating spaces for people to feel comfortable having those kinds of conversations. So I believe that everything is preventable.

But you have to be able to be vulnerable enough, and maybe expose some of your own shortcomings, character defects, and hard times in your life in order for somebody to feel comfortable to tell you that they’re struggling.

Now, as you can imagine, Donnie, most people don’t have a problem telling me that they’re struggling, right? Because I’ve created that by talking about my own life. And I think that if more people could consider what that can do for somebody else, it wouldn’t be so difficult to not only approach somebody who might be struggling but for them to come to you and approach you about it.

So, to me, there’s no other way except to be vulnerable. And I never really thought I was ever going to say that. But in all of the conversations that I’ve had, there has been one that has been consistent, and that is that people feel safe talking to me.

So why is that? And it’s only because I’ve created that vulnerable space for somebody else. And somebody might not have that story mine. I hope you don’t.

But you could. Everybody has had challenges, right? Everybody? I mean, just the pandemic alone was a challenge. So how did we feel going through the pandemic? What was that? ? was there anybody that you could talk to? Did you feel stressed at your job? Did you feel stressed about going back to work in an office or a remote?

So I think that if you’re not willing to speak about something that’s challenging, people are not going to feel safe around you. So if you’re just talking about your successes all the time. Nobody, they come to, and I try to relate the same thing to when people want me to call, maybe it’s a talk or a keynote, something with wellness built into it.

Yes, that is the ultimate goal. But that is not why people want to come to a talk, if they’re struggling, or to have a session with somebody, if they’re struggling, if you paint it too pretty, or you wrap it in a big old luxury bow. That’s not how somebody who’s struggling is feeling. So we have to think about the person that are struggling in the moment.

I have two young girls and in raising them to try to be emotionally intelligent, and, being okay with feeling their feelings sort of thing. my wife is, she listened to a couple of different podcasts and that sort of stuff. And she shared one with me the other day, and they were talking about, they’re just creating that space,  we’re, it’s okay for them to be upset and have feelings and all that kind of stuff. 

You’re just there to acknowledge that and let them know that, when you want to talk we’re here for you whenever you’re ready. So it kind of reminds me of that, and then that transitions to when they’re in their teen years or later on in life that they feel okay, that when they’re struggling with something, they feel okay, coming back to you and sharing their thoughts with you.

And I think that sometimes parents if we’re going to go down that road, which is a good road to be on, because it’s broken sometimes. I think that if the parents don’t show that there are going to be challenges they’re always trying to hide things from their kids about how they grew up..

They’re not going to want to tell you either, because they don’t think that anything went wrong. They think that you just were, Donnie, the realtor who is killing it and has podcasts. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity, I’ll give you an example. My parents used to hire a babysitter when they fought, and my parents to this day.

Well, my mother, especially, not so much my dad because he’s struggling with dementia. But he would set she would say, that when we fought, we used to hire a babysitter, she would tell me that very proudly because she didn’t want to fight in front of us. And although that was very nice. That did not show us what reality is. Right? So reality is arguing.

Arguing doesn’t mean you don’t love somebody. Arguing means that you want to get to a resolution. So hiding isn’t always the best thing to do. It’s, it’s let me show you that is okay to be upset, angry, happy, joyous, free. Let me show you what that looks like. Instead of just telling, I think that we’re at the place now with raising children is such a different ballgame. Right?

They see so much more now. And thank goodness, they’re more encouraged to speak openly about mental health or understand what is more important, but I do think that if we don’t create that in our own homes, don’t be surprised. we always hear about how surprised people are when they lose somebody to suicide, especially the successful. we’ve talked about this once before.

And there’s no surprise to me that those people didn’t feel safe having that conversation. And so nobody was willing to ask you the question. Are you struggling? Are you having a hard time? And do you want me to just listen? Or do you want me to help you find a solution? Those are two very different questions.

And that makes sense too, right? And the family that seems to have it all together, right? And then one of them doesn’t, right? It’s a credit ad space where everything is perfect. And we don’t talk about anything if it’s not good.

Don’t tell the neighbors. Don’t show anybody, you still have to show up looking good. And we do the same thing in business. When there’s a struggle inside of an office or something bad is happening? Why not have an open discussion about it? 


Where do you think that? Where does that come from?  that? Is that just, the generations before? That was just kind of the way it was. And and now there’s been more, because of social media, maybe there’s more focus on what people are feeling and kind of going through.

Well, I would like to think that there is more going on than me. there isn’t, in what I have been exposed to. So we talked about this example. And in the industry that you’re in, I know somebody that knows, somebody that died by suicide. And then the following Monday, they had a client event.

So that is right, there is a missed opportunity. It’s a missed opportunity. Okay, have the client event. But before you have the client event, you have an opportunity to have a very uncomfortable conversation. Yes, I know. It’s uncomfortable.

Nobody knows it better than me. But you will get closer to the people that you work with. When you don’t pretend things aren’t happening. I think we’re all tired of pretending things aren’t happening. we’ve gone through so much and think about how much we’ve gone through.
We just had a hurricane not too long ago. It feels like months ago, but it was just last month, not even a few weeks ago. But that’s how we’re we’re almost getting programmed as human beings to just the next trauma, the next tragedy. And it’s so overwhelming. Just keep going.


And that’s, you mentioned something to somebody I’ve been trying to be more intentional about is just being myself when I post on social media. And just not worrying about well, I don’t the way that sounded or didn’t come out right or, or I’m just gonna share this thought, and if It resonates, it resonates.

If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s easier that way too, if you’re just if you just stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking, right?  Once I’ve done that it’s still a work in progress. But once I’ve done that, it’s just it’s it. I feel good. And it’s done. Right. Don’t worry about it.

And I too say when somebody talks about what other people are thinking about is that really nobody’s thinking about you. We think people are thinking about us, but they’re really thinking about themselves, which is the craziest part. selfish, self-centered, and self-seeking. That’s mostly, unfortunately, the way of the world. And I know a lot of people who are very unselfish and very giving, we just lost Katie McGill, from Dress for Success, who was the executive director whose whole life was based on service.

But there’s not a lot of people out there that really just give giving give, and then we talk really well about them when they die. But I, we should be talking better about everybody when they’re still here. And you being more authentic and real, just on social media, is giving somebody else an opportunity to do that, too. It’s not even oh, maybe I shouldn’t have what will they think? It’s really oh, wow, if Donnie can do it, I should probably try that too.


Why is it so hard to be ourselves? Just that vulnerability,  just, you’re afraid of going back to what other people are gonna think and say?

Well, it’s very easy to talk about stuff that is a struggle after it’s over. It’s much more difficult to talk about a struggle when you’re in it. Because then the perception is, oh, no, and what will everybody think, but you’ve gotten through it. And now you want to talk about it way easier than being an apt that’s why authentic, real vulnerable, discussions, and even posting on social media are, that’s why the, it’s such a big attraction. That’s why those videos go viral.

Because those people are literally just in front of a camera being who they are. And just letting it all go. That is what everybody wants. And it’s amazing how we think, let me make sure everything is right before I say it, or do it, where it’s the opposite, of what people want.

My own vulnerability has been my greatest asset. But when I am having a hard time, in the middle of crying about something, whatever it might be, whether it be a struggle with my family, or what’s going on with the world, I don’t necessarily want to take a camera out, right? And start talking about it.

But be sure to know that if you called me and asked me how I was doing at that moment, I’m going to tell you, I’m not doing well.

Embracing Vulnerability and Talking About our Mental Health

Your journey of becoming vulnerable to everyone else and telling your story. How did you come to that? this is what I want to do? This is what I’m going to be what was that process for you?

There are so many little things that happen. So I won’t bore you with all of them. But I will tell you that as somebody who worked with these professionals, I think a lot of people were under this misconception that I myself had not gone through thing because here I was working with, a surgeon and a physician and I was going to all these fancy events.

So I was dressed and there was makeup on and I was put together. And what I was finding when I was especially working within these practices and helping to restructure them, was that I had the great advantage of being able to have one-on-ones with the staff. So it was always what I wanted to do go in and ask the staff these questions.

I would ask them the same five questions I always ask since I was in my 20s working at New York Medical. And I would ask this one question just how do you to be rewarded? It’s a simple question. . Very difficult question I find for people to answer. And maybe you would think I know that my doctor clients thought it was a bad question to ask because they were afraid they’d have to give everybody more money. But the truth is that everybody just wanted to be thanked, and recognized.

Somebody say hello to me, not point out all the things that are that I did wrong, but maybe point out one of the things that I did, right. So when you start hearing that everywhere you go, and it’s the same it doesn’t matter. I would be asked if we have to create a better culture here. Almost impossible.

You are not at the beginning of setting the stage for when somebody walks into your corporation to have these kinds of conversations that are real and vulnerable and not even vulnerable. But what do you want as a human being as you are working here for my company?

And how can we help you get to where you want to go? Those things don’t always happen. So what I’m trying to get to here, I have no idea, Donnie, you’re here.

But why I started to talk about it? I remember now there were a few incidents where a few people in my life as friends in business, were losing loved ones, to suicide, to overdosing. And I started to feel like a fraud. Because I had all of this design for living, I call it this recovery.

This was the support that I just said, One day, I’m just going to start telling people, and when I started sharing it, then it was just amplified. There were so many people that were struggling or that had a family member or a sister or brother. And they would come to me and ask me questions. And I thought, what if I really took advantage of the opportunity I have 25 years later, which is how long I was sober?

When I wrote the book, to tell that story now, maybe people would see hope in me. And that’s really what I wanted. I wanted somebody to know that you could go through really, really hard times, and you could rebuild your whole life. If you did so much work. to get to that place where you could feel good again. So it was a lot of just watching really bad things happening in business. That made me understand that the reason that some of these leaders in organizations are maybe yelling at people in the workplace is not because the employees suck. it’s because they haven’t done their own personal development, where they haven’t done their own healing. And they’re just bringing and throwing trauma bombs at everybody without even knowing, so, I mean, it was just a decision to show somebody else hope.

And that’s, that’s all it is,  being vulnerable, right? It’s just hey, we’re all in this together, we’re going through the same shit. Yes, let’s let’s do it. Yes. What is for the for, a lot of the people on here, or, we’re supporting the small business communities, obviously, we talked to all the small business owners and stuff, if there’s somebody on here that’s listening and be Man, I need to take a look at my business. And, see if I’m creating that culture, to be vulnerable, and to create that space.

What’s a tip, or maybe a starting point, or something they can do to instill in their business to create that culture?

There’s a lot of options. I think one of the best options is to encourage some type of support system for their staff. So whether that’s thinking about an employee assistance program is always the first one that comes to mind, because that’s what helped me the literal reason that I am talking to you today is because my father’s EAP Employee Assistance Program was available.

And that person asked me if I was having suicidal thoughts. I was 21. Yes. So full circle, right there circled on now. So if it wasn’t for my father’s job, his daughter wouldn’t be here today. I hear crazy. It’s crazy, right? I love that full-circle moment. So not every small business can afford an employee assistance program. There are so many things you can do.

There are, how many apps are out there. But not just an app, but maybe we decide to just have a conversation, or we appoint somebody as an ambassador that’s in the organization that can get certified by USF, which is right here in Tampa, about workplace wellness and how to talk about mental health in the workplace.

So they go through this course I’ve done it myself, and they could learn how to be better. Better advocates for somebody’s mental health. So when somebody has their head down, or they’re not showing up every Monday, and they’re coming up with another excuse on Monday, where they can come in, that somebody instead of chastising them, maybe they could just ask them if everything’s okay, because it’s not human resources is not built to be a therapist, right?

Human resources is for policies and procedures and they have their own, their legal that they have to deal with. It’s a It’s not the same. But human resources could be a part of it if they decided to get some kind of training. It’s much more practical than I think Most people consider, I’ll tell you what does not work. Never talking about mental health does not work.



Imagine that.


So, my brother in New York, he’s been at the same company for 16 years, we go through the pandemic, I’m doing all these keynotes, I can’t believe that people aren’t talking about this. To me, it’s what really nobody’s asked you how you’re doing after the pandemic, or in it or during it or so I asked my brother different state, right?

So what’s going on there? So when I asked him, what have they done in terms of talking about mental health? And he started laughing? And I find that’s what everybody does. What do you mean? Nobody’s talking about that here at work?

Nobody’s asking me how I’m doing. And I’m never going to tell HR how I’m doing. Are you kidding? What if they write me up? What if they put it in my, folder? So there’s so much secrecy? And there’s so much, don’t talk about that. So if we’re not talking about it at home? And then we’re not talking about it at work? How are we going to normalize the conversation?

And that’s where it starts. Right? It starts in the home. You hope. And then the leaders that are the leaders, those organizations that are talking about their home, and then they take it to their workplace?

Yes. That’s how it should be. And it’s slow. And, there is hope it’s moving in that direction. But it’s also, if the leaders are struggling themselves, it’s going to be very difficult for them to think it’s okay to bring in some kind of help. Because then they get, quote, unquote, exposed at that point, right, that they’re, they’re struggling to? 

What do you what do you think changes? Is it just talking about it more? Or is there something else? Or is it a combination of both?


I think it’s a combination of both, I think talking about it is probably the best free remedy any employer could implement today. If something happens in the world, say there’s a mass shooting. And you have children that you have to put in school. Imagine how comforting it would be if an employer decided that instead of just buying lunch for the staff that day, which is lovely, they just sat down at the table with everybody and said, hey, I just thought I would tell you how I was feeling when I heard about that.

And keep it short. And before it, everybody is sharing something. And then it creates that safe, courageous environment for people to talk about it. But if the leader is not doing that, it’s not going to be good for them, especially in 2023 going into a new year, a lot of the younger generations are going to really insist upon having employers that are taking care of people’s mental health, encouraging some type of a benefit, and maybe having some kind of support.

So there’s, there’s so many ways it really just, chat GPT employers, what is the best free or remedy in the state of Florida or whatever state you’re in, or right here in Palm Harbor? To encourage this? There are so many ways to do it.

But there has to be somebody willing willingness, the biggest word has to be a willingness in order for people to be brave enough to I don’t know, save somebody’s life. Because in the workplace, it does matter. some people I think, in business, are well, that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to do business. But we’re doing business with human beings, right? Everything’s boiled down to a relationship, a person.

And how they’re feeling and how they’re doing. So when I ask somebody that I work with, or that’s working for me, how are you? I’m not actually waiting for my opportunity to talk. Right? I’m going to listen to what they have to say.

What’s crazy to you, and I know, we’ve talked about this before, but it’s when you create that space for your employers, and you create that culture. People want to come to work, and we’ll work harder. And, for the leader, they’re going to make you more money, right at the end of the day.

So we want to talk about retention. Here you go. Here are my training employees, right? They want to worry about that. Because they’re gonna get stuck. People are just worried. They’re worried that they’re going to lose their job or they’re worried. They’re just worried in general, that’s world is not the same. So why are we keeping everything so secret? That’s how I feel why aren’t we just what is so hard about talking about it? That’s the question everybody has to ask themselves.

Why is it so difficult? Hold for me to just communicate the truth. What’s going to happen to me? If I expose some type of vulnerability here? that I made a mistake here. I love the opportunity to tell somebody that because I know how it helps somebody. So if more people realize how much it helps my goodness, the changes that we can make.

But if you want not only to recruit talent, because there are so many people that won this bell seal award you can win. It’s a certification that your company is open to talking about mental health in the workplace. And this is a safe place. I know, who knew, right?

And they have to fill out these really big surveys to get that seal. It’s a huge seal. Now, if you’re getting the seal, and you’re not following through with that, that’s that’s saying that you’re, open to LGBTQ, and not really being that you have to be more than a hashtag today.

Or, I think that people are getting more hip to that. We really want to have some kind of an open dialogue and, and what does it really look and and for kids today, kids, in your 30s, or 40s, nobody’s going to stay for 20 years,  our parents, Steve Jobs, right? Those days are over. If you’re not going to make these changes, and these changes will keep people they will keep people Alyssa has been with me for five years.
It’s not like she’s making a ton of money, right? I mean, she’s living a great life. And she’s happy. But if happy people working in these places will stay. But if you’re not willing to have the conversations are going to go That’s a fact. Jack.

That’s it. Well, always fun chatting with you.


Oh, you too.


Is there anything that you’re doing? appreciate that. Is there anything else you want to say on this topic today?

And maybe just for fun, Donnie. I am doing these keynotes about mental health in the workplace. And when I signed the contract, and then they came back to me and said, We want to change the title. Because we don’t think that mental health is a draw. Now that those are the words that I’ve heard more than once. I want people to know that that is so insulting.

But it is also the biggest problem that we have. I can promise you right now those two words mental and health are not bad words. I’m talking about your health, not even illness. I’m seeing mental health, something wrong with it. If you’re having an issue, if you’re depressed, if you’re having anxiety, if you’re having a panic attack, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it just means that you’re struggling with some mental health issues.

And I can promise you that 90% of the people in your organization are struggling today. So if people don’t want to say those two words, there is a bigger problem in your organization, and it is the decision-makers. So if the top is not willing to have this conversation, I am at this point now, I’m already pretty honest, don’t have a problem with me, I’m ready. I will go straight to the point, I will start calling it out. I don’t it’s not worth it anymore to lose somebody or to know of somebody that I know of right now that had a panic attack because they hate their job so much. This is not that important. Right? Everybody should be taking care of their mental health before they take care of what’s going into their bank account. I get it.

It’s important, but it’s not more important than our mental health. Right? And it’s almost the reason that it’s not a big draw at those companies is because they’re not open to talking about it.

Because they have a problem, right? The company knows. and they know that right? So if they expose it, they’re gonna be hypocrites. Yes. Here they are leading a conference. Right? And they’re gonna do this mental health in the workplace.

And they have the most toxic environment. ever. that just when I get the No, I’m oh, toxic workplace. Perfect. Got it. Got your number crazy. Let’s change it to something that makes you feel more comfortable.

But I’m still going to talk about it. Because that’s how we normalize it. To forget about that word stigma. This is so old. So 2020. Let’s talk about normal conversations now. Yes, it’s very normal to feel very good. Do you feel comfortable, Donnie? we’re talking about good stuff. Donnie and I have gotten closer because we’ve been able to have conversations about this. Right? That’s what happens when you can be real with somebody else. 

That was our first conversation. That’s what I remember, it was we’re just, you’re honest. And I think that’s one of the things you said to me in the beginning was I’m just gonna tell you it is. And, and I appreciate that.

Well, thank you. I wish there were more out there for you. There are a lot of great people that are doing a lot of great things. I don’t want this to be so negative, especially about corporations there are a lot of great companies doing great things. Absolutely. Just need more. Right. Especially everybody.

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