Honoring family caregivers across the world

November 19, 2021

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, this episode features Indeed CEO Chris Hyams and Chris Powell, Director of IT at Indeed.

Chris Powell is a father to his daughter and a caretaker to his wife, Blythe, who was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year. As a parent and caregiver, Chris speaks to how he must balance authenticity and vulnerability – while still managing to help people get jobs.

Trigger Warning: Some of the topics covered in this episode may be upsetting to listeners, such as bereavement and suicide.

- Hello and welcome everyone, I am Chris Hyams CEO of Indeed and welcome to the next episode of Here to Help. Our mission at Indeed is to help people get jobs, this is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us up at night and what powers that mission is our people. Here to Help originally started as a look at how Indeed had been navigating the impact of COVID-19. But through these weekly conversations, it has really evolved into a look at how people's experiences and stories inspire them to want to help others. Today is November 15th, we're on day 622 of global work from home. Now at Indeed, one of our five core values is inclusion and belonging, we have a number of inclusion resource groups, or IRGs that help us create a community of belonging for people across multiple areas, and one of our IRGs is for parents and caregivers, and we understand how important it is to empower all parents and caregivers, to thrive at work throughout all stages and to embrace work-life integration so that everyone can show up authentically and succeed. This month we celebrate national family caregivers month, which is a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the world, it also offers us an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues, educate communities, and increase support for caregivers. Now I'll start here with a brief trigger warning, we will be discussing some topics today that some people may find upsetting, including bereavement and suicide. My guest today is Chris Powell, director of IT at Indeed. Chris, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thank you for having me.

- So let's start off where we always start these conversations by asking, how are you doing today? Right now?

- I'm a little nervous being here, getting to, I appreciate the opportunity to come on and participate, but definitely nervous. I think that's perfectly normal, talking about some pretty sensitive topics today, but I'm happy to be here all the same.

- Great well, let's start by talking a little bit about your job at Indeed and how it is that you help people get jobs every day.

- Absolutely, I've been here for five years, I believe and I work with the IT solutions team and my job is to help us really everything that IT does from, you know, you're getting your laptops to, you needing support, to access things, turning on your accounts, all of that stuff. We have an amazing team that's really focused on helping every Indeedy and be successful and in our mission, and so we've had a lot with the past couple of years, very trying for everyone, but also us trying to figure out everything from logistics to going from complete in-office support to complete remote support so we're still learning, but an amazing group that I work with and getting to lead that group has been really amazing over these past six months or so.

- Yeah and I think I can speak for every one at Indeed in saying thank you and your team for everything, it's been extraordinary. As I mentioned, you know, we've been working from home now for 622 days, and it has been probably the most productive and innovative year and a half in the history of Indeed and so it's in very large part thanks to you and your team. Now, I know you have a lot on your plate at work every day, you're also a husband and a parent, can you talk a little bit about how you balance the needs of playing all those different roles?

- Well, you probably hear a common theme today, I don't do it perfectly, and I think that anybody that does can probably at least please tell us about it, I'm continuing learning and I think that's the biggest piece of everything that I do is being okay with kind of not being okay, in a sense of you're this learning mindset, growth mindset, how ever you want to put it, but when it comes to balancing, like setting some clear boundaries and protecting time for family, protecting time for work as much as possible, but really just being okay with trying to figure out the new normal and I think that's a big one, is things aren't going to be the exact same and I think that's one thing that I've had to learn over this past two years is chasing what kind of was, is not necessarily going to be what is, and I think that's a really powerful, for me to remember that I'm not trying to be pre pandemic, pre family, like this is new, this is a new thing to learn and trying to enjoy that as I can as well.

- So is being a parent, being a husband, are these things that you sort of thought that you always wanted and what if anything helped you prepare for this incredibly important job?

- Well, I do think it's something I've always wanted, I don't think I really knew that, I think that after you know, getting married and becoming a parent, it just felt right, and while I don't think there's anything that can really prepare you a little more on that, there's a lot of things in my life that I think have helped me kind of accepting myself, like stepping through some hard times that have helped me really be comfortable with who I am that has really given me the tools, so for instance, you know, I am a recovering alcoholic, I've also how I got into recovery was through having a plan for suicide, and that was, you know, a long time ago, but long time is time is relative, but I think coming up on seven years or so, but not that that really, that changed the trajectory of my life, like I would not have been wanting to one, go through those things while being a parent, caregiver, but also it gave me tools and the drive to be okay with not being okay, but also ask questions, but also drive for that authenticity, that vulnerability of hey, we're not going to figure this out, but that's okay, we're not going to be perfect parents, but that's okay, as long as we talk about it, as long as we walk through this together and be open about like what we're feeling, what we're going through, and I think that's the tools that have really started to help me in this and we'll continue it's learning and never-ending journey.

- So thank you for sharing that and I know we have a lot more to dive into here. I think becoming a parent clearly is something that is going to alter anyone's life, there's the sort of time before, and then the time after and I know for me, it's hard to actually even remember what it was like before. You and your family, your daughter was born at the beginning of the pandemic, so there's an added sense of the timing and the context that just made it clearly such a different experience. Can you talk a little bit about the impact of the pandemic on you and your new family?

- Absolutely, it's kind of hard to put into words, but I think we were already home, we were, you know, trying to figure out that new normal, and then it was very interesting when they told us that we were going into the hospital, my wife was induced and I was worried they weren't going to let me in to be, this is just kind of some stuff that's coming to me right now, like they were, oh, well then only one person can be in, but then, oh, you can't have your doula or you can't have another support person and so, but then they allow it, it was just such a weird time to try to figure that out and not, you know, and then coming back home, trying to, we're still trying to figure out the new working norm and everything, it was very stressful, it was stressful on the work side too, a little bit, trying to solve all the IT issues and also knowing that, Hey, I'm going to take this time off because I need this for my family and for myself and it was amazing, the support received and the positives out of it though, I have to say, I was there for my daughter and my family, like even when I went back to work, we were still taking walks at lunchtime, I was still able to be there when we put her down to sleep, 'cause you know, she goes to sleep a lot earlier, whereas I probably would've missed most of that because of commute times and everything else going on, so there's a lot of gratitude in that too, and I wouldn't have traded kind of that time for anything.

- So your family received some life-changing news around the time of your daughter's first birthday, can you talk a little bit more about that day that you heard that news and what happened next?

- Yeah, the week of my daughter's first birthday, my wife, Blife, just a name, so that's just referring my daughter, Waverley, my wife got a call from her neurologist, she had been having some symptoms and stuff and won't go into all details, but called us and let us know that they had found a 6.5 centimeter brain tumor in her right frontal lobe I remember I was in a meeting and she came up and I think I was in with my leadership or something and I just was like, I got to drop, and we just sat there and talked to the doctor and that was, and just cried and you know, of course cleared off schedule and all that but yeah, it was news that you, there's no words for it, it's just you walking through it, as kind of what we're still doing.

- Yeah, I'd imagine that's very much like having a child and that there's the sort of, there's the time before and then there's the time after and everything is different and still everything is the same, you have to take care of your kid, you have to show up at work. Can you talk about, you know, as a caregiver, what were some of the things, that needed to change for you in the wake of this new reality?

- Well, I think probably be a shorter list talking about what didn't need to change, thinking about I mean, it was everything that really rocked our world, like in a sense that all the things that were running through my head, were like how do I help? What do I do? What does this look like? And I think, you know, what does this mean? You know, where do we go from here? Of course, me, I think being human, it like, what do I need to fix with other things, there's nothing to fix, and I think that's sometimes some of the hardest things and caregiver, but parent, all of that, lots of times there isn't anything to fix and I think that's some of the most difficult things to face in our life is stepping through this, so yeah, I would say that nothing, or what do you prepare? Nothing really was, didn't change in that moment.

- So I think one of the things that is the hardest to do, but most important as a parent, and then of course, as a caregiver, is to understand how to take care of yourself as well, so the old line about putting on your oxygen mask first, before helping others, can you talk about what you have learned about self care and how important it is and when you're there in a position to care for others and what you've done to take care of yourself?

- I think the theme is the same, in the sense that none of this is me doing this perfectly, but one thing I have learned through this, is that I have to be open about how I feel, I have to process that, I have to create space for myself to feel because one thing I had noticed quickly was that I can become toxic, resentful, angry at the people that, or with the people that I'm supposed to be there supporting, my family and at work, I mean, it goes all sides there, and one thing I noticed quickly was I started to become short with different scenarios and what I learned from that was one, I have to own my feelings, which I think is really important that no one can make me feel a certain way, like my actions to that are my own, so being angry with someone else because of something they did and recognizing that my anger is my choice and my side of the street, but then really learning how to ask for help has been something and I'm still horrible at it because the ego does trick you, it tricks you into thinking, oh, I can handle it, oh, I can go to the grocery store, I can find those 10 minutes, I can clean up the house, I can do the laundry, I can do all these things, and what ends up happening is, I don't take the time for that recharge, I don't take the time to process what's going on, or I just push down those emotions and if I do that, they're going to come out some way and I'm not being honest with what I'm feeling, I'm hiding that and I think that's what's been my, it's really important that I have to take care of myself and I have to make sure that I'm able to be there, that enables me to do that.

- So when a cancer diagnosis is made, oftentimes there's a timeline that is a part of that messaging when it's delivered. Can you talk about your relationship with time and how it's changed as a result of this or your own priorities and how they've changed?

- Yeah, go into a little more detail of the tumor. So the tumor was initially diagnosed, and lots of people may not know what these are, which is totally fine, but the initial pathology report was that it was glioblastoma, which is a grade four, it was a glioblastoma with an IDH mutation, which means that it should respond well to treatment. Fortunately, this has been reclassified to a new thing called an astrocytoma grade four, who know who grade four, what that means is that the initial average time of survival that we were given was that my wife on average had about 15 months to live and we lived with that for like, kind of like we, of course, we didn't want to resign to time or resigned to cause those are all averages and meantime, and most people with this type of tumor were quite a lot older than my wife, and fortunately it has been reclassified because they're saying the tumor does behave differently, they're also saying that there's not really a timeline, we found people that have lived for a lot longer than that, I mean, decades and more with this type of tumor, so we're hopeful that the thing with, I mean, to answer your question, the expectations you have when you get married, when you have kids, is that you're going to grow old together and you're going to, you know, just your life is just beginning, that's probably the best way to put it, and I think this changes that perspective and it makes you, I would want to say live in the moment more, but I think that's more of a choice and more of actual constant work, and it really makes you though, I think the best way to describe it is live in this duality, because you have to make sure that you're planning for the future, while not getting lost in the potential, if there you go down that hopeless path versus the positive path of, hey, it's maintaining hope while also having tough conversations, and I think some of the hardest ones were more around what do we do if it does come to, you know, you're not being here, but I think that's something that we had to face together 'cause I'm not guaranteed tomorrow either and I think that's a big piece to that, so doing our wills and doing all those things that, but under this kind of guise or under this thought process that was difficult and it still is and we have to face that I think that's what's changed, is we're talking about things with more weight of these are a possibility versus this kind of, I guess what you normally think whenever you're starting your life together.

- So how did you approach, what needed to change in terms of your relationship with work and working with your team in particular, so that you could make sure that you had the space to take care of your family, take care of yourself and still be able to show up?

- That one is again, a continual journey what's worked for me so far is one, transparency and really authenticity and vulnerability, you know, with my team, with my immediate reports, direct reports, I feel like, and my leadership, I think that's been super important, of course, you know, it's not something that I want to talk about every day or it really needs to be, but more of, Hey, here's, what's going on, here's what, you know, what to expect, and I think that goes into kind of the next thing that's really I've been trying to do is, I don't want to create this kind of void of sympathy, meaning, Hey, well, Chris is going through a lot, so let's not, I guess, the way to word it is, like, I know that I kind of recognize the job needs to get done, there's a lot of pieces, like we have a critical mission and we're working on, but my life has to change, and I think kind of separating those two a bit to create the space of even telling my leadership, my direct reports, like I need feedback around, like, if you are not getting the help you need, if I'm not able to get X, Y, and Z done, again, not taking that personally, as much as I mean, it's hard not to we're human, but asking for that openly so that I can let my leadership know, and I can then try to structure things 'cause I want to make sure my team's supported, but I also want to make sure my family is supported, but if I try to do that, not transparently, if I try to do that without having those conversations, there's a really big risk of creating this kind of, oh, well, I'm not going to say anything because I know Chris is going through stuff, and I think that's important that we create a safe space to talk about it all, because I have the, you'll start creating your own imposters or amplifying your imposter syndrome, of I'm not doing enough, and I still have that inner voice and I have to fight that of I'm not doing enough, I have to create those, make sure I'm setting up the avenues where, if that's ever happening, if people aren't being supported, that I'm opening those doors for open conversation, and I have to have a conversation with my wife as well about, Hey, what is it you need from me? Am I not like, because it's the same type of thing happening from both sides, but really trying to create that safe space, not taking things personally and as I said before, being okay with not being okay, as long as I'm not hiding from it, as long as I'm talking about it.

- And I think it, you know, the things that you're talking about here, are as hard as things get, and I think in addition to how hard this situation would be normally, being in a leadership position, I think sometimes people feel like they can't ask for additional help or can't be vulnerable, and yet I think, I guess in my experience, the opposite is really true and that you being transparent and open with your team, you're also demonstrating to them how people can go through incredibly difficult experiences, because the truth is, you know, we often look at our own crises through, a lens that feels like this is happening to us and we're all alone but one of the things that we've certainly seen, and we spoke about this a little bit last week during you know, our prep conversation that I think just throughout the pandemic, we've seen so much more of each other's lives, and it's so clear that everyone is coming to their job every day with the whole weight of the human experience and sometimes it's heavier and sometimes it's not so heavy, but I guess part of the point is, that everyone is going to go through difficult life experiences during their career, and so I would love to hear your thoughts on how you think that people listening to us right now, or the people that get the opportunity to work with you, what they can learn from your experience and strength and hope that you bring, to help them through tough experiences or to better support their colleagues when they're going through what inevitably will happen to so many of us.

- Absolutely, I first and foremost, radical transparency, being honest, I think not just to others, but to yourself, I think that's the hardest thing, is being honest with yourself because you can't be honest with others if you're not being honest with yourself and I think that's the start of it, what am I feeling? What do I need? And being okay with not knowing that and it being an ever evolving conversation and not having to kind of just, how do you tell everybody? These are okay, these aren't things that you can set that you're going to know what the outcome is six months from now, these are ever evolving life situations, and I think that's one piece that just stands out to me and people shy away from this conversation because it's hard or because it's being vulnerable, I think it's seeing, you know, I've heard different seeing vulnerability is that strength that authenticity as, we're all humans, which you said, Chris is so true, our lives have completely merged, and when it comes to, we can't leave our home life at home and step into work, and I think just recognizing that, so then also setting expectations and having those conversations in an empathetic way, like what I was talking about, and even what I've had with my leadership, is I need you to tell me if I'm missing the mark, like if I'm not meeting the minimum level of expectations, I know I'm not probably going to be exactly where I was, and having that open dialogue has been really helpful for me and I would encourage anybody walking through that, also encouraging leader, that's managing someone in this, that kind of setting those expectations of, you know, but also if you're walking through it, it's okay to also ask for that, say, I know my life is changed a bit, I'm still here, I do want to know though, like, because I'm fighting this, I'm not doing the same level of work that I may have been doing in the past or my imposter syndrome, I don't feel maybe adequate, I need you to be honest with me, if I'm not meeting the mark, if I'm not meeting expectations, that's an okay conversation to have, and then it's really, it's my responsibility, to be honest and express it as the way that I'm trying to take that on and so owning those pieces, and one last thing, I'd say just a quote that I love because oversharing is not vulnerability, I mean, in fact it's often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement, and that's from Brene Brown, and that one stands out to me because in this it's also, the pendulum can swing the entire other way where, you know, it can turn into for me, I feel like if I'm just every moment, you're not going to catch me every moment talking about the situation, one, it's not healthy for anyone involved, and two, that's not breeding that trust of, Hey, I want you to know what's going on, but at the same time, like, then I'm giving you the action, if I'm not meeting your expectations, come to me and talk to me that can create trust versus trying to create kind of maybe creating sympathy and it's hard and I'm not saying things perfectly here because none of these are easy things to talk about, but that's been my experience so far.

- So you spoke earlier on, about having been through some incredibly dark times that led to you getting into recovery, and can you talk a little bit about how those experiences and going through that has prepared you, in some way for how to face this challenging experience and how do you deal with those incredibly difficult types of emotions now, with the experience and perspective that you have?

- Sure, nothing can totally prepare you for anything like this, and I think, you know, that goes for every situation kind of that, you know, people are walked through, but there are tools that can help and I think that's the thing that's really helped me, as I mentioned, personal story, you know, recovering alcoholic with the rehab after waking up for the plan for suicide, which was my bottom, fortunately calling the suicide hotline versus, you know, doing anything else, and the tools that I learned from that really they started my journey of kind of personal discovery, which probably be the best way to describe it, of recognizing that, you know, I had to do a lot of inner work, a lot of my own inner discovery, and really trying to understand who I was and be accepting of my entire self, because, you know, I liked certain parts, but other parts I wasn't even really willing to look at, and there was a quote that I like to kind of, that stands out to me from Dr. Carl Young, and it's "one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious" and to me, that really, really speaks to me around, I can't ignore all of me and the parts of me that, when we would call it darkness or whatever, but there are two sides to every coin in a sense of there are good things, and there are bad things when it comes to all of this. So not ignoring emotions and feelings, and I have to continually remember that I own my reactions, and like I mentioned earlier, what's really helped me through this is I've gotten frustrated in plenty of times and it's so easy to say or feel that that's selfish because oh, I'm frustrated that I need to do some of these caregiving tasks or I need to do, like why me all this stuff goes through my head and recognizing that it's very easy for me to put that blame on others, my wife, my daughter, my 18 month old daughter be mad at her because she's hungry and she's crying at me, but taking the time to sit and take a look inside and go, why am I reacting in this way? Why am I getting angry or frustrated? And being honest with that, and then having that conversation, and that's what's been so huge with me and my wife is with me and Blife, we have tough conversations, I tell her sometimes when, Hey, I'm feeling this way, I know it's not you, this is nothing you have done, it's more of I need to look at why I'm getting frustrated in this, but I want you to know I recognize that, last week she told me I was being short with her with certain things and she was right, a hundred percent and it was because I had some, you know, frustrations that I hadn't really looked at and talked about and taking the power away from those kind of, by having the conversation, by being willing to look at the stuff that is you don't like about yourself, is some of the tools that really has given me and then work through it, not just say, oh yeah, I recognize that but then talk it out, work through it, get to the root of it and recognize that you don't want that to be a part of you, you don't want that to keep coming up so doing the work. So another thing that says is, don't go to sleep without talking about the hard stuff, is there some easy stuff and then hard stuff, and then owning your pieces like I said, I can use this at work a lot too, if I'm getting upset with someone that reaction, emotional reaction is on me, that is my reaction, no one can make me feel that way, and I think that is at the core, recognizing that helps separate this blame game and all of this, that those tools have really helped me, I'm not perfect at it, and we have to have conversations weekly about how I'm not, but we have those conversations and that is what's important is talking it through.

- Yeah and that so much powerful ideas in, in all of that, I will I just want to comment on one thing you just said about the don't go to sleep without talking about the hard stuff, so I've been married, next year will be 30 years, but when my wife and I were living together and we were engaged before we got married, we were in couples therapy, which was incredibly, I mean, we still go, and this is, you know, more than 30 years ago and we still go back to many of the things that we learned there, but this amazing therapist that we were working with, there were two rules that she gave us that we still, while we're not perfect also, as you said, but we still call each other on it you know, the number one was no hitting below the belt, and so we actually sat down and defined like what were things that were not okay? And that was, you know, if anything like that ever came out, that was the end of an argument and we had to go back to our corners. But the other one that she said, and that we have done for more than 30 years is don't go to bed angry and sometimes that has meant we're up till three or four in the morning working through stuff but that has been, that's literally the single best relationship advice that I've ever gotten in my life, I share that freely with other folks that was our experience, I loved hearing that from you as well. So a lot of what you were talking about, including when you're disturbed, looking at what your part is, but there's a lot of cases where due to circumstances we all are going to get overwhelmed, especially in a position as a caregiver. So when you're in that position, of overwhelm and that burden feels too heavy, what would you say that to other people about how to think about asking for help?

- I would say, please, please do and ask before you get to that point, I think sometimes help for me looks like finding a way to unplug from it all. So, you know, just sitting outside, watching a show or just sitting out, just being kind of finding my space, but I would just say to anyone recognizing those times that you're getting to that point and that's one thing that I continually want to keep working on, is I don't want to get to the point of being frustrated and it coming out, I want to get to the point of I recognize, I asked for that help for me, I had to ask my dad and stepmom to come down last week, my wife had to have another surgery two weeks ago, to remove some hardware in her skull, and it's been a recovery time, and so I had to ask my family to come down and help and stay for a week, and I wanted, oh, I can handle it, like, that was what went through my head, but I knew that it was not going to be healthy, I was not going to be a good caregiver, I was going to be trying to show up to work and it was not going to, everything was going to be impacted, so recognizing that and recognizing past experience, when I tried to do something like this, I called and I asked for help. So I would say, please like, leverage those around you, people do want to help, and they will help, and even the little things, please like find the small stuff, running to the grocery store, coming and doing laundry, like those things can take little stresses off and I would just encourage you to recognize those kind of times when things are building and ask for that.

- As we close out, I was asked the same final question and I think it, well, I'm really interested to hear your point of view 'cause it's a given everything that you've been through. What I normally ask is when you look back over the challenges of throughout the pandemic, the last 20 months, and especially your experience, has there been anything that's happened during that time that has left you with some optimism for the future?

- This is, yeah, I've always seen myself as an eternal optimist, I think, you know, I've heard plenty of people talk about Ted Lasso and actually, you know, watch that multiple times, and this has shaken that for me a little bit, to be honest, that's what we're here to be, this is, you know, kind of like the whole, why me? Why us? All that stuff, but there's not always a rhyme or reason. I think the one thing that, you know, finding gratitude is something that's really important to myself, to my wife, to my family, and one thing just to call out, is the tumor, they were saying, it's probably been here for, 'cause of the size, it's probably been there for seven, maybe eight years, just not discovered, and one piece that, you know, me and Blythe hung onto, is that if they had discovered it earlier, like, you know, all the questions of what if maybe they had and it wouldn't have been such a big deal, we probably wouldn't have had our daughter, we wouldn't have had our only child Waverley, Waverley Love, named after her grandmother, and I think that's been kind of our silver lining, if you will, like that we can keep looking back on and you're still the questions of why and why would this happen? But the optimism is that there's some gratitude in almost every situation if you look for it and in this, like going through cancer treatment and all that, it's very unlikely that we would have had are now 18 month old, who was she's frustrating at times, but she is also a bundle of joy and she makes life worth living a lot of times and thinking about that. So I think that's, yeah, that's where I'm at.

- Well, Chris, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your experience, strength and hope, it really is an extraordinary story and also ordinary, in terms of how many people around the world, are dealing with things like this, but not very many people will come and talk about it. So that makes it extraordinary and I really appreciate you bringing yourself to this conversation, knowing that it's a tough thing to talk about and I am confident that this is had an impact on many folks. So thank you for, thank you for that and thank you for everything that you do, helping people get jobs every day as well.

- Thank you Chris.