Season 1 Episode 9: Julie Holunga

Date Published: September 14, 2020

Audio only


Julie Holunga

Julie G. Holunga is a leadership trainer and executive coach developing professionals to lead with influence and authority. She works with attorneys, CPAs, and business leaders, with an expertise in the careers of female professionals. Her trainings inspire driven professionals to bring their careers to the next level. Through her proven frameworks, Julie shows her clients how to tangibly and concretely build their careers while raising their internal and external visibility. Success for Julie’s clients comes in the form of more productive work relationships, effective communication strategies, advancement, refined leadership qualities, and heightenedconfidence when navigating their career paths. In her spare time, Julie skis and hikes with her dog in the foothills of Denver, and can be found most weekends at a hockey rink watching her kids play.

In Episode #9 of Everyday Heroes: A COVID-19 Podcast, we meet Julie Holunga. She is a leadership trainer and executive coach who enjoys helping women succeed in the workplace.


“Memories heal the living. We pray for the living.”

Angela: As of July 8th, 2020, according to the New York times, “There is no country in the world where confirmed coronavirus cases are growing as rapidly as they are in Arizona, Florida, or South Carolina.” At this time, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States was over 135,000. This is the context of our ninth episode, a conversation with Julie Holunga, a leadership trainer and executive coach.

Angela: Thank you for joining us today. We are here with Julie Holunga. Hi, Julie. How are you doing today?

Julie: Good, Angela, how are you?

Angela: I'm great. So tell me a little bit about what life was like before COVID-19.

Julie: Life was pretty good. I felt that things were really picking up both professionally and personally, and things were falling into line, and all the hard work over the last couple of years seemed to be coming in to effect. And I felt really good about things.

Angela: You run your own business?

Julie: I do. I run my own practice here in Denver, and I work with clients around the United States and Canada. And I have clients who want to meet in person and clients who never want to meet in person. I actually have a client who I worked with for over a year and her office is about five miles from mine, and we never ran into each other and totally ran into each other at a Trader Joe's. So, it was quite funny, not expected, but I really work in a variety of ways. And certainly now everything is virtual.

Angela: Right. So before COVID, would you do events?

Julie: I spoke at a lot of conferences, and I would say that's probably my biggest disappointment, and it is just that… a disappointment. I had secured a number of larger conferences to speak at in 2020. That was my goal for the year, to build visibility by speaking at conferences. And most of them have been canceled or postponed until next year. I've had a couple that have been virtual, which are fun, but nowhere near as much fun as when I'm able to interact and really feed off of the energy that's in the room. I shared this story with a client the other day that I end one of my talks that I give with a pretty funny story about my husband. And I don't say it's pretty funny because I think it's funny, but I always get a really good laugh out of it. But when I'm doing it with a screen in between my audience and everyone's on mute, it's happened now twice in the last couple of months that I tell this story, and it's just dead silence. And I have no reaction whether people are enjoying the story or not. One time, luckily, the conference organizer was not on mute because she knew she was about to speak. And so she laughed, and I got to hear that. So that felt really good.

Angela: I bet.

Julie: But yeah, it's definitely an adjustment to be engaging with people this way.

Angela: Definitely huge. Yeah. You don't get that energy feedback, like you're talking about. So are you socially distancing?

Julie: Yes, I am. And I truly believe in wearing masks. I don't understand why people don't. I have two teenage kids and that has been a bit of a struggle, in terms of social distancing. You know, what's better for them? To just hole up in their rooms and stare at a screen? Or I literally just picked up my daughter from her lacrosse practice, and they try to stay… I wouldn't say it's six feet, but I was looking at the drills that they're doing, and they are staying apart, but I know it's hard. You know, I kind of weigh, you know… What's healthier for us? And a lot of times, I don't know, but I am keeping my distance.

Angela: Yeah. Have you… As a parent, it's been a challenge to switch to online, I would imagine. Did you want to tell us anything about that? Like how you dealt with that?

Julie: Yeah, that was, that was definitely an adjustment. I feel lucky. I have cousins who have younger kids, elementary school kids, and they certainly were struggling. You know, with two kids now entering high school, I had, you know, in the spring it was eighth and 10th grades, they really were on their own. You know, I helped and I was available when they needed me, but I didn't have to stay on top of them. You know, I made sure that they handed in their assignments, but it's very different than sitting next to them and making sure that they understood what they were doing. I really admire the teachers in the schools, that they were able to respond so quickly and get something going. I don't know that it was ideal for everyone, but I feel that there was something for them. And I know, with friends who are principals and teachers, I know that they're working hard to try to make whatever may come this fall even better. And, you know, I know that people can be frustrated with schools, but I really see that everyone's just trying their best. I mean, no one's coming at this and saying like, “I'm just gonna kind of do halfway” here.

Angela: Right.

Julie: So I, and I appreciate that. And we're all trying to figure out what will work. And I always go back to thinking, you know, my grandparents were involved in growing victory gardens and different aspects of helping people come over from Europe, in World War II. And that, to me, is a true sacrifice. And what we're doing now is… is more of an annoyance. And, you know, we can do it.

Angela: Right.

Julie: I don't want it to be this way, but it could be so much worse.

Angela: It really could, and perspective is everything, and having… And I think about those folks too, like especially the people went who went through the Spanish Flu. Right. And they didn't even have any electronics. Like, could you imagine?

Julie: There was no Netflix during the Spanish flu.

Angela: None! No video conferencing, you know, no Facetime to keep in touch family, um, how stay here, which, how are you coping with all of these things? What are some strategies that you've been using to (a) keep your finances together… I'm sure that's been a struggle, (b) emotional wellbeing and mental wellbeing and family wellbeing as well?

Julie: Yeah. So one of the things that I did very early on was… I actually have a sticky on my monitor… is not to forecast, and not to try to figure out what's happening next week. And for me personally, not to listen to people who are forecasting, because no one knows. None of us know. And so that has been really helpful for me to really try to take one day at a time. And I'm very much a planner, and that has been a little bit of a struggle, to not be able to plan, but I… My family all lives in New York, and I just booked a flight to go for Thanksgiving. And my mom and I are optimists, and we're just going forward… that it's, you know, doors are going to be open, and we're going to be able to see family. Because that is hard, not to be able to see them. But Southwest has free changes, so that's the way we're going.

Julie: In terms of finances, initially, it was great. I've never had as low a credit card bill as I did, you know, in April and May of this year. And now I think it's really being thoughtful about where we're spending our money. You know, going to the grocery store once a week is great as well. You know, it's not these impulsive buys that that have happened before. And really, because we don't know what's going to happen… My practice right now is thriving. And I feel grateful for that and really happy with the work that I'm doing. My husband's job is great, but knowing that… That could end tomorrow. Right? Not knowing what's going to happen. So we're being really smart and thoughtful and trying to put some parameters on spending. For anyone who has had, or has, teenagers, it's certainly… that has been difficult to get that point across to them. And, you know, we can't just go spend instead. So really thinking that way…

Julie: I found, in terms of, sort of, my mental health, one of the things that has been really helpful is to just get outside. I went for a hike on Sunday, and it was, you know, for three hours, like you kind of forgot that this is all going on. And I find that really helpful, for both myself and those around me. And then also, I say this to my clients all the time, and then I have to remind myself as well, is just cutting ourselves some slack, that our productivity is not going to be what it was. And they're going to be certain days that are just not normal for us and just… It's OK.

Angela: So do you wear a mask?

Julie: So I do wear a mask anytime I'm inside. I just went to the grocery store. I wore a mask. I live out in the suburbs, in Golden Colorado, and there's not a lot of people around, and right now being so hot, I go for walks pretty early in the morning. I don't wear a mask then. If I'm going for a hike, or mountain bike ride, I'll put my Gator on and kind of pull it up and down. I did go for a ride, probably about two months ago. It was going uphill. I was absolutely dying. And a woman was coming down the hill, walking. And she shared some not so pleasant comments and words with me. And I'm not sure if I didn't get my mask up soon enough. I'm not sure what it was, but I'm noticing that people are… you know, they either wear their mask or they don't.

Julie: When they're outside, it doesn't bother me as much. I can't comprehend why people are not wearing them in the grocery store or, you know, at the Post Office or like… I can't get my head around that.

Angela: It's hard. That's hard to understand.

Julie: There's so many, I mean, I see them at Target. I just saw them at Sprouts. They're selling some cute ones. There's so many Colorado companies. We just ordered some from Colorado Threads, and they're so cool. You know, so we're supporting the local companies and getting a cute mask.

Angela: Yeah. Have you… have you noticed if you do a lot of DoorDash or GrubHub? For special occasions or anything?

Julie: Yeah. We decided that we would support a local restaurant in Golden once a week, and we would choose a different one to support, and sometimes it's take out. Sometimes it’s GrubHub or whatever is easy. I feel like my two teenage kids are keeping Chipotle in business with all of their ordering. But, you know, that's their choice. We're trying to support the smaller, independent places and just try to help out. And, it’s just the idea of kind of helping each other out and keeping each other in business.

Angela: Yeah, definitely. It's so, so amazing. What are some other things, do you think that you're doing, to help your community and family and friends?

Julie: Yeah. So there's a program here locally that, during the school year, helps kids with supplies and food. And so I have a really good friend who's very involved. It's called the Golden Backpack Program. And so, I have been involved with, you know, bringing when people were donating food, organizing things, putting bags together for families, and trying to support that organization. And the town of Golden did a vigil a couple of weeks ago, and just staying abreast of what we can do around everything else that's going on. The Black Lives Matter movement and talking to, you know, what I can do inside my home and outside my home, and talking to my kids about what race means and who we are as a family and how we look at people who maybe physically look different. But when we really look at what makes a good person, it has nothing to do with what's going on outside and really having those conversations. And I feel very strongly about that. Those behaviors, and some of the bad behaviors we're seeing, are certainly passed down like that. That's a learned behavior. We're not born that way. And I find that getting outside of my own head, and thinking about others, really helps if I am feeling a little uncertain. At any point, really being able to think about someone else is very helpful.

Angela: Tell me more about your work and how you inspire women.

Julie: So, as I said, I do a lot of leadership training and executive coaching. One of the programs I run is called the Women's Catalyst Network. And that is a leadership development program, specifically designed for women, who are driven to go after the whatever's next. And they define success differently. But the commonality is that they're… they may have the confidence to speak up, but maybe they're not speaking up in the right way, or they have the technical expertise, but they are missing something else.

Julie: So I talk about, you know, what got you here, isn't going to get you there. So this program is over the course of eight months, and they develop new skills. They hone some other skills. They meet with… you know, right now, of course, we're meeting virtually. They get to meet with like-minded peers. So they are… It's yes, I'm coming in with an expertise and I'm teaching a skill, but then they also are a peer to peer mastermind. So being able to mentor each other is really important. And because they come from a variety of different companies, a variety of different industries and roles, they're really able to get fresh perspectives and think about other ways to approach challenges that are right in front of them. So that's… I just love that work. It's a highlight in my month. We just launched, in May, our eighth cohort. So I have about seventy-plus women who have gone through the program. I stay in touch with about 90% of them, and the 10% have either left town or just, unfortunately, we have lost touch. But, you know, I know what's going on, where they're going on vacation, when they get married, when they start dating someone new. And I really enjoy hearing about how they go after what they really want, because what every single one of them tells me is taking two hours, once a month, to focus on themselves and what they want in their career, really helps clarify what it is that they want to spend their time doing, and what they don't want to spend the time doing, and kind of what they want to put aside. And either it's something, a project, they want to delegate or some conflict they just don't want to deal with. And so they figure out how to deal with it. And then they put it aside.

Julie: And it really… They, every single one of them… I could spend hours telling you about what they've done to put things beside, behind them and go after that one thing that they want. And I would say most of my clients would tell you, not just the women, but all of them, would tell you that just having the time to focus on themselves and just go after it is so helpful for them. I had a client today who… we finished up our engagement, and he said to me, this has been so helpful. Now, what can I do for you? And that just makes me so happy to hear that kind of feedback from my clients, because they just get out of their own way. And just having someone to talk to, who's not attached to any agenda… I don't have… I'm not biased. I don't… You know, I want them to go after their goals, and I want them to reach their goals. But if they take this path or this path, it doesn't matter to me. I want them to reach their goals.

Angela: We’re nearing our ending time. Did you want… Was there some final thoughts you wanted to leave us with? Or anything that maybe you want to share with us that I haven't asked you about?

Julie: Well, one of the things I've been thinking a lot about is creating boundaries, and I've been sharing this because it… I needed it so badly. So I've been sharing this with others: that you know yourself better than anyone else, and setting up boundaries in terms of the information that you're taking in… For instance, I'm not watching news on the TV. I will read my news, but I won't watch it on the TV because it's agitating to me. So I figured out what works. It's also being able to say to someone, “you know what, I'm not comfortable. I don't want to.” We were invited to a party recently. I said, “No, absolutely not! Not doing it.” And I don't feel bad about it, and I don't think twice about it.

Julie: So really understanding what works for you, and what I always talk about is the people inside your four walls. And not feeling guilty or bad or pressured to do anything else, and really thinking about, “What are my boundaries that I want to set up?” And if I want to break one down one day, for a particular reason, that's on me. And it doesn't matter what anyone else's opinions are. And I have found that that really helps them in getting through this… So much uncertainty, so much unusual times that we're going through.

Angela: I really love the “don't project”. That's just sort of a way of staying mindful and staying present and doing with what we have right now. Because really, why worry about six months from now, you know?

Julie: Right.

Angela: You're just spinning your wheels for nothing. And you're losing that energy, when you could be placing it into the now. Right?

Julie: That's right. I agree.

Angela: It was so great to meet you and speak with you.

Julie: Thank you for having me. Yes.

Credits EVERYDAY HEROES: A COVID-19 Podcast. Featuring Angela Rothermel and guest. Produced by Michael T. Starks. Editing Services by Brian Torres, Irlend Productions Independent, LLC. All Images and Footage used with Permission & Licensing, Provided by Adobe Stock and "Say a Prayer for the Living" Music, Lyrics & Performed by Michael T. Starks. Special Thanks to Karilyn T. Starks. Ionogen Media, LLC Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.