Elevating Others By Looking Inward First With Kevin Kermes

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Before you could guide others to the path towards success, you must be first clear with who you are and how you want to show up. That means looking inward to determine your goals, purpose, and motivations. Joining the virtual campfire with Tony Martignetti is trusted advisor, thought partner, and coach Kevin KermesKevin explains how he found his way to his current profession by embracing entrepreneurship at a young age, facing his traumas head-on, and appreciating his skills and strength at every level. He dives deep into the danger of self-loath and how hard it is to dismiss once ingrained in your head. Kevin also explains how living life on his own terms allowed him to work at his best, guiding others towards the same path he has walked on. 

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Elevating Others By Looking Inward First With Kevin Kermes

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Kevin Kermes. Kevin is a trusted advisor, thought partner and coach who has been doing three things since 2001. Helping transformational leaders create, build their ideal careers, and building companies that support impact freedom and profitability, several to a successful exit. Number three, advising, coaching, and partnering with transformational leaders who are driven by purpose and vision, whether it's to change their community, industry or the world. He lives in Florida, on the water as much as possible, with his two kids and his wife. I want to welcome you to the show, Kevin. 

Thanks. I’m glad to be here. 

I love the energy you’re already coming in here. I imagine myself on the water being in Florida. I'm here in Boston and the weather is not so bad. 

When you create a construct that doesn't serve you, it's the ultimate manifestation of self-loathing.   

We're probably getting closer and closer to having similar weather. Anytime you want to come down here, do it. 

Kevin, I'm thrilled to have you on and I’m looking forward to digging your story. You've made a lot of impact in your life so far, and I know you have a lot more to make with the people you're working with. I want to dig into your story and find out, what was the journey to getting here? 

There are many parts. It was interesting, I was listening to somebody talk about wisdom and age. Wherever the conversation went, I said something to the effect of, “If you told me five years ago what I'd be doing right now, not only would I not believe you but I wouldn't even understand what you were talking about.” My background has always involved on some level entrepreneurship, leadership, and I’d even say solving complex problems. This goes all the way back to being a kid and cutting grass. Getting all my clients to start collecting newspapers in their garage so I could take those and have them recycled. It’s one of those brilliant revenue streams ever. I didn't do anything but go pick up newspapers. It’s not exactly a huge cash cow. 

I became an infantry officer in the Army and did that for about four years. I got out stumbled into headhunting. I did that for an international search firm for a few years and then went off on my own. I started a search firm and sold it. I went to work for somebody else for a little bit of time and realized that was a match made in hell. I went back to starting another search firm. Back in 2008, I asked a question that set me on the journey that I've been on and truly stepped into on a different level since we met. You and I met a couple of years ago. 

Once you accomplish the doing of building a business and generating money, then the easy question becomes how do you do more of that? In 2008, my focus became, “How do I get more candidates and clients that I love working with, in this case, as a headhunter?” I looked at the body of work that I had and I was like, “There are some clients I love. There are some clients that if we never worked together again, the only sting would be the revenue loss.” 

What I came to realize at that moment was that I was complete with being a headhunter. I made a decision to reverse engineer what I did as a headhunter, and that's what started a company that I ran for a little over twelve years. The focal point of that work was, “Let me show you how to get yourself to start, figure out what your message is, stand out in the market, connect with people uniquely,” and all the things you did as a headhunter. What it grew into was going back to that same question that I asked myself in 2008, which at the essence of it was, “Who do you want to be?” 

If you gave me that language in 2008, I would have looked at you like, “First of all, it's grammatically incorrect. I don't even know what you're talking about. Had you cleaned up your language, I would have glossed over the essence of that.” That's what it's at. In the work now with all three of those groups, it's all the same thing because typically, everybody in those groups has been successful. Now it's coming back to those waypoints that at least I know, and I got reacquainted with this of like, “You’ve been successful and you're at this inflection point. What's making you happy out of that success? What do you maybe need to develop some new agreements with yourself around what you're going to tolerate, what you're going to accept, what you're going to do, and what you're not going to do? Everything that comes out of that.” I love that work and I love the people who want to do that work. 

There are many things I want to dig into. First of all, the journey begins when you start to ask those questions. It's not only asking the questions, but those questions then start a path. Your inner journey then creates this thing that is the body of work that you then become. Your clients get to enjoy and they get to see the value through that transformation that you have. Seeing what you've been able to uncover for yourself is what ultimately you do for your clients. It's helped them to be. 

I've been reflecting on it. Whether it's LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever, you go there and it's got my name, and it's trusted advisor, thought partner and coach. I'm close to removing the coaching piece because as our friend, Rich Litvin, says that coaching is a tool, and it is. Sometimes, I’d lean into and other times, I'm leaning more into, “Let's talk about the structure of what you're doing because I've seen a lot of different things over the years. I've done a lot of different things. Let's explore what that is.” Other times, it's inside that space of knowing at the heart of what people want to feel what's going to serve them. 

To your point about that, one of the things I've come to realize is that, in addition to these objectives that I help people with or the process, there's a need for me. On a core level, this is who I am and this is who I’d be that I need to be inspired by what it is you're doing. We need to have a deeper connection because the way I operate with clients, I'm totally in it with you. When we're not talking, I'm still thinking about where you're going. It's as important to me as it is to you. That brings me to a language I've started to step into. I reflected on the discomfort. I love all my clients. 


Even in those initial conversations as I'm getting to know somebody else, I can't see that. I'm not feeling that. There's not something there where I see there's a path forward on it. I immediately know there's a limitation on the work that we can do and I'm looking for people who are looking for the same type of relationship. It's not just transactional and surface level. When we talk about discomfort, that brings up all sorts of stuff. This is one of the first times I've said that out loud, certainly in a public forum. It feels right when I think about the people that I work with now because that's exactly how I would describe our relationship. They know it and I know it. 

The word that comes to mind when you tell the story, and this is what's helpful for a lot of people who go through this journey, is it's reframing the way you look at the things that you're doing. You could have easily, in any part of your journey, said, “I'm not sure if this is the right path for me because I'm not lit up yet. This is good work and it makes good money, but the people I'm working with are not lighting me up.” You could step away from it and say, “How can I reframe this and say, ‘Maybe it's the people I'm working with and not the work itself?’” No matter what you're doing, that reframing can be a powerful way to change the way that this works. 

Rich talks about this with Ken Wilber, the concept of transcend and include. Bypassing the distraction of being at odds with any other work that I've done or talking about outgrowing being a headhunter. I'm complete with that. I'm not angry about it. I'm not upset about it. I wish I had done it sooner. I wish I did it a little later or whatever. I appreciate all of that. It brought me to where I am right now. Recognizing, too that there are people that I work with who at some point, this container and what we have and the relationship we have, maybe they want more of it, maybe they want less of it, or maybe they want no more of it. 

At some point, those journeys are complete. 

It does not mean that because it's complete, that there's anything wrong with it. That's a tendency that I know I've had in the past. We've all at some point had the polarity of raging against something versus raging for something. 

I want to take you back because I love getting into the story of how did you become the person you are today. I want to take you even further back, was there an entrepreneurial spirit in your family? How was the upbringing? You said about youre mowing grass. It seems like you are the entrepreneur as a child. What was it like in your family? Was everyone wired for entrepreneur? 

It's extremely important to not let emotions play in the decision-making process. 

Yes and no. My mom, several times. She was a registered nurse, and then after my sister was born, she stopped working in a traditional setting. There are a couple of times that she started a business. She started a catering business and she had a needle pointing shop at one point when they lived outside of Chicago, which was exceptionally successful. My dad, although he worked in a corporate setting and worked his way up to being a CEO, I listened to some of the entrepreneurial stories that he had. One of my favorites is in college, he had a Pepsi machine. The guy would come and stock it up with Pepsi, and then when he leaves, because he's at an all-boys college, he'd remove all those and he’d put a beer can when it’s empty, and then when the guy would come back, he'd restock it. Maybe pull out a couple of Pepsis and the guy would give him lectures all the time. He's like, “You suck at this. You’re not going to make any money.” He’d nod his head and be like, “You're right.” Hopefully, he'll read this. 

It was always there. One of the things I've always been at odds with is considering myself lazy. I said to a friend one time like, “I will follow the path of least resistance. In my heart, I'm lazy.” She's like, “You're the least lazy person I know.” I'm like, “No, that's the story going on.” When I get back to the entrepreneurial piece, it was the freedom and the abilities. When I think about cutting grass as a kid and growing up in Florida, and then in Georgia, in the middle of the summer, sometimes I'd go cut four yards in a day, which was not easy. I was smoked at the end of that, but the reality was I was doing that to condense all that work and all that revenue into a period of time as I could so I had more freedom to go do whatever I wanted to do. It's funny, I'd never thought about it that way until now that the freedom piece has always been at the heart of it for me 100%. 

I love you’re saying this because this is an element of freedom that people value. There's a premium on freedom. When you can design your life around the work hard, play hard mentality, but do it in a way that allows you to not kill yourself in the process of designing a life around that, it's powerful. There's a mentality, and I'd love to have your thoughts on this, around the entrepreneur of being the one who suffers, is head down and will burn out. If you can find a way to make it so that you can find that balance, it's powerful and you have a good time doing it. 

One of the interesting things, not only about my journey but more people that I can even count that I've worked with over the years when you take that path to go work for yourself is that it's important to reconcile who you be, who you are, and what's truly important to you. Not like, “I've come out of corporate or I’ve come out of whatever structure, and I'm going to take that and replicate it because there's a reason you moved away from it.” The reason I say this is whether you consciously get to this point or not and you create a construct that doesn't serve you and you're not happy with, it's the ultimate manifestation of self-loathing and self-hatred because you are now the boss that you despise.  

You cannot escape the fact that you've willingly, knowingly created a construct that's beating you up, maybe beating your family up, and isn't setting the conditions for you to show up the way you want to show up. It’s funny, the guy who's my right-hand marketing and the operations guy for me, we were talking about this because both of us, in coming together, work together and known each other for years, had a mandate of starting with what do we both want life to look like? We are going to work on initiatives but never to a point of stretching to where it impacts those things externally. 

For some people, that may sound self-indulgent. It may sound like a luxury but for me, I've arrived at a place and this is my being. It’s like, “If the hustle, grind, get after at work eight hours a week is your thing, God bless. You do you.” For me, not only do I not want to do it, but I am not going to do it any more than I am going to try to breathe water. It's not happening. Everything needs to support that. It needs to work inside that construct. That's the reality. That's what gravity looks like to me. 


For me at least, what that decision has done has made me realize how much of the noise out there is either hustle, grind, get after it, you've got to obsess. The language is fight and violent. I've lived in that world. I get that. The other side of it is the disbelief when we talk about it being easy. I'm not saying that if I save 30 hours a week is where my cap is, that it's going to be an easy 30 hours a week, but it's going to be 30 hours a week that's true to me. 

Everything's made up. Our reality is constructed by what we believe we can create for ourselves. If someone wants to believe that it's going to be hard, it's going to be hard. If someone wants to believe that they can create a life that works for them and will have space for them to be in their presence and be present in this moment, then they can do that. They have control over that. That freedom of choice is what is powerful. When you think about your journey and think about how you have shown up and I know it's not easy, but you've made those choices. You've become the person you want them to be through choice, how you want to show up. 

I love that you said it because it does all start with a decision. Underlying all that is the decision we have about the emotions and the importance that we're going to let the emotions play in our decision-making process. This is something I've not shared outside of the handful of people. I've done work around emotions, and that's the bulk of the work with one coach that I've done work with. In tandem with this, I was doing some guided hypnosis for a while because I was interested in that journey to get into the subconscious. This was my first true foray into getting woo-woo or whatever. 

I was sitting on a chair and I'm going through it. I got down into my subconscious and I had a conversation with disappointment. The disappointment was this black amorphous object. I couldn't see it and I couldn't define it. What's interesting about it is the conversation went like this. “Disappointment, you've done such a great job at finding things to be disappointed about. I want to give you a new job.” I can't remember what in that session I told him the new job was. 

Fast forward, 1.5 or 2 months later, I'm sitting over there on that couch and I'm going through some tapping exercise. I'm sitting with the eyes closed, tapping away on my knees with my coach talking to me. All of a sudden, fear appears. We've been doing a lot of conversations and a lot of work around fear. Fear is clear to me. It looks like the grim reaper except in off-white and no sickle. I didn't reside. I did not believe that the grim reaper was coming to get me, but it's clear to me it was fear. 

Fear must be repurposed into an avenue of endless possibility. 

The conversation went like this. First of all, it was like, “I am happy to meet you. I'm so glad that we finally met. Thank you for showing up. You have done such a great job at trying to keep me safe, but that's not what this is. What you keep showing up to do, I appreciate it, but it's not what I need you to do.” Every time fear comes up now, I take a second and I’ll react to it and have this conversation with it, assuming it's not trying to keep me from the metaphorical saber-toothed tiger. I repurpose it to look at the endless possibility.  

Everything to unpack in there from the ease and the calm that washes over me about things to the decision that I'm not renegotiating emotions. I'm not just identifying them, I'm taking an emotion because it's energy and going, “You now need to be this,” when it's misappropriated. There's that gray area in between where it's like, “I need to get curious about this because I don't understand what's going on here. I just know that this doesn't serve me right now.” 

I've heard this exercise before and it's something about playing with the parts in giving them new jobs. It's powerful because it's about shifting energy and knowing the energy doesn't get created or destroyed. It’s transformed or whatever the word is that they use to say that it is. It is something that leaves a mark and can be impactful in terms of the exercise. I can see that from the way you described it, it had quite an impact on you. Tell me what's coming up for you now when you reflect on that. Has it had an impact on how you're showing up today? 

What it's done is I feel like it's chapter one because, in all of these things, there's something back behind it where fear was coming from. I identify a couple of places in my childhood and the truest definition of the word, they were trauma. They're not cataclysmic events, but it's amazing how little things continue to ripple and show up. Going back and identifying it, not being patronizing, not trying to hammer through, overcome the fear, and push through it is ridiculous but go, “I appreciate it. That sucked but that's not what this is.” 


I look at these things almost like the toddler that's walking towards the stairs and you can’t get angry with the toddler. The toddler is just being a toddler and you’re redirecting it. For me, what comes up is now that that is moved out of the way, what's back behind there to unlock going deeper? One of the things I've started noticing more is how pain shows up in my body and doing work on that to relieve it, not from like, “Let me put some Aspercreme up here and let me stretch out a little bit more.” Some of those things are important but knowing that there's something back behind it. Sometimes, it's a matter of overworking something, but there are also some pains that I have one particularly in my shoulder that I've been going through a process on. It's not what I've attributed it to all along.  

As that's getting removed, there's something back behind it. This is such a new concept to me but fundamentally, it's a metaphorical one around, not that there's not more knowledge to seek, but everything, it’s a matter of taking it out on the outside and bringing it back inward and doing that work internally. To go back to something you said, it’s also a work that's constantly being done as I'm getting to work with clients because I don't look at myself in any way, shape or form like, “I'm coming down from the mountain. We dropped some wisdom on you.” I look at it like, “This is such a gift to be in partnership with folks that were helping each other.” 

It's like a ride-along. You're riding along with them and not preaching to them like, “This is the way to do the thing that you need to do.” It's more like, “Let me ride along with you and show you some things that I've learned along my journey, but I'm still figuring it out too.” One of the things that I'm leaning into around this is this element of like, “How many people are walking around with these little moments of microtrauma that's sitting inside of them and waiting to be released and let go through different exercises, thought processes that could be released, and the work that needs to be done?” 

I'll give you one example. Most people find this hard to believe when they see me, but when I was in 1st and 2nd grade, my best friend, Josh Bassett, and I were always the last two to get picked for sports. We'd be in PE and it wasn't even like, “I’ve got Kermes and I didn't get Bassett, or I’ve got Bassett and I didn't get Kermes.” “Josh or Kevin, it doesn't matter, whatever. Let's go.” The only way we got picked first is if we were the ones who were picking the team. We just stood there like, “I know where this is going.” 

I've told that story countless times. Whenever I'll think back on it, I’m just laughing about it. It wasn't until I did some of this work that I started to realize that sometimes, it wasn't putting myself out there. The story that’s always going back in my head is like, “I'll never get picked for that. Nobody wants to hang out with you.” All those things, whether that track is playing loud or soft, it comes from that. Think about this in the context of owning a business when you're making decisions that those little voices are back there driving. 

You are responsible for everything that happens or fails to have in your life. 

It wasn't like, “Become aware of it. Go head it off.” When it comes up, I go back to that point. I look at little six-year-old Kevin and I'm like, “That sucks. It's not always going to be this way, but at this moment, all that matters is what you're trying to bring up, that's not what this is.” That has had huge rippling effects. I use that word, trauma, and I feel like I'm being dramatic. When I think of trauma, I think of trauma. To your point, I've got no idea how many more of those things are out there that have rippling effects that are holding me back from serving as well as I can. Put aside work for a minute as a husband, dad, brother, son and friend. Just be a better human. 

Even thinking about the pandemic in its own right has created maybe little elements of people holding themselves back and having moments of loneliness or things that have been building up. We need to release. We need to find a way to make sure that those tensions don't build up and end up playing out over time, especially for the kids who are navigating this period of time, which I know I'm concerned about for sure. 

This is my son’s second year in a traditional school environment, so 50% of his experience is this. I live here in Florida and I live in a county that has had exceptionally low numbers all along. My experience versus being up in the Northeast, we're talking about two different worlds. I agree with you. There's so much to unpack there and there's a lot of work to be done by people who understand the implications of that better than I do. 

We covered so much ground, but I know that there are elements of the story that we didn't dive too much into. I want to ask you a question that will help you to bring all this into focus. What are 2 to 3 lessons that you've learned along your journey about yourself that you want to share, that you haven't already shared? Some things that have shown up in your life that you think are important. 

This is a tough one for me to say out loud because I feel self-indulgent about it, but I'm good when stuff goes sideways. I experienced that first in the military. I had an experience a few years back where it came back up and it was like, “Suspend reality. Get focused on what it is that needs to be done.” I’ll also be the person who completely delays getting their sink unclogged for months. It's a bigger thing for me around, it either matters or it doesn't at all, but there's a ton of gray area in between that I don't pay attention to, so it's a top priority or not. That's one thing that I've come to learn about. 

The other is I care about other humans on this planet, and getting better at understanding how I can best serve other people on this planet. By that, I mean the difference between being kind and nice. I've had many people tell me, “You're so nice.” I'm like, “I am not a nice person.” I feel like I can be a kind person. Diving into that helped me bracket that a little bit better because a kind person making decisions like a nice person led me to put myself in situations where I'm like, “How in the world did I get here?” I used to be the victim mindset of like, “Why are they doing this?” I’m like, “They're doing this because you created this.” This comes back to the third thing and I learned this in the military. You are responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen. 

I love how you connected those last two because it's so powerful how those two are together and how they’ve connected to what we were talking about. We're always at choice. We create our world. There's so much responsibility behind that but there's also so much power behind that. That's part of the journey that we need to figure out. What kind of a world do we want to create? 

Who do you want to be? 

It’s such a great sentiment and that's the question for the ages. 

It’s a big one. 

I have one last question for you and that is, what is 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why? 


One is more a series of books and one, in particular, is anything by Hemingway. As I get ready to write a book, I've been diving back into his work. I wish I could hang out, go fishing with him, and drink rum. I would not be able to hang doing any of those things with him for sure. That's number one that comes up for me or that body of work. I've got six books by him that I'm all simultaneously working through, absorbing it, and trying to be at a picture coming that's going to go over there of him. I'm leaning into it. Honestly, for me, that's it. I can see other books, but those keep coming up, The Old Man and the SeaFor Whom the Bell Tolls and everything. 

It’s powerful. If you think about it not just from the writing perspective but the life you live, which at times has its controversial parts but it also embodies this sense of getting out of the comfort zone and living a brash and full life. 

God help us if Ken Burns did a historical narrative on any of us, with the pieces and parts that would come up, we wouldn't want people to see. The guy lived life. 

On the edge, to say the least. I'm honored that we had this conversation because it's been a different conversation than the normal Virtual Campfire. I love it that we did go into some great territory. I can't thank you enough for coming on the show and sharing all your insights and your story. Thank you, Kevin. 

I appreciate it. Thank you. 

Let me know, where people can find you? What's the best place to find you? 

There's the website, which is KevinKermes.com, and then also you can look me up under my name on InstagramLinkedIn and Facebook. I do my best to go live once a day. I ratcheted that back and let it speak to me when I have something to say, which is 2 or 3 times a week sometimes, but I'm doing way more there than I do via email. It is a big shift for me where it was big list and big emailing. I'm enjoying it a lot more. I still email maybe once a week or once every other week, but that's it. 

Thank you again and thank you, readers, for coming on the journey. This has been a real pleasure, Kevin. We'll see you soon. 

Thanks. I appreciate it. 

Important links: 

About Kevin Kermes 

Here's my story:

Since 2001, I’ve been doing three (3) things:

1) Helping Transformational Leaders create and build their ideal careers.
2) Building companies that support impact, freedom and profitability (several to a successful exit).
3) Advising, coaching and partnering with Entrepreneurs who are driven by Purpose and Vision: whether it’s to change their community, industry or the world.

I’ve spent time as an Infantry Officer, Headhunter, Fortune 100 Consultant and Entrepreneur…

as well as being a father and husband.

Learning to balance all of that is something from which I draw constantly to help those I coach, advise and partner with to achieve the same.

Success is for you to define, is holistic and does not compromise.

AND, if any of what I shared above resonates and you’d like to connect…

Drop me a message here on LI -or- feel free to email me at kevin@kevinkermes.com.

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