Women In Wellness: “Intentional deep breathing is a very powerful and easy way to reduce stress and center one’s self” with Author Katy McQuaid

Chaya Weiner
Nov 7 · 10 min read

Breathe, breathe, and breathe. Intentional deep breathing is a very powerful and easy way to reduce stress and center one’s self. Breathing is a simple way to shift one’s emotional state and no one even has to know you are doing it.

As part of my series about health and wellness leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing author and leadership consultant Katy McQuaid, who spent more than three decades in the CIA, including 12 years living abroad. Her work in communities all over the world and the endearing, unconditional love of her four-legged muse Grace inspired her to write the “Everybody Loves Grace” series of illustrated books. Parents, kids of all ages, executives, and organizational leaders hail the series as a beacon of hope and inspiration for anyone navigating change or challenging circumstances. Katy is the founder of McQuaid Corporate Performance, LLC and a graduate of Penn State University where she attended on a full scholarship, lettered all four years as a swimmer, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance. Katy’s goal is to support people and organizations in experiencing successful, meaningful, and empowered transformations.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My backstory begins with the belief that we all have a story. That’s why I enjoy leading seminars about authentic leadership because I believe we all have a unique story that determines our core values. Those core values are the foundation for how we show up in life.

My defining year came when I was 17 years old and heading off to college. I had three particularly difficult things happen to me in less than 6 months. As I left for Penn State, I said good-bye to my high school swim coach who was in a coma, thinking I’d never see her again. Within the first month of my freshman year, President Carter made the decision the US would boycott the Olympic games, and my dreams of competing on the US Olympic Swimming team were shattered. A few months later, one week before Christmas, I came back to my dorm room after swim practice to learn my father had died of a massive heart attack at home in Virginia. I had just turned 18 years old.

I call this my story, or backstory, because it was a defining year for me. I got through it with the support of teammates, faculty, family, and friends. As a result, I learned the value of teamwork, love, and integrity.

Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting thing that’s happened since I started my second career is that I kept getting a message that it was time to write a book — a children’s book. This is something I never dreamed of or aspired to, but I listened to the messages I was getting from close friends, God, and my intuition. I thought “Who am I to write a children’s book?”

I’m so grateful I paid attention, because writing these sweet stories of Grace and the impact she’s had on children and parents alike is like nothing else I’ve experienced. The Everybody Loves Grace series is fulfilling in ways I could never have imagined.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest things happened when I was talking to a business consultant shortly after I retired from my career with the CIA. I had grand plans of taking three weeks off before jumping into what I thought was going to be a robust consulting business and second career.

The woman I was talking to laughed when I told her this and said, “Three weeks? Just three weeks?” I replied, “Yes, I’ll be ready to go in three weeks.” She recommended I give myself several months off and also suggested I read “Activate the Brain” by Scott Halford. The book explains why it is so critical to rest the brain after periods of intense focus. In my case, I had been operating in high-pressure environments for many years.

Had it not been for Marty’s advice, I firmly believe the Everybody Loves Grace series would not have happened. Nor would my successful consulting business, leadership training, and one-on-one sessions have occurred.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

I am getting ready to publish my third book in the Everybody Loves Grace series in September. Everybody Loves Grace: An Amazing True Story of Grace’s Adventure to Texas is another beautiful story shared through Grace’s eyes. In the book she shares two new life lessons:

  1. Good friends remain good friends even if they don’t see each other often.
  2. Moving to a new place is a chance for new beginnings and the opportunity to make new, special friends.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I consider myself very fortunate to have had many mentors and coaches who encouraged and guided me throughout my life. It’s difficult to select just one, but the one who inspired me the most was my high school swim coach, Jean Rachner.

She was more than a swim coach to me; she was like having a second mother. She knew exactly how much pressure to put on me “in the pool” and she guided me in other aspects of my life such as navigating those challenging high school years or deciding where to go to college, and she provided wise counsel during my years with the CIA.

As I mentioned earlier, she was in a coma when I left for college. One summer day, she suffered a brain aneurysm while coaching and somehow managed to drive herself home before collapsing on her driveway. She was in a coma for eight weeks before the doctors and family made the decision to remove her from life support. When I visited her in the hospital, with eyes filled with tears, I said good-bye and kissed her on the forehead thinking it was last time I would see her.

That was in 1979, and Jean is still alive today at 91 years old. She taught me how to never give up in the face of insurmountable odds. She has the most optimistic attitude of anyone I’ve ever known. In fact, I look forward sharing her 90th birthday celebration with readers in Grace’s Book Three.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?

Breathe, breathe, and breathe. Intentional deep breathing is a very powerful and easy way to reduce stress and center one’s self. Breathing is a simple way to shift one’s emotional state and no one even has to know you are doing it.

Meditate. Studies have shown that with 20 minutes of meditation per day we can increase brain volume in critical areas and our overall well-being.

Move the body. I used to be a driven athlete and that drive lasted for years after I graduated from Penn State. I have come to know that it doesn’t have to be intense exercise, just moving — whether it’s walking or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, it helps my overall state of well-being.

Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?

One of my favorite books is The Inner Matrix by Joey Klein. In the book he combines the ancient wisdom of Eastern and Western traditions to create a personal development system that can transform one’s inner existence. The book provides basic tools that, when consistently practiced, help to shift deep mental and emotional patterns that cause pain and discomfort in daily life.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would start a movement with young adults and children. I would love to provide every child or young adult with an understanding and the basic tools such as meditation, quiet time, breath work, and movement to give them the ability to work through difficult situations in a healthy way. I think if we start young, before the mental and emotional patterns are deeply entrenched, children will know a more peaceful life that will contribute to long-term overall health and well-being.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My desire to bring goodness to the world is the driving force behind the Everybody Loves Grace series. My successful career in the CIA allowed me to self-finance and independently publish the book series. I am compelled to share the life lessons as told through Grace’s eyes because they have the potential to impact children around the world. By that I mean that Grace can inspire hope, courage, and love in kids who are going through difficult times or periods of change in life. Who better to hear a life lesson from than a dog named Grace?

Bringing goodness to the world is at the core of my being and it has always been an important part of who I am. As long as I can remember I’ve been involved in service organizations that serve the poor, children, elderly, sick, and disabled.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Announce your plans when you are ready. I wish someone had told me not to announce I was starting a consulting business before I retired from the CIA. I shared my intentions with family, friends, and colleagues approximately six months prior to my retirement.

As I mentioned earlier, I decided to let my brain rest after I retired and it felt awkward to try and explain I was “taking a break” when people asked how my consulting business was going. I had been so free in sharing about my plan to start management consulting right away, and I regretted that.

Many of my friends and former colleagues were well intended when inquiring how I was doing. I recall saying to myself frequently, “I wish I never mentioned I was going to start consulting right away.”

2. Don’t go it alone. Network and reach out to others for support in starting your business.

When I got the message to write a children’s book telling Grace’s story, I started the process by myself. I wrote the manuscript before I shared with anyone what I had done. Once the story was finished, I shared with a close friend that I had written a story about Grace. She listened carefully and then asked if I’d considered writing the story through Grace’s eyes, which I had not.

I decided she was right and I re-wrote the story from Grace’s perspective. I was so grateful for Katie’s feedback and I believe it resulted in a much better story. I wish I shared with her sooner as I could have saved myself re-writing the entire story.

3. Have fun!

I had a great career with the CIA. I made friends for a lifetime, as there is an incredible bond that is built when working in that world. I had incredible experiences living abroad and being involved in some interesting work. That said, there is an inevitable level of stress and responsibility that occurs when one works for the CIA. In some positions, I was never off the clock, and was constantly responsible to ensure the safety of our officers.

I wish someone had said, “Katy, be sure to have fun, and lots of it, when you embark on your second career.” It took me a while to realize that I could have fun with my work, and that’s exactly what the Everybody Loves Grace series is for me. I’m passionate about getting the message of love and kindness out and at the same time, I’m having fun!

4. Create a clear vision for life.

I started working with a personal coach who had me create a vision for life before I could continue with my coaching sessions. I was asked to answer the following questions as the basis for creating my vision:

· What emotional state did I want to maintain as I went through life? My answer: love and joy.

· What experiences/adventures would I like to have in my life?

· Who are the people and the relationships?

· What are the containers for my vision for life? Eg. home, job, car, boat, vacation.

Once I became clear on what emotions I wanted to embody, experiences I wanted to have, and the other key aspects of creating vision, that’s when the Everybody Loves Grace idea came and the books were created.

5. Be courageous and be willing to try something new.

Don’t be afraid to try something completely new and follow your knowing.

I wish someone had encouraged me to try something new. My ideas around consulting were originally doing something I was familiar with. What a great opportunity I had to start something new, but I initially started down the path that was familiar to me. it took me almost two years to really step into something new and give myself permission to follow my heart and do something new.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Thomas Jefferson

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I would love to meet Ellen DeGeneres and/or Oprah Winfrey because they genuinely care about children, people, animals, and making the world a better place. I also admire the way they continue to embody selfless service. I think with their influence, Grace’s story and life lessons could reach more children and adults than is otherwise possible.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

There is a fun blog on the www.everybodylovesgrace.com website. The blog captures Grace’s latest adventures and we also feature “Tips from a Dog Named Grace.”

In addition, we are on Facebook at Everybody Loves Grace or EverybodyLovesGrace_books on Instagram.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

Chaya Weiner

Written by

Director of branding & photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator, helping leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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