Karen Putz, Passion Mentor

by Kathy H. Ely

As we enjoy the glories of summer, swimming, boating, and other seasonal pursuits, we are happy to introduce you to a woman who walks on water.

OK — she soars on water. Barefoot waterskiier—yes, we said barefoot, sometimes backwards! Karen Putz will be thrilled to get back in the swim, literally. But that’s not the only reason we’re inspired and intrigued by her story.  Karen loved to waterski as a girl, but a bad fall rendered her deaf in her teens. She went to college, switched to competitive volleyball, met her husband, had three great kids (the whole family is deaf or hard of hearing). She remains extremely active in the deaf community. She met her challenge head-on.

Yet, something was missing; Karen talks candidly on her website about rediscovering her joy: “On my 44th birthday, I had a low moment. I resigned myself to the belief that I’d never be able to experience that passion [of barefoot skiing] again. I was filled with regret. That same year, an unexpected mentor popped in my life via the Today Show–a 66-year-old barefooter, Judy Myers. She invited me to Florida, where I met Keith St. Onge, the two-time World Barefoot Champion. Not only did I barefoot again, I ended up competing for the first time at 45 and wrote a book with the champion.”

That was five years ago, and Karen has turned her life upside down, founding her coaching business Ageless Passions, and writing more than nine books. She has grabbed onto life the same way she wields that line behind the boat. Today, this “passions mentor,” as she calls herself, lives outside of Chicago, where she skis on the lake when possible, and heads to Winter Haven, FL every chance she gets to exercise her own passion.

She spoke to us (through an interpreter) about her journey.

KO: Coming to terms with being deaf must have been hard for you; you speak of your mom offering you to stay home instead of head to college. Where did you find the strength?
Karen: We were a pretty energetic bunch in our family. I have an older brother who’s very passionate about what he does, restoring boats. He has started up new businesses. In many ways we are really alike. We’re the ones that have gone after our passions. The key is to really know yourself, your joys, your likes, your dislikes, what feeds you.

KO: What were you doing before you met Judy?
I was a sales manager for a videophone company. That was fun, because I had stayed home for fifteen years to raise my kids. I left the corporate world in 2011 to do this on my own.  

KO: So how did you get from there to your role as “passion mentor”?

Karen: I went down to Florida to the World Barefoot Center, and met Keith St. Onge, who taught me to ski backwards! Two weeks after my first lesson, we’re sitting on the boat, and I asked him what his goals were for the next five years. He said he wanted to write a book and do some public speaking. I had always wanted to write. I ended up writing his book–the project took us two-and-a-half years:  Gliding Soles, Lessons from a Life on Water .

Then I was on my way home from the first interview for my upcoming book, Unwrapping Your Passion. (I conceived the title of the book five years ago, but I wasn't ready to write it.) I had just rediscovered my own passions and still had to meet others. I was wondering how the heck I would meet people who were living their passions. One of my mentors, Kevin Hall, author of Aspire, told me to follow my bliss and people would appear on the path to help me. I glanced at the passenger sitting next to me–he was reading a book. The title, How to Turn Your Passion into Profit.  So we talked, and I learned he, Pete Gluszek, had left his engineering job to take up professional fishing. He's living his passion full time! As soon as I started on that path, it happened. People came into my life left and right. 

 KO: What occupies you outside of your business and waterskiing?
Karen: I’ve long been involved with the deaf community; I just got back from Russia, working on a peer-to-peer support program with the embassy. [Karen’s on the board of HandsToVoices.org.]

KO: Are you getting ready for an empty nest?
Karen: Yes, my kids are 22, 20, and 18; my youngest just got into college. I have a bottle of wine ready to celebrate!

KO: Do they share your heady approach to life?
Karen: Well, my older boy reinstated and ran the Sigma Nu fraternity at Rochester Institute of Technology. My daughter is acting on Broadway. She chose that when she had nothing on the horizon; she just moved to New York. My youngest just went skydiving. They learn from our actions; so if we want them to have passionate lives, we have to choose that as well. When we do what we love, that feeds our energy. When we fritter away our time, that’s what saps our energy.

KO: How have you helped them deal with their deafness?
Karen: We raised them with every tool we could give them; taught them to sign and speak. I can enjoy a radio show if I get a transcript, can talk on the phone with an interpreter. I wish things were more accessible to them--it’s all about access. 

KO: Your life is inspiring in itself, but how important is it to you to work to empower other women.
Karen: I think it is extremely important because women tend to put ourselves last; we’re juggling work and children and the house. It is so inspiring to help them discover their spark, joy, and enthusiasm. To me, that’s priceless.

KO: Your workshops are about finding a passion; so many of us, though, need a paycheck to validate it. Is that necessary for you?
Karen: One of the biggest misconceptions is that you must have one grand singular passion, and that is not true.  We are varied people, we enjoy many things. Get very clear on where you are right now and what you want to do. If you love writing, and you’re so passionate, and you want to become a best-selling author, you have to do something every day  to become that.

I think that there is a misconception that money must be tied to our passions; but here’s the reality. When you choose in favor, opportunities and things arrive that make it possible. People will come into your life, money will come. (Like Judy, and Keith, and the man on the plane.) You will grow in ways that you never expected.

 KO: Who (or what) supports you in your times of trouble or stress?
Karen: I love inspirational quotes, whenever I’m having a rough day. I have collected quote journals, and open it whenever I need. And the sunset walk. There’s something about watching the color change at the end of the day that is so soothing.

KO: What are your current plans?
Karen: I have just set a new goal to waterski in every state; Alaska might be a challenge! I’m also finishing up a new book about “unwrapping your passion.” I was on the swimming team in high school; I interviewed several people, including Dara Torres [five-time Olympic swimmer; oldest ever to compete in Olympics, 2008] about how she discovered her passion. Did it just happen? It was fun to do.

KO: What is your take on aging?
Karen: I just turned 50 in August, and it was amazing. I will tell you why. I met Judy; she is now 73.  Before I had Judy in my life, turning older was very depressing, I thought of it as going downhill. My whole paradigm of getting older shifter, I did a 180—I started to realize there is a whole, and we have to embrace it. We don’t have to sit on the sidelines, we have to live our lives. We have to do that ’til the end.

KO: What is your best piece of advice for Konenkii women?
Karen: As women, as mothers, we function the best when we are driven by something that brings joy and fulfillment in our lives. When we lock into that, the whole energy of the world changes. When you have that in your life, it radiates to other people.

Read more about Karen on her website agelesspassions