#74 Quiet the Noise and Amplify Your Voice

Today's Guest: Mary Simon

Today, I interview Mary Simon, who at age 11 was in Austria with her Mother and older sister. Her Austrian mother had spent many years in America but returned to Austria after divorcing their father. The country had drastically changed, and she was unable to re-assimilate or fit in anywhere.

Destitute, the girls and their mother went to the US Embassy on Friday and were to be returned to America on Monday. Little Mary, however, had a sudden urgency to stay in Austria. She saw that war had changed the world, and she watched her mother lose herself. She had nothing and no voice, and Mary was determined not to follow that same path. She didn’t want to return to the U.S., so when her sister and mother went back to the hotel to await their departure, Mary stayed behind and made a brave plan to negotiate a way to stay in Austria.

She adamantly plead her case to one of the officers, who eventually took her on with his own family. She was later forced to return to the U.S. because her father didn’t like a diplomat caring for his daughter, but Mary immediately put the pieces together and made her way back to Austria.

This was the first sign that Mary was to become an expert negotiator. She continued to form compelling arguments for other moves in her education, living situation, and overall life. She knew what she wanted and she was going to find her own way to make it happen.

After several relocations and exhaustive studies, Mary eventually completed a degree in neuroscience. She had a curiosity to learn the biological factors that are at play in relation to life’s circumstances. She wanted to understand how her life had affected her neurologically, and how if affected other people. In her work as a now professional negotiator, Mary studies both the things that hold people back and the things that motivate them. When there is misalignment, she helps to advocate for them so that they can find their voice and become the best version of themselves.


Mary Brunelle Simon is a Senior Executive Coach with 20+ years of international experience. Expertise in building and capturing professional legacy is the cornerstone of her business career. She has served as faculty/staff for The Wharton School MBA program, authored a book about negotiation strategies, and advised senior leaders in 15 industries.

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Transcript of Interview

Transcript of Interview


Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast


Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing


Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com


Episode #74 Mary Simon


“Quiet the Noise and Amplify Your Voice”



(0:36) Dr. Doreen Downing

Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing, I’m a psychologist, and I host this podcast, Find Your Voice, Change Your Life. What I do is invite guests who are willing to unzip and share the real journey that they had in finding their voice. We aren’t all born with a voice. So, how do we come to know who we really are, and have the confidence to speak up, and speak out. It’s a journey. Life is a journey. What we get to listen to is guests who are able to articulate for us the best they can and from my questions and our interaction, what their journey was. I’ve met Mary on some networking events. I’d like to say hello first to you, Mary. I’m just beaming from ear to ear because I’ve wanted to spend more personal time with you.


(1:38) Mary Simon

Thank you. Great to be here.


(1:40) Dr. Doreen Downing

Yes, well, I’ve got a bio, so I’m going to read it so that people at least get a sense of who you are now, before we go to who you were then. Mary is a respected, trusted executive coach with 20 years of experience who focuses on results, and our ROI, return on investment is what that means for our listeners, recognized as an enterprise-wide partner who has coached leaders and teams in 17 industries, authored a book about negotiation strategies, acquired a certification in brain science and neuroscience, and is a former member of the faculty staff at the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania. Her experience translates into confidence and momentum toward outcomes and goals. This is just so good to read, because, obviously, you’ve been out there accomplishing. There’s one more paragraph. With earned reputation and skill, she has spearheaded alignment between individual contributors and executives, and has facilitated resolution of sensitive high stakes critical business situations. Wow, Mary. That just really already shows your sensitivity, your listening skills to be able to go into what you call high stakes.


(3:28) Mary Simon

You have an elegant way of creating a space. Thank you.


(3:38) Dr. Doreen Downing

Oh, you’re welcome. I just delight in shining the light on you and making it safe for you to talk about what your life has been like, and like I said earlier today, it wasn’t just handed to you and you start popping out and going, hey, life. So, that’s where I like to start because I know nothing about your history, know nothing about where you grew up, and your family, and what sibling you had and what were you surrounded by when you arrived in this world? Why don’t we just start there?


(4:19) Mary Simon

Well, buckle up, Doreen. I only began to share this in a public way about five and a half months ago. It’s a good story and it’s a different story and it has everything to do with the bio that you read because that’s a kind of a manifestation of points of origin that were the kernels that then became what has been a really remarkable journey. The beginning of a lot of this, sort of the courage to stand up, speak out, and to work with other people, and teams, and in organizations, a lot of it in the energy industry, was born at the age of 11, yours truly, 11 years old. If you were to close your eyes for a nanosecond?


(5:37) Dr. Doreen Downing

I will, right now.


(5:41) Mary Simon

I was with my mother and my older sister in Vienna, Austria. My mother was Austrian and American. She had left Austria after the occupation of Austria by the Nazis. She had been a student at the University of Vienna, and that came to a quick end. She was one of six, and her eldest brother was a prisoner of war in the resistance, and she tried to find him, rescue him, tried to make her own way at university, all of that came to naught. She had what is called in German, wanderlust. She had a spirit of adventure, and travel, and a lot of curiosity. She left and came to the United States, married, and long story short, divorced and decided to reassimilate in Austria, and it didn’t work because the country had changed, the times had changed, the environment that she knew and loved had change, and her family was somewhat disappointed in her for having left, so there was not a connection or a safety net that was available. At the age of 11, my mother became destitute and went to the American Embassy to the consulate. This was a Friday before the following Monday when we were going to return to the US in the care of the government. All the arrangements had been made in a meeting with a consular officer. She and my sister and I left that meeting and it was about noon time on a weekday, of course, and Doreen, I as the final member of the family was making my way up the trolley steps, red and white trolley steps that we were boarding to get back to our hotel, something like an electric bolt went through me, figuratively speaking. I knew I had to let go of that trolley handle. I had to walk back to the consulate to say that I wanted to have a new family. I wanted to have a new beginning. I wanted to create something that was my vision for how to live a good life. So, before the doors close, I yelled to my mother and said, I’ll meet you back at the hotel, got my gumption up, and went through the vocabulary, the German vocabulary that involves, where’s the American Embassy, and thank you, and all the rest of what I was communicating. I did that. I made my way back. Of course, I got there and they were closed for lunch. So, the marine guard had me wait in a vestibule and I was looked after by the person who was our consular officer, like his right-hand person, executive person and I pled my case, and I said, I want to go back to school. I don’t want to go back to the US right now. I want a new family. There was no negotiating. This is what has to happen. This is really quite ambiguous. It’s really important. He tried to reason with this 11-year-old who was dangling her feet, couldn’t reach the floor on this big leather chair that we have seen Lily Tomlin in, and he finally looked at me and he said, our family is going to be going on a ski weekend. I’ll call my wife and ask if there’s room for one more.


The answer was yes. So, a permission slip was crafted on letterhead for the American Consulate, and messengered over to my mother to sign, and I went with his family on their ski weekend. That weekend, I pled my case to stay. I was able to get my point across. I negotiated my case, and did so with a great deal of conviction. They had three children. They were two girls and one boy. By the end of that weekend, I convinced them to draft another letter to my mother to gain permission to let me remain, while she and my sister returned to the US. That was the beginning of my negotiation career, my official negotiation career. Long story short, my mother and father had been divorced, and my father was a bit incensed that a diplomat was taking care of his daughter, so he insisted that I returned to the US with him, and I had to. There was no legal recourse. So, I had a new passport made immediately. Fortunately, I was in the right hands to have that done rather efficiently. I negotiated with my father to let me go back to my mother, because she would let me return to Vienna. So, I did that.


(12:28) Dr. Doreen Downing

So, your mother and father were not together?


(12:31) Mary Simon

They were not.


(12:34) Dr. Doreen Downing

First of all, I just wanted to go take a big breath, and just have this image of you, at that age, finding—You use the word “conviction” several times. I really think that’s loud and clear. That’s probably one of your gifts that you came into this world with a sense of conviction. So, I’m saying thank God for that, for you. The other thing is we have this little girl who knows something, getting ready to board that bus, but something really my body even feels, the power of knowing. So, I’m thinking it’s helping me go, well, so Mary, why didn’t you want to be with your mother? Why didn’t you want to be going with her back to the United States? What was going on there that you wanted to—


(13:30) Mary Simon

Well, what I was witnessing was the impact of the war had never ended. She lost her sense of spirit, a lot of her sense of will to live, in many ways. Her voice evaporated and I would have nothing. I couldn’t change it. I tried. I couldn’t change it. I wanted to have a voice and make an impact. Given what I have seen and witnessed, it was completely about not abandoning a mother, but claiming a life.


(14:15) Dr. Doreen Downing

Oh, that’s a great distinction. Not abandoning a mother. Your mother sounded like she was depressed. She was suffering from complete breaking down. That was a powerful statement where you said the war never ended for her. Correct?


(14:40) Mary Simon



(14:42) Dr. Doreen Downing

Here she is trying to escape and go back to the United States. But yes, she would have carried that kind of attitude, that way of being. But your father came in, stepped in, and said, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Was he already back in the United States and said you had to come or—


(15:03) Mary Simon

Well, he was not with us. When we were in Vienna, he was in the US, and my mother and father are separated and divorced. Ironically, I think more than anything, it was his sense of pride. I don’t know. I don’t want to cast too many aspersions. But his pride was bruised by the thought that I was in the care of the diplomat. The irony with all of this is, by using my voice, I was actually the target for his anger, for my sister’s anger, and ultimately, the children and the family that I went to be with, because having a voice has a power to work. As a child, you do what you can with that voice. A little bit more of the story, and then I’m going to bring it up to date if that’s okay with you.


(16:17) Dr. Doreen Downing

Yes, just let me absorb what I’ve been listening to. What you just said, which feels like it’s real relevant, is the fact that we don’t often have a voice as younger people. You’re saying, hey, I had a voice, and I used it. Look at the consequence. Other people got angry and maybe jealous or whatever their reaction. So, we can see why people don’t step up at 11 years old to have a voice because of the consequence. I think I just wanted to clarify that for our listeners. Okay, well move on then.


(17:01) Mary Simon

Thank you. That was a beautiful way to put it. Thank you, Doreen. I did return to the US. I convinced my father to let me return to my mother, who was living in the US for a year, because there was a custody question at that point that came up. Within that year, I worked diligently and academically. Then alone, I returned to Austria. I wanted to prove that I was worthy of being adopted. I negotiated with the principal at the International School in Vienna to let me go to two grades in one year, so that I could prove my worth and my value. It was hard. It was very hard. It was a very competitive academic environment. I’d be up at five and I would go to bed at about midnight or one o’clock every day.


(18:12) Dr. Doreen Downing

You mean Saturday and Sunday? Every day is what you said.


(18:17) Mary Simon

Yes. Every day. I often had stomach pains because of nerves. One of my best friends became the nurse for the school. At lunchtime, I would talk with her and lay down for a few minutes, eat something and go back to class. Her name was Ingrid, prized part of the jewel in the crown of that school at that time. Then at the end of the year, my father insisted that I returned to him, so I could not negotiate that away. The thing that I learned, number of things. One, that in the 11-year-old mind, there’s a fair amount of black and white, and so you can negotiate and that means ambiguity typically. To process what felt like the 11, 12-year-old, 13-year-old point, as a failure for not having been able to convince the family that two grades in one year with straight A’s would be enough to have gained entry, and to not take the father taking me, insisting that I returned back to him, overly to heart but see it as a fact of the matter. It’s hard for an 11-year-old to do that. It’s hard for an adult to do that, let alone 11-year-old.


(19:57) Dr. Doreen Downing

Yes. There’s a lot of power dynamic too. But just want to go back to your determination and what it took to get through that year of school. Just the perseverance, I guess, is what also I’m picking up in your being.


(20:23) Mary Simon

Thank you, Doreen. If you fast forward, I was with my father, he was in intelligence, and he had an assignment in Korea, and I negotiated with him to stay behind with friends. I did that. I did well in school. During that time, the family that I lived with in Vienna returned to the US as part of their diplomatic tour. They wrote to every friend’s boarding school in the country, and indicated that I would be someone that would add to the community. I was given a two thirds scholarship for some of the leading schools and I went on the interview rounds while my father was away. I went during spring break, and was accepted at a number of them. I ended up in the Washington DC area with a scholarship. The thing that was very persistent for me was the negotiation piece, which is one of the pillars in the work I do now, and also brain science. I went to college and had four disciplines. I studied four disciplines. It was an applied neuroscience degree. So, it was biology, it was psychology, it was anthropology, and it was ethics, all combined.


(22:10) Dr. Doreen Downing

Wonderful. I love all those subjects. I dabbled in each one, too. I understand. Just the little bit of you that must have gotten some wanderlust, because of the adventures. What it takes to go into some of those fields is curiosity, and what is it, and learning. Those fields are just expansive and deep. There’s so much. Wonderful. That’s good to learn about you.


(22:43) Mary Simon

Well, the part I’m really grateful for, and thank you, Doreen, is that I had a very active appetite for understanding biochemically what the impact of some of the events were, not only from the age of 11, but how family history, the impact of World War II, the impact of the Nazi occupation of Austria, the impact of a father with a dynamic that occurred there, and then with a second family and the kind of resentment from the children and the family. It began in college, and actually before college, a real desire to understand the brain, and the biochemical underpinnings that are at play. The work I do today, I kind of take the raw material of an individual who is either a high potential or a leader in their own weight at the executive level or the board level, and I amp it up exponentially by incorporating brain science, looking at what’s pushing forward for them in a way that works in alignment, and what’s holding them back. How might they negotiate the difference? I advocate for them directly and indirectly.


(24:16) Dr. Doreen Downing

When you say negotiate the difference, it sounds almost like you’re talking about inside of their own experience.


(24:24) Mary Simon

I have about whatever 14 or 15 certifications about each one was about a year or two, a half a year. It’s all in the service of supporting individuals and teams, and breaking through barriers that sometimes are self-imposed, and sometimes they’re part of a system, and it’s an unhealthy kind of connection to an individual’s style. The negotiation piece is that word that you used, which is to expand the possibility for how they might want to react, given what they could learn about the brain in pragmatic terms.


(25:11) Dr. Doreen Downing

Oh, wow, this is so beautifully complex. You’re able to dance in all that complexity. Also not just dance and understand it, but that’s what your job is now, to help people wake up to what’s going on, not only inside of themselves is what I heard, but also whatever environment, whatever team, whatever corporation, or whatever the business is. It feels like it’s happening all around them, but it’s also happening within them. You could go, I see you. I see your situation.


(25:52) Mary Simon

Right. You’re not going to believe the coincidence here but my tagline in the work I do and on the website is, “Quiet the Noise and Amplify your Voice.”


(26:05) Dr. Doreen Downing

Oh. We are connected. That is so powerful. Yes. Amplify the voice. Wonderful. Well, we’re coming near the end, and I just feel like we’ve only opened the door to our friendship. Is there what anything else you want to say about your story in finding voice?


(26:37) Mary Simon

Well, I feel strongly about encouraging clients to find the voice that is the sustainable voice. Maybe not just the ego-driven voice, but the sustainable voice that includes others, and can be a voice for uplifting and empowering. Ironically, I’ve worked in the energy industry for about 20 years. There’s a bit of irony there. I think that it’s a journey to uncover the voice. It starts with recognizing the little spark that might be in a situation that might represent insight, and a little bit of enlivening. That spark, when cultivated, can turn into the voice of a person who can really make a difference. That development or cultivation of potential around voice has been my mission.


(28:00) Dr. Doreen Downing

I love the word you use. Enlivening. That in itself feels like it wakes us up and helps us say yes to whatever it is that you can guide us to. Right now, what you just said, oh, we’ve come full circle, because you talked about that bolt, that energetic bolt early on at 11 when you went, “Hah!” And you paid attention to it. What you’re helping people pay attention to nowadays is those sparks and to learn to observe themselves in such a way that they can recognize it.


(28:42) Mary Simon

Be their own best advocate.


(28:48) Dr. Doreen Downing

Yes. How do people find you? Let’s go there.


(28:52) Mary Simon

I’m on LinkedIn, Married B Simon. My website, Mary B Simon and Associates are the two best ways and I would be delighted to connect with people via LinkedIn. I am writing a second book. It’s going to be the memoir that’s been incrustation. The family is still in my life. The father is 92 and I go to see him in Seattle. I’m in Philadelphia. I see him about four times a year to help him. I am open to connecting and welcome, probably more than anything, through LinkedIn.


(29:50) Dr. Doreen Downing

All right, that’s wonderful. We will put that in the show notes so people can link to your LinkedIn. Link to you and LinkedIn. All right, very well. I hate to say goodbye but it’s only for now and I really so appreciate, and if people could see you, only those who are listening, you’ve got such a radiant smile. It just feels like you’ve just got so much inner freedom that feels like you have inside and this voice, amplify your voice, feels like the message that people will take today. Just so right in line with what I’m doing. Thank you so much.


(30:33) Mary Simon

Thank you for the beautiful work you do, Doreen.



Also listen on…

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.